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Sir Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake

The English navigator Sir Francis Drake (ca. 1541-1596) was the first of his countrymen to circumnavigate the globe. His daring exploits at sea helped to establish England's naval supremacy over Spain and other European nations.

Francis Drake, the eldest son of a yeoman farmer, was born near Tavistock, Devonshire. His father later became a Calvinist lay preacher and raised his children as staunch Protestants. Young Drake received some education; he learned the rudiments of navigation and seaman-ship early and did some sailing near his home. The Drakes were related to the Hawkins family of Plymouth, well-to-do seamen and shipowners. The Hawkins connection got Drake a place on a 1566 slave-trading expedition to the Cape Verde Islands and the Spanish Main.

First Command

In 1567 John Hawkins made Drake an officer in a larger slave-trading expedition. Drake ultimately received command of one of Hawkins's ships, the Judith, and accompanied his relative to Africa, Rio de la Hacha, and Santa Marta, where Hawkins disposed of the slaves. The English were caught, however, in the harbor of San Juan de Ulúa by a Spanish fleet that opened fire without warning and destroyed most of their ships. Only Drake's Judith and Hawkins's small vessel escaped to England. Embittered by this, Drake resolved to devote his life to war against Spain.

Elizabeth I of England and Philip II of Spain were not at war then, but grievances were steadily mounting. The Queen declined to offend Philip and would not allow Hawkins to go to sea again immediately, but she had no objections to a voyage by the obscure Drake. In 1569 Drake had married Mary Newman of Plymouth, but finding domesticity dull, he departed in 1570 for the Spanish Main with a small crew aboard the 25-ton Susan. He hoped to learn how the Spaniards arranged for shipping Peruvian treasure home, and he felt that the ports of Panama City and Nombre de Dios on the Isthmus of Panama were the key. His 1570 voyage was largely one of reconnaissance during which he made friends with the Cimaroons, who were escaped slaves dwelling out of Spanish reach on the Isthmus and stood ready to help him. During a 1571 expedition he captured Nombre de Dios with Cimaroon help but lost it immediately when, wounded, he had to be carried to safety. After depredations off Cartagena, he intercepted a Spanish gold train near Nombre de Dios and returned to England with the bounty.

His arrival embarrassed the Queen, who still hoped for peace with Spain, and Drake evidently received a broad hint to leave the country temporarily. He is known to have served in Ireland with the Earl of Essex, who was trying to crush a rebellion in Ulster. By 1576 relations with Spain had worsened, and Drake returned to England, where a new expedition was being planned in which Elizabeth had a financial share. Drake's main instructions were to sail through the Strait of Magellan and probe for the shores of Terra Australis Incognita, the great southern continent that many thought began with Tierra del Fuego. Drake received five ships, the largest being the Pelican (later named the Golden Hind), and a crew of about 160.

Adventures on the Golden Hind

The fleet left Plymouth in December 1577 for the southern Atlantic, stopping at Port San Julián for the Southern Hemisphere winter. Ferdinand Magellan had once crushed a mutiny there, and Drake did the same. He tried and executed Thomas Doughty, an aristocratic member of the expedition, who had intrigued against him in an attempt to foment a rebellion.

When Drake passed through the strait and entered the Pacific, only the Golden Hind remained; the other ships had been lost or had parted company. Contrary winds forced him southward, and he perhaps sighted Cape Horn; in any event, he realized that the two oceans came together and that Terra Australis would not be found there. He traveled along the coasts of Chile and Peru, capturing and destroying Spanish ships but sparing Spanish lives.

Between Callao and Panama Drake took an unarmed treasure ship, bearing gold, emeralds, and all the silver the Golden Hind could carry. Knowing that Spaniards would try to waylay him in the strait, Drake bypassed Panama and, near Guatalco, Nicaragua, captured charts and directions to guide him across the Pacific. Perhaps seeking the Strait of Anian, he sailed nearly 48 degrees north, and then descended to a point at or near Drake's Bay, in California, where he made friends with the Indians and overhauled the ship. He left a brass plate naming the country Nova Albion and claiming it for Elizabeth. (In 1936 a plate fitting the description was found near Drake's Bay.)

Drake then crossed the Pacific to the Moluccas and near there almost came to grief when the ship struck a reef. Skilled handling freed it, and his circumnavigation of the globe continued via the Indian Ocean and the Cape of Good Hope. Drake arrived in Plymouth in 1580, acclaimed by the public and his monarch. In April 1581 he was knighted on the deck of the Golden Hind.

Drake did not immediately go to sea again and in 1581 became mayor of Plymouth. After his wife died, he married a young aristocrat, Elizabeth Sydenham. Drake, now a wealthy man, made the bride a substantial settlement. He had no children by either wife.

Expedition against Spain

By 1585 Elizabeth, after new provocations by Philip, felt ready to unleash Drake again. A large fleet was outfitted, including two of her own vessels. Drake, aboard his command ship, the Elizabeth Bonaventure, had instructions to release English vessels impounded by Philip, though Elizabeth certainly knew he would exceed orders.

Drake fulfilled the Queen's expectations. He sacked Vigo in Spanish Galicia and then sailed to Santo Domingo and Cartagena, capturing and holding both for ransom. He would have tried to cross the Isthmus and take Panama, a project he had cherished for years, but an epidemic so reduced his crews that he abandoned the idea. On the way to England he destroyed the Spanish settlement at St. Augustine, in Florida, and farther north, took home the last remaining settlers at Sir Walter Raleigh's unfortunate North Carolina colony.

The expedition, which reached Portsmouth in July 1586, had acquired little treasure but had inflicted great physical and moral damage on Spain, enormously raising English prestige in the bargain. Formal war was now inevitable, and Philip started plans to invade England. In February 1587 the Queen beheaded Mary of Scotland who had been connected with plots to dethrone or murder Elizabeth, to the outrage of Catholic Europe and many English Catholics. Philip began assembling his Armada in Portugal, which had been in his possession since 1580.

Spanish Armada

Elizabeth appointed Lord Charles Howard of Effingham commander of her fleet and gave Drake, Hawkins, and Martin Frobisher immediately subordinate posts. Drake advocated a strong preventive blow at Philip's unprepared Armada and received permission to strike. In April 1587 he recklessly sailed into Cadiz and destroyed or captured 37 enemy ships. He then occupied the Portuguese town of Sagres for a time and finally, in the Azores, seized a large Portuguese carrack bound homeward from Goa with a rich cargo.

The Cadiz raid damaged but did not cripple the Armada, which, under Alonso de Guzmán, Duke of Medina Sidonia, sailed in May 1588. It was alleged that Lord Howard was a figurehead and that the "sea dogs" Drake, Hawkins, and Frobisher won the victory in the July encounters. Recent evidence refutes this and shows Howard to have been in effective command. Drake took a conspicuous part in the channel fighting and captured a galleon, but he does not seem to have distinguished himself above other English commanders.

The Armada was defeated, and Drake's career thereafter proved anticlimactic. He met with his first formidable defeat in 1589, when he commanded the naval expedition sent to take Lisbon. He seemed to have lost some of his old daring, and his cautious refusal to ascend the Tagus River for a naval bombardment partly accounted for the failure. Drake did not go to sea again for 5 years. He concerned himself mainly with Plymouth matters. He sat in Parliament, but nothing of note marked his presence there.

Final Voyage

In 1595 Elizabeth thought she saw a chance of ending the war victoriously by cutting off the Spanish treasure supply from the Isthmus of Panama. For this she selected Hawkins, then 63, and Drake, in his 50s. The cautious Hawkins and the impetuous Drake could never work well together, and the Queen further complicated the situation by giving them equal authority; in effect, each commanded his own fleet. The Queen's order that they must be back in 6 months scarcely allowed time to capture Panama, and when they learned of a crippled Spanish treasure ship in San Juan, Puerto Rico, they decided to go there. Through Drake's insistence on first going to the Canary Islands, their destination was revealed, and the Spaniards sent word ahead to Puerto Rico. Hawkins died as they reached the island, leaving Drake in sole command. The Spaniards had strengthened their San Juan defenses, and Drake failed to capture the city.

Ignoring the Queen's 6-month time limit, the aging Drake, still trying to repeat his earlier successes, made for the Isthmus to capture Nombre de Dios and then Panama. He easily took the former, not knowing that it had been superseded by Puerto Bello as the Caribbean terminus of the Plate fleets. His landing party, which soon realized it was following a path long out of use, was ambushed by Spaniards and forced to retreat.

Drake knew the expedition was a failure; he cruised aimlessly to Honduras and back and then fell ill of fever and dysentery. He died off Puerto Bello on Jan. 28, 1596, and was buried at sea. Sir Thomas Baskerville, second in command, took the expedition home to England.

Further Reading

The most complete account of Drake's circumnavigation is provided by his nephew, Sir Francis Drake, in The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake, published by the Hakluyt Society (1854). Primary material can be found in John Barrow, Life, Voyages, and Exploits of Sir Francis Drake, with Numerous Original Letters (1844). Julian S. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor Navy (2 vols., 1898; rev. ed. 1899), can be supplemented with more recent studies such as James A. Williamson, Age of Drake (1938; 4th ed. 1960) and Sir Francis Drake (1966), and Kenneth R. Andrews, Drake's Voyages: A Reassessment of Their Place in Elizabethan Maritime Expansion (1967). For general background see J. H. Parry, The Age of Reconnaissance (1963). □

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Drake, Sir Francis (1543-1596)

Sir Francis Drake (1543-1596)

English admiral

Sources

An English Hero. Sir Francis Drake was the most renowned and successful English privateer of the late sixteenth century. His raids on Spanish settlements and shipping in the New World made him a hero to his countrymen, a man of great wealth, and a thorn in Philip IIs side. Most important, his success inspired thousands of British merchants and gentlemen to organize privateering expeditions in the Caribbean as a way both to earn profits and to undercut Spanish power.

A Born Sea Dog. Drakes life at sea began at the age of thirteen when he became a pilot in the North Sea coastal trade. Around the age of twenty he joined his powerful and wealthy cousin, Sir John Hawkins, in the semi-illicit Spanish Caribbean trade. Harsh, heavy-handed treatment at the hands of Spanish officials during his first voyage to the New World (1566) inflamed Drakes already virulent hatred of Catholic Spain. Spanish actions further enraged Drake during his second voyage (1567) when forces under the command of Viceroy Martín Enríquez attacked a five-ship squadron commanded by Hawkins at San Juan de Ulúa. Only the ships commanded by Hawkins and Drake survived the battle.

Fortune and Reputation. Personal, patriotic, and religious motives led Drake to raid Spains New World possessions three times between 1570 and 1572. The first two expeditions proved unsuccessful, but the third ended with the capture of the annual Peruvian silver caravan at Nombre de Dios in Panama. In 1577 Drake embarked with a small flotilla on an exploratory and predatory voyage up the western side of the Americas. After raiding Spanish shipping and settlements along the South American coast and claiming present-day California for Britain he returned to Plymouth via the Cape of Good Hope, thus becoming the first English captain to circumnavigate the globe. Along with the Nombre de Dios raid, this trip secured Drakes fortune and reputation. More important, the two expeditions inspired hundreds of English merchants and gentlemen to take up privateering along the Spanish Main.

War with Spain. Drake played a pivotal part in the early phase of the Anglo-Spanish War (1585-1604). Following the outbreak of hostilities in 1585, Queen Elizabeth I sent a twenty-three-ship fleet under Drakes command to attack Spanish vessels and colonies in the New World. The yearlong raid was spectacularly effective: Drake sacked Cartagena, Santo Domingo, and St. Augustine and swept the Caribbean of Spanish shipping. In 1587, he led a crushing naval attack on the Spanish port of Cadiz that sank twenty ships and delayed the sailing of the Armada by a year. When the Armada put to sea in 1588, his leadership and daring proved critical in its defeat.

Later Career. Drakes fortunes declined rapidly beginning in 1589. That year he led a 150-ship attack on Lisbon that failed as spectacularly as the raid on Cadiz had succeeded. He consequently lost favor with Elizabeth and was forced into semiretirement. In 1595 he returned to service for a joint raid with Hawkins on Spains New World possessions. Despite high expectations, the cruise failed to match the success of Drakes earlier Caribbean sweeps because the Spanish had greatly improved their defenses and because Drake and Hawkins clashed over the expeditions objectives. The raid proved to be Drakes last. He died of dysentery on 28 January 1596 and was buried at sea off the coast of Panama.

Sources

Kenneth R. Andrews, The Spanish Caribbean: Trade and Plunder, 15301630 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978);

Karen Ordhal Kupperman, Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman&Allandheld, 1984);

James A. Williamson, Sir Francis Drake (New York: Colliers Books, 1962);

J. Leitch Wright Jr., Anglo-Spanish Rivalry in North America (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1971).

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Drake, Sir Francis

Sir Francis Drake, 1540?–1596, English navigator and admiral, first Englishman to circumnavigate the world (1577–80).

Early Career

He was born in Devonshire, the son of a yeoman, and was at an early age apprenticed to a ship captain. He made voyages to Guinea and the West Indies and in 1567 commanded a ship in a slave-trading expedition of his kinsman, John Hawkins. On the voyage the Spanish attacked and destroyed all but three of the English vessels. In 1572, with two ships and 73 men, Drake set out on the first of his famous marauding expeditions. He took the town of Nombre de Dios on the Isthmus of Panama, captured a ship in the harbor of Cartagena, burned Portobelo, crossed and recrossed the isthmus, and captured three mule trains bearing 30 tons of silver. The voyage brought Drake wealth and fame. For the next few years he commanded the sea forces against rebellious Ireland.

Circumnavigation of the World

In Dec., 1577, he set out with five ships to raid Spanish holdings on the Pacific coast of the New World. He abandoned two ships in the Río de la Plata in South America, and, with the remaining three, navigated the Straits of Magellan, the first Englishman to make the passage. A storm drove them far southward; one ship and its crew were destroyed, and another, separated from Drake's vessel, returned to England.

Drake continued alone in the Golden Hind up the coast of South America, plundered Valparaiso and smaller settlements, cut loose the shipping at Callao, and captured a rich Spanish treasure ship. Armed now with Spanish charts, he continued north along the coast, looking for a possible passage to the Atlantic, feeling it would be unsafe to retrace his course. Sailing possibly as far north as the present state of Washington with no success, he determined to cross the Pacific.

He returned to San Francisco Bay to repair and provision his ship. He named the region New Albion and took possession of it in the name of Queen Elizabeth I. Then, crossing the Pacific, he visited the Moluccas, Sulawesi, and Java, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived at Plymouth on Sept. 26, 1580, bearing treasure of extremely high value. Elizabeth endeavored for a time to justify Drake's conduct to Spain, but, failing to satisfy the Spanish, she finally abandoned all pretense and openly recognized Drake's exploits by knighting him aboard the Golden Hind.

Hostilities with Spain

In 1585, Drake commanded a fleet that sacked Vigo in Spain and burned São Tiago in the Cape Verde Islands. Proceeding across the Atlantic, he took Santo Domingo and Cartagena (which were subsequently ransomed), plundered the Florida coast, including the settlement of St. Augustine, and rescued Sir Walter Raleigh's Roanoke colony under Ralph Lane on the Carolina coast.

Meanwhile, Spain had begun to prepare for open war. In 1587, Drake entered the harbor of Cádiz with 26 ships and destroyed about 30 of the ships the Spanish were assembling. He had, he said, merely singed the king of Spain's beard and wished to carry out further expeditions against the Spanish ports, but Elizabeth would not sanction his plans. He was a vice admiral in the fleet that defeated the Armada in 1588. He was in joint command of an attempted invasion of Portugal in 1589 but failed to take Lisbon.

Drake's last expedition, in 1595, undertaken jointly with Hawkins, was directed against the West Indies. This time the Spanish were prepared, and the venture was a complete failure. Hawkins died off Puerto Rico, and Drake shortly afterward, of dysentery, off Portobelo, where he was buried at sea.

Bibliography

See biographies by Sir Julien Corbett (1890, repr. 1969) and G. M. Thomson (1972); see also Sir Julien Corbett, Drake and the Tudor Navy (2 vol., 1899, repr. 1970); G. Mattingly, The Armada (1959); K. R. Andrews, Drake's Voyages (1967); K. R. Andrews, ed., The Last Voyage of Drake and Hawkins (1972).

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Drake, Sir Francis

Drake, Sir Francis (c.1540–96) English mariner. In 1577–80, he circumnavigated the world in the Golden Hind, looting Spanish ships and settlements in the Pacific, and claiming California for England. Elizabeth I knighted Drake on his return. In 1587, his famous raid on Cádiz postponed the Spanish Armada, which he helped to defeat in 1588. He died during a raid on the Spanish colonies.

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