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Sunday, 2 November 2014

Sir Francis Drake


Francis Drake (c1540-1596) was born Crowndale farm, near Tavistock, Devon, the oldest of 12 children.

His puritan father, Reverend Edmund Drake, was a tenant farmer and Protestant cleric.

Because of religious persecution during the Prayer Book Rebellion in 1549, the Drake family fled from Devonshire into the Medway area of Kent. There Francis' father found a hard-living ministering to sailors there whilst the family lived in a leaky cut-down ship.

Francis' childhood in the Medway area bought him early training in the handling of estuaries and coastal navigation.


Drake's father apprenticed Francis to his neighbour, the master of a barque used for coastal trade transporting merchandise to France. The ship master was so pleased with the young Drake's conduct that, being unmarried and childless at his death, he bequeathed the barque to Drake.

Drake made his first voyage to the Americas at the age of 23, sailing with his second cousin, Sir John Hawkins, on one of a fleet of ships owned by his relatives, the Hawkins family of Plymouth

In 1566 Drake was given first command on the "Judith" part of a squadron of vessels on an ill-fated slave trading voyage in the Gulf of Mexico.

Drake set sail on December 13, 1577 on an expedition to the Pacific, however Drake's ship, the Golden Hind, was separated from the others around Cape Horn. Drake sailed north along Chile and Peru coast as far as California.

Francis Drake claimed an area near where San Francisco is now for England on June 17, 1579. The natives thought they were gods and offered them their entire country. Drake accepted and claimed the land in the name of Queen Elizabeth calling it New Albion and staking to a post an engraved metal plate.

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

A National Park at San Francisco marks the approximate spot where he anchored the Golden Hind in 1579.

The 75 foot long Golden Hind (see below) was originally known as Pelican, but was renamed by Drake mid-voyage in 1578, as he prepared to enter the Strait of Magellan. He called her Golden Hind to compliment his patron, Sir Christopher Hatton, whose armorial crest was a golden 'hind' (a female deer). Hatton was one of the principal sponsors of Drake's world voyage.

On board the Golden Hind in the Pacific Drake ate from “silver dishes with gold borders and gilded garlands,” and enjoyed “all possible dainties and perfumed waters.” Viols played as Drake took his meals.

On September 26, 1580 the Golden Hind sailed into Plymouth with Drake and 59 remaining crew aboard, along with a rich cargo of spices and captured Spanish treasures. It was the second circumnavigation of the world in a single expedition and  the first to be completed with the same man as captain and leader of the expedition throughout the entire circumnavigation.

Replica of The Golden Hind, in Southwark, London, By Jose L. Marin - Wikipedia

Drake captured treasure especially silver worth £600,000 on his voyage round the world. It was a return to investors of 4,700 per cent on their capital.The Queen's half-share of the cargo surpassed the rest of the crown's income for that entire year.

Drake introduced potatoes to England from Colombia. However Englishmen shunned the strange tuber. It was decried as a dangerously unhealthy vegetable.

Queen Elizabeth I knighted Francis Drake aboard his ship the Golden Hind at Deptford on April 4, 1581 for completing his circumnavigation of the world.


In early 1572 having been given licence by Queen Elizabeth, Drake recruited runaway slaves to attack a mule train laden with gold just off the Panama Isthmus. He returned laden with treasure.

Drake's trip round the world included sacking a Spanish treasure ship and oppressing a mutiny in Patagonia.

Aware of rumors that the Spanish were planning an invasion of England, Drake entered Cadiz harbor at dusk on April 29, 1587 and burnt more than 30 ships, 10,000 tons of shipping. In doing so he succeeded in delaying the Armada for a year.

Drake's map of his attack on Cadiz.

Drake and other commanders were playing bowls in Plymouth Hoe when news was bought that the Spanish Armada was sailing up the channel. Drake insisted on finishing the game before setting sail. "There is plenty of time to win the game and to trash the Spaniards too,” he said.

The defeat of the Armada was greatly aided  by a severe storm which scattered the Spanish vessels prior to their engagement of the British fleet, meaning they could not utilise vastly superior numbers to their advantage as planned.

In command of 150 ships and 18,000 men Drake took and almost completely destroyed the Spanish port of La Coruna a year after defeating the Armada. He then unsuccessfully attempted to take Lisbon.  

A pirate to the Spaniards. King Philip II was reported to have offered a reward of 20,000 ducats (about £4,000,000 ($6.500,000)) by modern standards, for his life.

On his last expedition to the Caribbean with Sir John Hawkins in 1595, Drake captured Nombre de Dios on the North Coast of Panama but failed to seize Panama City.


Drake was a fervent Protestant who was brought up with a holy hatred of the Catholic church. He loathed  the 'wickedness' of the Spanish Roman Catholicism.

Drake saw himself as a religious force taking a copy of Foxe's Book of Protestant Martyrs with him on his voyages.

On board the Golden Hind, Drake held a daily prayer service and sometimes offered a sermon to the crew.

While docked in San Francisco Bay Drake conducted Protestant services, the first ever to be held in America.

In September 1581, Drake became the Mayor of Plymouth. He became a member of parliament the same year, for an unknown constituency (possibly Camelford), and again in 1584 for Bossiney and Plymouth in 1593.


Drake was a chubby-faced little man with pointed red whiskers, clear eyes and a fair complexion.

Francisco de Zarate wrote that Drake had aboard The Golden Hind  “painters who paint the landscape in its proper colors,” apparently making a kind of picture-book cartographic record that Drake or other mariners could follow around South America. Drake himself sometimes embellished his log with pictures of sea lions, birds, and trees.

Drake founded with Sir John Hawkins the Chatham Chest for disabled seamen, a charitable insurance scheme towards which each seaman contributed six pence per month. From this developed the Greenwich Hospital.

Drake lived at Buckland Abbey, Telverton, Devon from 1581. He brought it from his share of the booty after his round the world trip.

Drake had a famous drum which can be seen today in Buckland Abbey. It was to be sounded when his country has need of him again.


Drake’s last expedition was to the West Indies with Hawkins in 1595. In January 1596 he fell ill of yellow fever and dysentery on his ship off the Panamanian town of Portobelo. In his delirium, Drake struggled from bed on the night of January 27, 1596, insisting that he should don his armor and die like a warrior. He then passed away. Drake's body was placed in a lead coffin and dropped into the sea .

Sources  AA Touring Guide of Britain,  Encarta enyclopedia, Food for Thought by Ed Pearce

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