Sir Francis Drake

views updated

Sir Francis Drake


English Navigator

Sir Francis Drake was an English seaman and explorer who made the second circumnavigation around the world and later led the English in defeating the Spanish Armada in an historic battle in 1588. At the time of his death, Drake was an internationally acclaimed figure known throughout the world for his privateering, pirating, and geographical knowledge.

Francis Drake was born in the town of Tavistock in Devonshire, England. He was one of 12 sons born into a modest family, almost all of who became seaman. In his teens Drake was apprenticed to a shipmaster, and in 1566 he was employed as a seaman on English ships engaged in the slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean.

On his return to England in 1569, Drake reported Spanish and Portequese attacks on English ships to Queen Elizabeth I. Due to the great rivalry between England, Spain, and Portugal, the Queen officially gave Drake a privateering commission to cruise the Panamanian coast. A "privateer" was someone authorized by the government of one country to attack the ships of another country and then retain a portion of the proceeds. From these privateering expeditions, Drake learned the art of sailing and the geography of the Western Hemisphere, and he developed a life-long hatred of the Spanish. For the remainder of his life he conducted a personal war against Spain.

In 1577 Queen Elizabeth commissioned Drake to sail around the world. The expedition would sail to the South Seas through the Strait of Magellan, something no Englishman had ever done. English trading posts were to be established throughout the Pacific. Queen Elizabeth also assumed that a small force of about 200 men could severely disrupt the flow of gold and silver to Spain, giving England an advantage over her arch rival.

In 1577 the circumnavigation expedition departed with a crew of 166 men—primarily hardened seamen who could handle weapons. The Pelican (commanded by Drake), the Elizabeth, and three smaller vessels, heavily armed, set sail from Plymouth, England, en route to Brazil, the mouth of the Rio de la Plata in Argentina, and Patagonia and on through the Straits of Magellan in 1578. Once through the treacherous straits, only three ships remained as two ships had burned. Once in the Pacific the little fleet was hit by a fierce storm that lasted 52 days and drove Drake's ship far off course to the south. One of the remaining ships was sunk with the crew onboard, and the other returned home. Drake renamed his ship the Golden Hind and continued the journey.

Drake and the Golden Hind sailed up the coast of South America, provisioning themselves with supplies captured from Spanish storehouses in Chile and several Spanish ships captured en route. In 1579 he anchored near Coos Bay, Oregon, and then repaired his ship in Drake's Bay, California. From there he headed out into the Pacific and did not sight land for 68 days until he reached Palau in southwestern Micronesia. He refitted his ship in Java, sailed to the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived back in England in 1580, where Queen Elizabeth knighted him in 1581. He was the second person to lead an expedition around the world and the first Englishman to do so.

By this time the Spanish were determined to put an end to the English raids and mounted the Great Armada of 1588. Drake was put in charge of the English fleet. After a series of fierce battles, the Spanish were forced to retreat, and the remainder of their ships were destroyed by storms. At this defining moment, England replaced Spain as the most influential sea power in the world.

Drake died in 1596 off of the coast of Panama.


About this article

Sir Francis Drake

Updated About content Print Article