Francis Drake

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Francis Drake
1590 or later Marcus Gheeraerts, Sir Francis Drake Buckland Abbey, Devon.jpg
Sir Francis Drake, oil painting by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger in Buckland Abbey (after 1590)
Bornc. 1540 (1540)
Tavistock, Devon, England
Died28 January 1596 (1596-01-29) (aged 55)
  • Mary Newman
    (m. 1569;died 1581)
  • Elizabeth Sydenham
    (m. 1585)
Piratical career
NicknameEl Draque (Spanish, "The Dragon")
Type Privateer
Allegiance Kingdom of England
Years active1563–1596
Rank Vice admiral
Base of operations Caribbean Sea
Commands Golden Hind (previously known as Pelican)
Battles/wars Anglo–Spanish War
Battle of Gravelines
WealthEst. Equiv. US$138.2 million in 2020; [1] #2 Forbes top-earning pirates [2]
Francis Drake Signature.svg

Sir Francis Drake (c. 1540 – 28 January 1596) [3] was an English explorer, sea captain, privateer, slave trader, [4] [5] naval officer, and politician. Drake is best known for his circumnavigation of the world in a single expedition, from 1577 to 1580. This included his incursion into the Pacific Ocean, until then an area of exclusive Spanish interest, and his claim to New Albion for England, an area in what is now the U.S. state of California. His expedition inaugurated an era of conflict with the Spanish on the western coast of the Americas, [6] an area that had previously been largely unexplored by Western shipping. [7]


Elizabeth I awarded Drake a knighthood in 1581 which he received on the Golden Hind in Deptford. In the same year he was appointed mayor of Plymouth. As a vice admiral, he was second-in-command of the English fleet in the victorious battle against the Spanish Armada in 1588. After unsuccessfully attacking San Juan, Puerto Rico, he died of dysentery in January 1596. [8]

Drake's exploits made him a hero to the English, but his privateering led the Spanish to brand him a pirate, known to them as El Draque. [9] King Philip II of Spain allegedly offered a reward of 20,000  ducats for his capture or death, [10] about £6 million (US$8 million) in modern currency. [11]

Birth and early years

Portrait miniature by Nicholas Hilliard, 1581, reverse of "Drake Jewel", inscribed Aetatis suae 42, An(n)o D(omi)ni 1581 ("42 years of his age, 1581 AD") Sfdrake42.jpg
Portrait miniature by Nicholas Hilliard, 1581, reverse of "Drake Jewel", inscribed Aetatis suae 42, An(n)o D(omi)ni 1581 ("42 years of his age, 1581 AD")

Francis Drake was born in Tavistock, Devon, England. Although his birth date is not formally recorded, it is known that he was born while the Six Articles were in force. His birth date is estimated from contemporary sources such as: "Drake was two and twenty when he obtained the command of the Judith" [12] (1566). This would date his birth to 1544. A date of c.1540 is suggested from two portraits: one a miniature painted by Nicholas Hilliard in 1581 when he was allegedly 42, so born circa 1539, while the other, painted in 1594 when he was said to be 52, [13] would give a birth year of around 1541. Lady Elliott-Drake, the collateral descendant, and final holder of the Drake Baronetcy, argued in her book on 'The Family and Heirs of Sir Francis Drake' that Drake's birth year was 1541. [14]

He was the oldest of the twelve sons [15] of Edmund Drake (1518–1585), a Protestant farmer, and his wife Mary Mylwaye. The first son was alleged to have been named after his godfather Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford. [16] [17]

Because of religious persecution during the Prayer Book Rebellion in 1549, the Drake family fled from Devon to Kent. There Drake's father obtained an appointment to minister the men in the King's Navy. He was ordained deacon and was made vicar of Upnor Church on the Medway. [18] Drake's father apprenticed him to his neighbour, the master of a barque used for coastal trade transporting merchandise to France. [18] The ship's master was so satisfied with the young Drake's conduct that, being unmarried and childless at his death, he bequeathed the barque to Drake.[ when? ] [18]

Marriage and family

Francis Drake married Mary Newman at St. Budeaux church, Plymouth, in July 1569. She died 12 years later, in 1581. In 1585, Drake married Elizabeth Sydenham—born circa 1562, the only child of Sir George Sydenham, of Combe Sydenham, [19] who was the High Sheriff of Somerset. [20] After Drake's death, the widow Elizabeth eventually married Sir William Courtenay of Powderham. [21]

Career at sea

In the 1550s, Drake's father found the young man a position with the owner and master of a small barque. Drake likely engaged in commerce among England, the Low Countries and France. On the death of the barque's owner, Drake was given the barque. [22]

At the age of eighteen he was purser of a ship which sailed to the Bay of Biscay. [23]

At twenty (c. 1563–1564) he made a voyage to the coast of Guinea in a ship owned by William and John Hawkins, some of his relatives from Plymouth. [24] [23] [25]

In 1566–1567, Drake made his first voyage to the Americas, sailing under Captain John Lovell on one of a fleet of ships owned by the Hawkins family. They attacked Portuguese settlements and slave ships on the coast of West Africa and then sailed to the Americas and sold the captured cargoes of enslaved Africans to Spanish plantations. [26] The voyage was largely unsuccessful and more than 90 enslaved Africans were released without payment. [27] [28]

Drake's second voyage to the Americas and his second slave trading voyage ended in the ill-fated 1568 incident at San Juan de Ulúa. [29] [30] [31] Whilst negotiating to resupply and repair at a Spanish port in Mexico, the fleet was attacked by Spanish warships, with all but two of the English ships lost. He escaped along with John Hawkins, surviving the attack by swimming. Drake's hostility towards the Spanish is said to have started with this incident and he vowed revenge. [32]

In 1570, his reputation enabled him to proceed to the West Indies with two vessels under his command. He renewed his visit the next year for the sole purpose of obtaining information. [23]

Drake's first victory

In 1572, Drake embarked on his first major independent enterprise. He planned an attack on the Isthmus of Panama, known to the Spanish as Tierra Firme and the English as the Spanish Main. This was the point at which the silver and gold treasure of Peru had to be landed and sent overland to the Caribbean Sea, where galleons from Spain would pick it up at the town of Nombre de Dios. Drake left Plymouth on 24 May 1572, with a crew of 73 men in two small vessels, the Pascha (70 tons) and the Swan (25 tons), to capture Nombre de Dios. [33]

Drake's first raid was late in July 1572. Drake formed an alliance with the Cimarrons. Drake and his men captured the town and its treasure. When his men noticed that Drake was bleeding profusely from a wound, they insisted on withdrawing to save his life and left the treasure. Drake stayed in the area for almost a year, raiding Spanish shipping and attempting to capture a treasure shipment.

The most celebrated of Drake's adventures along the Spanish Main was his capture of the Spanish Silver Train at Nombre de Dios in March 1573. He raided the waters around Darien (in modern Panama) with a crew including many French privateers including Guillaume Le Testu, a French buccaneer, and Maroons, enslaved Africans who had escaped from their Spanish slaveowners. One of these men was Diego, who under Drake became a free man; Diego was also a capable ship builder. [34] Drake tracked the Silver Train to the nearby port of Nombre de Dios. After their attack on the richly laden mule train, Drake and his party found that they had captured around 20 tons of silver and gold. They buried much of the treasure, as it was too much for their party to carry, and made off with a fortune in gold. [35] [36] (An account of this may have given rise to subsequent stories of pirates and buried treasure). Wounded, Le Testu was captured and later beheaded. The small band of adventurers dragged as much gold and silver as they could carry back across some 18 miles of jungle-covered mountains to where they had left the raiding boats. When they got to the coast, the boats were gone. Drake and his men, downhearted, exhausted and hungry, had nowhere to go and the Spanish were not far behind.

At this point, Drake rallied his men, buried the treasure on the beach, and built a raft to sail with two volunteers ten miles along the surf-lashed coast to where they had left the flagship. When Drake finally reached its deck, his men were alarmed at his bedraggled appearance. Fearing the worst, they asked him how the raid had gone. Drake could not resist a joke and teased them by looking downhearted. Then he laughed, pulled a necklace of Spanish gold from around his neck and said "Our voyage is made, lads!" By 9 August 1573, he had returned to Plymouth.

It was during this expedition that Drake climbed a high tree in the central mountains of the Isthmus of Panama and thus became the first Englishman to see the Pacific Ocean. He remarked as he saw it that he hoped one day an Englishman would be able to sail it – which he would do years later as part of his circumnavigation of the world. [37]

When Drake returned to Plymouth after the raids, the government signed a temporary truce with King Philip II of Spain and so was unable to acknowledge Drake's accomplishment officially. Drake was considered a hero in England and a pirate in Spain for his raids. [38]

Rathlin Island massacre

Drake was present at the 1575 Rathlin Island massacre in Ireland. Acting on the instructions of Sir Henry Sidney and the Earl of Essex, Sir John Norreys and Drake laid siege to Rathlin Castle. Despite their surrender, Norreys' troops killed all the 200 defenders and more than 400 civilian men, women and children of Clan MacDonnell. [39] Meanwhile, Drake was given the task of preventing any Gaelic Irish or Scottish reinforcements reaching the island. Therefore, the remaining leader of the Gaelic defence against English power, Sorley Boy MacDonnell, was forced to stay on the mainland. Essex wrote in his letter to Queen Elizabeth's secretary, that following the attack Sorley Boy "was likely to have run mad for sorrow, tearing and tormenting himself and saying that he there lost all that he ever had." [40]

Circumnavigation (1577–1580)

A map of Drake's route around the world. The northern limit of Drake's exploration of the Pacific coast of North America is still in dispute. Drake's Bay is south of Cape Mendocino. DRAKE 1577-1580.png
A map of Drake's route around the world. The northern limit of Drake's exploration of the Pacific coast of North America is still in dispute. Drake's Bay is south of Cape Mendocino.

With the success of the Panama isthmus raid, in 1577 Elizabeth I of England sent Drake to start an expedition against the Spanish along the Pacific coast of the Americas. Drake acted on the plan authored by Sir Richard Grenville, who had received royal patent for it in 1574. Just a year later the patent was rescinded after protests from Philip of Spain.

Diego was once again employed under Drake; his fluency in Spanish and English would make him a useful interpreter when Spaniards or Spanish-speaking Portuguese were captured. He was employed as Drake's servant and was paid wages, just like the rest of the crew. [34] Drake and the fleet set out from Plymouth on 15 November 1577, but bad weather threatened him and his fleet. They were forced to take refuge in Falmouth, Cornwall, from where they returned to Plymouth for repair. [41]

After this major setback, Drake set sail again on 13 December aboard Pelican with four other ships and 164 men. He soon added a sixth ship, Mary (formerly Santa Maria), a Portuguese merchant ship that had been captured off the coast of Africa near the Cape Verde Islands. He also added its captain, Nuno da Silva, a man with considerable experience navigating in South American waters.

Drake's fleet suffered great attrition; he scuttled both Christopher and the flyboat Swan due to loss of men on the Atlantic crossing. He made landfall at the gloomy bay of San Julian, in what is now Argentina. Ferdinand Magellan had called here half a century earlier, where he put to death some mutineers. Drake's men saw weathered and bleached skeletons on the grim Spanish gibbets. Following Magellan's example, Drake tried and executed his own "mutineer" Thomas Doughty. The crew discovered that Mary had rotting timbers, so they burned the ship. Drake decided to remain the winter in San Julian before attempting the Strait of Magellan. [42]

Execution of Thomas Doughty

On his voyage to interfere with Spanish treasure fleets, Drake had several quarrels with his co-commander Thomas Doughty and on 3 June 1578, accused him of witchcraft and charged him with mutiny and treason in a shipboard trial. [43] Drake claimed to have a (never presented) commission from the Queen to carry out such acts and denied Doughty a trial in England. The main pieces of evidence against Doughty were the testimony of the ship's carpenter, Edward Bright, who after the trial was promoted to master of the ship Marigold, and Doughty's admission of telling Lord Burghley, a vocal opponent of agitating the Spanish, of the intent of the voyage. Drake consented to his request of Communion and dined with him, of which Francis Fletcher had this strange account:

And after this holy repast, they dined also at the same table together, as cheerfully, in sobriety, as ever in their lives they had done aforetime, each cheering up the other, and taking their leave, by drinking each to other, as if some journey only had been in hand. [44]

Drake had Thomas Doughty beheaded on 2 July 1578. When the ship's chaplain Francis Fletcher in a sermon suggested that the woes of the voyage in January 1580 were connected to the unjust demise of Doughty, Drake chained the clergyman to a hatch cover and pronounced him excommunicated.

Entering the Pacific (1578)

A replica of the Golden Hind at Bankside in London Golden Hinde, Londres, Inglaterra, 2014-08-11, DD 107.JPG
A replica of the Golden Hind at Bankside in London

The three remaining ships of his convoy departed for the Magellan Strait at the southern tip of South America. A few weeks later (September 1578) Drake made it to the Pacific, but violent storms destroyed one of the three ships, the Marigold (captained by John Thomas) in the strait and caused another, the Elizabeth captained by John Wynter, to return to England, leaving only the Pelican. After this passage, the Pelican was pushed south and discovered an island that Drake called Elizabeth Island. Drake, like navigators before him, probably reached a latitude of 55°S (according to astronomical data quoted in Hakluyt's The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation of 1589) along the Chilean coast. [45] In the Magellan Strait Francis and his men engaged in skirmish with local indigenous people, becoming the first Europeans to kill indigenous peoples in southern Patagonia. [46] During the stay in the strait, crew members discovered that an infusion made of the bark of Drimys winteri could be used as remedy against scurvy. Captain Wynter ordered the collection of great amounts of bark – hence the scientific name. [46]

Despite popular lore, it seems unlikely that Drake reached Cape Horn or the eponymous Drake Passage, [45] because his descriptions do not fit the first and his shipmates denied having seen an open sea.[ citation needed ] Historian Mateo Martinic, who examined his travels, credits Drake with the discovery of the "southern end of the Americas and the oceanic space south of it". [47] The first report of his discovery of an open channel south of Tierra del Fuego was written after the 1618 publication of the voyage of Willem Schouten and Jacob le Maire around Cape Horn in 1616. [48]

Drake pushed onwards in his lone flagship, now renamed the Golden Hind in honour of Sir Christopher Hatton (after his coat of arms). The Golden Hind sailed north along the Pacific coast of South America, attacking Spanish ports and pillaging towns. Some Spanish ships were captured, and Drake used their more accurate charts. Before reaching the coast of Peru, Drake visited Mocha Island, where he was seriously injured by hostile Mapuche. Later he sacked the port of Valparaíso further north in Chile, where he also captured a ship full of Chilean wine. [49]

Capture of Spanish treasure ships

Near Lima, Drake captured a Spanish ship with 25,000  pesos of Peruvian gold, amounting in value to 37,000  ducats of Spanish money (about £7m by modern standards). Drake also discovered news of another ship, Nuestra Señora de la Concepción , which was sailing west towards Manila. It would come to be called the Cacafuego . Drake gave chase and eventually captured the treasure ship, which proved his most profitable capture.

Aboard Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, Drake found 36 kilograms (80 lb) of gold, a golden crucifix, jewels, 13 chests full of royals of plate[ clarification needed ] and 26 thousand kilograms (26 long tons) of silver. Drake was naturally pleased at his good luck in capturing the galleon, and he showed it by dining with the captured ship's officers and gentleman passengers. He offloaded his captives a short time later, and gave each one gifts appropriate to their rank, as well as a letter of safe conduct.

Coast of California: Nova Albion (1579)

Drake's landing in California, engraving published 1590 by Theodor de Bry Drake CA 1590.jpg
Drake's landing in California, engraving published 1590 by Theodor de Bry

Prior to Drake's voyage, the western coast of North America had only been partially explored in 1542 by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who sailed for Spain. [50] So, intending to avoid further conflict with Spain, Drake navigated northwest of Spanish presence and sought a discreet site at which the crew could prepare for the journey back to England. [51] [52]

On 5 June 1579, the ship briefly made first landfall at what is now South Cove, Cape Arago, just south of Coos Bay, Oregon, and then sailed south while searching for a suitable harbour to repair his ailing ship. [53] [54] [55] [56] [57] On 17 June, Drake and his crew found a protected cove when they landed on the Pacific coast of what is now Northern California. [58] [59] While ashore, he claimed the area for Queen Elizabeth I as Nova Albion or New Albion. [60] To document and assert his claim, Drake posted an engraved plate of brass to claim sovereignty for Elizabeth and every successive English monarch. [61] After erecting a fort and tents ashore, the crew labored for several weeks as they prepared for the circumnavigating voyage ahead by careening their ship, Golden Hind, so to effectively clean and repair the hull. [62] Drake had friendly interactions with the Coast Miwok and explored the surrounding land by foot. [63] When his ship was ready for the return voyage, Drake and the crew left New Albion on 23 July and paused his journey the next day when anchoring his ship at the Farallon Islands where the crew hunted seal meat. [64] [65] [66]

Across the Pacific and around Africa

Drake left the Pacific coast, heading southwest to catch the winds that would carry his ship across the Pacific, and a few months later reached the Moluccas, a group of islands in the western Pacific, in eastern modern-day Indonesia. At this time Diego died from wounds he had sustained earlier in the voyage, Drake was saddened at his death having become a good friend. [34] Golden Hind later became caught on a reef and was almost lost. After the sailors waited three days for convenient tides and had dumped cargo. Befriending Sultan Babullah of Ternate in the Moluccas, Drake and his men became involved in some intrigues with the Portuguese there. He made multiple stops on his way toward the tip of Africa, eventually rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and reached Sierra Leone by 22 July 1580.

Return to Plymouth (1580)

1591 portrait, also by Gheeraerts the Younger, wearing the "Drake Jewel" suspended from a strap, and displaying new arms Gheeraerts Francis Drake 1591.jpg
1591 portrait, also by Gheeraerts the Younger, wearing the "Drake Jewel" suspended from a strap, and displaying new arms

On 26 September, Golden Hind sailed into Plymouth with Drake and 59 remaining crew aboard, along with a rich cargo of spices and captured Spanish treasures. The Queen's half-share of the cargo surpassed the rest of the crown's income for that entire year. Drake was hailed as the first Englishman to circumnavigate the Earth (and the second such voyage arriving with at least one ship intact, after Elcano's in 1520). [68]

The Queen declared that all written accounts of Drake's voyages were to become the Queen's secrets of the Realm, and Drake and the other participants of his voyages on the pain of death sworn to their secrecy; she intended to keep Drake's activities away from the eyes of rival Spain. Drake presented the Queen with a jewel token commemorating the circumnavigation. Taken as a prize off the Pacific coast of Mexico, it was made of enamelled gold and bore an African diamond and a ship with an ebony hull. [68]

For her part, the Queen gave Drake a jewel with her portrait, an unusual gift to bestow upon a commoner, and one that Drake sported proudly in his 1591 portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts now at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. On one side is a state portrait of Elizabeth by the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, on the other a sardonyx cameo of double portrait busts, a regal woman and an African male. The "Drake Jewel", as it is known today, is a rare documented survivor among sixteenth-century jewels; it is conserved at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. [68]

Knighthood and arms

Queen Elizabeth awarded Drake a knighthood aboard Golden Hind in Deptford on 4 April 1581; the dubbing being performed by a French diplomat, Monsieur de Marchaumont, who was negotiating for Elizabeth to marry the King of France's brother, Francis, Duke of Anjou. [69] [70] By getting the French diplomat involved in the knighting, Elizabeth was gaining the implicit political support of the French for Drake's actions. [71] [72] [73] During the Victorian era, in a spirit of nationalism, the story was promoted that Elizabeth I had done the knighting. [70]

After receiving his knighthood Drake unilaterally adopted the armorials of the ancient Devon family of Drake of Ash, near Musbury, to whom he claimed a distant but unspecified kinship. These arms were: Argent, a wyvern wings displayed and tail nowed gules, [74] and the crest, a dexter arm Proper grasping a battle axe Sable, headed Argent. The head of that family, also a distinguished sailor, Sir Bernard Drake (d.1586), angrily refuted Sir Francis's claimed kinship and his right to bear his family's arms. That dispute led to "a box on the ear" being given to Sir Francis by Sir Bernard at court, as recorded by John Prince (1643–1723) in his "Worthies of Devon", first published in 1701. [75] Queen Elizabeth, to assuage matters, awarded Sir Francis his own coat of arms, blazoned as follows:

Sable a fess wavy between two pole-stars [Arctic and Antarctic] argent; and for his crest, a ship on a globe under ruff, held by a cable with a hand out of the clouds; over it this motto, Auxilio Divino; underneath, Sic Parvis Magna; in the rigging whereof is hung up by the heels a wivern, gules, which was the arms of Sir Bernard Drake. [76]

The motto, Sic Parvis Magna, translated literally, is: "Thus great things from small things (come)". The hand out of the clouds, labelled Auxilio Divino, means "With Divine Help". The full achievement is depicted in the form of a large coloured plaster overmantel in the Lifetimes Gallery at Buckland Abbey [77]

Nevertheless, Drake continued to quarter his new arms with the wyvern gules. [78] The arms adopted by his nephew Sir Francis Drake, 1st Baronet (1588–1637) of Buckland were the arms of Drake of Ash, but the wyvern without a "nowed" (knotted) tail. [79]

Purchase of Buckland Abbey

Buckland Abbey in Devon 2018 gb-plymouth-ggd-buckland abbey 140718 08.jpg
Buckland Abbey in Devon

In 1580, Drake purchased Buckland Abbey, a large manor house near Yelverton in Devon, via intermediaries from Sir Richard Greynvile. He lived there for fifteen years, until his final voyage, and it remained in his family for several generations. Buckland Abbey is now in the care of the National Trust and a number of mementos of his life are displayed there.

Political career

Drake was politically astute, and although known for his private and military endeavours, he was an influential figure in politics during the time he spent in Britain. Often abroad, there is little evidence to suggest he was active in Westminster, despite being a member of parliament on three occasions.

After returning from his voyage of circumnavigation, Drake became the Mayor of Plymouth, in September 1581. [15] He became a member of parliament during a session of the 4th Parliament of Elizabeth I, [80] on 16 January 1581, for the constituency of Camelford. He did not actively participate at this point, and on 17 February 1581 he was granted leave of absence "for certain his necessary business in the service of Her Majesty". [81]

Drake became a member of parliament again in 1584 for Bossiney [15] on the forming of the 5th Parliament of Elizabeth I. [82] He served the duration of the parliament and was active in issues regarding the navy, fishing, early American colonisation, and issues related chiefly to Devon. He spent the time covered by the next two parliamentary terms engaged in other duties and an expedition to Portugal. [81] He became a member of parliament for Plymouth in 1593. [81] He was active in issues of interest to Plymouth as a whole, but also to emphasise defence against the Spanish. [81] [83]

Great Expedition to America

Map of Drake's Great Expedition in 1585 by Giovanni Battista Boazio Boazio-Sir Francis Drakes West Indian Voyage.jpg
Map of Drake's Great Expedition in 1585 by Giovanni Battista Boazio

War had already been declared by Phillip II after the Treaty of Nonsuch, so the Queen through Francis Walsingham ordered Sir Francis Drake to lead an expedition to attack the Spanish colonies in a kind of preemptive strike. An expedition left Plymouth in September 1585 with Drake in command of twenty-one ships with 1,800 soldiers under Christopher Carleill. He first attacked Vigo in Spain and held the place for two weeks ransoming supplies. He then plundered Santiago in the Cape Verde islands after which the fleet then sailed across the Atlantic, sacked the port of Santo Domingo, and captured the city of Cartagena de Indias in present-day Colombia. At Cartagena, Drake released one hundred Turks who were enslaved. [84] On 6 June 1586, during the return leg of the voyage, he raided the Spanish fort of San Agustín in Spanish Florida. [85]

After the raids he then went on to find Sir Walter Raleigh's settlement much further north at Roanoke which he replenished and also took back with him all of the original colonists before Sir Richard Greynvile arrived with supplies and more colonists. He finally reached England on 22 July, when he sailed into Portsmouth, England to a hero's welcome. [85]

Spanish Armada

Angered by these acts, Philip II ordered a planned invasion of England.

Cádiz raid

On 15 March 1587, Drake accepted a new commission with several purposes: disrupt the shipping routes to slow supplies from Italy and Andalusia to Lisbon, to trouble enemy fleets that were in their own ports, and to capture Spanish ships laden with treasure. Drake was also to confront and attack the Spanish Armada had it already sailed for England. [86] When arriving at Cadiz on 19 April, Drake found the harbour packed with ships and supplies as the Armada was readying and waiting for fair wind to launch the fleet to attack. [87] In the early hours of the next day, Drake pressed his attack into the inner harbour and inflicted heavy damage. [88] Claims of the Spanish ship losses vary. Drake claimed he had sunk 39 ships, but other contemporary sources are lower, specifically some Spanish sources which suggest losses as low as 25 ships. [89] The attack became known as the “singeing of the King’s beard” and delayed the Spanish invasion by a year. [90]

Over the next month, Drake patrolled the Iberian coasts between Lisbon and Cape St. Vincent, intercepting and destroying ships on the Spanish supply lines. Drake estimated that he captured around 1600–1700 tons of barrel staves, enough to make 25,000 to 30,000 barrels (4,800 m3) for containing provisions. [91]

Defeat of the Spanish Armada

Drake was vice admiral in command of the English fleet (under Lord Howard of Effingham) when it overcame the Spanish Armada that was attempting to invade England in 1588. As the English fleet pursued the Armada up the English Channel in closing darkness, Drake broke off and captured the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora del Rosario , along with Admiral Pedro de Valdés and all his crew. The Spanish ship was known to be carrying substantial funds to pay the Spanish Army in the Low Countries. Drake's ship had been leading the English pursuit of the Armada by means of a lantern. By extinguishing this for the capture, Drake put the fleet into disarray overnight.

On the night of 29 July, along with Howard, Drake organised fire-ships, causing the majority of the Spanish captains to break formation and sail out of Calais into the open sea. The next day, Drake was present at the Battle of Gravelines. He wrote as follows to Admiral Henry Seymour after coming upon part of the Spanish Armada, whilst aboard Revenge on 31 July 1588 (21 July 1588 OS): [92]

Coming up to them, there has passed some common shot between some of our fleet and some of them; and as far as we perceive, they are determined to sell their lives with blows.

The most famous (but probably apocryphal) anecdote about Drake relates that, prior to the battle, he was playing a game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe. On being warned of the approach of the Spanish fleet, Drake is said to have remarked that there was plenty of time to finish the game and still beat the Spaniards, perhaps because he was waiting for high tide. There is no known eyewitness account of this incident and the earliest retelling of it was printed 37 years later. [42] Adverse winds and currents caused some delay in the launching of the English fleet as the Spanish drew nearer, [42] perhaps prompting a popular myth of Drake's cavalier attitude to the Spanish threat. It might also have been later ascribed to the stoic attribute of British culture.

Drake–Norris Expedition

The people of quality dislike him for having risen so high from such a lowly family; the rest say he is the main cause of wars.

— Gonzalo González del Castillo, letter to King Philip II, 1592 [93]

In 1589, the year after defeating the Armada the English sent their own to attack Spain, Drake and Sir John Norreys were given three tasks: seek out and destroy the remaining ships, support the rebels in Lisbon, Portugal against King Philip II (then king of Spain and Portugal), and take the Azores if possible. In the Siege of Coruña Drake and Norreys destroyed a few ships in the harbour of A Coruña in Spain but lost more than 12,000 lives and 20 ships.[ citation needed ] This defeat in all fronts delayed Drake, and he was forced to forgo hunting the rest of the surviving ships and head on to Lisbon. [91]

However, he wanted to change such a bitter thorn and, in order not to return empty-handed and with the morale of his troops sunk, he made a fleeting stop in the Galician rías, razing the defenseless town of Vigo to the ground without mercy for four days. His crew, without a government and eager for revenge, rampaged around the town until it was reduced to ashes. Even this abusive demonstration of power did not leave the corsair unharmed, as he lost some five hundred men on land, in addition to as many wounded. The growing defense of the inhabitants and the arrivals of militias from Portugal, put the ships in retreat again.

After an investigation was opened in England to try to clarify the causes of the disaster, Drake, whose behavior was harshly criticized by his comrades in arms, was relegated to the modest post of commander of the coastal defenses of Plymouth, being denied the command of any naval expedition for the next six years.

Defeats and death

Drake's burial at sea off Portobello. Bronze plaque by Joseph Boehm, 1883, base of Drake statue, Tavistock. BurialOfDrakeTavistockMonument.jpg
Drake's burial at sea off Portobello. Bronze plaque by Joseph Boehm, 1883, base of Drake statue, Tavistock.

Drake's seafaring career continued into his mid-fifties. In 1595, he failed to conquer the port of Las Palmas, and following a disastrous campaign against Spanish America, where he suffered a number of defeats, he unsuccessfully attacked San Juan de Puerto Rico, eventually losing the Battle of San Juan.

The Spanish gunners from El Morro Castle shot a cannonball through the cabin of Drake's flagship, but he survived. He attempted to attack over land in an effort to capture the rich port of Panamá but was defeated again. A few weeks later, on 28 January 1596, he died (aged about 56) of dysentery, a common disease in the tropics at the time, while anchored off the coast of Portobelo where some Spanish treasure ships had sought shelter. [94] Following his death, the English fleet withdrew defeated. [95]

Before dying, he asked to be dressed in his full armour. He was buried at sea in a sealed lead-lined coffin, near Portobelo, a few miles off the coastline. It is supposed that his final resting place is near the wrecks of two British ships, the Elizabeth and the Delight, scuttled in Portobelo Bay. Divers continue to search for the coffin. [96] [97]

Cultural impact

In Valparaíso, Chile, folklore associates a cave known as Cueva del Pirata (lit. "Cave of the Pirate") with Francis Drake. A legend says that when Drake sacked the port he became disappointed over the scant plunder. Drake proceeded to enter the churches in fury to sack them and urinate on the goblets. [98] However he still found the plunder to be not worth enough to take it on board his galleon, hiding it in the cave. [98] Another version the legend says a treasure was left in the cave because the plunder had been more than he could take on board. [98] Together with the treasure Drake would have left a man chained or a sentry to wait for them to return, which they did not. [98] The treasure is said to still be there, but those who approach it drown. [98]

Further north in Chile a tale says that because Drake feared falling prisoner to the Spanish he buried his treasure near Arica, these being one of many Chilean stories about entierros ("burrowings"). [98]

In the UK there are various places named after him, especially in Plymouth, Devon. Places there carrying his name include the naval base HMS Drake, Drake's Island, and a shopping centre and roundabout named Drake Circus. Plymouth Hoe is also home to a statue of Drake. The Sir Francis Drake Channel is located in the British Virgin Islands.

In northern California, there are several landmarks named after Drake, including the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Marin County, which extends from the Point Reyes Lighthouse at Drakes Bay to Highway 580 near San Quentin State Prison. American historian Richard White noted that many of these efforts to name places after Drake were influenced by Anglo-Saxonism, a racialist ideology that was also responsible for influencing the manifest destiny ideology as well. [99]

After the protests against police brutality and racism that followed the murder of George Floyd, memorials in California received public scrutiny as part of a worldwide reexamination of place names and monuments connected to racism. A high school which was named after Drake, the Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo, California, formed the Drake Leadership Council to investigate the possibility of changing the school's name. After more than nine months of investigation, the Council voted 13-0, with one abstention on May 6, 2021 to change the name due to his involvement with the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism and piracy. [100] [101] [102] [103] [104] The school was renamed to Archie Williams High School, after former teacher and Olympic athlete Archie Williams. A statue of Drake in Larkspur, California was also removed by the city authorities, suspecting it would be targeted by protestors and citing safety concerns. [105] [106] There is also a movement to rename Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. [107]

In British Columbia, Canada, where some theorise he may also have landed to the north of the usual site considered to be Nova Albion, various mountains were named in the 1930s for him, or in connection with Elizabeth I or other figures of that era, including Mount Sir Francis Drake, Mount Queen Bess, and the Golden Hinde, the highest mountain on Vancouver Island.

Drake's will was the focus of a vast confidence scheme which Oscar Hartzell perpetrated in the 1920s and 1930s. He convinced thousands of people, mostly in the American Midwest, that Drake's fortune was being held by the British government, and had compounded to a huge amount. If their last name was Drake they might be eligible for a share if they paid Hartzell to be their agent. The swindle continued until a copy of Drake's will was brought to Hartzell's mail fraud trial and he was convicted and imprisoned. [108]

Drake's Drum has become an icon of English folklore with its variation of the classic King asleep in mountain story motif.

Drake was a major focus in the video game series Uncharted , specifically its first and third instalments, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception , respectively. The series follows Nathan Drake, a self-proclaimed descendant of Drake who retraces his ancestor's voyages.

Drake was the subject of a TV series, Sir Francis Drake (1961-1962). Terence Morgan played Drake in the 26-episode adventure drama.

See also

Related Research Articles

Thomas Cavendish

Sir Thomas Cavendish was an English explorer and a privateer known as "The Navigator" because he was the first who deliberately tried to emulate Sir Francis Drake and raid the Spanish towns and ships in the Pacific and return by circumnavigating the globe. Magellan's, Loaisa's, Drake's, and Loyola's expeditions had preceded Cavendish in circumnavigating the globe. His first trip and successful circumnavigation made him rich from captured Spanish gold, silk and treasure from the Pacific and the Philippines. His richest prize was the captured 600-ton sailing ship the Manila Galleon Santa Ana. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I of England after his return. He later set out for a second raiding and circumnavigation trip but was not as fortunate and died at sea at the age of 31.

John Hawkins (naval commander) English navigator, admiral, privateer and slave trader

Sir John Hawkins was a pioneering English naval commander and administrator. He was also a privateer and an early promoter of English involvement in the Atlantic slave trade.

<i>Golden Hind</i> 1577 galleon,ship of Sir Francis Drake circumnavigation

Golden Hind was a galleon captained by Francis Drake in his circumnavigation of the world between 1577 and 1580. She was originally known as Pelican, but Drake renamed her mid-voyage in 1578, in honour of his patron, Sir Christopher Hatton, whose crest was a golden hind. Hatton was one of the principal sponsors of Drake's world voyage. A full-sized, seaworthy reconstruction is in London, on the south bank of the Thames.

New Albion Historical name of the United States Pacific coast

New Albion, also known as Nova Albion, was the name of the continental area north of Mexico claimed by Sir Francis Drake for England when he landed on the North American west coast in 1579. This claim became the justification for English charters across America to the Atlantic coast and soon influenced further national expansion projects on the continent. Today, Drake's landing site is known as Point Reyes, California, a marine environment which is the setting of several small towns, ranches, and Point Reyes National Seashore.

Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604) 1585–1604 war between the kingdoms of Spain and England

The Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604) was an intermittent conflict between the kingdoms of Spain and England that was never formally declared. The war was punctuated by widely separated battles, and began with England's military expedition in 1585 to what was then the Spanish Netherlands under the command of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in support of the resistance of the States General to Spanish Habsburg rule.

Thomas Doughty was an English nobleman, soldier, scholar and personal secretary of Christopher Hatton. His association with Francis Drake, on a 1577 voyage to raid Spanish treasure fleets, ended in a shipboard trial for treason and witchcraft, and Doughty's execution.

English Armada attack fleet sent against Spain by Queen Elizabeth I of England

The English Armada, also known as the Counter Armada or the Drake–Norris Expedition, was an attack fleet sent against Spain by Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1589 during the undeclared Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604) and the Eighty Years' War. Led by Sir Francis Drake as admiral and Sir John Norreys as general, it failed to drive home the advantage that England had won upon the failure of the Spanish Armada in the previous year. The Spanish victory marked a revival of Philip II's naval power through the next decade.

Spanish Armada Fleet of ships under Spanish control, intended to attack England in 1588

The Spanish Armada was a Habsburg Spanish fleet of 130 ships that sailed from Lisbon in late May 1588 under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia, with the purpose of escorting an army from Flanders to invade England. Medina Sidonia was an aristocrat without naval command experience but was made commander by King Philip II. The aim was to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I and her establishment of Protestantism in England, to stop English interference in the Spanish Netherlands, and to stop the harm caused by English and Dutch privateering ships that disrupted Spanish interests in the Americas.

Singeing the King of Spains Beard

Singeing the King of Spain's Beard is the derisive name given to a series of attacks by the English privateer Francis Drake against the Spanish in the summer of 1587, beginning in April with a raid on Cádiz. This was an attack on the Spanish naval forces assembling in the Bay of Cádiz in preparation for the planned expedition against England. Much of the Spanish fleet was destroyed, and substantial supplies were destroyed or captured. There followed a series of raiding parties against several forts along the Portuguese coast. A Spanish treasure ship, returning from the Indies, was also captured. The damage caused by the English delayed Spanish preparations for the Armada by more than a year.

Battle of San Juan (1595) Spanish victory during the Anglo–Spanish War

The Battle of San Juan (1595) was a Spanish victory during the Anglo–Spanish War. This war broke out in 1585 and was fought not only in the European theatre but in Spain's American colonies. After emerging from six years of disgrace following the resounding defeat of the English Armada at Lisbon in 1589, Francis Drake embarked on a long and disastrous campaign against Hispanic America, suffering several consecutive defeats there. On 22 November 1595 Drake and John Hawkins tried to invade San Juan with 27 ships and 2,500 men. After failing to be able to land at the Ensenada del Escambron on the eastern end of San Juan Islet, he attempted to sail into San Juan Bay with the intention of sacking the city. Unable to capture the island, following the death of his comrade, John Hawkins, Drake abandoned San Juan, and set sail for Panama where he died from disease and received a burial at sea after failing to establish an English settlement in America.

Sea Dogs Group of privateers

The Sea Dogs were a group of sea-raiders and privateers who were authorized by Elizabeth I of England and active from 1560-1605. They also engaged in slave trading. They committed piracy in the Caribbean, Spanish colonies as well as in European waters.

Battle of Pinos

The Battle of Pinos was a naval engagement between a Spanish fleet under Admiral Bernardino Delgadillo y Avellaneda and the surviving ships of Francis Drake's expedition to the Spanish West Indies, now in command of Drake's lieutenant, Sir Thomas Baskerville, which took place off the Island of Pinos during the Anglo-Spanish war of 1585. The Spanish squadron was victorious, capturing two English ships.

John Oxenham was the first non-Spanish European explorer to cross the Isthmus of Panama in 1575, climbing the coastal cordillera to get to the Pacific Ocean, then referred to by the Spanish as the Mar del Sur.

Raid on St. Augustine

The Raid on St. Augustine was a military event during the Anglo-Spanish War in which the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine in Florida ) was captured in a small fight and burnt by an English expedition fleet led by Francis Drake. This was part of Francis Drake's Great Expedition and was his last engagement on the Spanish Main before Drake headed north for the Roanoke Colony. The expedition also forced the Spanish to abandon any settlements and forts in present-day South Carolina.

Battle of Santo Domingo (1586) Early battle in the Anglo-Spanish War, leading to a month-long occupation of the city by English forces under Francis Drake

The Battle of Santo Domingo (1586) or the Capture of Santo Domingo was a military and naval action fought on 1 January 1586, of the recently declared Anglo-Spanish War that resulted in the assault and capture by English soldiers and sailors of the Spanish city of Santo Domingo governed by Cristóbal de Ovalle on the Spanish island of Hispaniola. The English were led by Francis Drake and was part of his Great Expedition to raid the Spanish New World in a kind of preemptive strike. The English soldiers then occupied the city for over a month and captured much booty along with a 25,000 ducat ransom before departing on 1 February.

Capture of Santiago (1585)

The Capture of Santiago was a military engagement that took place between 11–28 November 1585 during the newly-declared Anglo-Spanish War. An English expedition led by Francis Drake captured the port town of Cidade Velha in the Cape Verde islands that had recently belonged to the Crown of Portugal. He sacked it and then marched inland before doing the same at São Domingos and Praia. Afterwards Drake left and continued his expedition to successfully raid the Spanish possessions in the Americas.

Newfoundland expedition (1585)

The Newfoundland Expedition also known as Bernard Drake's Newfoundland Expedition was an English naval expedition that took place during the beginning of the declared Anglo-Spanish War in the North Atlantic during summer and autumn of 1585. The area of conflict was situated mainly in an area known as the Grand Banks off present day Newfoundland. The aim of the expedition was to capture the Spanish and Portuguese fishing fleets. The expedition was a huge military and financial success and virtually removed the Spanish and Portuguese from these waters. In addition the raid had large consequences in terms of English colonial expansion and settlement.

Drakes Assault on Panama Military event that took place in January 1596 during the Anglo–Spanish War

Drake's Assault on Panama also known as the Defence of Panama was a military event that took place in January 1596 during the Anglo–Spanish War. An English expedition under the command of Francis Drake and Thomas Baskerville attacked the Spanish Main via Nombre de Dios in order to cross the isthmus of Panama. Ravaged with dysentery and other diseases the English were repelled and defeated. Drake would die of the former and the expedition was forced to retreat back to England all the while harassed by the Spanish.

Francis Drakes circumnavigation 1577 trip by the English explorer

Francis Drake's circumnavigation, also known as Drake's Raiding Expedition, was an important historical maritime event that took place between 15 December 1577 and 26 September 1580. Authorised by Queen Elizabeth I and led by Francis Drake; the latter sailed with five ships in what was termed a 'voyage of discovery', although in effect it was an ambitious covert raiding voyage and the start of England's challenge to Spain's global domination.

Thomas Cavendishs circumnavigation British naval voyage 1586–1588

Thomas Cavendish's circumnavigation was a voyage of raid and exploration by English navigator and sailor Thomas Cavendish which took place during the Anglo–Spanish War between 21 July 1586 and 9 September 1588. Following in the footsteps of Francis Drake who having circumnavigated the globe, Thomas Cavendish was influenced in an attempt to repeat the feat. As such it was the first deliberately planned voyage of the globe.


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