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A Great British Explorer: Sir Francis Drake

Updated on July 26, 2013

About Sir Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake is a commonly investigated person of the 16th century whose characteristic features and motivations along with his deeds are shrouded in mystery. Many historians and biographers have taken up the job to present him as accurately as possible, the only sources they could rely on, however, were short and compromised accounts and manuscripts. Using their researches, the main objective of this piece of work is to lay stress upon those conditions which facilitated the emergence of Drake and his reputation later on. He was called either an adventurous pirate or merchant privateer by many of his contemporaries and present-day historians, but who he was and why he is important at all will be in the foreground of this Squidoo lens.

I hope you enjoy this Squidoo lens, it has taken me weeks to build. Please comment once you have read all below.

Sir Francis Drake Famous Quotes

Famous lines of Shakespeare, though, referring to the 13th century, hold basic features of the Elizabethan England as well. The 16th century opened the wider world for venturesome British explorers who made so many important discoveries that the period itself was later called The Age of Reconnaissance. Numerous manuscripts can be found about the age and its explorers. In this thesis I would like to highlight a person who is, although the more famous and investigated, the less understood and known explorer and adventurer of his time, Sir Francis Drake. Hundreds of biographies can be found about him, thus my main objective is not to present a new biography but to highlight those important incidents in his life which might have had an effect on his character development. My primary purpose is to draw attention to Drake who was a more interesting and vivid personality than he has been actually shown us so far.

I would like to introduce the 16th century atmosphere in the British Isles and emphasize those political and religious trends which helped the emergence of pirates and privateers later on. The second chapter will deal with Drake himself where I am intending to show events of his early life and two very important incidents during his circumnavigating voyage which together might give a clue about what kind of a person he really was. The last chapter will show us Drake's treatment as a legend both by his contemporaries and modern poets and historians. Such analysis of Drake might enable us to form a kind of opinion about him and to create an interest in the readership for further research in the subject.

The Conditions for Discovery

In connection with discoveries the humanity has a long history dating back to 3000.B.C. We could mention explorers like Gilgamesh from the above-mentioned period, who managed to explore the Northern part of Asia, or Alexander the Great from the 4th century B.C, who during his ten-year long campaign and expedition discovered entire countries. With a big jump, Vikings can further be claimed as explorers who during the period between the 8th and 10th century A.D. had already been plundering the British Isles and the Northern part of the European continent. Such heroes could further be mentioned, although the capacity and lack of space of this thesis would not be enough to embrace such a huge material. One conclusion, however, can easily be made which is that 16th century explorers were not the first to harvest the success of new discoveries for many archaeological objects and manuscripts prove quite the opposite. What Europeans were essential in was the fact that in the 16th century they discovered almost the whole eastern part of the North-American shores from Cape Breton as far as Florida. This was a glorious achievement because already in 1570 quite accurate maps were made available to the public concerning the Northern and Central parts of the American continent, nevertheless the fact that parts of the mainland was unknown eighty years ago.

The Renaissance feeling with its intellectual fluctuation promoted a lot to the motivations of the 15th and 16th century seafarers of whom, the seamen of the latter period managed to explore almost the entire world with amazing accuracy but without any inclination to do so. Such adventurous explorers can easily be found during the rightly called "Age of Discovery" in almost every nation, but here and now, the significance of one will be in the foreground throughout the thesis, whose role was gradually becoming very significant: The Great British Nation.

England in the early 16th century The emergence of Pirates and Privateers

The maritime history of Britain started with the reign of Henry VIII at the end of the 15th century. At least a couple of things come into one's mind when we talk about Henry himself, who is commonly known for his polygamist attitude towards marriage as well as for his role in separating the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. Not so many people are aware of the fact today, however, that Henry VIII was the first English monarch who saw the need for a strong naval force and the first who actually financed the building of vessels. He made acquaintances with sea captains and in some way or another, he came to know Mr. William Hawkins of Plymouth who under Henry's patronage, ventured down to the Guinean coast and brought home gold and ivory, which probably captured the attention of the king. The early 16th century, however, was not a piece of cake because from the time Henry broke ties with Rome, the Spanish Catholic powers were trying to use the authority of Inquisition as a partly political method of embarrassing people - mainly the English "heretics" - and their trading possibilities. While the purpose on Spanish side was to threaten the rebellious protestant, such goal did find its way into the hearts of Englishmen as fury and desire for revenge. Since open war had to wait until the end of the 16th century, there was only one way to take revenge: by privateering and pirating activities.

From Edward VI's time to the end of the century privateering came to be the special occupation of adventurous gentlemen who in this way could serve god, their country and take revenge on the enemy at the same time. But in such business it is inevitable to prevent the emergence of mere pirates who cared neither for God nor their country but to get rich. Now we could debate on whether these pirates were the product of a brutal age or just seized the current political opportunity to have wealth, but we can at least agree on one thing: We cannot always blame them since Protestants - pirates or privateers- were impelled into these activities by the cruelty of Inquisition.

My reader can rightly put the question of what the actual difference is between a pirate and a privateer. According to my research in the subject, a privateer was a person whose actions were protected and ensured by some kind of royal commission or letter patent. They robbed, burnt and scuttled ships belonging to the enemy. However, a pirate is different for they had no commission that could legalize their actions. They plundered ships not on the basis of who they belonged to but how much treasure they carried. After these definitions we can clearly discover that the boundary line between the two is not easy to draw since the purpose of the two is the same, it is only the method of acquiring in which they differ.

Edward VI was followed by Mary I on the throne who was too busy burning heretics to pay attention to the supervision of the seas, thus leaving it unintentionally to pirates and privateers. Only when Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1559 can we feel the upheaval of the country in both trade and exploration. Elizabeth would bring fame and honour to her country and in this Queen, England found the ambition and pretence of a mighty monarch who was open to compromise but remained uncompromisingly bound to the decisions she made. With her, a new era of development began.

The Elizabethan England

Elizabeth I* inherited a nation that was bankrupt, militarily weak and hemmed in by enemies. Crowned in January 1559, she was the last of the great Tudor dynasty, a bright start who dazzled both the nation and the world, reigning for 45 tumultuous years. These boisterous years included much religious and political turmoil which had an effect on the personality and motivation of many explorers of that age. Elizabeth or as poets named her, Gloriana, was a wise, shrewd, brave, caring and outstanding figure who found security only in the hearts of her subjects.

During much of the 16th century England was a bone between two dogs, France and Spain. All the country in Elizabeth’s reign was actually insecure with the unfriendly Scotland lying on the northern border; hostile Spain, Portugal, and often France confronted her on the continent, so she stood constantly on the verge of disaster at the hands of Spain. Furthermore, she was a Protestant queen in a country that was still - following the reign of her sister - officially Catholic.

That is why her Protestantism, enhanced the insecurity and isolation of her realm, but stimulated national pride. Englishmen now felt a spiritual urge to adventure and expansion in order to counterbalance the overwhelming power of the Catholic Spain. Although bigger problems proceeded the years of this whole new movement of discovery, trade and pirating triangle which just started to evolve on English side, but had been going on in the Spanish and Portuguese ones for more than 100 years.

It is J.H.Parry’s book entitled The Age of Reconnaissance that shows the best the contemporary situation in oceanic trade. According to the researches of the author, two large scale oceanic trade monopolies developed in the 16th century, namely the westward of Spain with Spanish America and the eastward trade of Portugal with India. Therefore, the exploring activity of other nations took place in the hope of breaking or circumnavigating these monopolies.

England was a country – among many – whose main purpose was to get a share of the booty coming from the Americas, which definitely made the Spanish the leading force Europe both nautically and militarily. British colonization and discovery, however suffered at least a hundred-year detention. The reason was that, as far as navigational skills were concerned, England was legging behind not only the Spanish and Portuguese sailors but also the Scots, Dutch and the French ones. It is not like English sailors or officers knew nothing about the profession of sailing, they were just sailing on North- Atlantic or Levantine waters and the idea of discovering far-away places was quite rare among the seamen for they did not really know what they would find. Thus, the primary objective was to make profit and catch up with the Dutch and Portuguese. Though, it took a couple of decades for the Queen’s seafarers to be qualified as much as their rivals.

During the two decades between 1540 and 1560 and increase can be seen in trading voyages but only from the 60s can we fell the real sparkling activity of adventurous seafarers. Thank to their activities, England would become not only a significant naval force but also a world power by the 18th century. As a result, we rightly call them the courageous and talented builders of the British Empire, but their extreme cruelty and insatiable hunger for gold left a mark on their long-constructed name. It is even claimed that their lust for treasure and wealth,- which were driving forces of a developing society at that time – their shrewd calculation and purposeful cruelty by which they managed to put entire civilizations on the verge of disaster, were the things which ultimately deprived them of their titles as being Elizabethan heroes. But destroying unknown civilizations was more like a Spanish and Portuguese privilege than an English one because following the discovery of the New World in 1492, the Spanish ruthlessly plundered the riches of the Inca and Aztec nations of Mexico and Peru. Spanish galleons, carrying the riches of such destroyed civilizations, attracted the attention of other nations as well during the 16th and 17th century, gradually giving way to the beginning of piracy on the Spanish Main.

Elizabeth’s first line of defence was the Royal Navy with its merchant auxiliaries, ships and sailors. These were the main elements which enabled England to break through her encompassing enemies. While trying to avoid open combat with Spain, the Queen turned a blind eye to private incursions against the Spanish, thus, she created an atmosphere in which men, like Sir Francis Drake, turned into expert seamen by becoming privateers. The Queen, figuratively, treated these seamen as her own children to whom she gave the seas as a playground. These children, growing up in the 16th century, acquired such talents which enabled them to bring wealth into their country during their voyages, which was surely of great help in the Queen’s plan to make the country strong enough to repel any hostile incursion.

The remainder of the thesis will deal with a person who was probably the biggest and the most famous personality of his time whose name would become feared and known among many nations either as El Draque, The Dragon of the Apocalypse or the embodiment of the English naval Force; a person who was a legend to the English but a bad omen to the Spaniards.

The Master Pirate of the World - Sir Francis Drake

When it comes to Drake, it is quite sure that at least a couple of things come into one's mind even if it is just about his main discoveries or his contribution to the development of war between Spain and England. He was quite regularly the talk of the capitals of Europe at his time, where people wanted to know exactly what sort of a person he really was. The English government, however, put out varying stories about his famous voyage around the world, not to mention Drake's victims who were more than happy to volunteer embellished accounts about his depredations. Chroniclers in England and elsewhere added to this confusion from which a totally different and false Drake emerges as a man of bravery and temperament, a pompous and preachy but an unbelievably pious pirate. But the truth value of this constructed universal image is far from the real man he actually was.

Common beliefs and legends circulating about him are sometimes either exaggerated or underestimated, mainly because of two possible reasons. One reason can be that he was either introduced to us by others accompanied with their own personal judgments or the second is that it is probably quite hard to construct a thorough picture about a person of whom only short and inaccurate manuscripts can be found. At some places, however, there are definitely exhaustive accounts as well, but they are rather about his discoveries than his own characteristics. I will try to present those aspects of his life which ultimately formed his personality or at least contributed to it. In this way, my reader will be able to see those major influences which formed the man he would become.

From a farm boy to a seaman

Before we would penetrate into the mysteries of his characteristic features, it would be advisable to get to know a little bit more about his early life from which he managed to emerge as a successful seaman and sea-captain later on. But starting at the very beginning we suddenly meet an obstacle concerning his date of birth. Evidences, coming from people who had been with him in the year of 1579 such as Nuno Da Silva or Francisco de Zárate, suggest that he was by estimation around thirty-five or thirty-eight years old which dates his birth date back to the early 1540s. Abraham Janssen’s portrait of Drake*, however, bears a date of 1594 and an assertion that he was then fifty-two years old which estimates his birth date in 1542. Whatever the truth is, he was surely born between 1539 and 1542.

Born in Tavistock, Devon, he got into a provincial society racked by economic, social and religious change. Just a year before Sir Francis Drake was born, Henry VIII’s representatives appeared in Tavistock to issue a document including the surrendering of the members of the Benedictine community’s lands and buildings along with all their legal and spiritual rights and privileges to the king. By 1540, all the larger and smaller monasteries were shut down, and the confiscation of lands caused serious problems because not only medical care, charity and education but also a good deal of substance - that had come from the monastery including lands rented by farmers by some kind of rental arrangement with the abbey - was not yet available. This new situation assumingly made things worse for the Drake family as well, so they decided to move to Crowndale, located a mile or so southwest of the town of Tavistock. It is unknown when they actually arrived which proves that they had never attracted too much attention for the whole family consisted of farmers and craftsmen who sometimes worked with cloth and engaged in other trades.

Soon, however, Francis was sent to a number of other relatives living with the Hawkins family in Plymouth which marked his destiny for good. Detailed information about Drake’s temporary residence, proving that he was really under the guidance of his cousin, Sir John Hawkins, is provided by Edmund Howe’s book . In it the author claimed that Drake was one of “twelve brethren brought up under his kinsman Sir John Hawkins. Apprantly, Francis Drake was 18 years old when he sailed as a purser on one of the Hawkins ships in the Bay of Biscay about 1558 and that all of Francis Drake’s early voyages were actually in vessels belonging to the Hawkyns’s.

These early voyages meant Sir John Hawkins’s Second-and Third Slave Trading expedition on which he not only acquired knowledge about how to handle or navigate a ship or how to deal and negotiate with governmental officials and foreign merchants but also about how to deprive a ship from its cargo successfully as well as how to use the power of religion as a means of sealing friendships. He learned the latter from John Hawkins, who usually attended mass in the islands as if he were a faithful Catholic, although others had sworn that it was well known that John Hawkins was a devoted Protestant. In a sense, this kind of attitude towards religion was commonly accepted in merchant families at that time. Francis Drake went with his Hawkins relatives to Dutch, French and Spanish ports, attending both Catholic and Protestant Church services, just as circumstances might dictate, thus he himself became part of this tradition and adopted the moderate religious practices of the Hawkins family.

Hawkins’ Third Slaving Voyage was a response of the investors who were more than satisfied with the results of Hawkins’s previous voyage which, although immoral but very profitable, involved the capture and selling of human beings on a large scale.I do not want to go into the details but an incident occurred on their way home which was very essential concerning Drake’s development and relationship with his cousin. This unpleasant event is described in Harry Kelsey’s book entitled Sir Francis Drake: The Queen’s Pirate. In it, the author claims that with September came the hurricane season and Hawkins, hoping to find a port in which to repair his battered ships, tried to search for a safe haven for two weeks without any result. Finally he decided to sail for New Spain where he expected to find a suitable place to anchor his fleet. Capturing a ship along the way, he interrogated a pilot from whom he got to know the location of a very suitable harbor which was broad and open, protected from winds. The fleet entered the port of San Juan de Ãlua on 17 September 1568. The local officials welcomed them warm-heartedly believing that they were the merchant fleet sent each year from Spain. Taking advantage of this confusion Hawkins seized the island as his headquarters. By the following day when the real Spanish fleet arrived, Hawkins was able to negotiate from a very strong position. Since the Spanish also had to take shelter, Mártin Enríquez, the newly appointed viceroy of Spain, started negotiations with Hawkins who let him and his fleet in the harbor. Although, on 23 September 1568, two days after entering the harbor, the Spanish mounted a surprise attack on Hawkins’ ships who himself barely escaped onboard the Minion. Drake, who was nearby, was instructed to come alongside the Minion and to take on some of the survivors and equipments saved from the other destroyed ship, the Jesus of Lubeck.

This is the point where accounts differ in connection with Drake’s deeds after receiving orders. Job Hortop wrote 30 years later that Drake did as he was told and took on anyone he could, though Hawkins himself told quite a different story giving less credit to his colleague. Hawkins claimed that while the Minion laid in the lee of the island, loaded with more men than it could actually carry, Drake sailed off in the darkness, heading for home. ”The Judith” said Hawkins, forsooke us in our great myserie. The truth about Drake’s actions remained in the shadows and we will never be able to know anything for sure. What is definitely true is that the scandal about Drake’s suspected escape haunted him for the rest of his life, not only because he left his commander behind but also because Hawkins was forced to abandon a hundred men on the Mexican coast.The treacherous attack of the Spaniards seems to have given Drake an inextinguishable lust for revenge because for him, the venture was not only a great disaster but also the very source of his Spanish hatred.

Drake did not waste his time too long to take revenge and reduce the losses occurred during the last troublesome voyage. Between 1570 and 1573 he made himself a hated person among the Spaniards during which period presumably his nickname as El draque, The Dragon was coined. He first expended his rage against Spain in 1571, by the raid on the Isthmus of Panama. Next year he successfully captured Nombre De Dios along with Cartagena and Santa Maria in a series of brilliant operations. During his raids, a very important moment took place in his life. The Introductory Note of Philips Nichols’ Sir Francis Drake Revived asserts that crossing the Isthmus of Panama and climbing on a “goodly and great high tree", he first caught sight of the Pacific Ocean, and besought Almighty God of His goodness to give him life and leave to sail once in an English ship in that sea.

By this time, he managed to find a purpose in his life which had to wait a couple of years before he could carry it into effect because on his return from his vengeance campaign in the late summer of 1573, the Queen had to force him to withdraw his plans for there was a kind of process of development in the relationship between England and Spain. Drake’s depredations became well-known among the Spanish who were still powerful enough to threaten the glorious empire of Britain and the Queen, who was not ready for an open war yet. As a result, according to Edmund Howes , Drake furnished 3 vessels and signed them on the Irish Campaign which in fact, was again a business venture from which the Earl of Essex and his partners hoped to make a profit in both land and money. During their months serving Essex in Ireland, Drake and Thomas Doughty began to discuss the possibility of a raid on Spanish Pacific ports. When they returned to England, they started to build out close relationships with very influential people in the court to fight out official permission and financial backing for their trip to the West Indies. Although they acquired the support they wanted, the Queen bound Drake to secrecy for she still wanted to keep the pretended peace with the Spanish Empire.

By the year of 1577 he successfully managed to arrange everything for the voyage and left a month and a half before Christmas in the same year. His venture would take three eventful years during which Drake managed to make use of the skills he acquired in the Hawkins family, ranging from navigation to depredation, but also developed his own approach and attitude which –according to common beliefs - probably made him either a symbolic figure of patriotism and nationalism or the master pirate of the known world who was fierce, rude, cruel and indifferent to the possession of others. Sometimes, however, these opinions are mixed from which a totally different person emerges who just embodied the values of a 16th century ambitious and materialistic individual. In any case, we cannot forget his importance and influence on both the emergence of the English nation as a maritime sea power and, although only by accident, his significant contribution to very important discoveries.

The Famous Voyage

Drake's voyage of circumnavigation, according to Norman J. H. Thrower's book of Sir Francis Drake and the Famous Voyage, 1577-1580, proved to be a turning point if not the climax of his career by which he graduated from a disreputable but successful slaver and pirate to a famous privateer explorer and adventurer. The voyage truly began as a privateering expedition but Drake made two discoveries - the islands south of Tierra del Fuego, and parts of the west coast of North America. A syndicate was formed to finance the voyage and in the summer of 1577, it gave orders to Drake to pass through the Strait of Magellan and explore the continental coasts along Chile and Peru, spy out places fit for vending English goods and return the way he came. Harry Kelsey claims, however, that trading opportunities were secondary not only in Drake's mind but also in those who chose him. What James A. Williamson, a historian infers to have been the main objective of the expedition is to seek out the Northwest Passage at the western part of the American continent and find a suitable location for planting colonies. Another source, namely Norman J. H. Thrower's above mentioned book, however, questions Williamson's idea on the point that it is quite improbable, not only because of the fact that we do not have any evidence of it but also because the idea of sending a fleet to the Pacific to look for the West end of the Northwest Passage was unlikely to gain support those days. Many other biographers and historians had their own views about the possible motivations for Drake's voyage which proves that the accounts we blindly rely on cannot be trusted at all and they only lead to doubts and speculations. Harry Kelsey's book entitled The Queen's pirate lists a number of different opinions from historians such as Henry Wagner , who claimed that Drake's primary purpose was to establish trade with China or E. G. R. Taylor who argued that Drake was supposed to explore the coast of Terra Australis. Other historians, however, see it differently and state that Drake's aim was to sail around the world from the very beginning. As we can see, it is quite hard to decide which idea is right or wrong, which is actually caused by the falsity or brevity of accounts. What all historians and biographers agree on is that there was a secret, unwritten motive for the expedition, -what Drake presumably preferred the most- to plunder Spanish ships and settlements in a region full of treasure.

It had always been a kind of secret mission to sweep Drake's voyage under the carpet and convince everyone that he was harmless. The reason for the secrecy about his venture was that the whole expedition was meant to be an act of piracy for everyone who knew Drake was aware that this venture was not going to include any negotiations about trading rights or discoveries. But it still had to be solved somehow because the political atmosphere was not ready for a new enemy mainly if it was the most powerful one in Europe. That is why the investors wanted to keep the details secret, so in June 1577 John Hawkins sent a fake letter to Secretary Walsingham, describing a fictitious plan in which Drake would command a merchant fleet to Alexandria, Tripoli and Constantinople.

In a sense, Drake's voyage did not consist of such a large number of vessels as we could observe it on the Hawkins voyages. The incident at San Juan De Ãlua deprived him of any intention of getting a large fleet involved in his venture. He left only with five ships and 164 men on 13 December 1577 from Plymouth. Leaving the port, the fleet set sail for the Atlantic side of the Brazilian coast, then passing through the Straight of Magellan, they kept heading North on the Pacific side until they came across with Nova Albion in 1579. The exploration of Nova Albion - present-day Sa Francisco - was a huge geographical discovery which contributed to Drake's ultimate fame as an explorer even if the discovery itself was just a coincidence. He only wanted to stop there to repair his battered ships damaged by storms and long time on the sea. The expedition stayed there for a couple of weeks doing repairs, then left for home by rounding the globe, leaving 20 men behind to plant a colony there and look for the Northwest Passage.

Since the extent of this thesis would not be enough to deal with the whole voyage of circumnavigation, anyone who wants to get to know details about the possible destinations and raids, I recommend Francis Fletcher's notes . His account gives a quite exact description of places and dates, not to mention the fact that this work- along with Nuno Da Silva's notes - composed the basis for later works about the voyage. Hereinafter my purpose is to highlight an incident which had a huge effect on Drake's character development or rather decay.

The incident I want to investigate is the deterioration of the relationship of Drake and Thomas Doughty, a former friend and supporter of both Drake and his circumnavigating venture. According to Harry Kelsey's book The Queen's Pirate, the whole story started at the island of Sao Tiago where Drake captured a Portuguese ship with a very valuable cargo of wine and bread. Drake made Doughty captain of the captured ship and told him to take good care of the cargo. The crew, however, started to drink freely from the newly acquired cargo of wine and Doughty even accused Thomas Drake - the cousin of Captain Drake who served on the Portuguese ship - of stealing from the goods. Enraged, Drake turned on Doughty because he regarded the man's accusations as open questioning of his own reliability. The problem remained unsettled, though onboard the Mary , Thomas Drake and his friends took every opportunity to vilify Doughty and make Francis Drake magnify every single gossip into a personal attack against his authority.

We can claim that the very root of the problem aroused between them was certainly authority. From the time Captain Drake was convinced, he tried to humiliate him or show him in an unfavourable light so he could provoke some sort of reaction from Doughty which would allow him for his complete removal. Eventually the attempt to separate the hated man from his friends and supporters was successful. Probably, being in such a tension was unbearable for the man; Doughty finally lost his temper and openly declared that Drake's word is worthless and unconfident. Drake was elated with reaching his goal so he forbade everyone to talk to the man because those who would oppose such a direct order were threatened to be deprived of their share of any future booty. We can observe here that Drake used his acquired wealth to support his cause in getting rid of this potential troublemaker. Doughty was finally found guilty in mutiny and was decapitated. Drake managed to reach Doughty's death by offering no other choice to his crewmen and gentlemen onboard but to sacrifice him. After the execution, Francis held up the chopped head and actually announced his sovereign right to murder anyone who dared to oppose him.

To this day no one has been able to explain why Drake wanted his death so much. What is definitely true is that Drake's purpose with this whole Doughty case was no doubt to make certain that the men were afraid of him. But fear worked both ways for not only the crew was afraid of him from that moment on but Drake too, which is why he kept an armed guard nearby all the time.

During the process of the trial, he found out that he could manipulate men who served with him, even when they neither liked nor trusted him. He learned how to subvert the will of officers and discovered that making the crew's service as valuable as the officer's could be quite useful in convincing them. The Queen and even her court knew quite well that Drake was just a soldier of fortune, a guy with whom fortunate things occur more than it is possible. Such assumption is quite true because although by accident, this trial provided him an understanding of the nearly unlimited authority of a skilful commander who could use humiliation and even death to isolate those who ever thought of opposing him. Subordinations of this kind against the will of Drake could further be mentioned such as John Wynter's suspected desertion who claimed that when he got separated from Drake, he remained in the Straits of Magellan for three weeks during which the crew persuaded him to go home and leave Drake behind, because they openly feared the man. It is not surprising for only a few weeks passed since Doughty's execution and Drake's declaration about his intention of executing thirty men. Although everyone was blaming Wynter as a deserter, it was probably the other way round. It was Drake who abandoned the other ships because he wanted to get rid of potential troublemakers and in this way to consolidate his own authority and power.

After his return from the circumnavigation, he must have had the odd doubt whether or not the Queen would still welcome her pirate subject. He was away for 3 years and had no idea what had happened during that time. Coming back with all that treasure he knew that if the political atmosphere changed dramatically, he would be hailed as a hero or condemned as a villain. Fortunately, the Queen was fascinated by his stories and elated by his loot not to mention the fact that piracy suited her foreign policy as well. Elizabeth in response to the huge profits and contributions awarded Drake with knighthood aboard Golden Hind in Deptford on 4 April 1581.

Drake, A legend

During his lifetime, Drake was known as a pirate, though his reputation rested on one successful raid through Spanish ports. We cannot even say that he was a good military commander of a fleet. The queen gave Drake the opportunity to prove himself in naval military command many times but he had neither the skill nor the intention to lead large fleets. He was the expert of plundering whose actions got Philip on his knees without any military operation involved. He believed that wealth was the purpose of war and success at the same time. When the Armada came, the Queen refused to give Drake independent command but the Spanish still thought of the English fleet as Drake’s fleet. In a sense, Drake’s fame was created by his enemies, rather then his fellow Englishmen.

From the few sources I examined during my research, it seemed that Drake was a charming companion to the Queen and those officials, whom he thought to be useful in his future plans, but ruthless enough to execute anyone who stood in his way. Many people call him a patriotic Englishmen who did what he seemed right at that time but I think that getting rich was a larger motivation in this respect. There were many occasions when, despite starvation and diseases on his ships, he kept going on with his plundering activities just to be able to carry home as much treasure as possible. On the one hand, greediness, along with the lack of conscience, composed his basic character flaws but, at the same time, these were the values which made him successful at last. He was not troubled by conscience that would hold back others. He was ready to sacrifice his men if circumstances dictated that way. No wonder that all of his men feared him, which proves the exemplary discipline on Drake’s ships during the century.

Although nobody liked him, everybody respected and endured him, which finally proved to be a lucrative sacrifice. He brought not only wealth but also possibilities for his country which England managed to seize in a way that by the Victorian era, the British Navy controlled sea routes to distant parts of the world and thus, he was placed in the Pantheon of English heroes, who, from that time on, served as a legend to venturesome future generations. In him, England found its ambition and motivation to become the nation that Elizabeth I and many monarchs before her, ever wanted to wish for.

Drake in his lifetime

Drake's fame was easier in the Victorian age to rehabilitate than it actually was in his own lifetime. It is not like people not respected him - mainly after his knighting - but rather people had a kind of shared opinion about the way he acquired his wealth and upheaval of the country. For Drake, knighthood meant a new phase in his life. From that time on, whether he was or wasn't liked, people at least showed their smiling faces to their fellow honorable Englishman, who enjoyed the support of the Queen. In a sense, Drake's fame at home emerged thanks to Elizabeth since the public opinion depended largely on her interests and opinion at that time.

In his lifetime, however, not many materials were published about him or his activities. Drake's name was not often quoted, mainly after his return from the Cádiz expedition. He lost many men and was officially out of favor. In a sense, the efforts of his earlier years had been forgotten for a very long time and only a few of his contemporaries took the time to write anything about him, which is curious concerning the geographical and financial values of his exploits. Only from 1585 can we recognize some literary activity to introduce the man. The first piece of work that showed the circumnavigation in what might be called literature was Henry Robert's ballad. In it, Robert complains that his countrymen have not given Drake the honor which should rightly belong to the man who exceeded his contemporaries in many respect. Robert further compares Drake to Alexander conquering Darius, to David killing Goliath and even dares to liken Drake to Ulysses for his policy and Achilles for his valor. Beside Henry Robert, there were other writers and poets as well, who kept leveling Drake to the status of a sea god and in this way, immortalizing their hero.

The next literary treatment of Drake was printed two years later in 1587 by Thomas Greepe, who in his patronizing ballad deals with not the circumnavigation but Drake's West Indies venture of 1585-86. He highlights the problem of historians and poets to show Drake to the public as they did so with heroes from Gilgamesh to the heroes of our every day.

Such penmen could further be found but I would like to mention the one who did more than anyone to facilitate the Elizabethan heroes in their cause, Richard Hakluyt, an English writer and scholar, who dedicated his life to the idea of establishing an English colonial empire. He had never been part of any voyage but from 1589 until 1600, he tried to collect all the manuscripts and data possible to enable Englishmen to get to far-away corners of the globe and thus, to conquer the whole world. He finally managed to reach his goal since England, within a few centuries, would become the greatest colonial and naval power of the world. This is what enhanced Drake's rehabilitation from the 1600s on as a hero, legend and performer of fairy tales.

William Shakespeare: King John

"And all the unsettled humours of the land, rash, inconsiderate, fiery voluntaries, with ladies' faces and fierce dragons' spleens ,have sold their fortunes at their native homes, bearing their birthrights proudly on their backs ,to make hazard of new fortunes here. (William Shakespeare: King John, Scene I, Act I)

Sir Francis Drake Today

Of all heroes whose exploits influenced England's history there is not one who so soon passed into legend as Drake. Many legends are in circulation today but most of these tales are part of the folk tradition that evolved around him. Each legend bears very important characteristic traits of Captain Drake which tells a lot about the public opinion concerning him. So far we have heard a series of quite negative opinions about Francis Drake but hereinafter, I would like to mention two folk tales which might bring him closer to our hearts and might change the already constructed image about him as well.

A very popular legend has it that Drake was playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe when told that the Spanish Armada had arrived. On hearing this, he calmly declared that he had no intention of leaving until he had finished the game. The story probably has no truth value at all - and starts to fade away nowadays - because it is unlikely that Drake would react that way to the arriving of the world's then largest fleet. What this legend tries to mirror us is the calmness and cock-sureness of a man who believed in the English spirit and its navy to such an extent that a threat like that could not bother him at all.

Another legend, which actually has a concrete artefact supporting the myth, concerns Drake's Drum. This item was an essential tool on Drake's circumnavigation to beat the men to action quarters prior to attack. In his will, Drake wanted the drum to be transported to Plymouth where it is said to mysteriously beat itself during times of peril. There were many occasions when drum beats were heard throughout the course of history. During both World Wars and actually any war that ever threatened the British Isles up to this time, continuous beating were heard by multiple witnesses of Plymouth citizens. It is not easy to be certain how far back in time or in what forms such folk tradition of Drake's guardian spirit may have originated but what I attempted to prove through this legend was to highlight his importance and answer the question of why he is still an important figure of the English nation. To this question, the answer is simple. Whether people loved him or not, he unconsciously became part of the English tradition and its every day. He was definitely the guardian spirit of a nation which went through hell to become the nation it is today. This success, however, couldn't have been reached without heroes like Sir Francis Drake, the master pirate of the known world, a legend of a withered generation of whom we can never be sure whether he was a good or an evil character. What is definitely sure is that without his presence on the stage of history, nothing would have been the same.

He is sometimes deprived of the title of the Father of the English nation by many historians, but I think that he did so many things for his country with or without any inclination to do so that he can be at least called the Prodigal son of England who managed to return from the shadows and step forward as a celebrated hero.

Let Me Conclude

In connection with Drake it was a serious undertake to present him and his major personal characteristics within the frame of thirty pages. What can easily be realized is that Drake was not an ordinary man, and in our days he would not be more than a prisoner by now. But those were different times and a man like him could use the current political atmosphere well enough to support his own cause. What should be understood is that Drake was no different than any of his contemporaries when it came to wealth, thus he himself should not be condemned for the things he had done. According to Spanish prisoners, captured along the way on his voyages, the captain was just a mere thief, but Drake always kept insisting that he took their goods in the name of the Queen. This is where we can recognize the policy of both the Queen and her seafarers in deflecting the responsibility for their actions. On the one hand, the Queen tried to cover her tracks so she could not be accused of supporting her seafarers in their actions, but on the other hand, sea captains like Drake did the same by claiming that they acted for their country and for the Queen herself. Such policy made possible for the British Empire to postpone an open war for decades and thus being strong enough to repel the greatest military power in the end.

What I intended to show in this piece of work was how a person can be affected by contemporary situations and manage to emerge as a legend by the end. This was actually the case with Drake who started the voyage as a part-time pirate and prosperous merchant sailor and gradually became something different. He learned many lessons throughout his life which either included practices of how to subvert the consciences of officers and how to make piracy an act of patriotism by deflecting responsibility, or how to build out a kind of unusual quality of leadership based on religious influence, acquired during the Hawkins’ Voyages. His whole life was actually a school from which he managed to graduate as a successful combination of a man of piratism, bravery, shrewdness, calmness, cock-sureness and great strategic thinking. The combination of such values based the success of both the 16th century England and those who lived and served in that period. In a sense, Drake was successful because he was born into an era which allowed and demanded such actions for the purpose of survival.

Nowadays legends are mainly about people of great individual values. Throughout this thesis, however, I presented many negative as well as some positive features about Drake which served to emphasize the fact that, although he was a cruel, rude and indifferent individual, he still became a legend, not because of his personal characteristic traits but for his contribution to the upheaval of the British Empire. In his case, this fact was more important in the Victorian era than in his time.

Further researches could further be expanded in the direction of Drake’s treatment as a legend in greater details since there are number of legends worth discussing from which we could further analyze his character; or another possible analysis of Drake could be the process of his deterioration after the Spanish and Portugal raids by which he started to withdraw into the shadows; or further causes and motivations for his rehabilitation in the Victorian period could also constitute the basis of a good examination from which we could fully understand him.

I hope this thesis reached its ultimate purpose to highlight the life and those major influences which created a man who constitutes the basis of nationalism and patriotism in present-day Britain and the person who finally exceeded his own expectations by becoming a myth and legend of folk tales even four-hundred years later.

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"He furnished at his own propper charge, three friggots with men,munition, and served voluntary in Ireland under Walter Earle of Essex: where he did excellent service, both by sea, and land, at the winning of divers strong Forts" (Howes:807)

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      Pete007 4 years ago

      Wow, this is some lens. It must have taken an age to create. Very interesting and I will use some of the cotent for a person project