Drake, Francis

views updated May 21 2018

Francis Drake

BOTN: 1541 • Tavistock, England

DIED: January 28, 1596 • Puerto Bello, Honduras

English explorer

Francis Drake was the most famous seaman of the Elizabethan Era, the period associated with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603) that is often considered to be a golden age in English history. Drake was the first Englishman to circumnavigate, or sail around, the world. He achieved fame and glory for raiding Spanish treasure ships and ports in the Western Hemisphere, and for helping England defeat a major naval assault by the mighty Spanish Armada (navy). The Spanish regarded him as a ruthless pirate, but the English saw him as a daring hero. His exploits helped to strengthen English naval power at a time when Spain dominated the seas.

"It isn't that life ashore is distasteful to me. But life at sea is better."

Learned seafaring skills

Francis Drake was the oldest child of Edmund Drake, a farmer from a prosperous peasant family in Tavistock, Devon, in southwestern England. Edmund became a Protestant preacher and left the family to find parish work when Francis was still a child. Francis received little schooling. While still a young boy, he was sent to live with relatives, the Hawkins family, in the nearby town of Plymouth on England's southwest coast.

William Hawkins was a wealthy and powerful merchant whose ships traded in the Canary Islands and along the west coast of Africa. In his household Drake learned the skills of seafaring, which at that time often included piracy. Pirates attacked ships at sea and stole the valuable cargo. Though this practice was illegal, they often escaped punishment by arguing that the ships had belonged to rival countries.

In the late 1550s Drake accompanied his cousin, John Hawkins (1532–1595; see entry), on voyages to the French coast and other parts of Europe. Drake also sailed along when Hawkins began his ventures into the slave trade between Africa and the Americas. Though these excursions made Hawkins and his partners rich, they infuriated the Spanish, who had enjoyed exclusive rights to explore and trade in this part of the Western Hemisphere since 1494. Spain had no intention of letting England take a share of the huge wealth to be found in the Americas.

During Hawkins's third slaving voyage, in 1567, Drake participated as captain of the Judith, one of about nine ships in Hawkins's fleet. Expecting another extremely profitable excursion, he and Hawkins succeeded in selling most of their slaves in Rio de la Hacha and other Venezuelan ports. But soon after the fleet turned north for the home journey, the ships were hit by a devastating hurricane. Hawkins ordered them to shelter in the harbor of San Juan de Ulúa near Veracruz, Mexico. By now Spain had grown frustrated that the English continued to defy them about trade in the Caribbean. A large number of Spanish ships attacked the English, and after a fierce battle, Hawkins and Drake barely escaped with two ships. When Hawkins finally made it back to England, he claimed that Drake had slipped away with the Judith in the middle of the night, abandoning Hawkins and the remaining men on one overloaded ship with few supplies. Drake insisted he had followed orders. It was a scandal that troubled him for the rest of his life.

Privateering in the Americas

The experience caused Drake considerable bitterness toward Spain. He resented the riches he had lost in the attack, and he believed that this theft gave him the right to raid Spanish ships and territories in revenge. Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603; see entry) agreed, granting him a privateering commission in 1572. (Privateers are seafarers who own and operate their own ships independently but are authorized by their government to raid the ships of enemy nations, often capturing the entire ship with all its cargo.)

Drake took two small ships to the Caribbean, then known as the West Indies, in May 1572. He and his men attacked the settlement of Nombre de Dios, Panama, where they stole vast amounts of silver. Though he was wounded in the attack, Drake did not turn back because he wanted more treasure. He befriended the region's escaped African slaves, known as Cimaroons, who hated the Spanish and were eager to help Drake punish them. The Cimaroons showed Drake the route across the Isthmus of Panama by which the Spanish transported valuable goods. With this information Drake's party was able to raid Spanish ships carrying a fortune in silver. But Drake's brother, John, who had remained behind aboard one of the ships, was killed by Spanish gunfire. Soon afterward yellow fever attacked the ship, killing twenty-eight men, among them Drake's other brother, Joseph.

The voyage to the Caribbean made Drake a rich man. It also made him famous. But by the time he returned to Plymouth in 1573, England and Spain had agreed to try to maintain peaceful relations. Though the queen was enormously pleased that Drake had seized so much treasure from the Spanish colonies, she could not publicly welcome him or allow him to be treated as a hero.

Circumnavigates the world

Realizing that Elizabeth would not allow another privateering expedition at this time, Drake joined Robert Devereux's (Earl of Essex; 1566–1601; see entry) father, on a naval mission to defeat an uprising in Ireland in 1575. He was gone for about two years. Meanwhile the queen and her advisors were busy planning a secret expedition. They wished to send a fleet around South America to explore what lay beyond it. The fleet's commander would negotiate trading rights wherever possible, and he would also try to find an unknown continent called Terra Australis that was thought to lie south of the Strait of Magellan, a passage separating the southernmost part of the South American continent from the islands of Tierra del Fuego. The queen and those who invested in this expedition, including Robert Dudley (Earl of Leicester; 1532–1588; see entry) and secretary of state Francis Walsingham (1530–1590; see entry), wanted this expedition to bring them wealth as well as weaken Spain's power.

Drake was appointed commander of the expedition. He was given official permission to take whatever wealth he could for himself and for the queen, and, at the same time, to attack Spanish ships and ports. He set out in December 1577 with five small ships and fewer than two hundred men. His flagship, the Pelican, was named in honor of the queen, who admired the pelican as a religious symbol. Drake later renamed this ship the Golden Hind.

Drake sailed from Plymouth, England, to the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa. From there he turned west, crossing the Atlantic Ocean and heading toward South America. He reached the coast of Brazil in the spring of 1578. During the voyage tensions had arisen between himself and an officer, Thomas Doughty, in command of the Swan. In June, after stripping the Swan of all its supplies and equipment and ordering it to be burned, Drake put Doughty on trial for attempted mutiny. He also stripped and abandoned a second ship, the Christopher. Though a lawyer on board argued that these actions were not legal, Drake insisted that he did not care about the law. Doughty was found guilty and beheaded. Drake later bragged about the incident when he wished to frighten Spanish prisoners aboard his ship.

Ferdinand Magellan

Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan (1480–1521) led the first European expedition to circle the world. In the service of Spain, Magellan led a fleet of five small ships to explore the seas that lay beyond South America. These regions were little known to Europeans, but Magellan believed that a passage existed by which he could sail from the Atlantic into the Pacific, reaching the Spice Islands in the Indian Ocean. Previously European traders had sailed around Africa to reach these Asian ports.

Magellan set out on September 8,1519, and reached the coast of Brazil in December. He spent several months exploring the coast of Argentina and defeating an attempted mutiny. On October 31, Magellan finally entered the passage that, as it turned out, did lead to the Pacific. It took more than a month for his ships to navigate the passage, which wound among numerous islands and contained many channels. When he finally reached the western ocean, Magellan broke down and cried with joy. This passage became known as the Strait of Magellan.

Magellan's voyage across the Pacific was difficult. Hunger, thirst, and scurvy, a vitamin deficiency, took the lives of many of his crew. Sailors were forced to eat rat-gnawed biscuits and even leather from parts of the boat. On March 5, 1521, the ships arrived at Guam where they gathered supplies. Magellan then set sail for the Philippines. He had sailed thirteen thousand miles by the time he anchored in Cebu. There he befriended the ruler, but several weeks later, Magellan was killed in a fight on nearby Mactan Island.

Only one ship from Magellan's fleet, the Victoria, returned to Spain. The voyage, which ended on September 6, 1522, had taken almost three years. Of the original 270 men who sailed with Magellan, only eighteen survived. The sea route that Magellan discovered allowed European ships to navigate around South America. It remained an important sea route for hundreds of years, until the Panama Canal, which opened in 1914, provided a much shorter passage.

On August 21, 1578, Drake entered the Strait of Magellan. (The Strait of Magellan is a body of water on the southern end of South America that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It is named after explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who discovered the passage.) The trip through this difficult passage, which winds around numerous islands, took sixteen days. Once Drake reached the Pacific Ocean, however, huge winds battered his fleet. One ship sank, and the Golden Hind became separated from the remaining ship, the Elizabeth. Thinking the Golden Hind had sunk, the Elizabeth sailed back to England.

The Golden Hind was blown southward toward Cape Horn, at the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego. Exploring these treacherous waters, Drake was able to confirm his theory that the region south of Chile contained only open seas—and not an unknown continent. This discovery was an important advancement to geographic knowledge of the time. Though Drake did not actually sail through the waterway south of Tierra del Fuego, where storms and ice create great dangers, it became known as the Drake Passage. The passage was successfully sailed for the first time in 1616.

Turning back north, Drake sailed up the coast of Chile looking for riches. Never having experienced an attack in these waters, the Spanish were completely unprepared. In the port of Valparaiso Drake captured a large merchant ship and then looted the town. Finding less treasure than he had hoped, he continued up the coast, raiding settlements at will. His biggest prize, however, was the Spanish ship the Cacafuego, filled with gold, silver, and jewels. By the time Drake was ready to plot a return course to England, the Golden Hind was so crammed with riches that it sat dangerously low in the water.

Drake claimed to have sailed along the Pacific coast of the Americas as far north as Vancouver, Canada, before turning west. Historians, however, believe he exaggerated this story. Some evidence suggests he went as far as San Francisco, California, but other records show he may only have reached San Diego, California. In July 1579 he turned west across the Pacific. After sixty-eight days he sighted a group of islands that may have been the Palau Islands, near Indonesia. He then landed in the Philippines, where he gathered supplies. Drake went on to the Moluccas Islands, part of present-day Indonesia. Here, the ruling sultan entertained him and authorized him to trade for spices.

After repairing damage that the Golden Hind had sustained after hitting a reef, Drake sailed across the Indian Ocean and around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa. On September 26, 1580, two years after entering the Strait of Magellan, the Golden Hind returned to Plymouth harbor. Though the ship was loaded with treasure, only fifty-six of Drake's original crew of one hundred had survived. Drake had, however, become the second person to successfully circumnavigate, or sail around, the world—the first had been Magellan.

Wealth and fame

According to documents quoted by Harry Kelsey in Sir Francis Drake: The Queen's Pirate, Drake brought back to England "twenty of [Spain's] tons of silver, each one 2,000 pounds; five boxes of gold, a foot and half in length; and a huge quantity of pearls, some of great value." In addition, there were 650 ingots of silver weighing almost 23,000 pounds, as well as 36 parcels of gold weighing about 100 pounds. Those who had invested in the voyage got double their money back. The crew reportedly shared £40,000 among themselves, while the queen authorized Drake to take an extra £10,000 worth of gold for himself.

Queen Elizabeth was delighted with Drake's success, and she knighted him on April 1, 1581. (A knight is a man granted a rank of honor by the monarch for his personal merit or service to the country.) He was now immensely rich and famous. He enjoyed talking about his adventures, and he often told tales that were not quite true about his own bravery. He was elected to Parliament, England's legislative body, in 1581. He also became mayor of Plymouth that year. One of his accomplishments as mayor was the creation of a new water system for the town.

Drake had married in 1569, but his wife died in 1583, leaving him with no children. In 1585 he married Elizabeth Sydenham, whose family wealth further enhanced his fortune. He bought a large estate, Buckland Abbey, and settled down to enjoy his wealth and power.

War with Spain and the Armada crisis

Soon, however, Drake was at sea once again. By 1585 it was clear that war with Spain was likely, and, in order to weaken Spanish forces as much as possible, the queen sent Drake to raid Spanish territories. He set out with twenty-five ships on September 14. He captured Santiago, a Spanish port in the Cape Verde Islands, and then he raided the cities of Cartagena, Colombia; St. Augustine, Florida; and San Domingo, Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic). Turning north for the return to England, he stopped at Roanoke Island, the settlement organized by Walter Raleigh (1552–1618; see entry). The settlers there were running out of supplies, and Drake decided to take them back with him to England.

In 1587 Drake was ordered to plan attacks on merchant ships sailing into or out of ports in Spain and Portugal. He sailed into the city of Cadiz and destroyed or captured thirty-seven ships in its harbor. Later he occupied Sagres, Portugal. He also seized a large Portuguese merchant ship in the Azores, a group of nine islands off the coast of Portugal. Despite this damage, the powerful Spanish Armada (navy) remained ready for an attack on England. If this naval assault succeeded, King Philip II (1527–1598; see entry) of Spain would be able to invade the country, overthrow Queen Elizabeth, and install a Roman Catholic government.

The queen placed Drake second in command of the English fleet. In 1588 the Armada sailed into the English Channel. According to English legend, Drake was playing a game of bowls, a game much like bowling that is played on a lawn, when he heard the news that the Armada was nearby. The fearless Drake calmly finished the game while English fleet commanders prepared their ships for battle. After several inconclusive skirmishes in the Channel, the English were able to break the Armada's formation and then chase the Spanish ships toward the north. On its route back to Spain, the Armada was almost completely destroyed by a powerful storm. Though Drake tried to take credit for playing a major role in the Armada's defeat, he did not act with complete regard for England's defense. Early in the fighting he ignored orders and captured the Rosario, one of the Spanish pay ships, which was carrying a large amount of gold coins. Later he quarreled with another naval officer, Martin Frobisher (1535–1594), about dividing up the treasure. Frobisher claimed that Drake had withdrawn from the battle during an English attack on the San Mateo, and, according to Kelsey, called Drake "a cowardly knave or a traitor."

Nevertheless, the queen continued to trust Drake. In 1589 she sent him and Sir John Norris (1547–1597) to Spain with about 180 ships. But this fleet failed to inflict any significant military damage on Spanish or Portuguese targets. Most humiliating was its failure to capture the city of Lisbon. After losing several thousand men, the fleet sailed back to England. It was Drake's first naval failure.

Final voyage

Drake returned to Devon, where he was again elected to Parliament in 1593. Yet he was never entirely happy on land. When the queen offered him a commission in 1595 he immediately accepted. With John Hawkins, he would lead twenty-seven ships and about 2,500 men to the West Indies. Their mission was to attack the Spanish settlement there. The fleet sailed in August.

This expedition was a disaster from the start. When the fleet reached the Caribbean, Drake insisted on going ashore on Grand Canary Island. But local residents killed several crew members and captured others, who revealed the fleet's plans. Spain was warned, and a fleet was sent from Lisbon to stop Drake and Hawkins before they could capture the Spanish treasure ships in Puerto Rico.

While preparing the assault on San Juan, Puerto Rico, Hawkins died aboard ship. Several other officers were killed in the fighting. Drake left Puerto Rico, eventually reaching Curacao, an island off the coast of Venezuela. Finding little treasure there, he ordered the towns looted and burned. Realizing that the Spanish would be guarding the rich city of Cartagena, he decided to sail to Panama instead. Here the fleet encountered bad weather and Spanish resistance. In January 1596 Drake ordered the fleet to sail toward Honduras and Nicaragua. Soon afterward he fell seriously ill with dysentery, an inflammation of the lower intestines that causes severe diarrhea. Drake realized he would not survive this journey. After dictating final changes to his will, he died aboard his ship on January 28, 1596. Though he had stated his desire to be buried on land, Drake's body was sealed in a lead casket and buried at sea. The surviving ships, empty of treasure, returned to England in April and May.

Drake was a legend in his own time. The writer Richard Hakluyt (1552–1616; see entry) published accounts of Drake's voyages that focused on Drake's bravery and heroism. The queen and others who grew rich from Drake's plunder admired and encouraged his daring exploits. But, though Drake was fearless, he was also greedy and violent. Both a pirate and a patriot, Drake remains one of the most famous figures in English history.

For More Information


Cummins, John. Francis Drake: Lives of a Hero. New York: Macmillan, 1997.

Jugden, John. Sir Francis Drake. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1990.

Kelsey, Harry. Sir Francis Drake: The Queen's Pirate. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1998.


Cummins, John. "'That Golden Knight' Drake and His Reputation." History Today, January, 1996, p. 14.

Schwarz, Frederic C. "1573: Drake Sees the Pacific." American Heritage, February-March, 1998, p. 94.


Pretty, Francis. "Sir Francis Drake's Famous Voyage Round the World, 1580." Modern History Sourcebook. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1580Pretty-drake.html (accessed on July 11, 2006).

"Sir Francis Drake." National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory, Greenwich. http://www.nmm.ac.uk/server/show/conWebDoc. 140 (accessed on July 11, 2006).

"Sir Francis Drake." http://www.sirfrancisdrakehistory.net/ (accessed on July 11, 2006).

Drake, Francis

views updated May 14 2018

Francis Drake

Born: c. 1541
Tavistock, England
Died: January 28, 1596
Puerto Bello, Honduras

English navigator and ship captain

The English navigator Sir Francis Drake was the first of his countrymen to sail around the world. His daring adventures at sea helped to establish England's naval supremacy over Spain and other European nations.

Forced from home

Francis Drake, the eldest son of a farmer, was born near Tavistock, Devonshire, England. His father, Robert Drake, later became a preacher and raised his twelve children as Protestants (followers of the Christian religion who are not part of the Roman Catholic Church). Raised in a poor environment, Drake's family, like many Protestants, was forced from their home after a Catholic uprising. Young Drake soon developed a hatred for Catholics, especially those from Spain, Europe's most powerful Catholic country.

Drake received some education, and he later learned the basics of navigation (getting a ship from one place to another by plotting position and direction) and seamanship and did some sailing near his home. The Drakes were related to the Hawkins family of Plymouth, England, who were well-to-do seamen and shipowners. The Hawkins connection got Drake a place on a 1566 slave-trading voyage to the Cape Verde Islands in Africa and the Spanish Main (South America's northern coast).

First command

In 1567 John Hawkins (15321595) made Drake an officer in a larger slavetrading voyage. Drake ultimately was given command of one of Hawkins's ships, the Judith, and accompanied his relative to Africa, Rio de la Hacha, and Santa Marta (a port on the coast of northern Colombia). The English were caught, however, in the harbor of San Juan de Ulúa (an island near Veracruz in eastern Mexico) 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. Angered by this, Drake decided to devote his life to war against Spain.

By 1576 England's relations with Spain had worsened. Drake returned to England, where a new expedition (a voyage made for a specific reason, such as to discover a new route or area) was being planned and in which Queen Elizabeth (15331603) had a financial share. Drake's main instructions were to sail through the Strait of Magellan (a narrow waterway in the southern tip of Argentina) and probe 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 in southern Argentina for the southern hemisphere winter. Ferdinand Magellan (c.14801521) had once crushed a mutiny (rebellion) there, and Drake did the same.

When Drake passed through the strait and entered the Pacific Ocean, only the Golden Hind remained; the other ships had been lost or had parted company. Bad winds forced him southward, and he perhaps sighted Cape Horn (the very southern tip of South America). 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.

Drake's trip around the world continued through the Indian Ocean and the Cape of Good Hope (the southern tip of Africa). Drake arrived in Plymouth in 1580, praised by the public and the queen. In April 1581 he was knighted on the deck of the Golden Hind.

Spanish Armada

As relations between England and Spain grew even worse, Queen Elizabeth unleashed Drake on the Spaniards in 1585 and 1586. Drake captured several Spanish cities and inflicted great damage on Spanish morale. Now there was no avoiding formal war. Philip II (15271598) began assembling his Armada (a fleet of warships) in Portugal, which had been in his possession since 1580.

Queen Elizabeth appointed Lord Charles Howard of Effingham commander of her fleet and gave Drake, Hawkins, and Martin Frobisher supporting posts. Drake called for a strong blow at Philip's unprepared Armada and received permission to strike. In April 1587 he recklessly sailed into Cadiz and destroyed or captured thirty-seven enemy ships. He then occupied the Portuguese town of Sagres for a time and finally, in the Azores (a group of islands in the North Atlantic), seized a large Portuguese carrack (ship) with a rich cargo bound homeward from Goa.

Drake met with his first major defeat in 1589, when he commanded the naval expedition sent to take Lisbon, Portugal. Drake did not go to sea again for five years. He concerned himself mainly with Plymouth matters. He sat in Parliament (England's governing body), but nothing of note marked his presence there.

Final voyage

In 1595 Queen Elizabeth thought she saw a chance of ending the war victoriously by cutting off the Spanish treasure supply from the Isthmus of Panama (a thin piece of land that connects North America to South America). For this she selected Hawkins, then sixty-three, and Drake, in his fifties. The queen ordered that they must be back in six months, which was barely enough time to capture Panama. Hawkins soon died, leaving Drake in sole command. The Spaniards had strengthened their defenses, and Drake failed to capture the city.

After failed expeditions to capture Nombre de Dios (a port on the northern coast of Panama) and then Panama, Drake cruised aimlessly to Honduras and back and then fell ill of fever and dysentery (infection of the intestines). He died off Puerto Bello on January 28, 1596, and was buried at sea.

For More Information

Cummins, John G. Francis Drake: The Lives of a Hero. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.

Duncan, Alice Smith. Sir Francis Drake and the Struggle for an Ocean Empire. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1993.

Kelsey, Harry. Sir Francis Drake: The Queen's Pirate. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998.

Drake, Sir Francis (1540–1596)

views updated Jun 11 2018

Drake, Sir Francis (15401596)

English navigator and privateer. The son of a yeoman farmer and devout Protestant, Drake was born near the town of Tavistock in Devonshire. He was a relation of the well-to-do Hawkins clan, a family of local shipowners, and through his connection to John Hawkins Drake was taken on as captain of the Judith in 1567 during one of Hawkins's profitable slaving expeditions. Although the fleet managed to capture and sell its human cargo, the voyage ended in disaster when it was attacked by hostile Spanish ships in the harbor of San Juan de Ulua. Only two vessels made it back to England, including Drake's own Judith. After this encounter, Drake made it his life's work to exact revenge on Spanish men, treasure, and ships, wherever he might find them.

Queen Elizabeth, unwilling to allow Hawkins to counterattack yet still in favor of naval operations against Spain, allowed Drake to return to the Spanish Main in 1570. Aboard the Susan, Drake explored the coasts of Panama and discovered the route followed by the Spanish treasure caravans from Peru, across the isthmus of Panama, to the Caribbean Sea. He intercepted and captured a large train of silver and brought the treasure safely back to England, making him a wealthy man. Not happy with this act of open warfare against Spain, Elizabeth banished him to Ireland for a time, where Drake served under the Earl of Essex to put down one in a long series of rebellions against English rule.

In 1577, Drake was commissioned by Elizabeth to lead a raiding fleet against Spanish ports on the Pacific coasts of the Americas. The navigator set sail with a fleet of five ships, but mutiny and poor weather hampered the voyage and only his flagship, the Golden Hind, made it through the Straits of Magellan and as far as the Pacific Ocean. Searching for a northerly passage back to the Atlantic Ocean, Drake's vessel landed somewhere near Drake's Bay, now in the state of California, and named the surroundings New Albion in the name of the queen and England. Instead of retracing his route, Drake then sailed west, across the vast Pacific to the Philippines, the East Indies, and the Indian Ocean and then around the Cape of Good Hope. Having collected a considerable fortune from Spanish treasure ships, he returned to England in September 1580. The voyage had made him the second European to circumnavigate the globe after Ferdinand Magellan had died accomplishing the same feat in 1519. On his return Drake was rewarded with a knighthood by the queen on the decks of the Golden Hind.

In 1581 Drake settled in Plymouth, where his renown as an adventurer and privateer earned him election as the town's mayor. Still yearning for the sea, in 1585 Drake accepted orders to disrupt Spanish preparations for an expedition against England. Drake and his crew attacked the Spaniards on the coast of Spain as well as at the Cape Verde Islands. The fleet then crossed the Atlantic Ocean, captured Spanish towns in South America, plundered the Spanish colony of Saint Augustine in what is now northeastern Florida, and reached the English colony at Roanoke, where he took on survivors and returned them to England. This voyage provoked open warfare between England and Spain, and King Philip II was soon ordering preparations for a naval assault. Elizabeth allowed Drake to strike the first blow, and in 1587 he reappeared in the port of Cadiz, where he destroyed about thirty Spanish vessels.

In 1588, as the Spanish Armada was gathering, Drake was appointed a vice admiral of the English fleet. Drake disrupted the expedition by raiding supply ships, delaying and weakening the Spanish fleet. The Armada then set out for the English Channel, but turned back after losing several skirmishes with Drake and other English commanders as well as very poor weather. In 1595 Drake was again in command, along with John Hawkins, of an expedition to Panama ordered by the queen. This time, the Spanish were warned ahead of time and were waiting for the English privateers. Off the port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Hawkins died and Drake was beaten back from the harbor. On reaching Panama, Drake was ambushed by Spanish troops and forced out to sea, where he soon died of a fever.

See Also: Elizabeth I; Magellan, Ferdinand; Spanish Armada

Drake, Francis

views updated May 21 2018

Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake was the first English navigator to sail all the way around the world.

Expeditions to the New World

Drake was born around 1540, the son of a poor farmer. He trained as a seaman as a young man. While still in his teens, he served on several expeditions in the Atlantic slave trade , sailing from Europe to Africa and then on to the New World. During one of these expeditions, the Spanish, England's enemy at the time, attacked his fleet, sinking ships and killing seamen. Drake survived, but vowed revenge.

Drake developed into a brilliant seaman, and his skills soon came to the attention of British queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603). With England and Spain locked in conflict, Elizabeth wished to cut off Spain from its steady supplies of gold and other riches from the New World. She made Drake a privateer, someone allowed by law to attack and plunder Spanish ships and settlements. Drake sailed for the New World, where he attacked poorly defended Spanish settlements, robbing them of their stores of gold. When he reached Panama, he caught a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean for the first time. He prayed that he would someday sail an English ship in that sea.

The trip around the world

On November 15, 1577, Queen Elizabeth I commissioned Drake to cross the treacherous Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of South America and explore the unknown lands on the Pacific Ocean side of the continent. Many had tried and failed to sail through the strait before him. Drake crossed the 300-mile (483-kilometer) waterway in a record two weeks. His ship, the Golden Hind, then sailed northward along the coast of South America, with Drake plundering a Spanish port and a treasure ship along the way. Continuing his journey up the coast of North America, he anchored at Coos Bay, off the coast of the area that is now Oregon . He traveled north again and became the first European to see the western coast of modern-day Canada.

In July 1579, Drake headed west from the shores of North America across the Pacific Ocean. Over the next few months, he sailed by the South Pacific island of Palau and stopped in the Philippines and the Spice Islands. Drake then crossed the Indian Ocean and came around the tip of Africa via the Cape of Good Hope. On September 26, 1580, two years after sailing through the Strait of Magellan, he brought his ship back to Plymouth Harbor in England. The Golden Hind was the first English ship to sail around the world.

Enemy of Spain

During the 1580s, Drake caused so much damage in his attacks on Spanish fleets that he is considered one of the major reasons for the war between Spain and England. In July 1588, Spain sent its huge fleet of warships, the Spanish Armada, to the English Channel, ready to attack England on its own soil. Drake was appointed vice admiral of the British fleet that set out to meet the Spanish. After a long but indecisive battle, the Spanish fleet retreated. Drake sent ships that had been set on fire after them. Driven by a brisk wind, the fire ships destroyed a good portion of the Spanish fleet, giving England, and Drake, an unexpected and highly celebrated victory.

While attempting an attack on Spanish colonies in the West Indies in 1596, Drake died of fever and was buried at sea off the coast of Panama.

Drake, Sir Francis

views updated May 17 2018

Drake, Sir Francis (c.1543–96). In legend and perhaps in reality, Drake was the greatest of the Elizabethan ‘sea-dogs’. A skilled seaman and naval tactician, an inspiring leader of men, he was, nevertheless, capable of greed, disloyalty, injustice towards associates, and poor judgement as a naval strategist. His career was a key part of the process by which England emerged as an oceanic power. Though of yeoman stock, Drake became closely associated with a predatory and aggressive ruling aristocracy ready to sanction piracy and privateering against the French, Portuguese, and above all, the Spanish. The contests with the latter also had a religious edge as Drake was a determined protestant. Yet the Spaniards who knew El Draque admired him.

Originally from Devon, Drake learned seamanship apprenticed on a coastal bark plying from the Thames, but in the 1560s joined a kinsman, Hawkins, on ventures to Spain and then to west Africa and the Caribbean, procuring and selling slaves in the face of Portuguese and Spanish hostility. By 1569, Drake was in command of a ship. Details of his life are obscure, but he made at least three piratical expeditions to the Caribbean, with that in 1572 capturing 30 tons of silver, part of the Spanish treasure annually brought across the Isthmus of Panama. After an Irish venture, in 1577 Drake embarked on a circumnavigation of the globe financed by the queen and other great people. This was at once further plundering of the Spanish—now on the western coast of the Americas—a search for the Pacific end of the North-West Passage, and an attempt to reach the spice islands by going west. Drake's expedition was the second to circuit the globe and also led to his claiming California for Elizabeth. Just where Drake landed in California and whether a plaque which came to notice in 1937 was actually the one he left there in 1579 remain in dispute. On the return of the 70-foot-long Golden Hind in 1580, Drake, rich and famous, was knighted, while England, it has been said, began to think globally.

There followed further raids on Spain and, most notably, assaults on key Spanish positions around the Caribbean in 1585–6 and Cadiz in 1587. These actions, combined with the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 with Drake second in command, ended Spain's unquestioned supremacy at sea, though they did not break Spain's naval power. Nor was Drake's role in the defeat of the Armada the key one.

In 1589, Drake led an expedition against Lisbon before settling to active involvement in the life of Plymouth, including becoming its MP. He was encouraged to resume a privateering career in 1595 since Elizabeth's policy favoured predation on Spain as a means of increasing England's stake in world trade. But the attacks in the West Indies failed and Drake died at sea. This disaster was soon forgotten as the legend was elaborated in subsequent years and centuries.

Roy C. Bridges

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