Sir Francis Drake
1540 - 1596
First Englishman to Sail Around The World
by Rit Nosotro
First Published:: 2003
Defeater of the Spanish Armada
Privateer and slave-trader, navel officer and explorer, as well as a strong Anglican, Francis Drake brought much glory and riches to both his queen and himself. Undaunted by any situation, Drake built up a reputation that rivaled that of Columbus. Throughout his life, all of Europe came to know, fear, and admire the courageous Devon Dog of England.
Ever since his birth in 1540, around the area of Devon, England, Francis Drake seemed to be destined for the sea. Although not much is known about childhood, it was known that his family was not rich or powerful, but very religious. When Queen Mary, who was Catholic, took the throne and created many religious disturbances in Devon, Drake’s mother and father moved from Devon to Chatham in Kent, where they lived in an old ship. Afterwards his father became a Protestant preacher. Drake got his first taste for sailing at the age of twelve or thirteen when he was apprenticed on a small trading ship, which the master left him upon the event of his death. Drake sold the ship and went to sail with his cousin, John Hawkins. Together they made the first English slave trips to Africa. Drake and Hawkins also made profitable livings as pirates, since it was often overlooked by the authorities. At the age of twenty-three, Francis became the captain of his first ship, the Judith. That signaled the time when he began to make his mark on history (Drake).
As a privateer and friend to Queen Elizabeth of England, Francis Drake made many excursions to the Spanish Mains in the Caribbean. His trips consisting of raiding ports and towns, as well commandeering Spanish gold ships. Spanish and Portuguese ports in the Atlantic and the New World were his main targets (Drake). During the year of 1577, the Queen commissioned Drake to sail around the world; so with Francis at the helm, five ships containing one-hundred and sixty-four sailors, set sail from the Plymouth port.
While sailing down the Atlantic coast, Drake and his band of four were met by storms, disease, and hostile natives. Afraid of separation, Drake destroyed the two weakest ships, and continued on with the Marigold, and the Elizabeth. On crossing the straight of Magellan and entering the Pacific, the three ships encountered a violent storm lasting two months. Before the storm ended, the Marigold capsized, taking her whole crew down with her; and the Elizabeth found herself shoved back into the Magellan. Instead of trying to continue the mission, she and her crew returned home to England safely, but disgraced. Francis Drake’s ship, the Golden Hind (previously known as the Pelican) had been blown far to the south, where Francis discovered that there was possibly open water below South America (Seeler).
For the next five and a half months, Drake plundered and pillaged the previously untouched Spanish waters. He stopped and raided Spanish settlements at will, including Valpariso, Lima and Arica. Also, he intercepted and took control of many Spanish ships, including the richly gold laden ship "Cacafuego." His last raid in the Pacific was in the city of Guatulco, from which he was believed to have taken roughly twenty-six tons of silver. During all of his raids, Francis Drake’s amount of restraint was considered astonishing. Rarely was there any violence, and neither the Natives nor the Spanish were ever intentionally harmed (Seeler). In 1588, after many more months of trading in various countries, Drake made his way back home. Magellan's expedition of 1519-1522 left their leader dead and one weakened vessel staggard back having circumnavigated the globe. Queen Elizabeth, pleased with his accomplishment as the first English leader to circumnavigate the world, rewarded him with a 10,000 pounds. She also knighted him, a move that greatly insulted the King of Spain.
When war broke out with Spain in 1585, Francis Drake was given a fleet to command. Then in 1587 when England caught drift that the Spanish were building an armada to come and attack them, Drake took his company of twenty-nine ships and sailed to the port of Cadiz. After gaining their way into the harbor, the English succeeded in capturing six ships, desecrating thirty-one others as well as large number of supplies--a loss that set Spain back for almost a year. Upon arrival in England, Francis was appointed Vice Admiral (Hickman). Spain recovered from the loss at Cadiz and launched another attack on England. Drake began to follow the Spanish Armada, leading his battalion of ships by lantern which was hung from his bow, during the night. When he heard that the Spanish galleon, Rosario, had collided with another ship and broken it’s mast; he decided to capture it; so putting out the lamp on his bow, he stealthily captured the galleon and its’ treasure. Although Drake was successful in capturing the Rosario, by putting out his lamp he put the entire English armada into chaos (Wikipedia).
During the rest of his life, Francis Drake had both many victories and many losses. He sailed for the last time in January of 1596. After suffering from dysentery for many days, Sir Francis Drake died, near the coast of Panama, in the Nombre de Dios Bay. Members of his crew placed his body into a lead casket and slipped into the sea. Two of his most recently captured ships were sunk near his grave sight (Drake). Francis Drake had always been an optimistic and courageous man as well as a great leader and strong Protestant. He never boasted in his victories, even though he had the right to. Except in the eyes of Catholic Spain and Rathlin Island Scotts, Drake is one of the greatest naval heroes of history.
Prayer of Francis Drake, 1577
Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.
By defeating Spain, it was English Protestants rather than Spainish Roman Catholics that predominately settled in North America. In issuing the Virginia Company charter the King James I wrote in 1606:
We greatly commend and graciously accept their desires for the furtherance of so noble a work, which may, by the providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the glory of his divine majesty, in propagating of Christian religion to such people as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God and may in time bring the infidels and savages living in those parts to human civility and a settled, quiet government.
Incidently, this endevor was contemporary with the Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci, who had just translated the New Testament into Chinese before his death in 1610.
(Drake) "Sir Francis Drake." Explorers & Leaders 17 Sep 2008 http://www.nmm.ac.uk/drake.
(Sedivy), Mr. "Sir Francis Drake." Famous Quotes Throughout World History - 17 Sep 2008 http://mr_sedivy.tripod.com/quotes6.html.
(Kelsey), Harry. "Sir Francis Drake, The Queen's Pirate." (1998) 17 Sep 2008 http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/k/kelsey-drake.html.
(Seeler), Oliver. "The Voyage." 1996 18 Sep 2008 http://www.mcn.org/2/oseeler/voy.htm.
(Hickman), Kennedy. "Anglo-Spanish war: Sir Francis Drake." 18 Sep 2008 http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/naval/p/drake.htm.
(Wikipedia), Sir Francis Drake 18 Sep 2008 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Francis_Drake#Defeat_of_the_Spanish_Armada.