Francis Drake

Summary

Sir Francis Drake († January 28, 1596 at Portobelo, Panama) was an English privateer and explorer, later vice admiral, and the first English circumnavigator.

Childhood and youth

Francis Drake was born about 1540 in Crowndale, England (near Tavistock in the West Devon Borough of Devonshire), the eldest of twelve children. His exact date of birth, like many of his contemporaries, is unknown. He grew up in a Protestant farming family that was driven from their land in a Catholic uprising and fled to Upnor (northeast of Rochester in the county of Kent). Since Drake”s father Edmund”s brother Thomas was intended as heir, Francis and his brothers had to support themselves at a young age. His father, who worked as a minister in Upnor, taught him to read and write before Francis began his apprenticeship as a seaman at about 13.

Seafarer training

First as a ship”s boy, then as a sailor and finally as a helmsman, he sailed on a small coastal ship between Plymouth, France and the Spanish Netherlands. The skipper had remained childless and saw Drake as something of an adopted son. From him Drake learned the art of navigation. Before the skipper died, he bequeathed his ship to Drake, who was now about 20 years old. At that time, Spain imposed an embargo on English merchants calling at the Netherlands. They were accused of spreading Protestantism. This also abruptly ended Drake”s prospects for financial independence and prosperity. He continued to operate the inherited ship for a while, but was then forced to sell it and hire out to his cousin John Hawkins instead. Thus, he sailed on one of his cousin”s merchant ships as a purser on a voyage to northeastern Spain (1564).

First ventures

Because of Spain”s embargo, Queen Elizabeth I issued letters of marque to English ship groups, which allowed them to board Spanish ships and take over their stock of goods – in part also for the benefit of the English treasury. Captain James Lovell also participated in such actions.

On November 9, 1566, Lovell”s voyage to the Cape Verde Islands began, with Francis Drake participating as an officer. During this venture, a number of Spanish and Portuguese ships were captured. These acts of piracy meant for Drake the experience of his first “sea battle”. The enterprise essentially consisted of an attempt to undermine the monopoly on the slave trade held by the Spanish King Philip II. As part of the Atlantic Triangle Trade, black African slaves were purchased on the coast of West Africa, crammed into ships and transported to the Caribbean to be sold to the Spanish settlers there.

The settlers were strictly forbidden by the Spanish crown to trade with the English Protestants. However, the ban had little effect. Far from the influence of the mother country, the settlers willingly took the slaves from the English. Lovell”s voyage was nonetheless a financial failure because the governor in charge of Rio de la Hacha, the royal treasurer Miguel de Castellanos, refused to accede to the English”s demand for imports. Rio de la Hacha (today”s Riohacha) was only a tiny town on the coast of what is now Colombia, but at the time it represented one of the two access points for the Colombian highlands (the other was Santa Marta).

Not long after Drake”s return, another enterprise was prepared, this time by his cousin John Hawkins. The goal was the same as Lovell”s voyage: to enslave Africans in order to sell them, bypassing the Spanish trade monopoly, to settlers in Central America. Six ships left Plymouth Sound on October 2, 1567, with a total of 408 people on board. After capturing the Portuguese caravel Gracia Dei near the Cape Verde Islands, Drake took command of the ship. During an attack on a settlement on the Tagarin River (present name Peninsula) in Sierra Leone in January 1568, 250 black Africans were captured and enslaved. The fleet then sailed to the Caribbean, calling first at the small island of Dominica and then at Borburata (in present-day Venezuela). However, the governor refused to trade with the English.

Drake was appointed captain of the Judith, which was only 50 tons, at this time. In June 1568, the fleet reached Rio de la Hacha. The Spanish fired on the Judith, which had been sent as an advance guard, whereupon Drake had the governor”s house shelled. The English now blockaded the port and forced Governor Miguel de Castellanos to trade. Hawkins was able to sell 200 of his slaves. In July 1568, Hawkins sailed for Santa Marta. After Hawkins” musketeers fired into the air, feigning an attack, he managed to sell another 110 slaves. The supposed attack would allow local Spanish officials to later cleverly get out of the affair. At this point, 57 slaves were still aboard Hawkins” ships. An attempt to “get rid” of the remaining slaves as well, this time in Cartagena, failed.

On the return voyage, the ships were caught in a heavy storm. After severe water penetration in Hawkins” flagship, they reached the small port of San Juan de Ulúa only with difficulty (→ The Conflict of San Juan de Ulúa). After the Spanish silver fleet entered the harbor a few days later, a truce was agreed with the new viceroy of New Spain, Martín Enríquez de Almansa, who was on board, but the Spanish broke it. In the engagement on September 23, 1568, all English ships were destroyed except the Minion and the Judith. The Spanish admiral”s ship and one of the Spanish merchant ships were sunk. Hawkins managed to escape aboard the Minion. Drake escaped aboard the Judith. Both ships made it back to England in January 1569. However, of the 408 crew members of the English ships, only a handful survived. Those who were not already killed in the actual battle were either captured and fell victim to the Spanish Inquisition, or died of hunger, thirst, and exhaustion on the grueling return voyage.

John Hawkins reproached Drake afterwards, claiming that he had abandoned him and his comrades. The question as to what help Drake could have provided at all with his ship, which weighed only 50 tons, was equipped only with very light armament and was already overloaded with survivors from the Jesus of Lübeck, remained unanswered. At the time, the incident contributed significantly to turning the mood in England against Spain. For Drake, it was crucial to his future attitude. Since this venture, Drake harbored a very personal hatred for King Philip II of Spain and especially for his governor in New Spain, Viceroy Martín Enríquez de Almansa. In retrospect, it can be said that Drake”s aversions gradually escalated into a very personal private war against the Spanish crown.

First privateering (1570-1571)

On July 4, 1569, Drake married in the church at St. Budeaux near Plymouth. The marriage with Mary Drake remained childless. In 1570 Drake prepared a first privateering voyage to the Caribbean. The voyage itself was probably uneventful. Drake later claimed that it served the purpose of enlightenment.

A short time later, also in 1570, a second voyage followed. Here Drake had the tiny Swan with 25 tons. He reached the West Indies in February 1571, and on the 21st of the same month Drake”s men attacked a Spanish “frigata” (of the Portuguese two-masted coastal sailboat type), killing or wounding several Spaniards. Drake left a note aboard the plundered ship:

Drake next called at Venta Cruces, one of the main hubs for the onward transport of Spanish gold and silver spoils from South America. Here he captured about 100,000 pesos in merchandise. In early May, he reached Bastimentos, where about a dozen smaller ships were plundered. Here, trade goods worth another 150,000 pesos were captured. On May 8, 1571, a Spanish dispatch boat was captured, killing two Spaniards and wounding at least seven. A Spanish monk was subsequently stripped naked and taunted by the English sailors. Toward the end of May, more Spanish ships were captured, with the haul this time amounting to just over 400,000 ducats. The official listing of the damage done was 160,000 pesos, which was the equivalent of 66,000 pounds in Tudor currency at the then-current exchange rate of 8 shillings 3 pence. It was at this time that King Philip II of Spain first heard of Drake and his apparent private war. The Spanish henceforth called Drake El Draque, which roughly corresponds to the Spanish pronunciation of the name. The voyage marked the beginning of English piracy in the Caribbean.

The second great privateering voyage to the Caribbean (1572-1573)

On May 24, 1572, the next venture began. This time Drake had two ships at his disposal, the Swan of 25 tons and the Pasco of 70 tons. A total of 73 people were on board both ships. Among them were two of his brothers, John and Joseph.

Some time after the arrival of the English ships in the Caribbean, Drake met the English captain James Raunse. The latter had participated in John Hawkins” ill-fated voyage to San Juan de Ulúa as commander of the merchantman William and John, but had abandoned the voyage early and returned to England. Drake and Raunse teamed up and decided to attack Nombre de Dios, another major hub for transporting gold and silver to Spain. At this point, the English force consisted of about 100 men.

The attack began between 2 and 3 a.m. on July 28, 1572. After a brief skirmish with the local militia, Drake and his men were in virtual possession of the village. A pile of silver ingots, “70 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 12 feet high … the individual ingots weighed from 35 to 40 pounds,” was found in a warehouse.Drake suffered a gunshot wound to the leg in the attack, but initially concealed it. However, due to blood loss, he collapsed. The sailors then abandoned the action for fear of being lost without Drake.

On the morning of July 29, they retreated to Bastimentos Island. The mayor (Alcalde) of Nombre de Dios sent an emissary to inquire if Drake was “the same Drake who had been in this area before and who had earned a reputation for his humanity.” He also wanted to know if the Englishmen”s arrows had been poisoned and if Drake needed food. The answer was as follows:

The messenger was sent back “so overloaded with English gifts that he declared he had never been so honored in his life.” The defenses at Nombre de Dios were subsequently reinforced and the neighboring towns alerted. James Raunse had had enough and sailed for home. Drake, on the other hand, sailed for Cartagena. On August 15, 1572, he entered the harbor and captured two ships. Now that the Swan was becoming a liability, she was sunk. Drake transferred command of the Pasco to his brother and moved himself to one of the small pinnaces he carried.

At this point, he decided to make contact with the Cimarrones, escaped black slaves he had encountered sporadically before and who, at the time, posed a considerably greater threat to the Spanish colonists than the occasional pirate raids or the Indians with whom Drake also came into contact. A former slave named Diego had escaped into Nombre de Dios and followed Drake. He also continued to stay with Drake and returned with him to England (Diego later participated in Drake”s voyage around the world and may have been the first African to complete a circumnavigation). That a man who had been kidnapped from his homeland as a slave by Europeans voluntarily joined a man like Drake after this experience proves that Francis Drake thought differently than his cousin John Hawkins, for whom blacks were “not even men.” From that point on, Drake had a highly developed respect for people of a different skin color or culture, although he also always remained a child of his time.

Drake”s brother John set out with Diego to search for the Cimarrones. After contact was made, two groups of Cimarrones arrived. On September 14, an alliance was formed and detailed plans began to be drawn up. A fort was built on an island a few miles offshore east of the Cativa promontory and christened Fort Diego after its architect. Drake then left his brother John in command and sailed to Cartagena for food and information. A few days later, a Spanish ship appeared. John Drake, armed with a broken rapier and a pillow as a shield, was shot by a Spanish musketeer while attempting to capture the ship.

Drake and his men spent the fall of 1572 practically blockading the port of Cartagena. He always made sure that the prisoners reached safe land. In the process, they occasionally had to be protected from the unbridled hatred of the Cimarrones, who felt no affection for the Spaniards. On October 27, Drake drove a Spanish “frigata” onto the beach. The ship had a cargo of gold and silver on board. However, the attempt to take the ship failed when several hundred Spanish cavalrymen showed up. After returning to Fort Diego, yellow fever broke out among the crew. Within ten days, 10 crew members died. Among them was Joseph, the second of Drake”s brothers. To the sailors” horror, Francis performed an autopsy on his brother”s body, hoping to find some trigger for the deadly disease. But the attempt yielded nothing. In the end, nearly 40 percent of the sailors had fallen victim to the disease.

Drake now turned his attention to his real objective. He planned to raid one of the regular caravan transports that carried gold and silver across the Isthmus of Panamá to the Caribbean coast for shipment to Spain.

At about this time the Cimarrones showed Drake a tall tree in which they had cut climbing holes. The tree was used by them as an observation tower. From this tree, Drake could see the Caribbean Sea on one side and Panamá and the Pacific Ocean on the other. He made an oath at that moment: “He asked the Almighty in His goodness to give him (a long) life, so that he might one day sail in this ocean in an English ship.”

After the Cimarrones found out through a spy that the treasurer of Lima was about to leave Panamá with a caravan, Drake prepared an ambush. A few miles from Venta Cruces, the English and their allies hid on either side of the trail that connected Panamá and Venta Cruces. To be able to recognize each other in the darkness, they wore white shirts over their clothes. However, a drunken sailor named Robert Pike wandered into the open, whereupon the Spaniards fled. Drake”s men captured only a few llamas that had been part of the advance guard. On their way back to the coast, they encountered a group of Spanish travelers. In the skirmish that followed, several Spaniards were killed, and the rest fled. Drake himself was wounded. They initially retreated to Venta Cruces.

In one house there were several women who had just given birth and were very worried, especially because of the cimarrones. Drake guaranteed their safety and, to avoid incidents, had them guarded. One participant in the expedition later said, “Those who were captured by us we never did violence to after they were under our control, but either released them at once to freedom or kept them with us for some time longer … We provided for their food as for ourselves and protected them from the fury of the Cimarrones.”

On February 23, 1573, they returned to the ships. A month later, they met the French captain Guillaume Le Testu, who told them about the St. Bartholomew”s Day massacre in Paris. Drake and le Testu decided to work together. The latter was impressed by the level of organization of the English and especially by their close ties with the Cimarrones. By this time there were 31 Englishmen left. In addition to the pinasses, they had at their disposal a Spanish ship of about 20 tons, which had been captured in the meantime. Le Testu had a ship of about 80 tons with a crew of about 70. It was agreed to land near the Francisca River, about five miles east of Nombre de Dios, and hide the ships. Then they were going to set another ambush. The spoils were to be shared honestly, and the ships were instructed to pick up the corsairs again near the Francisca River on April 3. The march began on March 31, 1573, and on April 1 they encountered three mule caravans with a total of about 200 animals. The caravans were accompanied by 45 soldiers, but they were weakly armed. Some of the soldiers walked barefoot and offered little resistance. One cimarrón was killed, and le Testu was hit in the stomach by a bullet.

The mules carried about 200,000 pesos in gold and silver: “Those who accompanied Captain Testu took as much as they could carry; even the slaves who led the animals cheered them on, out of hatred for the Spaniards, and showed them where the gold was, so that they might not play around with silver. There were plates of gold, like two different seals of the High Chancery of France, some of Castilian ducats, others of pistoles.” About 100,000 pesos in gold were taken back to the ships, and 15 tons of silver were buried. The haul amounted to about 40,000 pounds in Tudor currency. This was equivalent to about one-fifth of the annual tax revenues of the English crown. The booty was divided between the English and French as agreed. Le Testu was badly wounded and could not keep up. He was finally caught up by the Spanish, who beheaded him and cut out his heart.

Drake and his men reached the Francisca River on April 3, but found seven Spanish sloops with artillery and 85 musketeers there instead of their ships. Drake had a raft built (referred to as a “crazy construction”) and then set out with an Englishman and two Frenchmen to find his ships. They found them about three miles offshore. As it turned out, a Frenchman in Testu”s company had been captured by the Spanish when he died and had given away the location of the ships, which subsequently fled. After taking in the remaining crewmen and dividing the spoils, the Frenchmen sailed for home. The drunken French sailor was found and told them of Le Testu”s death. Afterward, 13 more of the hidden silver bars were recovered. The ships were repaired, and preparations were made for the return voyage. Drake invited the Cimarrones to choose gifts. Their leader Pedro Mandinga chose a golden sword that Drake had received from le Testu. Drake would have liked to keep the sword himself, but then willingly gave it to Pedro.

The return took place on Sunday, August 9, 1573. It caused such a stir that the congregation in the church of St. Andrews left in the middle of Mass to see Drake. In the meantime, relations between England and Spain had relaxed somewhat. It was meant to Drake that it would be better if he did not attract attention for a while. Therefore, it is not possible to determine exactly where he was during 1574. It is possible that he was taking part in a trading voyage to Hamburg. At about this time, he took his cousin John Drake under his wing. The childless Drake, who had been considered a son by his captain during his time as a ship”s boy himself, now did the same for his cousin.

In 1575, Drake was recruited by Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex (Earl of Essex), for a venture in Ireland. Drake was to transport troops to Rathlin Island. There the mercenaries of the Scottish McDonnell clan under Sorley Boy McDonnell had hidden their families to keep them out of the reach of the English. After the action was completed, Drake was to patrol the waters between the island and the Mull of Kintyre to prevent the Scots from intervening in the action or retaking the island later. For the purpose of transporting troops, Drake provided three of the small ships he had taken from the Spanish on his voyage to Panamá.

Preparations began on May 1, 1575, and in July Drake transported mercenary leader John Norreys to Rathlin Island with 300 foot and 80 cavalry soldiers and siege equipment. The landing on Rathlin Island followed on July 22, and the Scottish defenders surrendered after a short time. Despite the unconditional surrender, the Earl of Essex ordered an example to be made. In this undignified slaughter, more than 600 people were cruelly killed. Most of them were women and children. The only ones spared were the sons of some Scottish nobles, who were held hostage. Drake was commanding a small Spanish “Fregata” at the time, which had been christened Falcon. The ship had a crew of 25 including Drake himself and his 13-year-old steward John Drake. Therefore, it can be assumed that Drake had nothing to do with the military operations or the massacre. The massacre was not criticized at all at that time, on the contrary. Elizabeth congratulated the Earl of Essex, and it may be considered certain that the whole thing was intended as a “deterrent example” for potential rebels.

During his stay in Ireland, Drake met a merchant named James Sydae and a mercenary named Thomas Doughty. Both were to play a role in the famous voyage around the world some time later. Drake”s role in Ireland ended in September 1575, when he was dismissed from the service of the Earl of Essex. However, he returned once more in early 1576. On this occasion he discussed his plans for a voyage to the Pacific with Doughty and, more significantly, with the Earl of Essex. The latter issued him a letter of introduction, with which he traveled to London some time later to present his plans to Francis Walsingham, the leading minister of state. Thus began the preparations for his famous circumnavigation of the globe.

On December 13, 1577, Francis Drake set out with the Pelican, which he later renamed the Golden Hinde, accompanied by four ships and a crew of over 150 men on an expedition with an unknown destination. To this day, it is not clear whether he was to search for the legendary southern continent of Terra Australis or to attack the Spanish cities on the west coast of South and Central America. It would also be possible that he was searching for the Northwest Passage from the Pacific Ocean. Whether he acted on behalf of Elizabeth I or was even equipped with a letter of marque cannot be clearly proven via the known sources.

Drake initially headed for the Strait of Magellan, but had to abandon two ships on the east coast of South America already on the way there. Another incident involved the nobleman Thomas Doughty, who was sailing with the ship. Doughty repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with Drake”s instructions and actions and also tried to stir up the crew against their leader. During a stopover on the way to the Strait of Magellan, Drake had a court martial held in Puerto San Julián on July 1, 1578, as a result of which Doughty was sentenced to death. One day later, Doughty was executed on the spot.

After crossing the Strait of Magellan in September 1578, another ship sank, and the remaining escort ship began the return voyage to England after losing sight of each other in stormy seas and not being found again despite a search. During this search, Drake discovered an island that he named Elizabeth Island. The widespread belief that he discovered Cape Horn with it is based on a publication after 1618, after the Dutchmen Willem Cornelisz Schouten and Jacob Le Maire had sailed around Cape Horn in January 1616. On the Golden Hinde, Drake sailed north along the west coast of South America. He captured numerous Spanish ships and raided and plundered Spanish settlements. Particularly daring still appears today the penetration of the port of Callao (the port of Lima), on February 15, 1579, where about 30 Spanish ships lay at anchor. Its booty, however, was small, especially compared to the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, fully loaded with treasures from the New World. The galleon, also called Cacafuego (“fire shitter”), was able to be captured on its way to Panamá without much resistance, contrary to the frequent accounts in historiography.

Fully loaded with the looted Spanish gold and silver treasures, Drake was about to return to his English homeland. He ruled out the possibility of crossing the Strait of Magellan again. He was left to search for the Northwest Passage into the Atlantic Ocean and, alternatively, to cross the Pacific Ocean. After he had to abandon the search for the passage due to the cold influence of the high northern latitudes on crew and ship, he landed on the west coast of North America on June 5, 1579, not far from present-day San Francisco in a bay that was later named “Drakes Bay” after him. Since the Indians living there reacted kindly to the strangers, Drake took possession of the land for the English crown and named it “Nova Albion”. However, the discovery was not followed by English settlement, even a few years later.

Finally, Drake crossed the Pacific and sailed via several intermediate stops to Ternate in the Spice Islands (today”s Moluccas). There he signed a trade agreement with the Sultan of Ternate. After Drake had necessary repairs made to the ship, he set off on his return voyage. Whether he was thinking of a possible search for the legendary southern continent Terra Australis incognita is not known, but it would be possible. For his henchman (according to G. Sammet), the former French admiral Gaspard II. de Coligny, had commissioned the cartographer Guillaume Le Testu to work out a map of the world, which he must have known. It appeared in 1555 and showed undiscovered coasts in northwestern Australia.

In any case, Drake only narrowly escaped disaster when his ship ran onto a reef. It was patched up and the ship was rescued to Java in what is now Indonesia. Thoroughly repaired and provisioned, the return voyage towards Africa finally began. In an uninterrupted voyage, Drake rounded the Cape of Good Hope on June 15, 1580, reaching the coast of Sierra Leone on July 22. On September 26, 1580, he entered Plymouth Sound after 1,018 days. He was the first Englishman to successfully circumnavigate the globe and the first commander of a circumnavigating fleet to reach the initial point of the expedition alive. A London consortium led by Thomas Gresham (the founder of the London Stock Exchange), which had financed the voyage, made a profit of 4,700 percent on their investment.

On April 4, 1581, Elizabeth I visited the Golden Hinde at Deptford, a district in what is now the London Borough of Lewisham. Elizabeth boarded the ship via an aisle plank while a large crowd had gathered to see Drake. As the curious crowded aboard the ship behind the queen, the gangplank broke and about 100 people fell into the mud below. No one was injured. On board, Elizabeth lost one of her garters, whereupon Monsieur de Marchaumont (the Duke of Alençon”s envoy) stepped forward, picked up the garter, and returned it to the queen. Elizabeth put the garter back on before the envoy”s eyes and declared that she would give it to him later as a pledge once she no longer needed it. After lunch aboard the ship, Drake knelt before the queen with his head bowed. She took the sword and whispered, “Francis Drake, you are a scoundrel, and for the sake of my honor I must renounce you.” A moment later she turned to the French envoy “I am convinced that Monsieur will gladly perform the knighting for me.” Finally, the envoy performed the knighting, honoring Drake for his service and loyalty to the English crown.

In the same year, Drake received a coat of arms, which showed a wavy crossbar between two stars on a blue shield, under the motto Sic parvis magna (“From the small to the great”). Shortly before, on December 19, 1580, he bought the former Buckland Abbey, which became his main country seat. On August 1, 1581, Drake and his wife took possession of the building. This country seat was followed by others: Yarford, Sampford Spiney and Sherford. Drake developed into one of the largest landowners in Plymouth.

In September 1581, he was elected mayor of Plymouth for one year. During this time, he was responsible, among other things, for the construction of a water pipe to Plymouth.

In the meantime, John Doughty, the half-brother of Thomas Doughty, who was executed on the circumnavigation, had continued to stir up his hatred of Drake. He attempted to bring a court case against Drake, but the case was quashed by the court. In May 1582, Drake filed a complaint against him for publicly declaring that “the Queen had honored the most arrogant rogue, the most vile scoundrel, the most false thief, and the most cruel murderer.” Shortly thereafter, Francis Walsingham”s Secret Service arrested a certain Patrick Mason, who claimed that the Spanish ambassador had hired him to recruit Doughty. Drake was to be kidnapped or murdered. As a result, Doughty was imprisoned in Marshalsea Prison until late October 1583.

In 1582, a stroke of fate struck Drake. His cousin John Drake, who had accompanied him even after the voyage around the world and had visited the royal court together with him, was missing. John Drake had been given his own ship on a new voyage, which Drake had planned and partially financed. After the ship had been separated from the rest of the fleet in a storm, John had decided to emulate his cousin Francis and attempt a repeat of the 1579 voyage around the world. In the process, however, his ship had run aground in the Río de la Plata. John was subsequently captured by the Spanish. He was first interrogated in Fe Santa and Lima. He recanted his Protestantism and converted to Catholicism. In 1589 he went in penitential shirt in the procession of the Autodafé in Cartagena. His name is mentioned for the last time in official documents in 1650. Also in that year he went in penitential shirt in the Autodafe procession. At that time he was 88 years old.

In 1583, Drake”s wife Mary died. Between 1584 and 1585, Drake sat as a member of the English Parliament for his hometown. At the same time, he kept planning new ventures, but mostly with little success. On February 9, 1585, he married a second time. Elisabeth Sydenham had been born in 1562 and was thus a good 20 years younger than Drake.

When the merchant ship Primrose reached England in June 1585, a significant change in the political situation occurred. Shortly before, there had been a bad harvest in Spain. Because of the improved climate between Spain and England, and in view of the emergency, Phillip had appealed to Elizabeth for help. As a result, Elizabeth had ordered the entire merchant fleet of the city of London to Spain with food. However, the ships were stormed and seized by Spanish soldiers shortly after their arrival. Only the Primrose had managed to escape after a fierce battle between soldiers and the ship”s crew. One of the Spanish prisoners taken back to England with them was the governor of the province of Bizkaia. He had carried a written order with him ordering the takeover. It was then clear to the English that such an order could only have been given by Phillip himself.

On July 1, 1585, Drake was issued a commission authorizing him to attack Spanish ports and ships. A total of 25 ships and eight pinnaces were under his command. He himself sailed aboard the Elizabeth Bonaventure. On this venture he was accompanied by several veterans of the Golden Hinde, including his brother Thomas as well as Tom Moone, the former ship”s carpenter. The ships departed on September 14, 1585, and sailed for the Caribbean. Drake attacked Santo Domingo. Here a momentous incident occurred. As often before, Drake had cimarrónes with him. One of them was a boy whom Drake sent over to the Spanish side under a parliamentary flag to negotiate with Spanish officials. A Spanish soldier recognized a cimmarróne in the boy and rammed a pike through his body. The boy crawled back to the English side and died at Drake”s feet. Drake was beside himself with rage. He had two Dominican monks hanged and told the Spaniards that he would hang two more prisoners every day unless the murderer was extradited or the Spaniards tried him themselves. The soldier was hanged the next day by the Spaniards before Drake”s eyes. Drake then had a third of the buildings in Santo Domingo destroyed. Among them were convents and churches as well as the castle. The governor”s house and the cathedral were plundered and all the ships in the harbor were set on fire.

Drake next attacked Cartagena, killing 28 Englishmen and nine Spaniards, as well as a number of galley slaves and Indian auxiliaries. The prison at Cartagena was stormed. In the process, about 100 Turkish prisoners were freed and later brought back to England and handed over to an envoy for the purpose of improving relations with the Ottoman Empire. By this time John Drake had already been detained in Cartagena. He must have been taken out of the city during the attack. However, it is unlikely that Francis Drake was already aware of his cousin”s detention. It was not officially known that John was there until 1587.

Drake had by this time lost two-thirds of his crew to fighting and disease. He realized that Cartagena could only be held if reinforcements came from England. The planned attack on Panamá was out of the question. He had to withdraw and start the journey home. On the way back, he raided St. Augustine on the east coast of Florida. Here, too, the booty was small. Finally he sailed on to Roanoke Island. Here Sir Walter Raleigh had tried to found an English colony in 1585. But this attempt had failed (as had two later ventures). The Indians had fought tirelessly against the white invaders. So Drake took the remaining settlers on board and returned to England at the end of July 1586.

Spain reacted with increasing irritation to the English attacks. The execution of the Catholic Mary Stuart (ordered by Elizabeth I) on February 8, 1587, further increased Philip II”s claim to the English throne. England, which had fallen away from the Pope, was finally to be recatholicized. Philip II therefore ordered the invasion. Álvaro de Bazán, the Marquis of Santa Cruz, was ordered to prepare the invasion. He assembled a large fleet in the port of Cadiz. English intelligence quickly learned that the fleet could be expected to sail as early as the summer of 1587.

On April 2, 1587, Drake, provided with a commission to attack Cadiz, left the port of Plymouth. Aboard the Elizabeth Bonaventure and with an entourage of 23 ships, he sailed directly into Cadiz Harbor on April 19. The English captured, sank and burned 37 ships, according to their own account. Philip II was presented with a list of 24 lost ships totaling 172,000 ducats. Drake then ordered the landing at Lagos (Portugal), but this failed due to fierce resistance from the Spanish. Finally, he had the castle of Sagres (Portugal) captured and a base established on the peninsula. For three weeks, the English fleet cruised off Cape São Vicente and in the open sea to intercept all ships carrying supplies to the Portuguese capital of Lisbon to equip an armada. Well over 100 barques and small caravels under 60 tons were boarded or destroyed. Finally, Drake heard a rumor of a valuable pinch. Off the Portuguese Azores, Drake intercepted the São Felipe, a Portuguese caravel with 1,400 tons of displacement from the East Indies. Goods worth 115,000 pounds sterling were captured. The prize cargo brought another 26,000 pounds. The English queen received 40,000 pounds of it, Drake 17,000 and the rest was distributed among the shareholders, officers and crews. The Spanish invasion preparations were initially brought to a halt with Drake”s consequent enterprise.

Drake later wrote, “I scorched the Spanish king”s beard!” The Pope judged, “The King plays around with his Armada, but the Queen acts in earnest. If only she were Catholic … she would be our most beloved, for she is of great worth! Just look at this Drake: who is he? What kind of powers does he have? And yet he has burned 25 of the king”s ships off Gibraltar, and as many more at Lisbon! He has robbed the fleet, and taken Santo Domingo. His reputation is so great that his countrymen are flocking to him to share in his spoils … We are sorry to have to say this, but we do not have a high opinion of this Spanish Armada and fear disaster!”

A year later, in August 1588, Sir Francis Drake, as Vice Admiral under Lord Howard of Effingham, was instrumental in the victorious battle against the Spanish Armada. On board the Revenge, Drake was responsible for a squadron of 34 ships. Drake”s brilliant performance during the ten-day naval battle included the targeted elimination of the Nuestra Señora (Admiral Don Pedro de Valdes” flagship) and the destruction of another galleon (San Salvador). However, he also had to face accusations of lack of teamwork, which almost caused the loss of Lord High Admiral Charles Howard”s flagship. Drake was also involved in the naval battle of Gravelines, when on the night of August 7-8 he let Brander drift toward the Spanish fleet, which was lying in a lull on the coast of Dunkirk. Spanish losses during this battle were so devastating that it was decided on the Spanish side to retreat (then with even more losses) around the northern tip of Scotland.

Shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Sir Francis Drake submitted a plan to the English queen that would finally break the Spanish supremacy at sea. Elizabeth I agreed to the venture and participated as the main shareholder in the high costs of the enterprise. Sir Francis Drake, by now promoted to admiral, became commander of a fleet of 150 ships. On board the ships were 18,000 soldiers under the command of Sir John Norreys. First, the Spanish ships were to be destroyed at Santander, San Sebastian and other ports. Then, in a combined land and sea attack, Lisbon was to be conquered, thus helping the designated Portuguese king, António of Crato, to power. (→ Personal union of Spain and Portugal)

But Drake did not comply with the royal order. He raided the small town of A Coruña. The soldiers looted a wine depot and got drunk. Drake was overwhelmed with the command of such a large fleet. At Peniche (about 80 kilometers northwest of Lisbon) Norreys was dropped off with his soldiers. The march to the capital, however, took several days. The surprise effect was gone. Drake wanted to bombard the city from the sea side. However, he was repeatedly driven off by adverse winds. Out of pure rage and desperation, he finally had the city of Vigo razed to the ground.

The venture was a fiasco. A storm-tossed fleet returned to England. 12,000 sailors and soldiers died from fighting or disease. None of the goals set were even remotely achieved. Elizabeth I made Drake a scapegoat and dropped him. For the next six years, Drake had to be content with his post in Parliament.

In 1595 Drake again undertook a raid against Spanish settlements in the Caribbean. As leader of a force of 27 ships with 1500 sailors and another 1000 soldiers, a capsized treasure galleon off San Juan was to be plundered and the city of Panamá taken. Drake”s longtime friend and cousin, Sir John Hawkins, was also part of the force. However, the two were often at odds over leadership, which only came to an abrupt end with Hawkins” death on November 12, 1595. The attack on San Juan had to be abandoned due to fierce opposition from the Spanish. A ransom attempt after the conquest of Rio de la Hacha was unsuccessful. Drake, full of rage, burned Nombre de Dios and sent the soldiers under the leadership of William Baskerville to Panamá. But here, too, the resistance was great. A defeated army returned empty-handed. On January 28, 1596, Drake died of dysentery (dysentery) aboard the Defiance off Puerto Bello (present-day Portobelo). Drake”s body was committed to the sea in a burial at sea in a metal coffin.

Although Spain and Portugal continued to dominate the world”s oceans for some time, Francis Drake was instrumental in shaping England”s image as an emerging naval power. He succeeded in disrupting Spanish world trade. The Spanish were now forced to take costly protective measures against English privateering. He also played a part in the failure of the Spanish invasion of the British Isles. All this contributed to England”s rise as a naval power.

Numerous places bear the name of the Englishman in honor of Sir Francis Drake. For example, the waterway between the southern tip of South America (Cape Horn) and Antarctica is called the Drake Strait. The waterway between the British Virgin Islands is called Sir Francis Drake Channel. St. Michael”s Island in Plymouth Sound was renamed Drake”s Island as early as 1583, the Drake Glacier is located in Antarctica, and a bay off San Francisco and a bay off Costa Rica are named Drakes Bay.

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Unless otherwise noted, the article”s remarks and verbatim quotations are based on the biography written by John Sugden about Sir Francis Drake and published in 1991. Further details are substantiated by the sources and can be found exclusively in the following books:

Sources

  1. Francis Drake
  2. Francis Drake