Sir Francis Drake

Francis Drake was born around 1540 in Tavistock, Devon, England, the eldest of twelve sons to Edmund Drake and Mary Mylwaye.

The family moved from Devon into Kent, where Drake’s father was ordained a deacon and preached to naval sailors.

While living in Kent Drake became an apprentice to the family’s neighbour and started sailing with him on trade missions to France. When his master died, having no family to inherit, he left Drake the Barque (sailing ship) that he owned. Drake’s love of the sea was now embedded in him.

In his early twenties Drake was enlisted into the fleet of his second cousin, John Hawkins, a naval commander, merchant and slave trader, and they started sailing to the Americas, raiding ports and plundering merchant ships of gold, silver and any treasured cargo.

In 1568 the Hawkins fleet were trapped in the Mexican port of San Juan de Ulua, by the Spaniards, however even though attacked, Drake and Hawkins escaped, but this was the catalyst for a lifelong hatred of Spain, and Drake would seek his revenge.

In 1572 Drake set out on his first independent voyage, to Panama. This was the port where ships from Peru would land for their treasure cargoes to be transported overland to the town of Nombre de Dios, to be picked up by Spanish galleons.

Drake planned to attack and capture Nombre de Dios, however while doing so he was injured and although the attack had succeeded, they withdrew to protect Drake’s life. After recovering from his injuries Drake stayed in the area for almost a year, continuing to raid and plunder treasure, before returning to England in 1573.

In 1577 Queen Elizabeth I commissioned Drake to circumnavigate the earth. Although initially delayed because of bad weather, Drake set sail aboard his ship ‘Pelican’, accompanied by four other ships and 164 men on 13 December 1577.

When Drake reached the Pacific Ocean, only the Pelican remained; the other ships being either destroyed or returned to England.

Drake navigated round the Straits of Magellan, and sailed up the west coast of South America including Peru and Chile, where he captured a ship full of Chilean wine.

Having now renamed his ship the ‘Golden Hind’, he sailed north along the Pacific coast attacking ports and pillaging as he went.

He travelled as far north as California, then headed across the Pacific Ocean making many stops before rounding the Cape of Good Hope, and then heading back to the Atlantic Ocean and returning to England. He sailed into Plymouth on 26 September 1580, the Golden Hind heavily laden with treasure, including gold, silver, jewels and spices.

Awarded by Queen Elizabeth I, Drake was knighted aboard the Golden Hind on 4 April 1581.

Drake became a member of parliament for the first time in 1581. He was a politically astute man, serving three separate periods in parliament, with leave of absence given while on his voyages.

Sir Francis Drake left Plymouth in September 1585 on the ‘Great Expedition’ taking command of twenty-one ships and 1800 soldiers.

He first attacked Vigo in Spain, then plundered Santiago, the largest of the Cape Verdi Islands over a period of seventeen days in November 1585.

He ravaged the port of Santo Domingo on 1 January 1586, and then captured the city of Cartagena de Indias in Granada (modern day Colombia) on 9 – 11 February 1586, following this up with a raid on the fort of San Augustin in Spanish Florida on 27 – 29 May 1586.

Drake then sailed north to Sir Walter Raleigh’s settlement at Roanoke (North Carolina), replenishing their supplies before returning to England on 22 July 1586.

England and Spain had held a great hatred of each other for many years and this would culminate in the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Spain began to build its armada in 1586, ready to invade England in 1587. King Philip II of Spain gained the support and blessing of Pope Sextus V, for Spain to invade England as a Catholic Crusade.

In 1587 Drake sailed a fleet into the ports of Cadiz and Corunna, destroying over 30 naval and merchant ships of the Spanish fleet. This became known as ‘Singeing the King of Spain’s Beard’.

After the attack and destruction of the Spanish fleet, the invasion was delayed into 1588.

The Spanish fleet of around 130 ships sailed into English waters to confront the English navy under the leadership of Lord Howard of Effingham, with Sir Francis Drake as second in command as Vice Admiral.

The English fleet was less than half of the Spanish but with better weapons, and the Spanish were easily defeated.

It has been said that Drake was playing a game of Bowls on Plymouth Hoe, when warned of the approach of the Spanish fleet. Drake remarked that there was plenty of time to finish the game and still beat the Spaniards.

After defeating the Armada, Drake continued with his expeditions. In 1595 he travelled with John Hawkins to Panama, and while anchored off the coast of Portobelo, Panama he contracted dysentery.

Sir Francis Drake died on 28 January 1596. He was placed in a lead coffin and buried at sea.

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