Francis Drake

Francis Drake

(c. 1539-1596)

England’s greatest Elizabethan military leader, was born at Crowndale in the west county of Devon. His father was a tenant farmer and lay preacher of the new reformed Protestant faith. Sir Frances Drake grew up amid the turbulence of religious dissension.At the age of 13, he was apprenticed to the master of a coastal vessel.

Drake took to the sea as if born to it, and his aged master left the ship to him in his will. At 23, Drake enlisted in the fleet of the Hawkins family of Plymouth. He sailed on two voyages to the Spanish West Indies (Caribbean). When the second trip ended in disaster in 1372, Drake began a lifelong hatred of the Spaniards. He believed they were treacherous, as well as heretics.

Drake received a privateer’s commission from Queen Elizabeth I in 1572, which allowed him to attack enemy ships and keep their cargoes. He and his company of 73 men sailed to the West Indies in two small ships. Drake plundered the important Spanish town of Nombre de Dios in Panama and crossed the Isthmus of Panama on foot to see the Pacific Ocean.

He was probably the first This first major success led to the greatest endeavor of his life — the circumnavigation of the globe. Drake sailed from England in December 1577 with 200 men aboard five ships.

The expedition wintered in Patagonia, and Drake led his fleet through the hazardous Strait of Magellan from August 21 to September 6, 1578. Having navigated the strait, Drake and his men became the first Englishmen ever to sail on the Pacific.

Drake pillaged town after town on the west coast of South America. He sailed north and refitted his ships on the coast of what he called New Albion (present-day California).

He went home by way of the Moluccan Islands, the Indian Ocean, and Cape of Good Hope. Drake reached Plymouth, England on September 26, 1580. He was celebrated for his victories, and the Queen knighted him aboard his flagship, the Golden Hind, as a reward for his voyage and victories.

In 1587, Drake led an English force into the Spanish harbor of Cadiz. He sacked and burned as many as 20 ships, thereby delaying the sailing of the great Spanish Armada by a full year. He called this action “singeing the king of Spain’s beard.”

Drake was vice-admiral of the English fleet in 1588, second in command to Lord Howard of Effingham. It was Drake who led the dauntless English attacks against the huge galleons of the Armada and he who proposed the use of “fire ships” (ships filled with explo¬ sives, set afire, and floated into the enemy) against the Spanish at their harbor in Calais.

Sadly, his career did not end with success. Drake and John Hawkins sailed to the West Indies in 1595—1596. The English fleet lost men and morale due to an epidemic of fever. Drake himself succumbed on January 28, 1596; he was buried at sea off Puerto Bello, Panama.