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Drake, Sir Francis (1540–1596), pirate, sea captain, and explorer, was born about February or March 1540 in Crowndale, near Tavistock, Devon, the eldest of five known children of Edmund Drake (d. 1566) of Tavistock. Edmund's wife is unknown, though she may have been named Anna Milwaye. Edmund Drake was a shearman (of woollen cloth) at Crowndale, where his family had occupied the same farm for generations. Edmund was almost certainly a priest as well, perhaps one of those deprived of a living during Henry VIII's sequestration of religious property. In 1548 he was involved in a fracas with other clerics and laymen and forced to flee from Devon. Edmund soon gained a royal pardon, and found a place as curate at Upchurch in Kent. He was not an obvious partisan of either side in the religious debates, being Catholic enough to serve as curate at Upchurch in 1553 and protestant enough to be appointed vicar there when Elizabeth became queen.
Francis Drake had earlier begun living in Plymouth with his kinsman William Hawkins (b. before 1490, d. 1554/5), whose family included sons William Hawkins (c. 1519–1589)and John Hawkins (1532–1595). Francis Drake's brothers John and Joseph may also have lived there, though his two other brothers, Edward and Thomas, very likely did not. This association with the Hawkins family had a lasting influence on young Francis Drake. As he grew up, he served for several years under John Hawkins and seemed to model himself on this older relative. Originally from Tavistock, the Hawkins family had moved to Plymouth about the turn of the century and established a reputation in trading and seafaring. William Hawkins made trips to the Guinea coast of Africa and even to Brazil. He was a leading figure in Plymouth politics and on occasion represented the town in parliament. His sons John and William went to sea as boys, as did Francis Drake and the other boys in the household. They met people who knew how to live well, dress well, and speak well in conversations that covered politics, religion, trade, and foreign affairs. At home the boys learned to read and write and count. At sea they learned that a profit could be made by seizing ships and cargoes from foreign merchants who were themselves shading the law. A daring sea captain with a little luck could commit piracy and suffer nothing in consequence.
The Hawkins household was as flexible in religion as it was in morals. William Hawkinswas neither a devout Catholic nor an ardent protestant, but something in between. His son John Hawkins was the same. John Hawkins not only attended mass during trading visits to Spanish Tenerife but did so with such apparent fervour that his Spanish friends thought he was a committed Catholic. Young Francis Drake adopted the moderate religious practices of the Hawkins family, travelling with them to Dutch, French, and Spanish ports, and attending either Catholic or protestant churches, just as circumstances might dictate.
Learning to be a pirate
Among Devon's merchant seamen piracy was not the only part-time business. The slave trade was also common, and members of the Hawkins family made a good deal of money in this noxious enterprise. As early as 1560 Francis Drake sailed on one of the Hawkins slave ships, and in 1562 he went to sea with them again. John Hawkinscommanded the four-ship fleet, which paused for a time in Tenerife, where the family had friends and business associates. From there he sailed on to Cape Verde and down the Guinea coast to Sierra Leone, where he loaded his ships with slaves bought from the Portuguese, stolen from other slavers, or captured in fierce battles at native villages. He took so many that he had to commandeer a Portuguese vessel to carry the slaves he could not cram into his own holds. Trading thus far had been so successful that Hawkins sent a small vessel home with the profits, Francis Drake apparently being one of the crew. The other ships continued to the West Indies for a round of trading at the ports of La Española.
Astonished at the profits made in the voyage of 1562–3, Hawkins hurried through the preparations for a return trip, which began in October 1564, with young Francis Drakesailing again as a seaman on one of his four ships. The fleet stopped once more in the Canaries, but met with somewhat less cordiality than before. The Englishmen captured a load of slaves in Sierra Leone, then sailed to the West Indies and the coast of South America, where the slaves and trade goods were sold at a substantial profit. This time the Spanish king had forbidden his subjects to trade with the foreigners, so Hawkinspretended to attack the colonial ports, after which the people surrendered to his demand and bought his cargo at good prices.
By the time Hawkins returned to Plymouth the Spanish and Portuguese governments had entered such strong protests that Queen Elizabeth forbade him to go again. Consequently Hawkins sent a trusted captain, John Lovell, with Francis Drake again as one of the crew. Lovell lacked the subtlety and good judgement of John Hawkins, so the trip was marred by hostile clashes and outright piracy. Even so, the slaves and trade goods were sold for a profit, and Francis Drake returned home in time to sail once more with his kinsman and mentor John Hawkins.
The fleet that left Plymouth in October 1567 consisted of the usual four ships, Francis Drake commanding for the first time in the little Judith. Two royal vessels also joined the fleet, and the Jesus, one of the queen's ships, became Hawkins's flagship. When the fleet stopped as usual in the Canaries, two of the gentlemen adventurers began arguing, and in the heat of the argument one of the men struck Hawkins with a knife. As a result Hawkins condemned the man to die, saying this was an insult to the queen, on whose ship they were. At the urging of several people, including the local priest, Hawkinsforgave the condemned man, but Francis Drake remembered this example of royal discipline.
Hawkins assembled his cargo of slaves in the usual way, partly by trade and partly by raids on native villages, and supplemented his fleet by taking French and Portuguese vessels. At sea as at home Hawkins dressed in fine clothes, lived in a richly appointed cabin, dined at a table set with linen and silver, and had a band of musicians for entertainment. This impressed young Francis Drake as it no doubt impressed local Spanish officials. Even so, some of them now refused to trade with the English merchants, and the hurricane season was well advanced before all goods and slaves had been sold.
Heading home by way of the Yucatan Channel and the Florida Strait, the fleet was battered by a severe storm and forced to head for San Juan de Ulúa for repairs. Arriving in the middle of September 1568 at this island near Vera Cruz, Hawkins seized the fort and sent the inhabitants to the mainland. The following day a fleet arrived from Spain, carrying the viceroy of New Spain. Taken unawares, he agreed that Hawkins could retain control of the island while he repaired his ships and bought necessary supplies. Nevertheless, a few days later Spanish forces mounted a surprise attack on the Hawkinsships and the island fortifications. Fire ships that drifted down on the English vessels came slowly enough that Hawkins and many of his men managed to escape aboard the Minion, as did Drake on the Judith. Although Drake was ordered to come alongside and take some of the men from the overloaded Minion, he ignored the order and sailed away in the darkness. 'The Judith', said Hawkins, 'forsooke us in our great myserie' (Hakluyt, Principall Navigations, 556).
Stopping first along the coast of New Spain, Hawkins released a hundred or so men who said they would rather risk capture by Spaniards than attempt the trip home in a leaky and overloaded ship. Sick to the point of collapse, Hawkins and his crew suffered through a four-month voyage homeward. The Judith took nearly as long, though Drakearrived in such obvious good health that William Hawkins dispatched him immediately to London with a message reporting the probable loss of his brother and the rest of the fleet.
It is impossible to know whether the voyage made or lost money. Early on, when William Hawkins thought everything was lost except Drake and the Judith, he estimated probable losses at £2000. After John Hawkins returned home, and it suddenly appeared that the Spanish might be made to pay damages for lost ships and goods, he claimed losses amounting to £25,000. But Hawkins also sent an entire pack train of gold, silver, and trade goods to London, and the Spanish ambassador reported that profits for the voyage amounted to 28,000 pesos in gold, plus a small trunk full of pearls. Even so, Drake continued to talk about the losses suffered by his cousin and himself at San Juan de Ulúa, 'not onely in the losse of his goods of some value but also of his kinsmen & friends' (Nichols, 2). This may well be, but the Spanish historian Herrera claimed that Drake himself brought home the treasure, then tried to hide it from the authorities, and was gaoled for three months for doing so.
Raids on the Spanish main
Whatever happened on his return, Francis Drake had made enough on the voyage to take a wife, and on 4 July 1569 he married Mary Newman (d. 1583) in St Budeaux parish church near Plymouth. Details about her family are scarce, but it is customary to say her brother was a shipmate of Francis Drake, perhaps the one named Harry Newman. Romance did not keep Drake long at home. Late in November 1569 he sailed again on a Hawkins ship, commanding the 50 ton Brave on a voyage to the Guinea coast. From this point Hawkins returned home, while Francis Drake took the three-ship fleet to the Indies on a trading voyage about which nothing else is known.
In 1571 Drake sailed once more to the Indies, commanding a 25 ton pinnace called the Swan, probably part of a pirate fleet organized by William Wynter and his brother George. In February 1571 Drake and his crew joined French pirates in a raid on Spanish outposts in the Isthmus of Panama. With a captured cimarron (an escaped black slave) as guide, Drake and his allies took a Spanish vessel loaded with goods worth about 50,000 pesos. Over the next few months Drake and the pirates made repeated attacks on coastal and inland trading posts, taking ships and goods to the value of 250,000 pesos, or so the Spanish owners claimed. Even allowing for exaggeration, the booty was probably worth more than £100,000, a good portion of which went to Drake and his men.
While resting back in Plymouth, Drake began to plan a new raid on the Spanish Indies. With his brothers John and Joseph, Drake assembled a fleet of two light ships, plus three small pinnaces, boats that were light enough to be rowed into the shallow bays and inlets around the isthmus, but small enough to be knocked down for easy transport on the other vessels. Leaving Plymouth in May 1572 the fleet sailed through the Canary Islands, then straight across to Dominica in the West Indies. After resting for a time Drake took the ships to meet his partner, the English pirate James Raunse, in a place on the isthmus called Port Pheasant. Here Drake and his men built a log fort, while his carpenters assembled the pinnaces. By the end of July he was ready to attack Nombre de Dios, where treasure and goods were loaded for shipment to Spain. Twenty years later Philip Nichols wrote that Drake and his men found a great hoard of treasure in the town but were unable to take it because Drake himself was badly wounded and his men feared he might die. This is probably untrue. There was no treasure in the town, which was defended only by a few locals parading around behind their barricades with burning matches as though they were a huge armed force ready to launch a counter-attack.
Disgusted with the outcome of the raid, Raunse withdrew from the partnership. Drakesailed off to Cartagena, and spent the next few months in desultory attacks on small vessels and settlements between there and the isthmus. During this time his brother John Drake managed to conclude an alliance with local cimarrones, who befriended anyone who was an enemy of the Spanish settlers. Before anything could come of this alliance, John was 'sodenlie stroken with a gunne shott' and died (TNA: PRO, PROB 11/56, sig. 7). A little later his brother Joseph died from a disease that was ravaging the fleet. In an act of extreme callousness Drake ordered the surgeon to cut open the body, so he could learn the cause of death.
Undiscouraged by the failure of his raids or the deaths of his brothers, Drake decided to wait for the annual treasure shipment from Peru. Early in January 1573 he led his pirates and their cimarron allies across the isthmus and came within sight of Panama, where he sent a scout for information about the next treasure train. The man came back with the news that a pack train would cross that very night with fourteen mule-loads of gold and jewels. Although Drake tried to ambush the pack train, his plot was discovered, and the Spanish mule drivers took their treasure packs back to Panama. Returning to his base camp Drake met a French pirate named Guillaume Le Testu. Quickly joining forces Drake and Le Testu took a shore party back to the isthmus, where by luck they surprised the treasure train. This time they drove off the Spanish guards and seized the treasure. Drake and his men loaded themselves with the gold and buried the silver, but Le Testu was badly wounded, and they left him in the road where he fell. Drake returned to the coast, loaded the treasure on board the ships, then sent a search party back to the isthmus. Le Testu was dead, and the rest of the treasure was gone, but Drake and his pirates could at last return home with a good profit. The English share of the booty was at least £20,000, a princely sum for that time and enough to make Drakerich. In addition Drake was equipped to be a merchant, having acquired two small ships taken at Cartagena in the early days of the voyage.
Drake probably used some of his new wealth to buy property on Notte Street in Plymouth, where he was listed as a merchant in 1576. Rich enough to have a servant, he took his cousin John Drake as his personal page. Still he wanted more. When the earl of Essex needed assistance in his efforts to occupy Antrim in northern Ireland, he found that Francis Drake was willing to invest in the enterprise and even to use his own ships. It was a bloody affair, culminating in July 1575 with a surprise attack on Rathlin Island, where 500 men, women, and children were put to the sword. Drake's own role in the massacre is unclear, but the Antrim operation brought him into a close relationship with the earl's retainer, Thomas Doughty.
Voyage around the world
Either through Doughty or through Essex, Drake was introduced to Sir Francis Walsingham, and this association led to a plan for Drake to take a fleet into the Pacific and raid Spanish settlements there. The general outline of the scheme is contained in a draft memorandum of about May or June 1577 (BL, Cotton MS, Otho E.viii), but the exact details were kept secret, even from some of the participants. Ostensibly a trading venture to Alexandria, the fleet actually intended to continue the programme of piracy Drake had developed. Investors included Walsingham, Christopher Hatton, John Hawkins, William and George Wynter, and even Queen Elizabeth. Leadership was left unclear from the start, with Francis Drake, John Wynter, and Thomas Doughty listed as 'equall companions and frindly gentlemen' in the enterprise, though Drake was always spoken of as commander of the fleet (BL, Harley MS 540, fol. 93). Drake's ship was the 150 ton Pelican, double-planked, lead-sheathed, and armed with 18 guns. John Wyntercontributed his own 80 ton Elizabeth, which carried 11 guns. Another 12 guns were distributed among the 50 ton Marigold, the 30 ton Swan, and the 15 ton Benedict.
The trip began inauspiciously in November 1577 with a storm that disabled the Pelicanand the Marigold. The fleet was not able to leave port again until 13 December. Stopping at an island off the Moroccan coast Drake had the carpenters assemble one of the pinnaces he had brought along for raiding purposes. By the end of the month the work was completed, and six Spanish and Portuguese ships were taken in quick succession, then looted and eventually set free. The unlucky captain of a Spanish fishing smack was forced to accept the little Benedict in exchange for his own 40 ton vessel, which was renamed Christopher.
At the end of January 1578 the fleet paused to raid Maio in the Cape Verde Islands but found that other pirates had beaten them to the place. After loading wood and water the fleet sailed on to São Tiago, where they captured a Portuguese merchant vessel, Santa Maria, loaded with wine and other cargo. The commander was Nuño de Silva, a Portuguese pilot who knew the coast of South America. Taking Silva to serve as pilot of his own fleet Drake set the rest of the crew adrift in a pinnace, and put Thomas Doughtyin charge of the ship, which was thereafter called the Mary. The cargo of wine proved too much of a temptation for Doughty's crew, and after one ugly incident Doughtyaccused Drake's brother Thomas of stealing from the cargo. Hearing this, Drake flew into a rage, and after a terrible row put Doughty in command of the Pelican. Francis Drake himself went on board the Mary, with Thomas Drake as the new captain.
During the next few weeks Thomas Drake and his friends took every opportunity to vilify Doughty, and Francis quickly convinced himself that Doughty was a threat to the entire enterprise. Finally, Drake summoned Doughty back to the Mary, where he took the man into custody and sent him as a virtual prisoner to the Swan. Thus humiliated and separated from his friends, Doughty began to grumble about Drake, who in turn became obsessed with the idea that Doughty was an enemy and wished to do him harm. Finally, on 17 May 1578 at the Rio Deseado on the lower coast of South America, Drakebrought Doughty aboard the Pelican once more, then ordered the Swan to be stripped and burnt. Outraged, Doughty reminded Drake of their partnership agreement; Drakewas incensed, and after a heated argument struck Doughty and had him bound to the mast. The Swan was burnt, as was the Christopher, and Doughty and his brother Johnwere sent to the Elizabeth as prisoners.
Late in June 1578 the fleet arrived at Port St Julian, Magellan's old winter quarters on the southern coast of Argentina, where Drake put Thomas Doughty on trial for mutiny. As authority for his action Drake claimed to have a document from the queen, giving him supreme command of the fleet; thus, an offence against him was an offence against the queen, as John Hawkins had claimed in 1567. The nature of the offence was obscure, but as Drake explained it, Doughty was somehow involved in 'takynge away of my good name and altogether discreditinge me, and then my life' (BL, Harley MS 540, fols. 103v–104). Bullied and threatened by their commander, the seamen finally agreed that Doughty was indeed guilty. He was beheaded on 2 July 1578. Just how these two friends had come to be enemies is not clear. According to Richard Madox's diary, gossips in Plymouth said that Doughty had 'lived intimately' with Drake's wife and while drunk boasted of his exploit to Drake himself. Whatever the reason, John Wynter, the third 'equall companion', began to realize that his own friendship with the commander was in jeopardy, as did other officers and men in the fleet, motivated no doubt by Drake's constant threats against those he saw as friends of Doughty and thus his own enemies. Grown daily more suspicious of his associates, Drake finally called the captains and crew together, then announced that all the officers, who held their appointments from the owners of the ships, were relieved of command. He then reappointed them or most of them as officers responsible only to him.
Many of Doughty's friends were placed aboard Wynter's ship Elizabeth. When Drakefinally led his fleet through the strait and into the Pacific, Wynter took advantage of a storm to absent himself from the fleet and finally took his ship back to England. The Marigold, commanded by Doughty's friend John Thomas, also disappeared, and the Mary was abandoned at Port St Julian. Thus Drake was left with only the Pelican, renamed the Golden Hind. This reduced fleet was much more to Drake's liking, as he was not comfortable with the responsibility for a large number of ships. After John Wynter returned home, the English government began to circulate the story that Wynter had gone through the Strait of Magellan but that he had come home without passing through the straits again. When Francis Drake came home, the story changed to name him as the Englishman who first sailed into the open sea south of the American continent. Whether Drake actually sailed there or not is unclear. After passing through the straits, he did go south for a time, then headed north along the coast of South America, but John Drake and others with him seem not to have been aware of a new route around the tip of South America.
Eighty or more men were lost in Drake's passage through the straits. Some died from cold, hunger, and disease. Twenty souls were lost when the Marigold disappeared without a trace. Another two dozen seem to have perished on the pinnaces. Wynter took fifty men home with him, and these were effectively lost to the expedition as well. Undaunted, Drake sailed up the Pacific coast with renewed enthusiasm for piracy. He reached the island of Mocha on 25 November 1578, intending to help himself to the treasure from the rich Madre de Dios mines. Instead he met fierce Indian resistance, losing two men in battle and two more who died later from their wounds. Others were also injured, including Drake himself, with an arrow wound beneath the right eye and another that just grazed his head. Further north, at Valparaíso he took a ship carrying 200,000 pesos in gold, then went ashore and raided the church and the warehouses. The most valuable booty was a derrotero (a set of charts and navigation instructions) for all the ports on the Pacific coast.
Moving north with both ships, Drake stopped at Bahía Salada to assemble another knocked-down pinnace and to bring out the guns he had stored beneath the ballast stones. With the Pelican thus turned into a floating artillery battery, he set sail again. On 5 February 1579 he arrived at Arica on the north coast of Chile and captured a merchant ship carrying thirty or forty bars of silver. A second ship loaded with wine and clothing was accidentally burnt when a drunken English sailor dropped a lamp in the hold. At Chule on the southern coast of Peru he took another ship, but it was empty, the crew having been warned ahead of time that Drake was on the way. Putting to sea, Draketook everything usable out of the three captured ships, then hoisted their sails and watched them move out to sea.
At this point battles and sickness had reduced Drake's crew to little more than seventy men. Only thirty of them were fit to fight, but that was enough, since the merchant ships Drake met were unarmed. Continuing to move north Drake sailed into the harbour of Callao de Lima. After a brief fight he took one ship, only to release it outside the harbour. There were similar encounters at other ports until 28 February 1579, when he took a ship from Guayaquil, loaded with tackle, maize, salt pork, and hams, plus 18,000 pesos' worth of gold and silver. On 1 March he met and captured the richest ship of all, Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, carrying much valuable cargo and 362,000 pesosin silver and gold. An English sailor later insisted the Spanish ship was called Cacafuego. After Drake's cannon ripped through the sails and rigging and carried away the mizzen mast, her Spanish pilot is supposed to have said, 'Our ship shalbe called no more the Cacafogo [shitfire] but the Cacaplata [shitsilver]' (BL, Harley MS 280, fols. 84–6).
Sailing again up the coast of Central America and Mexico, Drake took a few more ships and raided several more ports. A vessel taken just west of Panama carried two pilots, one of whom had charts of the Manila galleon route across the Pacific. Another captured ship carried silks and linens and crates of fine china. A rich merchant surrendered a large gold chain and 7000 pesos in silver and goods. Two other merchant ships yielded up as many black slaves, along with 'a proper negro wench' (BL, Harley MS 280, fol. 86v) who could relieve the tedium of the long journey home.
As success piled onto success Drake became expansive. He told his Spanish captives that the queen had given him a licence to rob Spanish subjects and recover the money Hawkins had lost at San Juan de Ulúa. Taking his cue from John Hawkins, he draped himself in fine clothes and set a fine table, using silver dishes that he said were a gift from the queen, decorated with his own coat of arms. His men bowed and doffed their hats when he walked by. Ignoring his chaplain, Drake began to lead religious services, showing the captives that he was a man of God. Taking choice items from his vast store of loot, Drake made gifts to some of his captives, not to the seamen, but to the officers and especially to one hidalgo. He pulled maps out of a case and boasted that he could go wherever he pleased in the Pacific. He showed the captives how he had come into the Pacific and said he intended to sail home by way of the Moluccas. Finally, realizing that he might have talked too much, Drake carefully primed his Portuguese pilot Silva with plans for a return journey by a supposed northern passage. The man, who had considered himself to be part of the pirate band, was then put ashore at Guatulco with the other Spanish prisoners, and Drake sailed out into the Pacific with the Pelican and a bark captured off the Nicaraguan coast.
Just where Drake went from this point is unclear. The Pelican was leaking badly and needed to be careened. Sixteenth-century accounts and maps can be interpreted to show that he stopped anywhere between the southern tip of Baja California and latitude 48° N. John Drake said they careened the ship on an island in latitude 44° or 46° or 48°. A Dutch commentator at the time, van Meteren, said it was 33°. A map of the period shows the island in 42°. Richard Hakluyt said 38°, and an account published in 1628 said 38°30ʹ. These two latitudes correspond closely with the modern port of San Francisco, where a brass plate was discovered some years ago and said to be the one Drake used to mark his encampment. The plate is generally thought to be a hoax, while the anthropological and zoological data from the various accounts is similarly unreliable. The most logical guess about Drake's anchorage would place it somewhere along the coast of Baja California or in the San Benito Islands.
Drake had his ship repaired by July or August 1579, when he abandoned the captured bark and perhaps a dozen of his men and set sail across the Pacific in the Pelican. Very likely following the Manila galleon route, Drake made his first landfall in the Palau Islands, where he fired a cannon at some overenthusiastic islanders and killed twenty of them. South of the Davao Gulf he met another ship and fired on it as well, then sailed into the Molucca Passage. At one small island a merchant advised him to head for the island of Ternate in the Moluccas, which he did. There the king supplied Drake's crew with provisions, a cargo of spices, and entertainment. Anchoring once more in a deserted island off the Celebes, Drake careened his ship again. There he decided to leave the two black men, along with the black woman who was pregnant. The identity of the father is unknown. One account spread the blame widely, saying she was 'gotten with child between the captaine and his men pirats' (BL, Harley MS 280, fol. 86v).
Somewhat later in the journey the ship ran aground on a reef and could not be towed free. Trying to lighten the ship, Drake ordered the recently acquired food and spices to be tossed overboard, along with several cannon, but nothing seemed to help. Chaplain Fletcher announced that the grounding was God's punishment for the execution of Doughty. Most of the men agreed and thought they were going to die, but a sudden gale blew the ship off the rocks, little the worse for the experience. Drake however was livid. He called the poor chaplain on deck, declared him excommunicated, gave him an insulting label to wear, and told him to spend the rest of the journey with the crew, saying that if he came before the mast again or took off the label he would be hanged.
During a later stop in Java Drake and his crew found the local people most cordial, particularly the women, from whom some of them managed to catch the French pox. Having loaded plenty of food they sailed through the Indian Ocean, and around the Cape of Good Hope. According to one account the provisions lasted until 20 July 1580 when they reached Sierra Leone on the Guinea coast. Beyond that nothing much is known of the return voyage. One intriguing document in Spanish archives says Drakeand his men stopped for supplies at the French port of La Rochelle (Pedro de Rada to Gomez de Santillan, 29 July and 17 Aug 1580, Archivo General de Indias, Patronato 266, ramo 41), but this is probably another one of the many rumours about Drake then circulating in the chanceries of Europe. Everyone seemed to know that he had sailed unopposed through the Spanish possessions, taking everything of value that came his way. Drake and the Pelican arrived in Plymouth on 26 September 1580, ending an astonishing three-year voyage around the world and carrying treasure beyond imagination.
Honours and riches
Once home Drake's first move was to send a message to London, notifying the queen and the other investors of his arrival. The first replies were ominous, speaking of royal embarrassment and Spanish demands for restitution, but private messages from the queen told Drake that he had nothing to worry about. He thereupon put most of his treasure under guard in a tower near Plymouth and set off for London with several horses carrying packs of gold and silver. In a private audience with the queen that lasted all day a decision was made on how these astonishing riches would be handled. Most of Drake's booty had not been registered by the owners, who were trying to evade the Spanish levy on shipments of gold and silver. Therefore, Drake advised that it might be better to make no inventory. If the Spanish government did not know how much he had stolen, there could scarcely be an intelligent request for its return. As a result Drakeand the queen knew what he had brought home, but no one else did. No doubt Drakekept a large part of the treasure for himself. The Spanish ambassador reported that 20 tons of silver were placed in the Tower, together with five huge boxes of gold and a great quantity of pearls. Investors were said to have received double their money. The crew may have shared £40,000 and Drake had an extra £10,000 for himself. But the real total was vastly larger. The Spanish ambassador thought it might have reached a million and a half pesos. Others thought it was 2 million.
Though tight-fisted with his crew, Drake showered rich gifts on the queen and others. The queen was well pleased and ordered Drake's ship to be taken ashore at Deptford as a permanent memorial of his astonishing voyage. Then, with royal approval, Drakebought Buckland Abbey, a former Cistercian monastery near Plymouth that had been converted into a private estate when Henry VIII suppressed the religious houses. Typical of Cistercian foundations, most of Buckland's buildings were simple, austere structures. Only the church possessed ornate architectural features, and it became a home with the installation of two wooden floors inside the nave. The arcades were blocked with stone and a great hall was formed in the space under the crossing tower, where the south transept was removed to allow for the installation of windows. When Drake bought the place it was already remodelled and furnished, and he seems to have made few or no changes during his occupancy.
In the spring of 1581 the queen knighted Drake, making a gentleman of the one-time pirate. That same year Nicholas Hilliard painted his portrait, a miniature that can be seen at the National Portrait Gallery, and the best of several likenesses made just after his return. Even without the pictures Drake could be recognized from descriptions made by Nuño de Silva and others. He was short, stout, and extremely strong. The reddish-blond beard did not quite hide the arrow wound on his right cheek, but a bullet wound in the right leg apparently left no limp. As time passed Drake became decidedly heavy. A painting in the National Maritime Museum, usually attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts and dated 1591, shows a decidedly older Drake, thick of body and thin of hair, with a beard going grey and a somewhat sinking chin.
Worried, perhaps, that their most prominent citizen might abandon the town, the aldermen and burgesses of Plymouth named Francis Drake mayor for a term beginning in September 1581. His accomplishments in office are unclear, the sole record mentioning only a 'newe compasse made upon the Hawe' (Plymouth black book, Devon RO, W46, fol. 7), which may be a reference to a new wall built adjoining the castle on Plymouth Hoe. Some years later Drake took a municipal contract to reconstruct a shallow canal bringing water to the town. This business arrangement, in which Drakeobtained the right to build and operate grist mills on the canal, has given rise to a fanciful tale that Francis Drake brought the first supply of water to the grateful citizens of Plymouth.
It was almost inevitable that a man so popular would be named to sit in parliament, which Drake did in 1581 (for an unknown constituency) and again in 1584 (for Bossiney); in the latter parliament he was appointed to a committee considering a bill for Walter Ralegh's colonization in America. In 1593 he was elected one of the members for the significant constituency of Plymouth, and took a more active role in the Commons than previously. Not a parliamentary leader, Drake none the less had the opportunity to serve on committees with such men as Philip Sidney, Christopher Hatton, and Richard Grenville, whose friendship and influence he was glad to have. These associations also gave Drake the opportunity to acquire some of the sophistication and polish lacking in his training at sea. Even so, some thought he was a bit too pushy, and they resented his attempts to buy favour with costly presents. On one occasion Lord Burghley rejected a gift of ten gold bars, saying he could not accept stolen goods. On another, when Drake was boasting about his exploits, Lord Sussexdeclared that it was no great accomplishment to capture an unarmed vessel with a well-armed ship. But if there were some who disliked this pushy pirate, many admired him, including the queen, who enjoyed his company. After Drake's first wife died, in January 1583, he courted and married Elizabeth Sydenham (d. 1598), only child of a rich and well-connected Somerset family, about 9 February 1585. Elizabeth was young, beautiful, intelligent, and well mannered—just the wife for a newly rich gentleman seeking social advantage.
The West Indies raid
During this same period Drake planned and invested in a number of trading enterprises, with mixed success. Finally at the end of 1584 he received royal approval for a new raid on Spanish ports and shipping in the West Indies. In addition to the queen, Drake's investors included the earl of Leicester, John and William Hawkins, and Sir Walter Ralegh. The original plan was probably never written out in detail, but Drakewas very likely expected to intercept the Spanish treasure fleet. If successful, he would return home immediately. Otherwise, he would continue to the Indies and raid Santo Domingo, Cartagena, and Panama. It was war without a formal declaration, and the queen reserved the right to disavow Drake if necessary. The fleet included about two dozen ships, the largest of which was Drake's flagship or admiral, the 600 ton Elizabeth Bonaventure, commanded by Thomas Fenner. Drake probably owned three or four of the smaller ships in the fleet, one of which his brother Thomas commanded. Christopher Carleill, commander of the military force, was also in charge of a ship, as was Martin Frobisher on the vice-admiral.
Drake intended to keep a careful account of the voyage, very likely depending on his chaplain, Philip Nichols, who later wrote about the voyage of 1572–3 and probably had a hand in the preparation of a narrative about Drake's circumnavigation. However, no such journal has survived, and the best firsthand account is the one drawn up by Captain Walter Bigges (Summarie and True Discourse, 1589). Never a man for attention to detail, Drake took his fleet to sea on 14 September 1585 without any sailing orders, then called his captains aboard to help in preparing a set. In this conference Drakefound again that he did not like the responsibility of command, particularly the need to ask for opinions before taking action. Within a few days he had decided on an informal advisory group of Frobisher and Carleill, plus two men from his own ship, Nichols and Fenner.
Heading south, as usual, Drake captured several French vessels, one of which he renamed Drake, adding it to his fleet. Within a few days he was at Bayona in the mouth of the Vigo River, a Spanish port where he decided to stay and take on supplies, daring the king of Spain to send troops against him. Fearless in the extreme, Drake was none the less inclined to rash decisions of which this was an example. He remained for two weeks at Vigo and Bayona, pillaging houses, convents, and churches of loot worth perhaps 6000 ducats. The delay allowed enough time for the Spanish fleet to reach San Lucar unmolested, and deprived Drake and his raiders of the richest cargo brought from the Indies in recent years.
The English fleet reached the Canaries in late October. In the harbour at Palma they were met with a blistering fire from the fortress. One cannon ball 'strake atwixt our Generalls legges' (BL, Harley MS 2202, fol. 57v), but Drake was uninjured. Faced by such firm resistance, he ordered the fleet to sail on. By mid-November the fleet was at São Tiago in the Cape Verde Islands, where Carleill landed his troops for an attack on the town. The place was occupied without resistance, and the loot included a huge supply of provisions plus more than fifty pieces of brass ordnance. Despite this success Drake was increasingly uneasy about the responsibility of commanding such a large fleet, and began to fret about the loyalty of his captains. With no advance discussion, Drake had Nichols draw up an oath similar to the one administered to the officers and men at San Julian. Once announced, the oath provoked great controversy. Francis Knollys, rear-admiral, refused to sign and was eventually removed from command.
Drake lingered at São Tiago until the end of the month; he finally set fire to the town and sailed away. However, the stop had lasted long enough for the men in the fleet to be infected by an epidemic that had filled the local hospital with patients. Several hundred men died before the fleet reached the West Indies, and others were permanently disabled by the disease. Still, there was no question of changing plans.
On 1 January 1586 Drake landed 1000 men at Santo Domingo on the island of Española and occupied the town. When local officials asked about ransoming the place, they were told it would take a million ducats to convince the Englishmen to leave. The officials refused, so Drake ordered part of the town to be set afire. After three weeks of alternate refusal and torching, the locals paid 25,000 ducats to ransom what remained of the town. Drake promptly set fire to everything that could not be moved and took his fleet to Cartagena, which he captured on 9 February 1586 in a brief battle. Again he demanded ransom for the town, and again he destroyed a few buildings each time his demands were refused. He finally agreed to accept something more than 100,000 ducats, though some men grumbled that this amount did not include a large sum that disappeared into Drake's possession. Indeed, there was not much other wealth to be had. Warned ahead of time, the citizens had spirited most of their goods out of the city. Lacking booty, many Englishmen decided to take a few slaves instead, most of them women. For these and other reasons discipline became a serious problem at Cartagena before Drake finally took his fleet out of the bay on 31 March.
Sailing across to Cuba, then up the Florida coast, Drake stopped to attack the Spanish fort at San Augustín, which he captured, looted, and burnt at the end of May. Continuing north he passed the Outer Banks and noticed a signal fire from Croatoan Island. It was a party from the English settlement at Roanoke, founded a year earlier by Sir Richard Grenville. After brief consultation, the demoralized settlers decided to abandon the place and return to England on Drake's ships. His fleet reached Plymouth on 28 July 1586, ending a voyage that cost more than it brought home.
Drake had proved himself once again to be brave and unrelenting in battle, but he had displayed little understanding of the command process, and his idea of capturing isolated towns to hold for ransom was a complete failure. Even so his reputation in Spain grew enormously, for he was an embarrassment to the king and an object of fear in every colonial town. More than this, Drake was beginning to be seen abroad as something more than just a pirate. Spanish officials girding for war began to see Sir Francis Drake as the greatest threat in the English arsenal.
The Spanish Armada
During the period of alternate peace and hostility Dom Antonio, pretender to the throne of Portugal, had appeared in England, telling Drake, the queen, and anyone else who would listen that people in Portugal were eager for him to arrive and end the Spanish occupation. Amid all this, in March 1587 Drake signed a contract with a group of London merchants who would supply a number of ships for a new raid, with pillage to be split evenly between the crown and the investors. As usual with Drake's ventures, the objective was not well defined. Starting with a possible move to place Dom Antonioon the throne of Portugal, it changed over time to an attack on Spanish ships at sea and in port. As it turned out, Drake's fleet left Plymouth in early April 1587, just as the permission to attack Spanish ports was withdrawn, and he probably never received that order. Instead, he sailed directly for the Spanish coast. By chance capturing a small boat in the outer bay of Lisbon, Drake learned about a great merchant fleet in the harbour at Cadiz and immediately headed there.
Menaced only by a small fleet of Spanish galleys, Drake was able to enter the harbour at Cadiz and drive the galleys back with his long-range guns. Much of the resistance came from an armed Genoese merchantman and a Biscayan galleon, both of which he quickly dispatched. Many of the Spanish ships were without crews or sails and thus easy prey for a determined raider. Moving past treacherous shoals to the inner bay, Drake calmly plundered and burnt the rest of the Spanish ships, more than two dozen vessels in all. Meanwhile Drake resupplied his own fleet from the huge stores of provisions available there. Spanish authorities later estimated their losses at 172,000 ducats, including four Spanish ships that Drake added to his fleet. It was a stunning victory for Drake, not in an open battle at sea, at which he had little experience, but in a surprise attack on a lightly defended port, at which he was a master.
Not everyone shared his elation. Caught in the mêlée of battle, Drake failed to recall that he was commander of a fleet. William Borough, his second in command, was left in the outer harbour to take the fire from the heavy guns on shore, uncertain what to do because he did not know where Drake was. Angry at Drake for leaving him to the mercy of the Spanish, as he thought, Borough later reacted badly when Drake proposed to land his troops on the south coast of Portugal. Giving his opinion in writing, as was the custom, Borough called the plan rash and ill-conceived. Beyond this, he said that Drake's method of command was an affront to experienced captains.
Drake was furious. Seething for two days, Drake told his old friends Philip Nichols and Thomas Fenner to draw up a list of charges against Borough, just as they had done against Knollys. Once this was done, he summoned Borough to his flagship, accused him of insubordination, and removed him from command. Thoroughly shaken, Borough wrote a letter of apology, but Drake was unmoved. It was his main character defect. Always suspicious, always wary of a plot, Drake became ever more anxious under the isolation of command at sea. He seemed to need a scapegoat like Doughty, Fletcher, Knollys, or Borough to serve as an object of his scorn and ridicule.
Landing on the Algarve coast on 4 May 1587, Drake put 1000 soldiers ashore. The men marched overland a few miles to Lagos, but the guns of the fortress drove them back to their ships. Retracing his route a short distance, Drake next landed his troops at Sagres, where they burnt some huts and fishing boats. They bombarded the castle at Sagres and captured it, sacked a nearby monastery, then went back to their ships. For several weeks Drake kept his fleet in the waters between Lisbon and Sagres, menacing shipping, and burning what he could not carry away. By late May disease began to make its way through his fleet, and some ships, including Borough's, headed for home. Drakethen took his remaining vessels to the Azores, where he had heard there was a big merchant ship, waiting to be taken. This was the king's own San Felipe, coming from the East Indies with a cargo of china, silks and velvet, a small quantity of jewels, and some black slaves. Despite the illness of his crew, Drake was able to capture the ship in a surprise attack. Adding the San Felipe to his fleet Drake then returned to Plymouth, where he arrived on 26 June 1587. As usual there was grumbling about the spoils. Some of the investors claimed that Drake kept a great part of the loot for himself. The Spanish ambassador said 300,000 ducats in cash had been taken from the San Felipe, but less than a third of this amount was distributed among the investors.
There was happiness in London, where Drake as usual boasted of his success. Some thirty-five years later Francis Bacon recalled Drake's description of the raid on Cadiz as 'The Cingeing of the king of Spaines Beard' (Bacon, 40). There was also the problem of Borough, whom Drake had accused of insubordination, cowardice, and desertion. Defending himself in court, Borough described his own role in the fight at Cadiz, battling alone against the Spanish fort and the galleys, while the other ships were off looting. He then reminded the court of Drake's own chequered past, including his desertion of Hawkins at San Juan de Ulúa and the execution of Thomas Doughty. Perhaps of most importance in his acquittal was a decision by the queen to apologize to Spain for Drake's raids. Aware that the English fleet was not yet ready to take on Spain, her representative pulled the orders of late March out of the files and used them to claim that 'unwittingly, yea unwillingly, to her Majesty those actions were committed by Sir Fras. Drake, for the which her Majesty is as yet greatly offended with him' (Burghley to De Loo, 28 July 1587, CSP for., 1583–8, 21, 3, 186). Of course, no one believed this, particularly the Spanish officials, who began to refer to Drake as a 'captain general' of the English navy.
During the voyage to Spain and Portugal, Drake began to concern himself with the record he would leave for posterity. Accordingly he called upon two friends to help with his reports, Thomas Fenner and Philip Nichols, the latter of whom was a university graduate and cleric. Both may have contributed parts of the wonderfully literate messages Drake sent home describing the voyage, but Nichols alone is probably responsible for the invocations of the deity, prayers for the queen and her council, and requests for prayers for the fleet. Nichols was also no doubt the author of the most famous letter from this voyage, one addressed 'To the Reverend Father in God John Fox, my very good friend' on 27 April 1587. The letter to Foxe is apparently not extant in the original, and there is nothing to indicate that he was a friend of Drake. Moreover, none of the letters from this voyage was written in Drake's hand. Even so, the correspondence has given Drake an undeserved reputation for great personal piety. In fact, none of the letters in Drake's own hand shows Drake as a particularly devout protestant. Instead, he seems to have thought that 'God would receive the good work that he might perform in either law, that of Rome or that of England', though He no doubt preferred the latter (Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico City, Ramo de Inquisicion, tomo 75, fol. 115r–v).
In the course of his raid on Cadiz and the coast of Portugal, Drake gathered sufficient information to show conclusively that the Spanish government was seriously preparing to invade England, so English preparations took on new vigour. While many favoured meeting the Spanish threat at the English coast, Drake preferred taking the battle to Spain. Not everyone agreed, nor did many think Drake himself should have the command. In May 1588 Drake was summoned to London, where he was told that Lord Howard was to be commander of the English fleet, while Drake himself could have the post of second in command. With anyone else Drake might have rebelled, but Howardwas a man of great charm and courtesy, and the two struck up a good relationship from the start. Howard joined Drake at Plymouth in late May 1588 and immediately called his captains into conference. Once more Drake explained his plan to attack the Spanish fleet in Spanish waters, and Howard admitted Drake was probably right. Twice Howardattempted to take his fleet to the Spanish coast, but storms forced him back to port on each occasion. Finally, on 19 July 1588, word arrived that the Armada had been sighted off the Lizard heading towards Plymouth.
In one tale told and retold, Drake was bowling on the Hoe at Plymouth with some of the other captains when word came that the Spanish Armada had just arrived. Rather than going to his ship immediately, Drake is supposed to have remarked that there was plenty of time to finish the game and then to finish the Spaniards. Whether the story has any factual basis is unknown. It first appeared in print in 1624 in a pamphlet by Thomas Scott, an English clergyman who said only that the fleet's 'Commanders and Captaines were at bowles upon the hoe of Plimouth' (Scott, 6). Another century passed before Drake's name was connected to this fictional game of bowls, and the direct quotation of Drake is even later. Still, it is a wonderful story about Drake's legendary equanimity in battle.
The English and Spanish fleets were approximately equal in effective strength, some 130 ships in the Spanish Armada and about 120 in the combined English fleets. At first the Spanish commander, Medina Sidonia, had a great advantage, with Howard's fleet caught in Plymouth harbour. However, Medina Sidonia also had orders to head straight for the channel, where he was to rendezvous with the Spanish invasion troops from Flanders and convoy them to the English coast. Consequently he sailed past Plymouth, allowing Howard and Drake time to warp their ships out to sea against the heavy wind and currents. The work went on all night, and at dawn on 21 July 1588 the Spanish commander, with his ships arranged in an arc, found the English fleet in two squadrons bearing down on him. Drake, leading the attack on the right wing, engaged his opponent in a heavy artillery battle. When the Spanish ships tried to close for the hand-to-hand fighting at which their troops excelled, Drake declined. After two or three hours of inconclusive duelling the Spanish commander finally broke off the fight and sailed towards the Isle of Wight.
The most severe damage to the Spanish fleet came by accident. First a disgruntled German artilleryman deliberately set a match to a barrel of gunpowder on board the San Salvador, which began to burn uncontrollably and had to be abandoned. While this ship was still aflame, there was a second accident. The Nuestra Señora del Rosario of Don Pedro de Valdés lost its bowsprit and foremast in a collision with a sister ship and began to drop astern of the Armada. Rather than delay his own fleet waiting for the straggler, Medina Sidonia abandoned the Rosario as well. It was an opportunity that Drake recognized immediately. Though ordered by Howard to lead the pursuit of the Spanish fleet, keeping his stern lantern lit all night as a beacon for the other ships, Drake extinguished his lantern and sailed off in the darkness to capture the Rosario. At dawn on 22 July the Spanish captain woke to find Drake's Revenge two or three cables away from his disabled ship. He surrendered without firing a shot. The Rosario was one of the pay ships of the Armada, carrying perhaps 50,000 gold ducats, of which Drakeseems to have kept about a third for himself. In addition, there were 46 great guns and large stores of powder and shot. The captured ship was sent to Torbay, but the gold was loaded onto the Revenge, along with the commander and other important prisoners whom Drake intended to hold for ransom.
Late that same day Drake rejoined the fleet, and the Spanish tried once again to grapple with the elusive English ships. Details are unclear, but Drake was almost certainly the English commander who attacked the Spanish armed merchantman Gran Grifón on 23 July. Wallowing in heavy seas, the Grifón straggled behind the rest of the Armada. Suddenly a daring English galleon, doubtless Drake's Revenge, came up on her beam and loosed a broadside at her. Then turning swiftly about, the English ship came across the stern of the Grifón and raked her once more with heavy fire. Fearing the loss of another vessel, Medina Sidonia quickly sent several rescue ships to drive the English vessel out of range and take the Grifón in tow. During the rescue, fire from the relief vessels put Drake's Revenge out of commission temporarily, with heavy damage to the main top.
Seeing the need for better control of the fleet, Howard reorganized his forces into four squadrons, with himself, Drake, John Hawkins, and Martin Frobisher as commanders. The Spanish also revised their formation, sailing in a sort of roundel, rather than an arc. On 25 July Howard's reorganized fleet engaged the Armada in a fierce gun battle. With his Revenge still under repair, Drake missed the engagement in which Hawkinsand Frobisher were knighted for gallant service under fire. Meanwhile Medina Sidoniatook the Armada across the channel to Calais, where he hoped to meet Parma and his invasion army. This did not happen. Instead, the pursuing English fleet sent fire ships in among his Armada, scattering the vessels, and forcing the Spanish captains to cut their cables and sail away. Medina Sidonia and four other commanders were isolated from the rest of the Armada, and on 29 July, off Gravelines, Drake brought his squadron up to attack them. Other ships from both fleets joined the battle, fighting at a range so close the men could exchange taunts and curses with their opponents.
Though his squadron remained in the fight, Drake himself withdrew after the first hour or so, probably to take his captives to safety. His withdrawal led Frobisher to declare later that Drake was either 'a cowardly knave or a traitor'. He was unsure which, but added, 'the one I will swear' (deposition of Matthew Starke, 11 Aug 1588, TNA: PRO, SP 12/214/63 and 64, fols. 139–140v, 141–2). Drake, of course, was no coward, as he was at some pains to prove. A year later, when Petruccio Ubaldino issued his account of the Armada campaign, Drake insisted that the author compose a revised edition, including more about his own role in the fighting, especially the account of cannon balls at Gravelines that pierced his own cabin and injured at least one of the occupants.
Gravelines was the last great battle of the Armada campaign. Stormy seas drove the Spanish ships northwards, and after a few days the English fleet broke off the pursuit. The great Armada battle was over.
The invasion of Portugal
The English fleet returned to port, but within a few months plans were under way for Drake to go to sea again. This time he was to command a fleet in a joint commission with Sir John Norris, who would lead a land force. The objective was twofold, an attempt to put Dom Antonio on the throne of Portugal, and the capture of the Spanish treasure fleet off the Azores. As usual plans changed over the next few months. By the time the fleet sailed from Plymouth on 18 April 1589 there were more than 100 ships, organized into 5 squadrons, with perhaps as many as 19,000 officers and men. Queen Elizabeth had her own objective, giving Drake and Norris strict orders to go first to Santander and other Spanish ports in the Bay of Biscay and destroy the warships there.
Instead Drake took his fleet directly to La Coruña, where he had heard the Spanish fleet had taken shelter. Once arrived, he found the harbour almost completely deserted, but Norris landed the army anyway and began to attack the town. In heavy fighting, in which Drake took part, the English troops captured the fortress and put the defenders to the sword. However, there was nothing worth taking except a great quantity of wine, which the soldiers began drinking as usual. Many fell ill and blamed the wine for their sickness. Finally, on 8 May, the troops embarked once more. This time the fleet stopped further south at Peniche, where the Spanish garrison abandoned the town after two days of hard fighting. From that point Norris marched his army overland to Lisbon, where Drake and the fleet were to reinforce him. The march was badly organized. Many men were still sick, and the local people showed little enthusiasm for Dom Antonio. Arriving at Lisbon on 23 May, the English troops found the fortress was too strong and the army too weak. Meanwhile Drake brought the fleet up to the mouth of the Tagus River but made no attempt to reach Lisbon. Puzzled by his delay, Norris abandoned Lisbon, leaving behind many of his sick and wounded troops.
Together once more, Drake and Norris decided to head for the Azores, the second part of the grand plan. Before they could leave the harbour, a dozen or so Spanish galleons appeared, sailing downriver from Lisbon, and attacked the English ships that were scattered across the bay. Probably not understanding the need for a tactical grouping, Drake did not draw his ships into the squadrons into which they were supposedly organized. Instead he allowed the galleons to pick off English stragglers, until a wind finally came up and allowed his fleet to sail away. Driven north the partners decided to take Vigo, where they landed on 18 June. This attack was also a failure, for the inhabitants had abandoned the place and left nothing worth taking except the usual supply of wine. Realizing that the army was too weak to continue the campaign, Drakeand Norris decided that Drake would take the twenty best ships and the healthiest soldiers and sailors and continue to the Azores. Norris and the rest of the force would return to England. Once out of the harbour, however, Drake found his fleet beset by a storm, and he headed back for Plymouth, where Norris found him waiting a few days later.
The queen was furious at the failure of the campaign and the direct violation of her order to attack the ports in the Bay of Biscay. Beyond this, some men accused Drake of cowardice for his failure to come upriver at Lisbon. Both Drake and Norris were brought before the privy council to answer charges about their conduct of the campaign, but in the end no action was taken against them.
The last voyage
For a time thereafter Drake concentrated on matters at home, but soon there were discussions about a new raid on the West Indies. Again organized as a profit making venture, the plan was for Francis Drake and John Hawkins to be joint commanders, attacking various ports in the West Indies, and perhaps even capturing Panama. The new fleet left Plymouth on 28 August 1595, but there was bickering between the two commanders from the very start. Drake wanted to attack the Canaries; Hawkins did not. Finally Hawkins conceded, and on 25 September 1595 Drake tried to land his troops at Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria. However, the surf was high, the defenders entrenched, artillery fire heavy, and Drake had to abandon the attack. Similar attacks the following day met similar results, and finally the fleet sailed away.
A month later Drake and Hawkins were in the Lesser Antilles, where the commanders differed again. Drake wanted to head immediately for Puerto Rico and attack San Juan, while Hawkins thought it would be better to wait a few days and put the fleet into some sort of order. This time Drake conceded, for Hawkins was ill. On 11 November 1595, just as the fleet reached Puerto Rico, John Hawkins died. The attack went on, but the Spanish had erected formidable fortifications, and Drake was unable to capture the town despite a fierce battle.
After raiding a few small ports on the mainland, Drake landed his troops once more on 27 December 1595 at Nombre de Dios, where he intended to begin a march on Panama. Here, too, the English troops were driven away by determined Spanish soldiers, and Drake took his fleet to sea again. By late January a deadly fever was running through the fleet, making everyone ill. Drake himself was racked with a bloody dysentery. Seeing the end was near, he signed a will, talked to his brother and friends, and on 27 January 1596, in the harbour at Porto Bello, he died. Contrary to his express wish to be buried on land, the body of Francis Drake was sealed in a lead coffin and buried at sea the next day. His officers tried for several days to reorganize the expedition, but the men were too sick and too demoralized. Following a battle with a Spanish fleet off the Isla de Pinos the ships dispersed, each vessel making its own way home, the whole voyage a disaster.
Writing about Francis Drake
When Francis Drake died his reputation at home was in eclipse, but the Spanish rejoiced at the passing of a powerful foe. The Spanish cleric and dramatist Lope de Vegacelebrated the event in 1598 with an epic poem, La Dragontea, recounting some of the stories of the English dragon that had preyed on Spanish possessions and threatened the Spanish religion. A few years later the Spanish historian Antonio de Herreradevoted a long section of his Historia general del mundo to the exploits of Francis Drake, while Bartolomé Leonardo de Argensola used much of the same material in his own Conquista de las Islas Malucas.
English chroniclers such as Edmund Howes and William Camden also wrote about Drake, but to them he was just one of many brave and resourceful seamen who helped make England a seafaring nation. Finally in 1625 Drake's nephew, also named Francis Drake, published the manuscripts of Philip Nichols in a successful attempt to revive Drake's faltering reputation. The book that Nichols completed, Sir Francis Drake Revived, was quickly followed by The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake, a work that was extensively revised by the younger Francis Drake. The former title caught the public imagination, and it was reissued several times during the next quarter-century. In 1681 Nathaniel Crouch added considerable material of his own and reprinted the work under the title The English Hero, or, Sir Francis Drake Reviv'd, and this went through many editions during the following century.
A major theme of these works was that Drake's unfortunate attraction to piracy was more than offset by his devotion to English protestantism. This was also the theme of Henry Holland, who in 1620 included Francis Drake in his Herōologia, a sort of illustrated pantheon of English heroes. The same theme was taken up by Thomas Fullerin his book of 1642, The Holy State and the Profane State, in which he showed Drake as the very model of a Christian sailor, agonizing about the circumstances that drove him to piracy, but justifying it on the grounds that he robbed England's Catholic enemies.
With remarkably few exceptions this theme has been adopted by Drake's biographers ever since. George William Anderson, in his work of 1781, A New, Authentic, and Complete Collection of Voyages Round the World, was one of the first historians to make effective use of the manuscript collections in the British Museum and one of the few to show that Drake's heroism was tinged with villainy. His work has been almost completely ignored by later biographers. Instead, Victorian England embellished the Drake legend, producing novels, plays, and poems by dozens of authors. A sort of culmination was reached in 1895 with the work of Sir Henry Newbolt. His poem 'Drake's Drum' has reminded English boys for more than a century that when they go to sea in warships they do so in the company of Drake and his sailors. The drum itself, preserved at Buckland Abbey, is clearly of sixteenth-century origin and retains many original features. Newbolt's poem was set to music by Sir Charles Stanford: one of his Songs of the Sea, it was first performed in 1904. Other Drake relics, some of dubious authenticity, have been preserved at Buckland and elsewhere. Among the best-known are eight banners, now hanging in the gallery at Buckland, that are said to have decorated the Golden Hind at Deptford when Drake was knighted by the queen. Pieces made from the timbers of the ship include a chair which has been at Oxford's Bodleian Library since 1662.
In 1898 a respected naval historian, Julian Corbett, used Drake family papers and other manuscript sources to produce a two-volume work (Drake and the Tudor Navy) showing that Francis Drake was a great seaman, a leader of men, a protestant gentleman, a fine naval strategist, and the real founder of the English navy. This interpretation was revised somewhat by James A. Williamson in 1938 to make room for John Hawkins, but it remained the standard view of English historians until 1967. In that year Kenneth R. Andrews published Drake's Voyages, showing that both Drake and Hawkins were important figures in Elizabethan maritime expansion, but scarcely the founders of a true naval tradition. None the less, the myth lives on, and every few years a new biography appears declaring that Francis Drake had an important role in founding the English navy and explaining his piracy as the patriotic conduct of an intensely religious man. These tales do an injustice to Sir Francis Drake, who was both more interesting and less admirable than the Drake of myth.
Marcus Gheeraerts (also written as Gerards or Geerards; c. 1561/62 – 19 January 1636) was a Flemish artist working at the Tudor court, described as "the most important artist of quality to work in England in large-scale between Eworth and Van Dyck" He was brought to England as a child by his father Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, also a painter. He became a fashionable portraitist in the last decade of the reign of Elizabeth I under the patronage of her champion and pageant-master Sir Henry Lee. He introduced a new aesthetic in English court painting that captured the essence of a sitter through close observation. He became a favorite portraitist of James I's queen Anne of Denmark, but fell out of fashion in the late 1610s.
Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (sometimes known as Mark Garrard) was born in Bruges, the son of the artist Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder and his wife Johanna. Hardly anything is known of the paintings of the elder Gheeraerts, although his work as a printmaker was renowned in Europe.
Like other Protestant artists from the Low Countries, Gheeraerts the Elder fled to England with his son to escape persecution in the Low Countries under the Duke of Alba. His wife was a Catholic and remained behind and is believed to have died a few years later. Father and son are recorded living with a Dutch servant in the London parish of St Mary Abchurchin 1568. On 9 September 1571, the elder Gheeraerts remarried. His new wife was Susanna de Critz, a member of an exiled family from Antwerp.
It is not known by whom young Marcus was trained, although it is likely to have been his father. He was possibly also a pupil of Lucas de Heere. Records suggest that Marcus was active as a painter by 1586. In 1590 he married Magdalena, the sister of his stepmother Susanna and of the painter John de Critz. The couple had six children, only two of whom seem to have survived—a son, Marcus III (c. 1602-c. 1654), also a painter, and a son Henry (1604-August 1650). His half-sister Sara married the painter Isaac Oliver in 1602.
A new aesthetic
The earliest signed works by Gheeraerts the Younger date from c. 1592, but Roy Strong identified a set of portraits of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley dated to around 1586 as likely based on an original by Gheeraerts. Although raised in England, Gheeraerts' work reflects a continental aesthetic very different from the flat modeling of features and pure, brilliant colours associated with Elizabethan artists such as Nicolas Hilliard. "The implications suggest that Oliver and Gheeraerts singly or together visited Antwerp in the late eighties and were influenced by the portrait style of Frans Pourbus." From around 1590, Gheeraerts led a "revolution" in English portraiture. For the first time in English art sitters were rendered in three dimensions, achieving a lifelike impression through tonality and shadow. New too were capturing the character of individual sitters through close observation and the use of sombre colour and greyed flesh tones. Gheeraerts was one of the first English artists to paint on canvas rather than wood panel, allowing much larger pictures to be produced. He also introduced the full-length figure set out-out-of-doors in a naturalistic landscape for full-scale portraiture, a feature seen in portrait miniatures of the same era.
The need for assistants to complete the backgrounds and details of the new large canvas paintings, and the numbers of surviving copies and variants of Gheeraerts' works, suggest a studio or workshop staffed with assistants and apprentices. There are similarities of features between Gheeraert's portraits of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex and miniatures of Essex by Gheeraerts' brother-in-law Isaac Oliver, and later between their portraits of Anne of Denmark, but it is unknown whether the two artists collaborated or shared patterns for portraits.
Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley, who retired as Queen's Champion in the autumn of 1590, was the architect of much of the chivalric pageantry at the court of Elizabeth I. Lee became Gheeraerts' patron around 1590, and Gheeraerts quickly became fashionable in court circles, creating emblematic portraits associated with the elaborate costumed iconography of Lee's Accession Day tilts. The queen likely sat to him for the Ditchley Portrait of 1592,and her favourite the Earl of Essex employed Gheeraerts from 1596. The royal accounts for 1596–98 also include payments for decorative work by "Marcus Gerarde". Another Gheeraerts portrait of Elizabeth is in the collection of Trinity College, Cambridge.
The Ditchley Portrait seems to have always been at Lee's home in Oxfordshire, and was likely painted for (or commemorates) her two-day visit to Ditchley in 1592. In this image, the queen stands on a map of England, her feet on Oxfordshire. The painting has been trimmed and the background poorly repainted, so that the inscription and sonnet are incomplete. Storms rage behind her while the sun shines before her, and she wears a jewel in the form of a celestial or armillary sphere close to her left ear. The new portrait aesthetic did not please the aging queen, and in the many versions of this painting made with the allegorical items removed, likely in Gheeraerts' workshop, Elizabeth's features are "softened" from the stark realism of her face in the original. One of these was sent as a diplomatic gift to the Grand Duke of Tuscany and is now in the Palazzo Pitti.
Around 1594, Gheeraerts painted a portrait of Lee's cousin Captain Thomas Lee standing in a landscape wearing Irish dress. The iconography of the portrait alludes to Captain Lee's service in Ireland. Gheeraerts also painted several portraits of Sir Henry Lee himself, including a full-length portrait in his robes of the Order of the Garter (1602).
Essex (whose mother Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester was related to Sir Henry Lee) seems to have used Gheeraerts exclusively for large-scale portraits from the mid-1590s. The first of these is the 1596 full-length portrait of Essex at Woburn Abbey, where he stands in a landscape with the burning Spanish city of Cadiz in the background. Many half-length and three-quarter-length portraits of Essex with plain backgrounds appear to be studio variants of sittings to Gheeraerts. Like Lee, Essex was an important participant in the Accession Day tilts.
Sir Roy Strong wrote of the Ditchley and Woburn Abbey portraits:
Gheeraerts' success lay in his ability to subdue the bourgeois robustness of Flemish painting and fuse it with the melancholic, aristocratic, courtly fantasy of late Elizabethan England ... Elizabeth and Essex remain Gheeraerts' supreme works deserving to rank, along with some of Hilliard's portrait miniatures, as great masterpieces of early English painting.
Gheeraerts' popularity does not seem to have been tainted by the patronage of participants in the Essex Rebellion (both Essex and Thomas Lee were executed for treason in 1602).
Gheeraerts remained at the forefront of fashion in the years immediately following Elizabeth's death in 1603. James I's queen, Anne of Denmark, employed Gheerearts for large scale paintings and his brother-in-law Isaac Oliver for miniatures. In 1611 Gheeraerts was paid for portraits of the king, queen, and Princess Elizabeth. A portrait of Anne, likely wearing mourning for her son Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales in the winter of 1612-13 is also attributed to Gheeraerts.
His 1611 portrait of Frances Howard, Countess of Hertford in rich attire framed by a draped silk curtain, with a fringed pelmet across the top of the canvas, is the first known instance of a portrait setting that would be used by Hilliard's former apprentice William Larkin in a series of full-length portraits between 1613 and 1618. Overall, Gheeraerts' portraiture in the Jacobean era is characterized by the "quietness, pensiveness, and gentle charm of mood" seen in his portraits of Catherine Killigrew, Lady Jermyn (1614) and Mary Throckmorton, Lady Scudamore (1615).
Isaac Oliver died in 1617, and around the same time Gheeraerts' position at court began to decline as the result of competition from a new generation of immigrants. Anne of Denmark died in 1619, and although Gheeraerts was part of her funeral procession as "Queen's Painter", the Netherlander Paul van Somer had likely displaced him as her chief portraitist some time before. For the last twenty years of his life Gheeraerts was employed chiefly by the country gentry and by academic sitters.
Gheeraerts was a member of the Court of the Painter-Stainers' Company in the 1620s and had an apprentice, Ferdinando Clifton, who was a freeman of the Company in 1627. Gheeraerts died on 19 January 1636.