Skip Navigation Links The Library of Congress >> Especially for Researchers >> Research Centers
Rare Book & Special Collections Reading Room (Library of Congress)
  Home >> Digitized Rare Books >> Drake Biography

Sir Francis Drake: A Pictorial Biography by Hans P. Kraus


- The Actors
- The Unfortunate Voyage
- Drake's First Success
- The Famous Voyage
- The Spanish Defenses
- The Caribbean Raid
- The Cadiz Raid
- The "Invincible" Armada
- The Beginning of the End
- The Last Voyage

Catalogue of the Collection



When Elizabeth Tudor became Queen of England in 1558 the traditional involvement of her country in the affairs of continental Europe was more intense than at any other time while she was on the throne. Her reign marks quite distinctly the beginning of a long period in which the English involved themselves less and less in the domestic concerns of other European countries and became disinclined to undertake any continental entanglements. Yet, strangely, although England in 1558 and the years before was so intimately linked to interests abroad, the English had tended to lag behind their continental neighbors in the New Learning that was flourishing in Europe. On the whole, the English were less aware than their neighbors were of the true achievements of antiquity, the advances in the human sciences, the investigation of the physical universe and the expansion of European knowledge of the world. 1

For the English the year 1558 had opened with the humiliation of losing their last territory on the mainland of Europe--Calais. This was a blow that English pride could hardly stomach. But November 17 saw the end of the reign of Mary Tudor, under whom the nation had suffered religious conflict and the bitter persecution consequent on it; and that day marked the opening of the era of Elizabeth. Because of this the date came to be regarded as deeply auspicious, and eventually was appointed a religious and secular festival throughout the realm.

In 1558 the English still hankered after European possessions. In 1562-1563, by taking advantage of France's first War of Religion, they tried to hold Le Havre (which they called Newhaven), as though it could replace Calais, and failed. 2 Later, when troops had to be sent to the Low Countries in 1585, strategists toyed with the idea of taking the Dutch at their word, and really making Elizabeth Sovereign of the Netherlands as well. 3 But both attempts to become a continental power again were nearly disastrous for those involved in them. As a consequence the English lost enthusiasm for these costly, self-consuming struggles: by the time the Queen died in 1603 English foreign policy (conceived in the broadest sense of the term) had shifted decisively into new channels. Although the British Army undertook many campaigns on the continent of Europe during the next three centuries, in almost every case, unless it was acting in concert with powerful allies, it confined itself to amphibious operations in which the Navy was an essential and equal partner. 4

At least in part this change was a response to the invitation that the Elizabethans came to feel was held out to them by the lure of the sea. As the Queen's reign went on, the English ceased to look upon it as a cold unfriendly barrier that hindered their policies, lengthened their trade routes and separated them from their friends and clients abroad. The sea came to represent an element that was natural to them--a part and parcel of the realm. It was recognized that the sea gave them sustenance, access and communication: it challenged them to produce the vehicle that would make it yield them profit. 5 For the sea offered security and opportunity in one: if England maintained herself as a maritime power her statesmen would have freedom of action in their policies. They could choose whether to remain aloof, sheltered by the Navy from the tempestuous politics of the continent, or whether, after calculating the advantage that might accrue, they should intervene in them, while still remaining protected. 'He that commands the sea is at great liberty, and may take as much and as little of the war as he will; whereas those that be strongest by land are many times nevertheless in great straits,' wrote Francis Bacon. 6

In time the English became reconciled to the sea keeping them apart from the rest of the world: eventually they preferred it so. In an acute assessment of English strategy to meet such a challenge as that of the Spanish Armada, Pope Sixtus V remarked in 1587 that England 'was only half an island.' 7 True, but when the Armada sailed Scotland was sufficiently at one with her southern neighbor to maintain a benevolent neutrality, and English strategists had felt confident enough of it to discuss whether to invite Scottish vessels to join Her Majesty's ships in protecting the coast of England. James VI's friendship, even if motivated largely by what Lord Burghley delicately referred to as his 'expectancy,' was rewarded. In her last acts the Queen, through the agency of Burghley's son, ensured that the King of Scots succeeded her upon the English throne: thus she set the seal upon the whole tendency of her reign by making all the country's frontiers coastal. 8

The English had long known that they could use the sea

' a Moate defensive to a house
Against the envy of less happier lands...'

but it was when Elizabeth ascended the throne that they first set to work to make the moat impassable to an enemy, and began to see clearly how it could be used as a medium for offense against him. 9 Thus they learnt that by exploiting their maritime strength they could raid the enemy's treasuries, destroy his strongholds and defeat his fighting forces. They grasped that by doing this at sea they could strike him down on land as well. If a sober estimate of English national advantage did suggest that they should strike at a continental adversary or intervene in a European struggle, movement by sea permitted England to act decisively with the required force at the most effective time and place.

The sixteenth century saw progress in the arts of war as well as in those of peace: strategic and tactical thinking advanced as never before, while enormous innovations were made in military technology. 10 It became a commonplace to opine that 'he who commands the sea commands also the land.' In the end, the strategists even ascribed the precept to Philip II's testament to his son, as though it were an injunction to learn from his own misfortunes in the war against England. 11

It was accepted that those who first mastered the sea could strike effective blows, even against a predominantly land power, at relatively small cost to themselves in men, munitions or money. The technique especially recommended itself to Englishmen as a realization of one of the eternal axioms of the military art: that in all cases one's strategy should aim to export the war, so that as much as possible of the danger, expense and damage inherent in the conflict will fall like a flail across somebody else's country--preferably the enemy's. All the great generals of the age--the Grand Captain, the Duke of Alba, the Prince of Parma, Henry IV of France, Wallenstein, Gustavus Adolphus and Philip II's own grandson the Cardinal-Infant--were adept at securing this strategic effect, but it was the English who gave the doctrine its maritime application. For a war fought by a strong sea power would take place along its enemy's trade routes, and on his coast: by its very definition it met the axiom's requirements.

In developing this procedure, the English used the stock of shipping they had built up through profitable and expanding trade to enrich themselves as much in war as they had done in peace. 12 In many cases, they entered into possession of the same commodities, but through a process of plunder (by contemporaries euphemistically called 'purchase') from the frequent and opulent, but poorly defended Spanish cargoes, instead of through one of equal commercial exchange. Ships venturing to the Baltic and Muscovy, to Italy and the Levant, to Newfoundland and America, to Guinea, or to the Eastern and Western Indies were the essential vehicles of England's exports and the source of her commercial wealth. With these ships and their crews, the English contrived to make war come near to paying for itself--by using them to prey upon the enemy's more vulnerable traffic. 'That the war with Spain hath been profitable no man with reason can gainsay; and how many millions we have taken from the Spaniard is a thing notorious,' wrote Sir Richard Hawkins--son of Drake's colleague Sir John Hawkins--in 1598. 13

Sir Richard and his contemporaries had profited from the teaching and example of a band of pioneering navigators and sea-soldiers, the most prominent of whom was Sir Francis Drake. It was under the tutelage of Drake and his brother mariners that the English learnt to fight at sea so well that Robert Norton, Camden's translator, was able in 1630 to look back in appraisal over Elizabeth's long reign, and proudly proclaim that, although the Virgin Queen of the English was

'... beset with divers Nations her mortall Enemies; (while the Pope fretted, the Spaniard threatned, and all her Neighbour Princes, as many as were foresworn to Popery, raged round about her), [she] held the most stout and warlike Nation of the English foure and forty years and upwards, not only in awe and duty, but even in Peace also...Insomuch as in all England for so many years never my Mortale man (which is strange to tell) ever heard the Trumpet sound the charge to Battle.' 14

Elizabeth had hardly ascended the throne when the first Spanish envoy to her court, the Count of Feria, reported to his master that 'she is very much attached to the people and is very confident that they are all on her side; which is, indeed, true.' 15 Feria later reported that 'she seems to be incomparably more feared than her sister [Queen Mary], and gives her orders and has her way as absolutely as her father [King Henry VIII] did.' 16 On the other hand, when religious discord within England began to approach a degree of bitterness paralleling the strife in Europe, and extreme intolerance walked abroad, English Puritans seeking to complete the reformation of the Church of England by extirpating everything in it that fell short of thoroughgoing Calvinism had to lament that with her affection and charm the Queen would be able instantly to melt the formidable opposition to her policies that they had erected. 17 Whatever the emotion Queen Elizabeth's subjects presently felt for her, their regard for the personality of their Queen ensured that her reign was, throughout, a reflection of the temper of her mind.

The Queen's reluctance to engage in conflicts originating abroad proved to be an inestimable blessing, for the arts and graces of peace flowered behind the maritime shield which her government held in place. Merchants grew much more prosperous, and the common wealth increased, nourished by the cargoes that the seamen carried out in return for bullion or brought in from abroad in honest trade, even when the country was forced into war, as it eventually was in the 1580's. Earlier trading success, and the English individual aptitude for carrying on war at sea brought about a dramatic expansion of the merchant marine, as argued by Sir Thomas Wilson in 1600:

'This may well be conjectured by this, that when there was a fleet of 240 ships of war [ i.e. , armed merchantmen] sent into Spain and four other fleets of merchants to the Levant, to Russe, to Barbary and Bordeaux, all at one time abroad, yet should you never see the Thames betwixt London Bridge and Blackwall, 4 English miles in length, without 2 or 300 ships or vessels, besides the infinite numbers of men of war that there were, and ever are, roving abroad to the Indies and Spanish Dominions, to get purchase, as they call it, whereby a number grow rich.' 18

The maritime force that held conflict at arm's length from the realm itself replaced trading by the taking of rich prizes from a relentless enemy who proved to be unable to defend what he had to lose. In 1598 this reached a point at which observers remarked upon 'the cheapness that all Spanish commodities do now bear in England, having no trade with Spain, that they be for the most part of less price in England than in Spain or the Indias.' 19

Under Elizabeth's rule in church and state the inhabitants of the island dwelt in peace and quietness: for the most part, they served their God in the various paths into which their understanding guided them. The lasting riches that this purposeful serenity nourished are made manifest in many surviving treasures, which ennoble the heritage of their successors and bring Elizabethan England to life before the eyes of its heirs. Nicholas Hilliard brilliantly depicted eminent men and women in his jewel-like miniatures. The strong yet delicate engravings cut by Rogers, Hondius and Ryther were among the first to be executed in England. 20 The melodious poetry of Spenser and Drayton put into words the exquisite serenity of the English countryside and the imaginative wonders that invited contemplation as the Englishman's world expanded. 21

With his noble prose Richard Hakluyt conquered new fields for literature and, in the process, won new readers. Among those who found inspiration in the Principall navigations of the English Nation were the poet Michael Drayton and the satirist Joseph Hall. 22 The mental universe of Elizabethan Englishmen, in both its traditional and its changing elements, was comprehended by William Shakespeare, and made unprecedentedly wide and deep by him with the eloquent verse and marvellous imagery of his plays. The music and rhythm of the King James version of the Holy Bible were produced--in 1604-1611--by divines who owed their scholarship and their eloquence to education in Elizabeth's reign. The vigor of urban life caused the bustling towns to burst out beyond their city walls. Country houses henceforth spurned defense, admitting light and air through their many mullioned windows. Alms houses were set up across the land, on the lines of the noble foundation at Warwick by the Queen's old friend Lord Leicester. 23 Not least, England enjoyed an unusual measure of credal toleration, which eventually flowered into religious liberty. Compared with earlier times, the age in which the English people lived was a 'brave new world' indeed. 24

The protection of society from foreign violence was a pre-requisite of the security that allowed civilization to flourish in England. It was English seamen who gave this protection, with support from the Queen. The life of Elizabeth's England was as scintillating as the once crumpled wing of a butterfly as it bursts forth from its chrysalis into the light and warmth of the sun. But, as the Queen well knew, it was also as fragile. Hence her abhorrence of war. Hence, also, her inclination, castigated by some, to endeavor to limit it or to end it as quickly as possible. When war had to be joined the Queen strove to keep it within bounds: hence, her orders sent to Drake before his attack on Cadiz strictly enjoined him to avoid, 'as much as may be, the shedding of Christian blood.' 25 This injunction was not the product of cynical hypocrisy, but rather a statesmanlike determination to leave others as free from rancor as Elizabeth was herself. In these orders she tried to extend her love for her own people to a concern for the welfare of the Christian community of Europe.

The material benefits for which these invaluable seamen longed were humbly termed by them 'the blessings of the land.' Yet, although they rarely achieved their due, they richly deserved whatever blessings were to be had, for these in great part were the fruits of their labors. 26 So, too, were the spiritual gifts and intellectual ferment of what Camden's Annals rightly called 'these remarkable times.' Some, it declared, 'for the honour of their Queene and Country...incompassed the World; some adventured their lives and spent their bloods in Fights at Sea, in Battle by Land; in assaults on Townes, in defence of Forts; in the Field, in the Mouth of Cannon...' 27

In the pages that follow we shall witness the valor and virtue in the deeds of one of the principal actors on the Elizabethan scene, Sir Francis Drake. By upbringing he was a relatively humble seaman from a comparatively backward country: yet his project to circumnavigate the globe, and its triumphant accomplishment have to yield precedence only to Magellan's staggering expedition of 1519-1522. Even so, although Drake was the second to attempt to sail around the world, he was the first captain to achieve the distinction of conducting the voyage in supreme command from start to finish. 28 As is hereafter recounted, he sought new worlds, 'in regions far'--for glory, for gold and for his Queen. 29

1. The isolation and backwardness of English classical studies and geographical understanding, particularly, are demonstrated respectively by Bolgar, pp. 310-15, and Taylor, Tudor geography , pp. 1-10.

2. The campaign is well documented in Tenison, I, pp. 213-238, and recounted by Holinshed's and Stow's chronicles.

3. Wernham, "English policy and the revolt of the Netherlands," in: Britain and the Netherlands , pp. 29-40.

4. Wernham, Before the Armada , pp. 369, 371, 376-379.

5. Williamson, English Channel , pp. 216-223.

6. Bacon, "On the greatness of kingdoms," in: Works (ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1867-73), XII, p. 186.

7. Venetian Ambassador in Rome, 10 January and 19 March 1587, in: Calendar of State Papers [abbreviated hereafter to: CSP], Venetian , VIII, pp. 235, 345.

8. Hurstfield, "The succession struggle in late Elizabethan England," in: Elizabethan government and society , pp. 369-396.

9. Shakespeare, Richard II, Act II, scene i, 48-9. Cf. Wernham, Before the Armada , pp. 11, 17-19, 355; and Freeman, "A Moat Defensive."

10. Oman, passim .

11. Charles V and Philip II, Instructions ; cf. Palacio Atard, pp. 45-47.

12. Wernham, "Elizabethan war aims and strategy," in: Elizabethan government and society , pp. 340-368. pp. 340-368.

13. Monson, II, p. 94.

14. Norton, preface to Camden, sig. Aa 3.

15. Neale, Queen Elizabeth , pp. 52-53.

16. Ibid. , p. 66.

17. Neale, Elizabeth I and her parliaments , I, pp. 390, 418-9 and especially p. 423, quoting an anonymous member of the parliament of 1576 who points out that the people's disposition "to love her Majesty, being so good a one, doth so far exceed the fear of her, being a woman and so merciful, that her lovingest means doth make them most obsequious."

18. Sir Thomas Wilson, pp. 36-37.

19. Great Britain and Ireland, Historical Manuscripts Commission, Salisbury MSS., VIII, p. 212.

20. Hind, I, pp. 23-9, 34-6, 138-49, 154-77, 258-80.

21. Oxford History of English Literature , III, pp. 355-93; V, pp. 76-80.

22. Ibid. , III, pp. 437-8, 470-2; V, pp. 55, 79-80.

23. Jordan, Philanthropy in England , especially pp. 165-239, 253-74.

24. Shakespeare, The Tempest , Act V, sc. i, 183.

25. The Council to Sir Francis Drake, April 1587, in: Corbett, Spanish War , p. 101.

26. Keynes, II, pp. 153-5; cf. Revised Prayer Book , "Prayers for use at sea."

27. Norton, preface to Camden, sig. A 3-B Iv.

28. Stow, Annales , pp. 807-8.

29. Michael Drayton, "To the Virginian voyage," in: Oxford Book of English Verse , p. 178.

Return to top of page


Sir Francis Drake's accomplishments were unparalleled by any of his contemporaries. No compatriot's, no foreigner's reputation surpassed his fame. Drake was a uniquely distinctive individual whose rapid rise to celebrity dazzled his contemporaries. Yet he was very much an Englishman and a man of his own day and age. Like his Queen, Drake, however, proved to have a humanity towards enemies that was far in advance of his times--one of his most notable contributions to civilization. If we are to appreciate the dramatic impact of his actions upon world affairs and the manner in which his career impressed the men and women of his time, the scene must first be set.

When Queen Elizabeth came to the throne barely five years had passed since the publication of the first book in England to describe the new geographical knowledge of the age: Richard Eden's A treatyse of the newe India (London, 1553)--Largely translated from a portion of Sebastian Münster's Cosmographia Universalis , it opened English minds to the fact that the geographical discoveries made by seamen in the service of Spain and Portugal had completely outdated the mediaeval concept of the face of the world. 30 Westwards, by unremitting exploration and the campaigns of the conquistadores , Spain had opened up a New World not previously known to exist. In the Indies, thus so rapidly secured to the allegiance of the Crown of Castile, lived communities of American Spaniards dominating great urban centers like Mexico-Tenochtitlán and Cuzco, from which, before the Conquest, there had radiated wholly indigenous imperial civilizations completely unknown to Europeans. Every year that passed showed this Spanish empire to be more culturally diverse and more fabulously stored with natural wealth than even Richard Eden, and the authors he translated--first Münster, then Peter Martyr d'Anghiera and Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés--described. 31

From Europe eastward lay the dominions of the Kings of Portugal, who came to be known, after the quip of their brother-monarch, Francis I of France, as the royal grocers of Europe. For both in fact and in name they had become Lords of the Commerce and Navigation of India, Persia and Africa. 32 Portuguese mariners had transformed the Cape of Storms into the Cape of Good Hope, conquered the Indian Ocean and penetrated the China Seas. For long they tapped at source the spices that the whole world coveted, jewels most glittering, and the exquisite oriental craftsmanship that made gracious the living of the anciently powerful and the newly enriched in their European homes. Hitherto Englishmen had hardly appreciated the splendor of Portuguese achievements in the East any more than they had comprehended the new light the Spaniards brought from the West. But in the new circumstances of 1558 the sea that had always stood between the English dominions and other continents separated them from the mainland of Europe just as much.

In the sixteenth century the more extreme types of controversial ardor took the form of religious quarrels. In this new geographical context these quarrels worked to reinforce in the English this growing sense of separation. To begin with, it did not require political genius to divine that the mere passing of the crown from Queen Mary to Queen Elizabeth, quite apart from the contrasting confessional beliefs of the sisters, might well induce a modification of the country's official religious position:

'For the Change in Religion which then insued, and had alsoe happened not long before, was easily fore-seene by men of understanding, not onely by reasone of the consciences of the Princes, formed in them by education, but alsoe out of their particular interests and endes...So it was a marvellous motive for Queen Mary to embrace and advance the authority of the Bishop of Rome for that the validity of King Henryes marryage with Queen Katherine her mother, was thereupon grounded...But on the other side, because yf the Bishop of Rome had power to dispense in the first marriage of King Henry the eyght, then was the subsequent marriage with Anne Bullen voyde; besides the command of conscience, it was alsoe an inducement in reasone for Queene Elizabeth to reject his authority.' 33

Not only the Queen, but the majority of those people who, at her accession, were dominant in English political life and in the country's commerce were inclined towards Protestantism. The continuing bitterness of religious strife, which had been particularly clearly demonstrated by Queen Mary's unfortunately zealous persecution of Protestants, had convinced these men that they were not safe under any but Protestant rule. The great powers of the day-predominantly Catholic--regarded them, so they saw, not merely as religious dissidents, but as heretics, who would suffer again--and worse--if England continued under Roman Catholic rule. Hence, they were well satisfied with Elizabeth. However, unless she married and had issue to keep the crown in native Protestant hands, her successor would be a Catholic--her cousin, Mary Stuart. Mary held the title of Queen of Scots for most of Elizabeth's reign, and actually ruled in Edinburgh for a part of it. Throughout this period, however, she was potentially a puppet, first of France and then of Spain, who might have used her, had she succeeded Elizabeth, to deprive Englishmen of effective national independence and the free exercise of their religion. 34

When they looked abroad, therefore, an uninviting panorama greeted the eyes of many Englishmen. The undoubted spiritual leader of the Catholic Church was the Pope in Rome, but its temporal champion--one who was providing Catholicism with more and more impetus--was clearly Philip II, King of Spain and of much of Europe and the New World. Englishmen were largely unaware of the fact that Philip, until recently King of England through marriage to the Queen Mary whom Elizabeth had now succeeded, had attempted to restrain his wife's ardor in persecuting their English Protestant subjects. Nor did they know that, in fact, relations between Spain and the Papacy were usually cool and distant. 35 And they certainly perceived but dimly that what obsessed them about Philip II was also liable to upset any Pope, who, regardless of religious stance, was no less likely than the new Queen of England to find the all--embracing nature of Spanish power suffocating.

Philip II ruled an immense, populous and wealthy empire. Its extent alone considered, it was the greatest the world had ever known. It stretched across the Atlantic Ocean to comprehend New Castile (Peru), New Granada (the Spanish Main), New Spain (Mexico) and most of the rest of the New World discovered up to that time, including the Antilles. Not content with the splendid islands and mainland of America, it extended across another ocean, to where the eponymous Philippines were being subdued to Philip's rule. Eastwards, his empire in Europe included most of the Mediterranean islands and half of mainland Italy; northwards it took in Burgundy and the Low Countries and had permanent intimate links with the hereditary Habsburg lands, from which his Austrian cousins exerted an extensive influence in central Europe. Meanwhile, small states important for their markets and their shipping, such as Genoa and Ragusa in the Mediterranean, and Friesland and the Hanseatic cities in Germany, were slipping increasingly from the status of allies to that of satellites of so great a monarchy. No wonder kings as powerful as Philip II and his father, the Emperor Charles V, preferred to remove the negative from their motto 'NE PLUS ULTRA,' and to show around their arms the opening of the Pillars of Hercules which had closed in the world of the Middle Ages.

Philip straddled the world like a colossus. His power overshadowed that of the monarchs of France and England who at one time had used the Spanish kingdoms as their own battleground. 36 Now the King of once backward Castile was the only monarch who regularly sent whole fleets overseas and organized a responsible bureaucracy to collect the proceeds. His income from the royal fifth of precious metals mined in America alone surpassed Elizabeth's entire revenue. 37 A twentieth part of what his empire annually produced--and needed--of one strategic mineral, mercury, glutted the English market for years. 38 Whether judged by their numbers, by their ruthlessness or by their skill, his armies were the most formidable in Europe. His great galleys, thoroughbreds of the Mediterranean, policed the inland sea and drove the infidel back into the inlets of the Levant, while the massive and capacious ships of his merchants provided an enormous volume of tonnage for moving Spanish exports across the ocean and for transporting the wealth of the Indies to the Peninsula. 39

However, although Philip was most powerful in southern Europe, his position required him to maintain a stance in which one foot was firmly planted in the north of the continent. The Low Countries contained the greatest money market in Europe. They were the emporium for the spices and finery of the Orient and the pearls and emeralds of America. The commercial acumen and enterprise of the Netherlanders fed the Spanish armed forces and procured the strategic materials required for their equipment. Since the industrious, concentrated populations of the Low Countries made them the workshop of Europe, Netherlanders were the King of Spain's artists, armorers, shipbuilders, mechanical engineers and tailors by appointment. Philip could not afford to lose such a country--small, but disproportionately important in its capacity to balance the more technically and commercially backward portions of the empire. Without the services of Netherlanders Philip could not readily realize the wealth of Spain and the Indies in order to pay for his troops and his arsenals. It was the Low Countries that made possible a panoply of power commensurate with the empire's extent and riches. 40

However, he was about to tread too heavily in these inherited lands. Apparently unaware that northern Europeans of whatever persuasion were already alarmed by the thoroughgoing extirpation of Protestantism in Spain with which he had opened his reign, Philip proceeded to make plain his intention to reform the Church in the Netherlands by introducing the Inquisition there and reorganizing the Church's order to make it as responsive to royal control as the Spanish Church had long since become. The Spanish Army was reinforced, and soon became the chief arm on which the Inquisition relied in its work of suppressing heretical belief. Philip's high-handed policies inevitably entailed trampling on the political privileges of the nobility and the towns, and they eventually brought on an uprising pledged to ending this military threat to the liberties traditionally enjoyed by the Netherlandish subjects of the Dukes of Burgundy. 41 Through their sympathies for the Netherlanders and their inclinations to defend Protestantism, Englishmen felt increasingly drawn to support the cause of the rebels, either by joining in the actions of the Low Countries or by seeking to drain the arteries of the Spanish empire elsewhere.

Here, then, is the stage of the 1560's set for action, and here is a roll call of the principal dramatis personae. But there is also a sub-plot. For long now Spanish students of navigation have had the benefit not of one only, but of several original treatises on the art: for some years one or other of these has been available also in other European languages, though not in English. But, at long last, the situation changes: in 1561 Martin Cortes' work on navigation over oceans is translated by Richard Eden and published in London. For the first time the islanders learn, in their own tongue, how fleets carry the wealth of all the Indies across the sea to Spain and Portugal, and some of the secrets of the skill of the pilots who make this feat possible are explained. Furthermore, as the Spanish commitment in the Low Countries builds up, and as the Spanish Ambassador calls more and more frequently on English forbearance and assistance in keeping up communications, it dawns on the English that Spain is entirely dependent upon maritime skill to keep in touch with either of her most highly valued dominions--the Netherlands and the Indies. With similar skill, therefore, the English could themselves reach out to overseas dominions as easily as did the Spaniards.

The English are gradually to perceive that he who masters the sea also commands entire liberty of action. Besides being able to control a great part of the wealth of the world, a maritime power can exert influence that may prove decisive in the affairs of any country in the world that also possesses a seaboard. The young English Queen has the ability and training to learn anything she chooses. Will the Queen and her councillors choose to appreciate the weapon within their grasp? Can they evolve a maritime strategy? Can it be used to succor peoples desiring to have the freedom to choose to be Protestant? Will it suffice to defend England, if the vitality of her people in their new-found liberty and knowledge provokes the wrath of the mighty?

Despite the pacific intentions that both English and Spanish sovereigns profess towards one another at the outset, the omens for a lasting peace are not good. By temperament the Queen is one of the least fanatical rulers of the age: she has boldly stated that she wishes 'to open no window into men's consciences.' 42 Presupposing a tolerance and a mutual respect that the embattled religious partisans are to prove not to possess, she decrees: 'Let it not be said that our reformation tendeth to cruelty.' 43 In contrast, his high sense of duty marks out a different path for King Philip, a man personally of a kindly disposition. His conviction that only uniformity in religion will insure the stability of his government and the salvation of his people compels him to try to satisfy himself as to the conscience of every subject of his. The alarming progress of the Inquisition, first in Spain and now in the Netherlands, shows that it has the full weight of royal authority behind its efforts to root out beliefs which the King finds unacceptable.

Furthermore, the English approach to proficiency in navigating across the oceans suddenly makes acute a problem that has been causing gnawing doubts for a long time. The issue has lain dormant for more than thirty years and, in itself, is quite independent of the religious controversy that has filled the intervening period. To many the question of international trade may appear mundane, but now, as always, it is essential to the prosperity of England. As islanders the English must, of course, trade with ships; these ships are now being set free from confinement to European waters by the new art of navigation. Already, as long ago as 1527, a rare exploratory voyage took an English royal ship into Caribbean waters; on that occasion Spanish officers fired upon her, and after her escape from the harbor of Santo Domingo Charles V, as King of Spain, bitterly criticized them for not arresting the ship and imprisoning the crew as unwanted intruders in the Indies. 44 The English have never managed to have this unsatisfactory situation resolved, and since 1527 obstacles to commercial contacts With the New World have multiplied rather than decreased. Now that oceanic voyages are becoming commercial propositions, will the Queen exert herself to back up her subjects' enterprise when they send ships to trade with Spain's American empire? Will King Philip allow them, after all, to invoke there the treaties of amity which privilege Englishmen to commerce with his dominions in Europe, especially now that so many more than before wish to make the voyage? 45

These questions strike at the foundations of international relations. They involve an assessment of what authority the Pope had in 1493 when he affected to bestow sovereignty in the New World upon the monarchs of Spain and Portugal. 46 They concern the political and economic concepts upon which Spain bases her empire; they entail an examination of Spain's pretension to have taken possession of, and occupied, the whole of America and the waters around it; and they bring into question, eventually, the justice of the Spanish claim to so extensive a dominion. 47 These questions cannot be avoided.

For the Queen of England, the liberty of her subjects to trade and to travel is in doubt: by extension, the prosperity of her realm is at stake. The King of Spain is alarmed by the threat to Spanish missionary endeavor that an extension of European religious schism to the Indies will bring. He fears for the security of Spanish control of the settled areas and wealth of the New World if his subjects there are allowed profitable contact with foreigners. After all, these foreign money-grubbers have borne none of the danger or labor of the conquest: why should they now profit from it? And, moreover, the mercantilist preconceptions that hold general sway will mean for centuries to come that it will be the exception rather than the rule for colonial settlers of any nationality to trade with any country but the homeland. 48 Finally, King Philip must look after the state of Castile, the head of the Spanish Monarchy: both justice and statecraft dictate that if interests are in conflict the King must prefer the prosperity of his own subjects at home to the profit of anyone else's. 49

30. Taylor, Tudor geography , pp. 20-2.

31. Merriman, Vol. III.

32. Boxer, pp. 107-108.

33. Hayward, pp. 4-5.

34. Neale, Elizabeth I and her parliaments , I, pp. 247-290, 303-312; II, pp. 104-140.

35. Lynch, "Philip II and the Papacy."

36. Russell, The English Intervention in Spain and Portugal under Edward III and Richard II .

37. Merriman IV, pp. 207-209; Scott, III, pp. 483-510.

38. Andrews, Elizabethan privateering , p. 100.

39. Braudel, La Méditerranée ; Chaunu, passim , but especially Vols. VI and VII.

40. Goris, Etudes sur les colonies marchandes méridionales ; Merriman, IV, pp. 429-30; Ulloa, pp. 90, 231, 507-8, 519, 528-30.

41. Geyl, I, pp. 190-224.

42. The popular paraphrase of a parliamentary deputation's report to the House of Commons in 1563: "Her Majesty's meaning is not to have any of [her loving subjects] molested by any inquisition or examination of their consciences in causes of religion," printed in: Collins, Queen Elizabeth's defence of her proceedings .

43. Jenkins, p. 75.

44. Kirkpatrick, "The first recorded English voyage to the West Indies"; Biggar, "An English expedition to North America in 1527"; Wright, Documents 1527-68 , pp. 1-5, 29-59.

45. There is a considerable amount of scattered information about the privations suffered by English merchants and seamen visiting the Spanish dominions between Henry VIII's break with Rome and the outbreak of the Elizabethan war with Spain in 1585. This is most graphically resumed by Connell-Smith, Meyerstein and Wroth.

46. At Spanish insistence Pope Alexander VI drew, by the second Bull of "donation"-- Inter caetera , of 4 May 1493--a line upon the map 100 leagues west and south of the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands, allotting all land to be discovered beyond these lines to Spain. The Bull Dudum siquidem of 26 September 1493 extended these grants even further--mainly at the expense of Portugal. After skilful negotiation the next year John II of Portugal secured the signing of two treaties (at Tordesillas, on 9 June 1494) setting up a quite different line 370 leagues west of the Azores. This was to demarcate the zones of the globe in which Portuguese and Spaniards might explore and settle unimpeded by one another--the Portuguese to the east of the line and the Spaniards to the west. Spain thus secured access to her West Indian discoveries and to most of the American mainland, while Portugal was assured of the route to India and, ultimately, of the possession of Brazil. Inter caetera of 4 May is printed by Navarrete, Colección, II, pp. 34-43, together with a Spanish translation of it by Don Juan de Solórzano Pereira; Dudum siquidem and the other Bulls, and the treaties of Tordesillas by Davenport, I, pp. 58-85. For authoritative discussion of these awards, see the respective papers of H. van der Linden and Charles E. Nowell.

47. Cf. Parry, The Spanish theory of empire .

48. Haring, pp. 123-140; Heckscher, I, pp. 340-345; II, passim; Charles Wilson, pp. 20-5.

49. Davenport, I, pp. 206-221; Martínez Cardós, pp. 21-3.

Return to top of page


Elizabeth was an elegant young woman of twenty-five when she came to the throne of England. Enigmatic, yet electrifying, she ruled the land for four and forty years. She had nerves of steel, for there was seldom a time when a plot to kill her was not being brewed somewhere. She knew about almost all of them long before they could be exposed: on some occasions she was aware of all their details, save the names of the would-be asassins in her entourage. She had to be a great dissembler, and she was. This was primarily because she loved her people and acted always to protect them from the violence of the enemy. At the very start of her reign she adjured her judges: 'Have a care over my people...they are my people...See unto them, see unto them, for they are my charge.' 50 The magnanimity enjoined by the maxims of statecraft that Elizabeth so much respected agreed with the inclinations of her own temperament. After the anxieties and terrors of the years of Queen Mary's persecution, when Elizabeth had been a prisoner in the Tower, in mortal fear for her life, she prayed: 'Let me show myself to God thankful and to men merciful.' 51

The key in which her reign was pitched she set very early. Not long after her accession a deputation from Parliament pressed her to marry soon, so as to make it likely that there would be a Protestant heir to succeed her. Holding up her Coronation ring for them to see, she declared: 'I am already bound unto a Husband, which is the Kingdom of England.' They did not then comprehend. 52 Those who had to deal with her were probably already learning that the Queen's mind was as supple as the long white finger from which she had removed the ring. But it took them a long time to learn how deeply the Queen, an outstanding exponent of the Renaissance precept suaviter in modo, fortiter in re , was wedded to her fixed principles. One of these, which overrode most others, was her abhorrence of war. In this belief she was supported by William Cecil (created in 1571 Lord Burghley), her chief minister from her accession until his death in 1598. 'Of all men of genius he was most a drudge; of all men of business, the most a genius,' wrote Camden. 53 Both Queen and Lord Treasurer were aware that 'a realm gains more in one year's peace than by ten years of war.' 54 Elizabeth knew, also, that it was only by keeping solvent that she could continue to finance all the expenses of government, and thus make her people both secure and content. 55 She told them that to keep them so was a 'duty which I owe'; on one occasion she assured them: 'It is not my desire to live nor reign longer than my life and reigne shall be for your good.' 56

The sweet contentment that comes from long peace was, indeed, what the people wanted. When Pope Pius V issued his Bull in 1570, excommunicating Elizabeth and freeing her subjects from allegiance to her, he misjudged the situation. The Catholic powers were not at one: because of her scandalous and violent marital affairs the reputation of the now exiled Mary Queen of Scots, the obvious Catholic candidate for Elizabeth's throne, had sunk low; King Philip, without whom nothing could be done to execute the mandate of the Bull, was in financial difficulties and was facing simultaneously the tasks of suppressing a dangerous rebellion among the Moors of Granada and of countering the menace of Turkish power in the Mediterranean (dispelled in 1571 at the battle of Lepanto). As the long-smouldering dissidence in the Netherlands had also just burst into flame Philip did not want to take on any more quarrels in northern Europe: in fact, he was inclined to think that friendship with England would be more useful than co-operation with France. 57

Thus for many foreigners and all Englishmen the publication of this Bull was extremely inopportune. But Englishmen of most religious persuasions considered the Bull to be also a scandalous blunder. As Bishop Jewel acutely pointed out in his Answer to the Bull...: 'God gave us Queen Elizabeth, and with her gave us peace.' 58 Less sententiously, but no less heartily, a broadsheet ballad of a year later set the seal upon the bond between people and Queen:

'I am thy lover fair
Hath chosen thee to mine heir,
And my name is Merrie England.
Therefore come away,
And make no delay:
Sweet Bessie, give me thy hand!
'Here is my hand;
My dear lover England,
I am thine both with mind and heart.
For ever to endure,
Thou mayst be sure,
Until death we two do part.' 59

And so it was. This warm relationship existed largely because Elizabeth, almost alone among the rulers of her day, believed that in matters of religion 'there is only one Jesus Christ and one faith; the rest is a dispute about trifles,' and acted accordingly throughout her reign. 60

But the bond between Queen and people endured also because the seamen of England, upon whom the defence of the realm mainly depended, were numbered among the Queen's most loyal subjects. One seaman, particularly, Francis Drake, excelled all others, not least in his devotion to Her Majesty. 61 In time he was to prove himself no less remarkable among men than Elizabeth his Queen was among women. Now, in the 1570's, as war clouds gathered over the horizon of English affairs, Drake was forging from his experience in arms and his ventures by sea a weapon which could serve the Queen equally well in the defense of her own realm or in offense against an enemy's. Ultimately, as the Queen feared and Drake foresaw, there did come 'the three comers of the world in arms' against her. 62 But when England did come under siege Drake was among the first who were ready and able to bear the heat of the day. Moreover, he was one of the few who were confident that the weapons he had helped to make familiar to Englishmen would rout the enemies who dared invade the borders of the realm. He stands at the head of a long line of patriots who explored distant regions and learnt skill at sea by hard experience, the better to 'defeat their knavish tricks, confound their politicks'--as Drake's eighteenth-century successors, when faced with probable invasion, sang. 63 Trusted by the Queen, confident of his own abilities, he sailed against the enemy when the time came as boldly as any man ever did.

Machiavelli had written: '[He] who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good. Therefore, it is learn how not to be good; and to use this knowledge, and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.' Despite the vicissitudes of her youth, Queen Elizabeth had received an excellent education. She was an apt and lively pupil, whose powerful intelligence received rich nourishment from the ample course of learning set before her. She was as fluent in Latin, French, Spanish and Italian as she was in English; under the tuition of Roger Ascham she became proficient in Greek as well. 64 She possessed the accomplishments her mind required in order to arrive at a thorough understanding of the subtleties of political science and international relations. And, on top of all this, she had been trained in statecraft, particularly statecraft as moulded by the precepts of Machiavelli, since her tenderest years.

She did make goodness the profession of which Machiavelli had written. But it was goodness directed to one supreme end: she had dedicated herself to do nothing that was not for her people's benefit. In such a cause she would exploit Machiavelli's most cynical teachings: no lie was too false, no part too insincere if it promoted the good of Englishmen. Thus she connived with Drake in planning the most famous voyage an Englishman has ever made: the ensuing circumnavigation of the globe infringed the oft-repeated claims of the King of Spain and, by interrupting the supply of bullion to Spain, it inflicted heavy damage upon his finances. 65 To Drake she declared (so he said, during the voyage): 'I would gladly be revenged on the King of Spain for divers injuries I have received'. 66 When irrefutable evidence of the heavy depredations arrived, however, she entirely denied that she was in any way implicated in any disregard of King Philip's rights. To the Spanish Ambassador, Don Bernardino de Mendoza, she observed, of Drake: 'the gentleman careth not if I disavow him,' but, for good measure, continued blandly that she did not believe Drake capable of what he was accused of. 67

When the Ambassador decided he had sufficient proof to lodge a formal complaint, he was kept waiting for an audience. This first interview was entirely lost, as it was filled with charges, countercharges and mutual recriminations. 68 At the next interview, when Mendoza pressed for restitution of the booty and for the punishment of Drake she countered by demanding an explanation of the presence of Spaniards with the rebels in Ireland. 'Then,' he reported, 'she screamed out louder than before, saying that I was to blame for everything.' After this she refused to see the Ambassador in his official capacity, and escalated her demand for an explanation of the Irish business from a request for verbal information to insistence upon a full written apology from King Philip. 69 Three months later, she sent for the Ambassador peremptorily. When Mendoza arrived, she remained seated on a couch instead of rising to greet him as was customary. He once again pressed the charges relating to Drake's plunderings, but she answered him 'with such terrible insolence and evil intent' that he threatened to replace words with cannon shot, he reported. 'Without any passion,' Mendoza continued, the Queen answered, 'as one would repeat the words of a farce'--that is, carelessly--that 'if he spoke to her again like that, she would put him in a place from which he could not speak at all.' Her tone told him that she meant the threat to be taken in deadly earnest. 70

This sequence of interviews provides many clues for appreciating the diplomatic fencing match that Elizabeth conducted with 'the greatest monarch on the earth, who is strong enough to wage war against all the world united,' as the Earl of Arundel described Philip II to Drake at this time. 71 Drake was hand in glove with the Queen in curbing the exorbitant power of Spain by any means short of declared war. The Queen knew that he must be guilty of everything of which he was accused: Drake would have dared to keep very little from her, and she received his journal of the voyage within a month of his return. 72 Mendoza knew almost all this, too; and she probably knew that he knew. Both of them, however, were well aware that unless the Spanish King would go to war (and Elizabeth judged that he would prefer not to do so) he could not exact any satisfaction from her. These facts make dear what Drake meant, and what Mendoza understood, by an exclamation which the Ambassador reported to Philip II as an assertion 'that he was quite capable of making war on Your Majesty.' 73

In fact, Elizabeth had so capably surmounted the handicap of the embarrassing facts of Drake's piratical behavior that she had quite achieved the mastery in the exchanges. With superb assurance she affected an air of serene objectivity, as of one too high-minded to suppose that anybody could be exercised over trifling matters such as the colossal booty Drake had taken. As though she were a professor of international law, she lectured Mendoza with calm good humor on the Law of Nations. 74 From this royal defense of Drake's voyage stemmed the ideas that resulted in the doctrine of the freedom of the seas which now prevails. 75 The Queen was genuinely determined to preserve for her seamen freedom to navigate where they listed across the oceans. To make good sailors, inter-continental trading ventures and voyages of distant exploration were more useful by far than the traditional short sea crossings between England and the nearer parts of the continent of Europe--referred to scornfully as two-day trips that served for nothing but to make a crew of landsmen seasick. 76

The Queen also became aware of how much the experience of her seamen benefited her Navy and her budget. She delighted in, and her foreign policy relied upon, the incomparable 'strength, assurance, nimbleness and swiftness of sailing' of the ships of her Navy. 77 From 1573 to 1584 the senior official in naval administration was John Hawkins, Drake's kinsman and preceptor. In 1577 he became Treasurer of the Navy; in this post he contrived not merely to stabilize but to reduce the Navy's cost, and at the same time to update its ships radically, incorporating many of the lessons of oceanic voyages and sea-fights abroad. By taking all naval work under contract to himself, Hawkins managed to include major rebuilding within a charge that previously had covered only victuals and minor maintenance. 78 No new ships were laid down but, profiting from his own experience and that of Drake and others, Hawkins built existing ones anew. He lengthened their keels, cut their superstructures down and altered their proportions so that without increasing their draught English vessels sailed nearer the wind. He extended the accommodation for the crews and the storage space for water and victuals; he improved the sail-plans; he increased the number and weight of their guns, and placed almost all of them along the length of the ship on more than one deck, so as to fire broadside. Hawkins was the first to sheath the hulls of ships to prevent the ravages of tropical woodworm. In short, under this régime the Queen's fleet ceased to consist of fighting merchantmen and became principally a fleet of warships, able to cruise anywhere in the world and to fight in tightly defined formations. 79

This naval revolution might never have been accomplished had not Drake so frequently put his ships to the test: in the case of the specially constructed Golden Hind with which he accomplished the circumnavigation, particularly, his ships returned replete with enlightening lessons for ship-builders and naval officials. By this means they were enabled to improve the royal ships, by which, as Harrison put it in his Description of England , 'are sundry foreign enemies put back, which would otherwise invade us.' 80 In 1583-1584 Drake, as one of a number of outstandingly experienced and respected sea-captains, was appointed by royal commission to investigate the affairs of the royal Navy, particularly those entrusted to Hawkins as its treasurer. Through its thorough investigation of the serious charges against the treasurer the commission was enabled to play a most important role in inducing the Queen to rebut indignantly the malicious and utterly invented slanders upon Hawkins as a public servant. 81 In 1588 these outstanding seamen served together as the Queen's trusted commanders against the Armada; afterwards, when new ships were being considered, they advised upon what should be built in order best to assimilate the lessons of 1588 for the Queen's Navy. 82 But how had a youngster of modest birth, once merely the skipper of a Narrow Seas coaster, risen to counsel the Queen and her ministers and to boast of fighting the mighty Spanish King?

50. Jenkins, p. 66.

51. Hayward, pp. 10-11: "When shee was entred into the Tower, shee thus spake to those about her: 'Some have fallen from being Princes of the land to be prisoners in this place; I am raysed from being prisoner in this place, to bee Prince of this land. That dejectione was a worke of God's Justice; this advancement is a work of his mercy; as they were to yeeld patience for the one, so I must beare my selfe towards God thankfull, and to men mercifull and beneficiall for the other...'"

52. In 1559: Camden, I, pp. 26-7. However, according to Sir John Hayward, she felt slightly differently towards her realm, "for the preservatione and prosperity whereof as a loving mother I will never spare to spend my life." (p. 32).

53. Jenkins, p. 63; cf. Camden, IV, pp. 127-8.

54. Jenkins, p. 63.

55. Dietz, pp. 36-7, 83-5; Read, Mr. Secretary Cecil , pp.159-60, 260.

56. D'Ewes, pp. 659-60.

57. Merriman, IV, pp. 286-94; von Törne, I, pp. 93-6.

58. Jenkins, p. 158.

59. Wylllam Birche, "A Songe betwene the Quenes Malestie and England" (London, William Pickerynge [1559]), in The Harleian Miscellany , X, p. 261.

60. Jenkins, p. 19.

61. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor navy , I, pp. 58, 70-1, 217-8, 333; II, pp. 128, 148-9.

62. Shakespeare, King John , Act V, scene vii, 116-8.

63. "God save the King," v. 3 (some words at least of what is now the British national anthem were current in the reign of Henry VIII).

64. Neale, Queen Elizabeth , pp. 11-17.

65. This damage should, however, be kept in due proportion: cf. the situation as shown by Hamilton, pp. 19-20, 32-45, and Ulloa, pp. 476-83, 490-92, 520-23.

66. Drake's declaration to his ship's company of the royal message sent by Walsingham, as recorded in John Cooke's narrative (Vaux, p. 216); for the Queen's similar requirements of a permanent royal servant, cf. her speech on appointing William Cecil her principal secretary, cited in Read, Mr. Secretary Cecil , p. 119.

67. Paraphrase in Bradford, p. 155, of Mendoza to Philip II, 23 October 1580. CSP, Spanish , III, pp. 60-1; cf. Neale, Queen Elizabeth , p. 286.

68. Mendoza to Philip II, 24 June 1581, in: CSP, Spanish , III, pp. 134-6.

69. Mendoza to Philip II, 4 July 1581, in: ibid. , pp. 140-2.

70. Mendoza to Philip II, 20 October 1581, in: ibid. , pp. 185-90.

71. Mendoza to Philip II, 1 March 1582, in: ibid. , p. 306.

72. Mendoza to Philip II, 16 October 1580, in: ibid. , p. 55.

73. Mendoza to Philip II, 1 March 1582, in: ibid. , p. 306.

74. Camden, II, p. 116. It is uncertain at which of these interviews with Mendoza she made the speech putting forward these claims, which are not recorded in the (admittedly incomplete) ambassadorial correspondence in CSP, Spanish .

75. Cheyney, "International law under Elizabeth" L. Oppenheim, International law , I, pp. 584-5.

76. Great Britain and Ireland, Historical Manuscripts Commission, Pepys, MSS , p. 39 (a letter of 1564). Cf. Sir Humphrey Gilbert, in his "A discourse of a discoverie for a new passage to Cataia" (1576): ". . . it is the long voyages, that increase and maintaine great shipping," printed in: Quinn, Gilbert , I, p. 160.

77. William Harrison, "An historicall description of the Island of Britayne," in: Holinshed (1587), I, p. 200.

78. Willlamson, Sir John Hawkins , pp. 331-42.

79. Glasgow, articles cited in: Mariner's Mirror , L (1964) and American Neptune , XXVII (1967).

80. Williamson, The age of Drake , pp. 163-164, 194; Wagner, Sir Francis Drake's voyage , pp. 29-30; Harrison, in Holinshed, I, p. 201; F. C. Prideaux Naish: "The mystery of the tonnage and dimensions of the Pelican-Golden Hind "; Robinson: "The evidence about the Golden Hind ."

81. M. Oppenheim, Administration of the Royal Navy , appendix C; Laughton, Defeat of the Spanish Armada , I, pp 34-44, 77-9; II, pp. 266-7; Corbett, Spanish War , pp. 206-99; Williamson, The age of Drake , pp. 265-72.

82. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor navy , II, p. 312.

Return to top of page


Francis Drake was the scion of seafaring stock, but his father was a farmer in Devonshire when he was born there towards the year 1543. He therefore grew up in a thoroughly revolutionary period, when religious upheavals forced England through a succession of crises which amazed foreign observers. Circumstances assisted in making Drake's father a preacher and Drake himself an ardent Protestant: the family's beliefs made it desirable for them to remove to Kent where, for some time, Drake lived within a stone's throw of the principal anchorage then possessed by the royal Navy. 83

When Drake reached adult life the question of a religious settlement for England was the burning issue of the day. Simultaneously the long visible problem of whether England had a right to communicate and trade with the New World--eventually to be one of the principal motives for the great war that first Drake, and then England, fought against Spain--was becoming acute. The two issues were not now entirely unrelated. In 1861 William Cecil bluntly told the Spanish Ambassador, then Bishop Alvaro de la Quadra, that 'the Pope had no authority to divide up the world.' 84 The next year Drake's relative John Hawkins started to trade in West Africa and the West Indies, although only merchants licensed in Portugal and Spain, respectively, were allowed there. 85 Hawkins, however, was such a man, as one Spanish official protested, 'that any man talking with him hath no power to deny him anything he cloth request.' 86 His first two voyages prospered.

Drake heard of the preparations he was making for another voyage to the Caribbean in 1566. Without hesitation, he sold the coasting vessel he now owned and went West. This year, instead of going himself, Hawkins employed a Captain Lovell, not otherwise known, to venture to the Indies in his place. Drake, who was now about twenty-three or twenty-four years of age, sailed with him. As usual, the expedition picked up Negroes on the Guinea coast by questionably legal trade, enslaved them and transported them to the West Indies. Lovell and Drake found the going more difficult than Hawkins had done on his two previous voyages, for the Spanish authorities had called the attention of colonial officials to the letter of the law, and there was some resistance to trade. Finally, the expedition suffered loss at the hands of one of Hawkins' old customers, Miguel de Castellanos, royal treasurer at Río de la Hacha, on the coast of the Main. Castellanos seized slaves put ashore at Río de la Hacha, refused to pay for them and successfully resisted an attack incompetently led by Lovell. In justification he alleged the Laws of the Indies and his king's orders which, he said, entitled him to lure the English to deposit their merchandise and then to seize it as contraband. Drake never forgot this trickery. 87

Although such an outcome for an irregular trading voyage was always possible, the English had not expected it. The new Spanish Ambassador, Don Diego Guzmán de Silva, was complaining frequently about the damage Hawkins was doing to Spanish interests; the Privy Council responded by asking him for a memorandum listing the places where trade without His Catholic Majesty's license was forbidden. Guzmán de Silva wisely ignored this invitation to present the English with an original textbook on the little-known geography of America and merely told the Council that 'the places were all the West Indies Continent and Islands.' 88 This could hardly be accepted. The places had to be specified, 'else how can a man provide to let [ i.e. , stop] men unless they go not at all to the sea,' a judge in the High Court of Admiralty protested in exasperation. 89 Cecil sent back word to Guzmán de Silva to say: 'The Council do not agree.' 90 Thus, at a time when there was diplomatic tension in Europe, English intrusion and Spanish sharp dealing in the Indies were transforming the differences into armed clashes.

The next year, 1567, Drake sailed with Hawkins himself, on the 'troublesome' voyage which culminated in a treachery far worse than that of Castellanos. The expedition, forced into the harbor of San Juan de Ulúa by the inability of its badly strained ships to get home without repair, was there trapped by the arrival of a full-scale Spanish fleet conveying one of the most senior officials in the Spanish empire--Don Martín Enríquez de Almansa, taking up his new appointment as Viceroy of New Spain. The Viceroy had explicit instructions from his king to apply the full rigor of the royal regulations for the Indies: the best place to start his reforming rule of Mexico was obviously at the beginning. Thus the Viceroy, having secured his own entry into the harbor under an agreement with Hawkins guaranteed by the exchange of hostages, arranged for the Spanish ships and soldiers to attack the weaker English force and capture or destroy it. 91

As a result of the attack three hundred almost defenseless Englishmen were killed and others, taken prisoner, suffered an unpleasant fate in the hands of the Mexican Inquisition. The treachery demonstrated that in the eyes of the Spanish authorities Englishmen in the Indies were fit only to be hanged as pirates or burnt at the stake as heretics. 92 Furthermore, in effect they gave notice that they intended to do all they could to protect the integrity of the American dominions and to undertake to keep even the English out of them. 93

Drake narrowly escaped from San Juan de Ulúa, managing to extricate his ship the Judith from the debacle and arriving back in England, alone, in January 1569. He had been in dire peril of sharing the fate of his many compatriots who had been killed or captured. The treachery so exasperated him that he vowed that the Spaniards--especially, if possible, the Viceroy of New Spain--should pay for it. 94 To assail so mighty an opponent successfully would call upon all the abilities that Drake could command. Furthermore, he had to develop those advanced skills that he calculated he would require to meet such a challenge.

The qualifications needed were many. He had already developed his skill in handling small craft to a superlative degree, in his youth, and as a master in the English coasting trade. He had already acquired some proficiency in navigating across the ocean--from Hawkins and, more importantly, from the Spanish and Portuguese pilots Hawkins employed. 95 Now he perfected this experience in two successive voyages to the West Indies (in 1570-1571 and 1572-1573). 96 Mastery of the Spanish tongue was desirable: so of this he now acquired a working knowledge. 97 He was of a small but sturdy build, and had a robust constitution: he was developing great physical strength and endurance. Aptitude for the profession of arms was clearly his already.

In his chosen career the qualities of his character were to prove invaluable, for they included powerful imagination, acute observation and fearless courage. He tempered his audacity with patience, and remained cool in times of crisis, for he had the resourcefulness to overcome almost insuperable difficulties. In combination these gifts developed into a sophisticated capacity for cultivating a new branch of the art of war. Thus he learnt to calculate the complex requirements of his own forces and the psychology of enemies he had never seen: especially in the earlier part of his career, he planned far ahead, insuring himself against every possible contingency. He excelled in his understanding of logistics, for his expeditions were made really self-sufficient. Thus he took great care to recruit the coopers, carpenters, sailmakers, surgeons, armorers and other craftsmen that he needed; and he provided them with the stores and equipment required to keep his ships battleworthy and seaworthy over long periods--in tropical climes that wreaked havoc with ordinary expeditions. 98 And he had the inspiration required to lead young men, often untried and always restless, against an unrelenting enemy under the demoralizing conditions of amphibious or jungle warfare.

Drake set himself to fight against tremendous odds. So adverse were they that one thing beyond all this was inescapably necessary: luck. More than any Marshal of France, Drake would have met Napoleon's requirement that his generals be not merely skilled, but lucky. Almost to the end of Drake's life, fortune smiled upon him. He was spared by Fate when he escaped alive and unwounded from San Juan de Ulúa: there he was not hit, when dozens of times men beside him were. In fact, he was twice wounded in the course of his career--but never seriously. On the first occasion, in his raid on Nombre de Dios in 1572, he brought his men to 'the mouth of the Treasure of the World' before he was shot in the leg by an arquebus. Then again, six years later, when he was on his way round the world, two arrows fired by Indians on the island of Mocha (off the coast of Chile) wounded him in the head, one of them hitting him in the face, just below his right eye. 99

He also had exceptional good fortune in not experiencing the fate of his great predecessor, Magellan-- the first sea captain to essay the circumnavigation of the globe: Drake's similar tendency to become involved in the affairs of natives on land might have cost his life in the same way. Yet another piece of luck was the happiest of his chance encounters: by his passage of Magellan's Strait, and elsewhere, Drake had already amply proved his claim to be an outstandingly skilful and well-equipped navigator, but off the Pacific coast of Central America he then made the fortunate capture of a small vessel proceeding towards Panama with pilots ready to make the long voyage to the Philippines. Thus he was enabled to add to his existing aids the official Spanish charts and rutters of the Pacific navigation, showing the danger of typhoons, the latitude required for the correct performance of the voyage, the island passages and the best available estimate of the unsuspected vastness of the Ocean. 100

These were the many virtues and abilities appropriate to a successful sea soldier. Samuel Purchas, in his Pilgrimes , printed a letter from a seaman who had served under Drake which assessed the latter's character. In drawing up his balance, this correspondent debited Drake with a 'desire of honor' that he thought passed 'beyond reason': he recognized that Drake's admitted magnanimity had been marred by 'aptnesse to anger, and bitternesse in disgracing.' 101 On several occasions in his career Drake certainly did exhibit a quickness to feel affront. For instance, after the English assault on Santo Domingo in January 1586 a Spanish officer recklessly speared a Negro boy who was acting as Drake's messenger in the negotiations for the armistice the Spaniards had requested, giving the boy a wound which proved fatal. Drake would proceed no further with the parley: he took out two friars he had captured, and hanged them. The Spanish authorities ignored his protest. They were told that he would hang a couple more Spanish prisoners every day until they brought the malefactor to book. When they produced the delinquent--as they quickly did, on receipt of this warning--Drake gave himself the satisfaction of having his adversaries execute justice: the Spaniards were forced to hang their own officer. 102

The rough side of Drake's temper was shown to Parson Fletcher, the chaplain for the expedition round the world, when they were cooped up together after months spent traversing the Pacific. The captain had preferred his own homilies to Fletcher's once before--on 11 August 1578, just after the execution of Thomas Doughty on charges of mutiny and insubordination at Port St. Julian, when Drake displaced the chaplain's sermon with his famous allocution on putting an end to mutiny and on making the gentlemen and the mariners equal in privileges. The ship had just left Ternate (November 1579), and Drake was coasting round the island of Celebes looking for somewhere to careen the Golden Hind , when she struck on a shelving reef. As she had the reef mainly to port, and the wind was blowing fresh from the starboard quarter, she was increasingly forced broadside up on to the reef. Drake could do little more than get the crew to lighten ship by jettisoning most of their precious cloves, the heavy guns and a lot of ammunition.

The crew then resorted to Communion celebrated by Fletcher, prefaced by his offering of prayer and followed by a sermon in which he seems to have suggested that the expedition's extremity was due to the great crimes committed, especially by the captain, referring particularly to Doughty's execution. In their excruciatingly dangerous situation the allusion was not well received--especially as Fletcher had subscribed his name to most of the counts in the indictment against Doughty. Drake, flicked on the raw, retaliated by causing Fletcher

'to bee made fast by one of the legges...hee called all the company together and then put a lock about one of [Fletcher's] legs, and drake sytting cros legged on a chest and a peire of pantoffles in his hand hee said: "Frances Fletcher I doo heere excomunicate the out of ye church of God and from all the benefites & graces thereof & I denounce the to the divell and all his angels", and then hee chardged him uppon payne of death not once to come before the mast for if hee did he sware hee should be hanged, and drake cawsed a posy to bee written and bound about Fletchers arme with chardge that if hee tooke it of hee should then bee hanged, the poesy was: 'FRANCES fLETCHER YE FALSEST KNAVE THAT LIVETH.'

While long cherished antagonisms thus revealed themselves, the wind miraculously shifted from the starboard quarter right round to port: Drake ordered all sail to be hoisted, and the now lightened Golden Hind slipped off the reef into deep water, hardly damaged. 103

The same fiery temper was displayed by Drake on a much wider stage in 1587, in the attack on Cadiz and raids on Spanish coastal shipping. There it was at the expense of a more senior sea officer subordinated to him--William Borough, Vice-Admiral of the fleet. Drake's appointment to superior command in this expedition was justified by his experience in waters claimed by Spain in his circumnavigating and West Indian voyages; also, the expedition was conceived much more in line with Drake's own strategic ideas than with those usually attributed to the Queen, to the majority of the Council, or, for that matter, to the Vice-Admiral. Borough was a fine navigator, an officer of the Admiralty and a veteran commander, both in the royal service and in that of the Muscovy Company: his reputation, while less flamboyant than Drake's, was as solid--it derived largely from a smashing victory he had won in 1570 for the Company over a fleet sent out from Danzig in defense of the monopoly of the Hanseatic League in the Baltic, and from his suppression in that sea of pirates who behaved in very much the same fashion as was approved for Drake in American waters. 104

Drake's attitude quickly hardened off Cadiz, when he found that Borough disapproved of attacking the port itself or of making a landing, and thought an entry into the inner bay unjustifiably risky. Drake saw in Borough's caution a fresh conspiracy to frustrate his leadership by appealing to formal instructions and alleged Government policy--an intention Drake seems to have diagnosed in the Doughty affair. He inferred cowardice to Borough, saying that his 'advice and counsel was not to go into Cadiz that night, which, if we had not, the service had been lost': he, and others, alleged that next day 'Mr Borough came to the General in trembling sort, uttering most fearfully these words, how that the ship whereof he was captain was hit, and also said: "What if one of the Queen's ships' masts should be hit? What danger [are] we in!"...' 105

On withdrawal from Cadiz Borough further annoyed Drake by addressing to him a long and formal remonstrance expressing opposition to landing at Cape St. Vincent without prefacing the operation with the council of war required by the instructions on naval procedure drawn up by Henry VIII. Drake now felt that Borough had 'charged him with negligence, which is a great a governor, and...had greatly offended,' and that he 'did not only advise him, but rather instruct and teach him as a tutor what he ought to do, which was likewise an offence.' 106 The commander's patience finally snapped: convinced that a group at home, already identified by him in 1578, had planted with him in high command an agent whose task was to thwart his action against Spain, he had the Vice-Admiral removed from command, arrested and confined.

In the end, Borough was absolved from charges of disloyalty and mutiny, and the sentence of death that Drake's court martial had passed upon him was quashed. 107 The episode was especially sad in that when Drake sailed from England he had held Borough in high regard; and, although he might well have resented being subordinated to a younger man with less experience of operations in European waters, the Vice-Admiral, who was a considerable cartographer and navigator, more than reciprocated this respect. In 1581 he had gone out of his way to become one of the first to praise Drake's great circumnavigating exploit in print. 'So now, at length,' he had written, 'our countriman Sir Francis Drake, for valorous attempt, prudent proceeding, and fortunate performing his voyage about the world, is not only become equall to any of them that live, but in fame far surpassing.' 108

It appears that no matter how little advice Drake took, nor how imperiously he laid down a course of action, the gifts to which Borough referred usually insured that the decision he reached so quickly was the right one. We have seen that he enjoyed good fortune in abundance: but this itself tended to reflect his high qualities as a commander, for God usually helps those who help themselves. Thus the Golden Hind was saved in the East Indies not only by the fortunate sharp change in the wind but by Drake's ruthlessness in deciding to sacrifice much of the cargo.

Then again, Drake was lucky to complete a circumnavigation with far less sickness than Magellan's and El Cano's Victoria had experienced; but then, Drake amply realized the importance of allowing his men to land periodically and refresh themselves, and he was accounted 'Expert and Apt to let blood, and give Physicke unto his people according to the Climats.' 109 A manuscript note of memoranda in what was almost certainly his rutter on the voyage shows him remembering to take ajar of balsam and glass bottles--then almost luxuries--for holding medicines. 110

Many other examples of Providence rewarding foresight could be cited. For instance, he struck a bonanza in his capture of the official Spanish charts and rutters for the Pacific navigation, indicating among other things that the distance from where he was to the Philippines was much more like 140°than the mere 85° shown on published charts like the Mercator or the Ortelius maps of 1569-1570. But had Drake not already done all that ingenuity and money could do to equip himself adequately, he might never have got even to the coast of Central America. He had provided himself with all the standard textbooks and manuals, had collected a comprehensive set of rutters (even including one of the Strait of Magellan) and had even spent the colossal sum of 800 ducats in illicitly procuring in Lisbon the best map of the world then available: one probably by Fernão Vaz Dourado, 'the most famous and noteworthy Portuguese cartographer of the sixteenth century, and possibly of all time.' 111

Yet again, although by fortunate chance he narrowly missed being hit, and possibly killed, on several occasions, he saw to it that he and his men had the best possible chance of survival in combat. 'Trust in God and keep your powder dry' was Drake's precept before it was Cromwell's; explicit testimony records that he was 'Skilfull in Artillery' and that he saw to it that his men were 'all fit and of a proper age for war, and all as well disciplined as the old Italian soldiers...every one takes care to have his harquebus clean.' 112 In the 1585 voyage to the Caribbean Drake managed to take an unusually large proportion of the powerful new muskets then coming into service and provided his own men with musket-proofcorselets. 113 He also took considerable trouble to question his prisoners properly, and to put himself imaginatively in his enemies' place, so as to conceive their probable intentions. This helped to give him a sense of timing as uncannily accurate as that of the Queen herself. He thus knew when, as well as where, to strike. In time, this sense caused his opponents to come to dread him for possessing 'a familiar [spirit],' or a magic mirror in which he could foresee their activities. 114

Let us consider also his sense of strategy. No Englishman but Drake had ever troubled to pick up from the French cosmographers, pilots and privateers the information essential for mounting a really worthwhile raid on the communications by which the Spaniards transported their treasure from the various parts of America to Europe. Certainly, if anybody had seriously considered these arrangements, nobody before Drake knew how to profit from the information. With the observations and advice of Guillaume Le Testu, nephew of the French cosmographer, Drake was able to work out the logistical and tactical requirements for successful interception of the most valuable loads of silver on the Spanish mule-trains crossing from Panama to Nombre de Dios. 115 Then, with stores and equipment prepared for a stay ashore, Drake managed to lose himself in an area occupied by unsubdued Negro ex-slaves, and surprised the Treasure House in Nombre de Dios itself the next year (1572). 116 The alliance that Drake then forged with the Maroons came to be regarded as a sine qua non by the many strategists who took up Drake's ideas for attacking the Spaniards in the West Indies. 117

Drake's audacity was made productive by two years of tactful cultivation of allies and of assiduous collecting and sifting of information to find out just where the Spanish treasure routes in America were most vulnerable (or rather,, to spy it out--for death would have been the inevitable penalty of capture). Again, no one but Drake had grasped the fact that the Spanish empire in America had a soft and undefended underbelly. For hardly a ship that sailed the waters of the Pacific was armed: what little armament Spanish ships there boasted was derisory. Drake struck the Spaniards in the Pacific like a bolt from the blue--unheralded and irresistible. When he got back from the Pacific Drake became the first admiral to conceive a comprehensive plan, with all due logistical and tactical preparations, to wreck Spanish communications and to take or destroy Spanish wealth throughout the Caribbean area, not merely upon the Isthmus: this plan he not only conceived, but recorded, with all necessary details of time and place. 118 No admiral ever managed to effect so much of the plan in one voyage as Drake did in 1585-1586: he thus seriously disturbed 'that golden Harvest which they get out of the Earth and send into Spain to trouble all the Earth.' 119 For a man who was both a born strategist and a fervent Protestant these daring attacks were the best means he could devise to assist his suffering co-religionaries. Drake was the prototype of those Elizabethans that the great biographer Thomas Fuller described when he wrote:

'It was resolved by the judicious in that age, the way to humble the Spanish greatnesse was not by pinching and pricking him in the Low Countries, which only emptied his veins of such blood as was quickly re-filled: But the way to make it a Cripple for ever, was by cutting off the Spanish sinews of War, his Money from the West Indies.' 120

In the last analysis, the sum of Drake's qualities was indefinable, for there is more than enough evidence to show that he was that rare being, a genius. His eminence is clearly revealed by an appreciation of the originality and the wide sweep of his thoughts and actions; but it also shines out of those few of his letters that survive. Time and again he expresses his train of thought in such felicitous words, or seizes upon essential facts with phrases so brilliant that some of that urgent eloquence in debate that so enthralled his fellows seems to break out of the page. When off Cadiz in 1587 he wrote to Walsingham, then Secretary of State: 'There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory'--as he already knew, from many notable achievements. 121 As he wrote, was he thinking back to the trials, tribulations and ultimate triumph of his Panama raid of 1573? Or had he in mind his endurance when he circumnavigated the globe in a voyage lasting nearly three years? Then, also, note the pungent realism of his apophthegm: 'the advantage of time and place is half a victory.' 122 In April 1587, while the ships of his fleet weighed anchor in Plymouth Sound, bound for Cadiz, he concluded another letter to Walsingham with an ending which vibrated with the urgency of the occasion: 'The wind commands me away. Our ship is under sail...Haste!' 123

83. Lady Eliott-Drake, I, pp. 13-14.

84. Bishop Alvaro de la Quadra to Philip II, 27 November 1561: CSP, Spanish , I, p. 218.

85. Haring, pp. 77, 152-154.

86. The words of the Treasurer of Río de la Hacha recorded in a narrative written during the voyage (British Museum, Cotton MS. Otho E. viii, fols. 17-41V), reconstructed after fire damage and printed by J. A. Williamson, Sir John Hawkins , pp. 176, 524.

87. Sir Francis Drake Revived , p. 2; cf. Wright, Documents 1527-68 , pp. 95-123.

88. Wernham, Before the Armada, pp. 295-6; CSP, Spanish , I, p. 585.

89. Quoted in Williamson, Sir John Hawkins , p. 121.

90. CSP, Spanish , I, p. 588.

91. Wright, Documents, 1527-68 , pp. 128-162; Rayner Unwin, The Defeat of John Hawkins .

92. Conway, The Rare Travailes of Job Hortop ; Aydelotte, "Elizabethan seamen ..."; Unwin, op. cit.

93. Merriman, IV, pp. 209-11, 276-80; and, for European aspects: Fernández Alvarez, "Orígenes de la rivalidad naval hispano-inglesa.. ."; for American aspects: Haring, pp. 232-4, 251-3.

94. Sir Francis Drake Revived , p. 2, relating Drake's revenge on the Isthmus of Panama for the treachery practiced on him and Hawkins at San Juan de Ulúa, calls to attention "the power and justice of the Lord of Hostes, who could enable so meane a Person to right himselfe upon so mightie a Prince. . ." Also see Corbett, Drake and the Tudor navy , I, pp. 148, 157-158. and, for an astringent comment, Wagner, Sir Francis Drake's voyage , pp. 10, 366, 374.

95. CSP, Spanish, I, p. 385; Williamson, Hawkins of Plymouth , pp. 104-5, 108-9.

96. For an estimate of Drake's resulting competence, see Boulind, "Drake's navigational skills."

97. Wagner, op. cit. , pp. 356, 486.

98. Sir Francis Drake Revived , pp. 3, 5-6, 11-12, etc.; Wagner, op. cit. , pp. 30-33; Taylor, "The missing Draft Project of Drake's voyage of 1577-80"; Waters, in his edition of Greepe, The true and perfecte Newes of... Syr Frauncis Drake , pp. 26-31, discusses the state of contemporary English military theory and skill, and records Drake's competence and foresight as a soldier.

99. Wright, Documents, 1569-80 , pp. 58, 266-9; Wagner, op. cit. , p. 99.

100. Wagner, op. cit. , pp. 121, 130-2; Schurz, pp. 216-24, 303-5.

101. Purchas (1625), IV, pp. 1185-6; (1905-7), XVI, pp. 131-3. Cf. Stow, Annales , p. 808.

102. "The discourse and description of the voyage of Sir Francis Drake and Mr. Captain Frobisher set forward the 14th day of September, 1585" (the so-called " Primrose log ," after the name of the ship in which its author evidently served), in: Corbett, Spanish War , pp. 16-17. In her Further English voyages, 1583-94 , I. A. Wright pointed out that this incident cannot have been invented, especially as it is also recorded in the narrative by Bigges and Croftes, but that nowhere is there any hint at these events in the extensive series of Spanish documents (p. xxxvii, n.2.). It looks as though the Spaniards must have been ashamed of the whole affair.

103. The World Encompassed (1628), the "Anonymous Narrative" and the addendum to the latter, all printed in Vaux, pp. 151-156, 184-185 and 176, respectively. Sir Geoffrey Callender, in "Drake and his detractors" correctly draws attention to the fact that although Fletcher chose the occasion of the striking of the Golden Hind off the Celebes to rebuke Drake, almost certainly for Doughty's fate, Fletcher himself had, in fact, witnessed freely against Doughty at the trial Drake had held. He plausibly suggests that Fletcher was laboring under a guilty conscience. This would explain Drake's violent denunciation of Fletcher's "false" nature. Fletcher shared Drake's zealously Protestant religious views and, probably, had strongly desired the expedition to follow Drake's own plan for the voyage. However, having given evidence needed for Doughty to be demoted, he appears to have been shocked that Drake chose to execute him. The rights and wrongs of this affair were extensively debated in 1920-1, chiefly by Callender and Gregory Robinson, whose writings should be consulted on the question.

104. C. H. Coote, article on Borough in the Dictionary of National Biography .

105. "Further articles against Borough (29 July 1587)," in: Corbett, Spanish War , pp. 156-64.

106. Borough to the Lord High Admiral, 5 June 1587, in Corbett, op. cit. , pp. 142-5.

107. M. Oppenheim, Administration of the Royal Navy , pp. 382-91; Corbett, op. cit. , pp. xxxix-xli, xliv-xlix.

108. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor navy , II, pp. 69-92, 111-2; Borough, A discours of the Variation of the Cumpas ...., preface.

109. Stow, Annales , p. 808.

110. Taylor, "Francis Drake and the Pacific" (quoting British Museum Harleian MS. 167).

111. Taylor, art. cit. ; Wagner, op. cit. , pp. 34-41; Nuttall, pp. 308-9; Waters, The Art of Navigation , pp. 120-121, 151, 506, 517-518, 535-6; Cortesão, II, p. 7.

112. Stow, Annales , p. 808; Don Francisco de Zárate to the Viceroy of New Spain, Realejo, 16 April 1579, in Wagner, op. cit. , pp. 375-6.

113. The factor at Santo Domingo to Philip II, 1 February 1587, in Wright, Further English voyages, 1583-94 , p. 221.

114. In his Spanish War , pp. 194-5, Corbett prints "Spanish Advices" referring to "... Sir Fra. Drake ... whom they imagine worketh by a familiar..."

115. On Le Testu and the background of French enterprises in America, in context with which Drake's career developed, see Sottas, "Guillaume Le Testu and his work"; Anthiaume, I, pp. 96-120; Williamson, Sir John Hawkins , pp. 73-77.

116. Williamson, The age of Drake , pp. 116-126; Wright, Documents , 1569-80, pp. 48, 55-9, 64-6, etc.

117. Richard Hakluyt (1579-80), in Taylor, The two Richard Hakluyts , I, pp. 139-46; Sir Walter Ralegh (1610?) says the same about the American Indians in his Works , II, pp. 156-7, 194-5, 234; Francis Bacon (1624?), "Considerations touching a war with Spain," in his Works , XIV, pp. 469-505.

118. "A discourse of Sir Francis Drake's voyage, which by God's grace he shall well perform" (25 April 1586), in: Corbett, Spanish War , pp. 69-74.

119. The English Hero (1655), p. 11; possibly reflecting Bacon's views in his "A short view to be taken of Great Britain and Spain" 1619), in his Works , XIV, pp. 25-6.

120. Fuller, Worthies , p. 203.

121. Drake to Walsingham, 17 May 1587, in Corbett, Spanish War , p. 134.

122. Drake to the Queen, 13 April 1588, in Laughton, Defeat of the Spanish Armada , I, p. 148.

123. Drake to Walsingham, from on board the Elizabeth Bonaventure , 2 April 1587, in Corbett, Spanish War , p. 104.

Return to top of page


In 1572 Drake put all the élan he could muster into his daring raid on Nombre de Dios, by which means he got his men into the royal Treasury itself in a town well defended, and garrisoned by a much larger number of Spaniards. However, Drake did not know that most of the silver from Peru already had left the city, nor that a serious wound would prevent him from securing other plunder. Success in 1573 amply compensated Drake for his disappointment at 'the mouth of the Treasure house of the World' and for having had to wait in unpleasant conditions until the Spaniards tired of searching for him. 124 He showed a tactical patience matching his strategical timing, for he intercepted the mule-trains bearing the bullion from the Pacific shore to be shipped on board the 1573 treasure fleet, allowing the lightly loaded pilot trains to pass and only emerging from his ambush when the valuable loads came into view. Having compounded the taking of the bullion with a devastating assault on the way-station at Venta de Cruces, Drake was justified in showing a sense of occasion when he wrote: '...we departed from thence, passing hard by Carthagena, in the sight of all the Fleete, with a Flag of Saint George in the maine top of our Fregat, with silke streamers and ancients down to the water, sayling forward with a large wind...' 125

When he returned to Plymouth from the Isthmus the Queen's foreign policy was once again at a critical juncture. Drake was told to disappear, and disappear he did, in preference to having his assaults upon a supposedly friendly monarch brought home to him. For the time being, the Queen was making conciliation the keynote of her foreign policy: she hoped thereby to restore lawful seaborne commerce between England and the Spanish dominions in Europe. Fortunately, at this time the revolt against Spanish rule in the Netherlands became strong enough for the rebels to seize a deep water port--Brielle (then usually known as Brill) at the mouth of the Maas in the south of Holland. This enabled the Flemish privateering mariners to base themselves there, and relieved Elizabeth of the embarrassment of explaining the presence at Dover of the Sea-Beggars, or 'gueux de mer' as the Flemings proudly termed themselves, taking up the sobriquet bestowed on them in derision by King Philip's regent when they had petitioned her. 126 Drake's simultaneous tactful removal of himself from London likewise disencumbered the Queen's diplomacy, since it freed her from any obligation to offer explanations of what she was doing about his depredations upon the Isthmus.

When Drake so opportunely left England in 1573 it was into the loughs and havens of Ireland that he disappeared. He used the wealth he had acquired on the Isthmus to purchase and fit out three frigates, which he armed and manned for service under the direction of the Queen's commander-in-chief, Walter Devereux, first Earl of Essex. Drake's activities now linked him not only with Devereux, who wrote to Sir Francis Walsingham recommending him, but to other able and influential men, for Elizabeth was employing many of her best, soldiers and administrators in Ireland. There, also, Drake learnt the formal military techniques and the discipline needed by a successful sea-soldier. In living on board ship he adopted the ceremony and state becoming to a naval commander of rank. 127

In 1576 the Earl of Essex died. Drake returned to England in the company of Captain Thomas Doughty, the late Earl's secretary, who now entered the service of the Queen's rising favorite, Sir Christopher Hatton. Drake had now established an important set of valuable personal links, so that his next venture was supported not only by seafaring colleagues like Hawkins and the Winters, but by Lord Leicester (the Queen's oldest friend), the Lord Admiral, Hatton and Walsingham. 128 The courtiers and the projectors already had great schemes afoot. Martin Frobisher had been seeking the North West Passage, and in exploring Greenland and Labrador had allegedly found gold. The flourishing Muscovy Company was being urged to back efforts to reach the Pacific via a North East Passage. William Hawkins' and Richard Grenville's proposals to plant an English colony in Terra Australis Incognita , the great temperate continent supposed to bound the Pacific to the south, were again coming to the fore after relegation to obscurity in 1574 in the interests of maintaining good relations with Spain. 129

Soon Drake was drawn into these promotions. He was chosen to command an expedition which was really intended to establish direct English contact with the Spice Islands, but which was unconvincingly announced as a trip to Alexandria in order to allay the apprehensions of the Portuguese and Spanish ambassadors. 130 In fact a purpose yet more sinister was envisaged for the voyage: Elizabeth was learning that the Spanish King's celebrated half-brother, Don John of Austria, had ambitious plans to extend his rule in the Netherlands by raising rebellion in England, marrying Mary Queen of Scots and restoring England to the bosom of the Catholic Church under their joint rule. 131 The idea that Don John's triumphant progress might be braked by interrupting the flow of Spanish treasure from America--for shortage of which the mutinous Spanish Army devastated Antwerp in 1576--probably seemed increasingly attractive to Elizabeth. 132

This was Drake's golden moment. Walsingham called him in, showed him a world map and asked him to write down where 'the King of Spain might be most annoyed.' Drake cannily pointed out that although he had no doubt of the Queen's constancy, if he did what he was asked he exposed himself to retribution should a successor on the throne who was allied to the Spaniards find a plan of his so detrimental to their King. So Drake kept his own counsel until he could meet the Queen in person. Then he gave her his considered judgment: the place she sought was in the Pacific along the coast of Peru. Nothing except what Drake revealed later, in a critical period of his voyage, is known about what passed between the two. But subsequent events confirm the view that Drake had a verbal understanding with the Queen that he would harry Spanish traffic along the Pacific coast of America, with the authority necessary to effect his task, but leaving the Queen free to disavow him if this turned out to be a diplomatic necessity. 133

What Drake did between November 1577 and September 1580 became an epic in its own right. His voyage turned history out of its previous course. Even considered merely as a feat of navigation his voyage was a masterpiece. He discovered not only that the tip of South America was composed of islands, but also that no southern continent--such as geographers had supposed lay south and west of it--was to be found: this he tried to keep secret from Spain. 134 He discerned the true trend of the coast of Chile, and thereby altered the charted shape of South America. 135 On the other hand, when he explored the western coast of North America he found no Strait of Anian anywhere near where Ortelius, Hakluyt and others had hoped it was located; thus the hopes entertained of the North West Passage by Frobisher and his supporters could be tempered with realism. 136 Last, and perhaps most important of all, Drake exposed as illusions the ideas on the size of the Pacific Ocean held by almost all mariners except possibly the secretive official Spanish pilots. 137 Columbus, late in life, had firmly believed that 'the world is small; the dry land covers six-sevenths of it, and only the seventh is covered with water.' 138 The first English writer to consider the problem of the Pacific, John Rastell, thought that America 'from the Khan of Cathay's land cannot he little past a thousand miles.' Even Drake's 1564 world map by Ortelius showed little more. Now, by sailing all round the world, and by bringing back the accurate record he kept, Drake demonstrated irrefutably that the world was large and that the largest single area in it was sea--the great Pacific Ocean, some 2500 miles or more across. 139

On this voyage Drake first established the basic principles of command at sea, especially required if a hazardous venture were to enjoy success. In an eloquent allocution Drake dramatized these principles for the benefit of his crews:

'...By the lyfe of God it doth even take my wytes from me to thinke on it; here is suche controversye betwene the saylars and the gentlemen, and such stomakynge betwene the gentlemen and saylars that it doth even make me madd to here it. But, my masters, I must have it lefte, for I must have the gentleman to hawle and draw withe the mariner, and the mariner with the gentleman. What! Let us show owrselvs all to be of a company and let us not gyve occasyon to the enemye to reioyce at owr decaye and overthrowe: I would know hym that would refuse to set his hand to a roape, but I know there is not any suche heare; and as gentlemen are verye necesarye for governments sake in the voyadge so have I shipte them for that, and to some farthar intent, and yet, thoughe I knowe saylars to be the most envyous people of the worlde, and so unruly without government, yet may not I be without them...' 140

Thus the hardships and the work were to be shared by all, gentlemen and seamen alike; all privileges were suppressed save those accorded to a member of the expedition by virtue of his ranking as an officer; Drake enforced submission to his will, as that of the chief commander. Carrying this into effect involved tragedy and bloodshed, culminating in the execution of Drake's comrade in arms, Doughty: but Drake held a commission from the Queen which he could plead in justification.

When on board ship Drake kept great state. After his release the Portuguese pilot Nunho da Silva reported: 'he kept guards, and when he dined they sounded trumpets and clarions.' 141 Don Francisco de Zárate, whom Drake captured later, and released unharmed, was in social terms the highest ranking of the prisoners: although he was held captive for only four days, he recorded the most graphic impressions of Drake's life on board. He added that Drake 'dined and supped to the music of the viols,' and that he was 'served on silver dishes with gold borders and gilded garlands.' 142 Drake was devout, also. At the services on board, held twice daily, psalms were sung and prayers were offered. Often these were led by Drake himself, although the expedition had its own chaplain. Drake also read frequently from the Book of Martyrs by his friend John Foxe: the lessons must have wonderfully maintained the polemical ardor of the crew. 143

Drake had expected to find riches for the gathering upon the Peruvian coast--and he did. When he saw what he had captured in the hold of the Cacafuego even he 'displayed amazement and wonder at seeing such a great amount of treasure.' 144 Besides describing the present loot, Zárate explained to that Viceroy whom Drake had come to rob how ominous was Drake's violent visitation for the security of the Spanish Empire, henceforth to be threatened by the encouragement that Drake's safe return offered to other Englishmen:

'If up to the present time they have sent their second sons, from now on they will come themselves, seeing...that all his promises have turned out so true, for with such a great sum of gold and silver he will have proved his plan. Although this loss is so great, I do not think it any a lesser one that there have been made during this voyage more than twenty finished pilots of the Peruvian route. 145

Notwithstanding the dubious intentions with which Drake had sailed, the Spanish Embassy had been restored to London by Philip II while Drake was away: but the fears about the voyage's potential harm voiced in America were amply confirmed by the new Ambassador, Don Bernardino de Mendoza, when he urged his king:

'...that no foreign ship be spared, in...the...Indies, but that every one should be sent to the bottom, and not a soul on board of them allowed to live. This will be the only way to prevent the English and French from going to these parts to plunder, for at present there is hardly an Englishman who is not talking of undertaking the voyage, so encouraged are they by Drake's return.' 146

Even considering the present alone, the damage Drake had done was enormous. It affected the prestige of the Spanish King, whom his adversaries now began to fear less. Drake's passage of the Strait of Magellan led to an immense diversion of Spanish effort in an heroic, tragic, useless attempt to settle there and fortify the passage. 147 Weapons had to be sent to arm the shipping up and down the undefended Pacific coast. Trade there remained in a state of jitters for months. Finally, Drake capped his visitation by staking a claim for his Queen to an area in western North America which might be useful to further English voyagers to the Pacific or in searches for the North West Passage. After naming this part of upper California New Albion Drake disappeared into the vastnesses of the Pacific. He established friendly relations with the King of Ternate in the Spice Islands, where he took on board a precious cargo of cloves which spurred on English ambitions to establish a trade in the spices of the East. 148 The colossal profitability of the voyage amply rewarded his backers and indirectly made it possible for considerable capital to be invested in similar privateering enterprises. Drake provided the wherewithal to rescue the English royal finances from deepening deficit and enabled the Queen and Lord Treasurer Burghley to make wise investments. At a time when the annual cost of the defense of England, calculated in its broadest sense, was some £35,000, Drake was able to offer Elizabeth about enough bullion to cover it for a decade. She paid off her foreign creditors entirely. She sent a large subsidy to the Netherlands, which enabled their new sovereign, her suitor the Duke of Alençon, to do something to defend the rebels from Spain. It was the Queen who in 1581 put up a large share of the capital for founding the Levant Company, as a result of which the East India Company--the foundation stone of the British Empire in the East--was eventually formed. 149

This time Drake's return was greeted with rapture. The common people 'honoured him with admiration and praises, who thought it no lesse honorable to have enlarged the bounds of the English glory, then of their Empire,' Camden recorded, while another chronicler, who continued Stow's narrative, notes that 'bookes, pictures and ballads were published in his praise...' This clear and authoritative testimony notwithstanding, many later writers have seen fit to cast doubt on whether jubilation at Drake's return was, in fact, expressed and call in aid of their conjectures the absence of commemorative literature. The discovery of the only copy known, to date, of one of Nicholas Breton's earliest poems refutes this idea and shows that the absence of literature is due not to indifference on the part of Drake's contemporaries but rather to neglect and destruction by later generations. The circumnavigator was thought to deserve every possible eulogy:

'Let Captaines crouche, and Cowards leave to crake,
And give the fame to little Captaine Drake',

wrote Breton exuberantly. These significant verses are too long to be quoted here in full, and require study and full publication at a later date. But their presence in this collection proves that Elizabeth's subjects did not fail to appreciate that 'Our Captaine Drake hath wun the Gate of Golde.' 150

So Drake had, indeed--and the favor of his Queen as well! The King he had robbed contemplated his ambassador's bitter reports of the jubilation in England with contemptuous disgust. But Philip was far away, in the royal monastery that was his preferred home--the fortress-palace of San Lorenzo el Real de El Escorial on the slopes of the Guadarramas in the heart of Spain, built by him with a ground-plan modelled on the grid-iron used in the martyrdom of St. Lawrence, whose shrine he had destroyed in the artillery bombardment of French positions before his victory at Saint-Quentin in 1557. In this remote and fervent atmosphere matters of greater weight even than Drake's revenge on him occupied his attention. So he would not give his ambassador the support of reprisals sufficient to secure apology and restitution. 151

A few months later Elizabeth invited the French Ambassador, the recipient of the subsidy for the rebels in the Netherlands that Drake had enabled her to pay, to knight the circumnavigator at Greenwich. By this means she characteristically achieved two apparently irreconcilable objects simultaneously: she made diplomatic capital out of the incident by slighting the Spanish Ambassador and flirting with the French one, clearly indicating encouragement to the brother of the King of France as her suitor, to the detriment of the interests of the King of Spain; and she avoided compromising herself with the latter, in that she abstained from granting his assailant a public accolade from her own person. Elizabeth had already given Drake a silver gilt goblet reproducing the form of the globe, while he had given her a crown made from diamonds and emeralds. When she wore it on New Year's Day 1581 Mendoza bitterly noted that the jewels were so fine that they could have come only from Peru. Drake also gave her the first properly identified coconut to be brought to England: later she graciously returned it to him, in the shape of another goblet. Its cover bore a miniature globe; its stand was in the form of a Tudor dragon; its gilt decoration consisted of the royal arms, Drake's own new escutcheon and a scene representing his reception by the King of Ternate. 152

The effect of the circumnavigation on worldwide strategy was sensational; on national morale, it was electric. A great surge of pride filled the nation; a diversity of further voyages were projected, some aggressive, others merely commercial; the Queen was emboldened to adopt a much more dynamic foreign policy. It was as well that this heady excitement was kept under some degree of control, for the only reason why King Philip had not reacted violently to his loss was that he did not want to be disturbed while in the course of occupying the worldwide empire of Portugal, which fell to him on the death of its last native-born ruler in the year of Drake's return, 1580. England, replete with Drake's booty, remained largely aloof from Portuguese affairs, while Philip assured to himself control of the Atlantic sea routes by completing his assumption of the Portuguese crown with the conquest of the Azores, won for him by the Marquess of Santa Cruz' victory over a Franco-Portuguese force at Terceira in July 1582, and completed by occupation of the islands the next year. A few mariners and strategists, with Drake and Richard Hakluyt in the van, understood the portents: the balance of power in the world had been so upset that menace henceforth hung over England's expanding marine and her national liberty.

124. The English Hero (1655), p. 9.

125. Wright, Documents, 1569-80 , pp. 68-9, 71, 77; Sir Francis Drake Revived , p. 78.

126. Black, "Queen Elizabeth, the Sea Beggars and the capture of Brill"; cf. CSP, Spanish , II, pp. 401-2 and 477.

127. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor navy , I, pp. 198-202, 205-211; Read, Sir Francis Walsingham .

128. Taylor, "The missing Draft Project of Drake's voyage of 1577-80"; Wagner, op. cit. , pp. 12-13, 65-68.

129. Taylor, Tudor geography , pp. 95-114, and "Early empire building projects in the Pacific Ocean, 1565-1585."

130. The view that the principal object of Drake's voyage beginning in 1577 was to reach the Spice Islands and adjacent sources of wealth in the Orient was first put forward effectively by Wagner, op. cit. , pp. 23-7, and largely proved to be correct by Professor Taylor in "More light on Drake" (1930). The most recent writer on the subject--Dr. K. R. Andrews in his Drake's Voyages (1967), pp. 47-56, 68-74 and 87--opposes this idea and necessarily returns, in part, to the view of Sir Julian Corbett ( Drake and the Tudor navy , I, pp. 216-23). However, in view of Wagner's and Taylor's evidence, Dr. Andrews has to argue that any intention on Drake's part to visit the Spice Islands was in the nature of a second cover for the real purposes of the expedition: it would continue to deceive the Spaniards once the obviously bogus claim that the expedition was bound for Alexandria had been blown. According to this theory, "there is no basis whatever for the supposition that Drake and the queen concocted a secret plan for aggression behind the backs of all or some of the other adventurers..." (Andrews, p. 55). This idea that everybody of any consequence with anything to do with the expedition knew before it left England that its real purpose was to strike at Spanish commerce in the Pacific ignores the impossibility of keeping so widely known a purpose secret from Spanish officials, who had been accustomed to finding out and reporting this sort of intelligence for the past fifteen years, and would have had plenty of time to warn Peru. Furthermore, it overlooks a number of incidents during the voyage and disregards Drake's own reported words to his men. In the form in which the argument has so far been put, it seems not to appreciate the full force-- when read in toto --of the discoveries that Professor Taylor published between 1929 and 1934. Dr. Andrews remarks (p. 53, n.2) that in arguing for the Moluccas as the objective of the voyage "Wagner was not aware of the existence of the draft plan, which appears to contradict his thesis." But neither Professor Taylor, who found and published the Draft Plan, nor any other scholar, has thought it does.

131. Von Törne, I, pp. 161-88; II, pp. 60-109.

132. Merriman, IV, pp. 305-13; Wernham, Before the Armada , pp. 351-2.

133. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor navy , I, pp. 215-8; Wagner, op. cit. , p. 68; according to the witnesses at his trial in 1578 Thomas Doughty specifically stated that it was he, as Hatton's secretary, who had directed Walsingham's attention to Drake in 1576. Though these claims Doughty is alleged to have made were then being put forward as an accusation against him they may well be considered more likely than Drake's version of events (see Vaux. pp. 171-2).

134. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor navy , I, pp. 268-274; Wagner, op. cit. , pp. 80-98.

135. Ibid. , pp. 34-38.

136. Nuttall, pp. xxxvi-xxxvii, 251; Wagner, op. cit. , pp. 148-153; Taylor, "John Dee, Drake and the Straits of Anian."

137. Wagner, op. cit. , p. 38.

138. Columbus to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, 7 July 1503, in Morison, Journals... of Christopher Columbus , p. 375.

139. Taylor, Tudor geography , p. 9; Wagner, op. cit. , p. 38.

140. John Cooke's account in Vaux, p. 214.

141. Nuttall, p. 171.

142. Ibid. , p. 207.

143. Ibid. , pp. 354-356; also see Drake to John Foxe, from off Cadiz, 27 April 1587, in Corbett, Spanish War , pp. 111-2.

144. Nuttall, p. 142.

145. Zárate to the Viceroy of New Spain, 16 April 1579, in Wagner, op. cit. , p. 377. He was proved to be only too right: Thomas Cavendish's equally destructive incursion into the Pacific followed in 1586-7; Sir Richard Hawkins successfully reached the coast of Peru before capture in 1593; Dutch explorers rapidly followed and the Pacific irrevocably ceased to be exclusively Spanish.

146. Mendoza to Philip II, 16 October 1580 in: CSP, Spanish , III, pp. 55-6. Mendoza's warnings on this score dated back at least to September 1579, soon after John Winter's return from the Strait of Magellan; see CSP, Spanish , II, p. 679. For a much fuller discussion of the Spanish sense of alarm at visits by English privateers and colonizers to America, see Quinn, "Some Spanish reactions to Elizabethan colonising enterprises." Drake and his backers in the circumnavigation produced a plan, early in 1581, for him to lead an expedition to occupy the Azores on behalf of Dom Antonio, Philip II's rival for the crown of Portugal, to which the islands belonged. This plan, by which he could have secured fresh plunder from Spain's transatlantic trade, would have been carried into effect with the backing of Leicester and Hatton, who were prepared to renew the investment they had made in 1577. But Burghley wisely intervened and prevented the expedition from sailing unless French support--eventually found not to be available-- was forthcoming; he knew well that Spain would feel obliged to retaliate against so direct a threat to her commerce, and it was not safe for England to stand alone against such a menace. See Read, Lord Burghley and Queen Elizabeth , pp. 262-264.

147. Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, Viajes al Estrecho de Magallanes , sets out this story admirably.

148. Wagner, Sir Francis Drake's voyage , pp. 175-82; cf Willan, pp. 6, 7, 47, 85.

149. Scott, I, pp. 74-85.

150. Nicolas Breton, signature A2 v ; cf. Andrews, Drake's voyages , pp. 81-84.

151. Merriman, IV, pp. 500-2.

152. Mendoza to Philip II, 6 April 1581; same to same, 9 January 1581, in CSP, Spanish , III, pp. 95, 75; Lady Eliott-Drake, I, p. 63.

Return to top of page


Elizabeth had always striven to pacify religious intolerance. But in the early 1580's as storm cones were hoisted abroad the tide of dissension rose higher and higher at home. The English became disturbed by the repercussions of the struggle in the Netherlands, and deeply alarmed for the personal safety of the Queen, who seemed to be threatened by the same sort of attempts as those that eventually laid low the Dutch leader, William the Silent, in 1584. The frustrated Mendoza used his embassy in London to harbor foreign priests, and intrigued with Scottish and English dissidents: he lent support to Catholic interests acting on behalf of Mary Queen of Scots, who now looked to the increasing Spanish might to place her on Elizabeth's throne. These engagements, uncovered when Burghley and Walsingham exposed the Throckmorton plot in 1583-1584, forced Mendoza to leave London. 153 From this date, King Philip began ponderously to turn his mighty forces towards English shores.

Across the Channel, despite Elizabeth's subsidies, the fortunes of the Spanish Army began to prosper, now that it was commanded by the great Alessandro Famese, Prince of Parma. Early in 1585 the commercial metropolis of Antwerp was threatened, and in August it fell. Meanwhile Philip chose his time--a moment when large numbers of English ships carrying corn had responded to his invitation to sail to Spain to relieve a crop failure--to place an embargo upon English shipping in the Peninsula (May 1585). The English now considered themselves to be in a state of war--one that Spain, in effect, had declared. Elizabeth felt able to go so far as to send troops to aid the Dutch. 154

How reluctantly did the Queen consent 'not to do good'--that is, to wage war! Sending the troops was in very truth an act of war, though Elizabeth did not declare it to be so. Meanwhile an attempt was made to weaken Spanish offensive capabilities by bleeding Spain's sources of strength in the West Indies. As Camden put it,

'that she might not looke for warre at home, but give the Spaniard somewhat to doe abroad, she sent to West India Sir Francis Drake, Admirall of the Fleet...The English [took] Saint Iago...Santo Domingo...[and] Cartagena...[and burnt San Agustin] and S. Helens...The booty gotten was valued at 60,000 pounds of English money. Two hundred and forty great peeces of brasse and Iron were brought from the enemy. 155

In this voyage Spain again suffered rapid and heavy blows to her West Indian settlements. In yet another area she now had radically to increase her efforts. This entailed heavy cost in diverting her military resources into building fortifications facing seawards, constructing warships and escorting treasure. The booty captured was not great and the profit on the voyage was nil. 156 The destruction, however, was colossal; and it seriously set back the first comprehensive efforts to defend the Caribbean that had been begun tentatively under the guidance of the Marquess of Santa Cruz and the Eraso family of admirals--who superintended the new fortifications at San Juan de Ulúa after 1568. Now Drake was famous indeed. Portraits of him and accounts of his exploits were in demand all over Europe--a demand that was met by publications in Latin, French and German, as well as in English.

On his return Drake was employed by the Queen on a confidential mission to encourage the States-General of the Netherlands and to report on the rather moderate performance of the English troops there. This mission would probably have borne richer fruit had the Queen not already been husbanding her resources for the direct attack on the English homeland that she feared must come. 157 He was scarcely back from the Netherlands before he was again at sea, entrusted with a mission to 'impeach' the King of Spain on the coasts of Spain and Portugal and in the Atlantic islands. 158 Ignoring the probability that later instructions would rein him in, confining him to the almost peaceful taking of mere reprisals for the embargo on English shipping (as, in fact, orders sent too late to reach Drake before his advanced sailing date did) he stretched his original instructions to the limit. Relying on superior skill and power in his gunnery, Drake forced his way into the defended harbor of Cadiz, regardless, as we have seen, of the protests of his more cautious Vice-Admiral. He sacked rich argosies under contract to Spain, and burnt many transports conveying stores and victuals to the war fleet forming at Lisbon. Once again consternation and chaos smote the Spaniards in the wake of his mighty ships. More confusion still he left behind him by his equally during landing near Cape St. Vincent, in which he burnt Spanish stores, and largely destroyed the equipment of the Portuguese ocean fishery. 159

King Philip wryly sent a report of the attack to Don Bernardino de Mendoza, who was now established in Paris with a brief to watch English affairs. 'The damage he committed was not great,' wrote the King, 'but the daring of the attempt was so.' 160 However, the damage was greater than the King cared to admit. The loss to Spanish merchants at a time when the Spanish Crown desperately needed revenue from Spain as well as the Indies was heavy. Drake largely nullified the gain in tonnage that Philip had realized through confiscations under his 1585 embargo, and he was able to give English merchants some compensation for what they had then lost. Neutrals and allies of Spain who had been finding it increasingly profitable to trade there, now that its King had eliminated their powerful English and Dutch competitors, began to think again. 161 The King was already desperately wanting Santa Cruz to get the Armada against England to sea in 1587, but Drake forced him to postpone its sailing date. 162 Although it eventually did sail, the next year, Drake's assault on its stores and victuals ultimately proved to have impaired its endurance and efficiency. 163

From Spain diplomats reported that 'this woman [ i.e. , Elizabeth] has shown the world how they can strike the Spaniard in Flanders, in the Indies, in his own house...,' and that 'these injuries inflicted by Drake will raise many considerations in the minds of other Princes and also of the King's own subjects.' 164 Contrariwise, they raised and braced the spirits of the English nation to meet the Spanish King's 'most happy Armada.' Moreover, the capture of the great carrack, the São Felipe , which was another example of Drake's amazing luck, so roused the spirits of English fighting seamen that 'ever after that time [they] more cheerfully set upon these huge Castell-like shippes, which before that they were afraid of.' 165 Which was just as well, for there were many such in the great Armada when it came. The great carrack was declared legitimate prize, and its cargo was an important contribution to meeting the cost of arming England in 1588. 166

With this deed Drake capped the work he had begun at Ternate: 'they so fully understood by the marchandes books the wealth of the Indian merchandises and the manner of trading in the Eastern world, that they afterwards set up a gainful voyage and traffic thither, ordaining a Companie of East India merchants.' 167 At the other extreme from the carrack, Drake also met and vanquished the 'greyhounds of the sea'--the galleys of Spain. The convoys of the Levant Company, which Drake's plunder from the Pacific had capitalized, were running the gauntlet of Spanish naval power in the Mediterranean, and were already making Englishmen confident that properly armed ships of war had little to fear from galleasses and nothing at all from galleys. By routing them at Cartagena in 1586 and outgunning them at Cadiz in 1587 Drake confirmed the low estimation held of oared vessels, which made up a substantial part of the fighting strength of the Spanish Navy. Their poor performance against him in 1586 and 1587 caused the galleys to be kept at home in 1588, and the galleasses employed were reduced in number: thus it was largely because of Drake that there was little risk that Spanish sailing warships would occupy the attention of the English fleet while their oared vessels slipped companies of the dreaded Spanish infantry ashore. 168 Well might Burghley remark that Sir Francis Drake was a fearful man to the King of Spain.

Before the great Armada came Drake was appointed Vice-Admiral of England. In the campaign he served as deputy to the Lord High Admiral, Lord Howard of Effingham, who was at sea as Captain-General of the English fleet. He could have aspired to no higher command. Indeed, he was Howard's chief adviser in naval matters, and commander of one of the four squadrons into which the fleet was formed in the course of the fight in the English Channel. 169 This division was another naval innovation for which Drake may claim the credit: henceforth, when, an engagement was in the offing, it became customary to divide an English fleet into groups of ships under their own flag-officers, an arrangement which, formalized into the system of the Red, White and Blue squadrons, lasted unchanged from the mid-seventeenth century until 1864. 170 This greatly improved the tactical control over numbers of ships. This control now allowed the development, also apparently by Drake, of the method first employed in the battle off Gravelines of sailing the ships in single line ahead, so as to subject an enemy to the weight of fire from their combined broadsides. By this means, a commander was enabled to bring at least half his firepower to bear simultaneously, under carefully controlled conditions, and to make repeated attacks, instead of having to allow a chaotic general melee to develop. 171

It was Drake, too, who showed one of the supreme qualities of a great fighting seaman by calling on the capacity for endurance that had taken him round the world--a feat that in 1784 was described as 'a thing hardly to be credited, and which was never performed by any mariner be-- fore his time, or since.' 172 In 1588 his squadron kept the seas for longer than any other ships in the fleet: Drake's letters to his superiors plainly show how acutely aware he was of the dangers inherent in the English success off Gravelines. Not content until the Spanish forces were destroyed as well as defeated, he did not think that triumphantly driving the Armada out of sight into the North Sea was sufficient. If his equipment were ready and his boats suitable the Prince of Parma might slip numbers of Spanish soldiers across to England while the Queen's ships chased the Armada; alternatively, the Spanish fleet, unsuccessful in its first pass, might be well advised to. refit and revictual in a German or Danish port and return unawares to menace an England which had dropped her guard. 173 Though neither eventuality in fact occurred, Drake was unquestionably right to take precautions. He knew that it was unsafe to attribute to his adversaries less determination, less strategic perspicacity or less tactical flexibility than he had himself.

In this crucial campaign, besides showing his usual persistence and clarity of vision, Drake again enjoyed astonishing luck. In the night he encountered ships sailing down Channel, clawing to windward. They might well have been Spaniards: had they been so, and had they gained the weather gage, it would have been greatly to their tactical advantage. To foil any such maneuver, Drake at once went about and shadowed them until dawn, only to find that they were merely Hanseatic merchant ships outward bound. It was in returning from this pursuit that he fell in with the flagship of Don Pedro de Valdés, General of the Armada's Andalusian squadron, which had been crippled in a collision the day before. 174 Drake called upon Don Pedro to surrender. Understanding that it was Drake who now held him in check, the Spaniard yielded, and declared that his captor was a man 'whose Felicity and Valour was [sic] so great, that Mars the God of War, and Neptune the God of the Sea, seemed to wait upon all his Attempts, and whose Noble and Generous Carriage toward the Vanquished had been oft experienced by his Foes. ..' 175 If Drake now thought back to San Juan de Ulüa, he must have felt that this was his finest hour.

How wise Don Pedro was. He was well able to realize that he had encountered the most humane opponent that he was ever likely to meet in his life. Officially, Spaniards used the term corsario to describe Drake when he was on the warpath in the Indies. But if the term is interpreted as meaning pirate or corsair, with these words understood in their usual connotations, it was a grossly misleading one. It was characteristic of the pirate to subject his victims to robbery with violence, to torture and maltreat his prisoners, even children, and to rape the women. The pirate, a merciless robber of the sea, was currently held by legal opinion to be a universal enemy of mankind. 176

In fact, it is from Drake's time that chivalrous conduct towards women, children and unarmed men by soldiers, and even by raiders, becomes less exceptional. In his Panama raid Drake especially protected women, children and defenseless men from the fury of the Maroons and the violence of his own followers. He never engaged in the slave trade except in his first two voyages to the Indies, when he was not a principal; and he never wantonly maltreated prisoners. His attitude towards the natives of any country was courteous; remarkably for any age, he made no exception of rank, religion, race or color. When Drake commanded the expedition to attack Lisbon in 1589 he had with him Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex, whose father, Walter, the first Earl, had been his--Drake's--commander in Ireland. As always, Drake's conduct was impeccably chivalrous, in contrast to that of the first Earl of Essex. But though the capture and sack of Cadiz in 1596 was in some measure revenge for Drake's death, the conduct of Essex and his troops was so exemplary that it made an extraordinary impression on the Spaniards. It was Drake who set the standard for the second Earl of Essex. And others have followed it ever since. 177

The booty taken in Don Pedro's great ship, the Nuestra Señora del Rosario , was the richest taken in the Armada campaign. It was a magnificent example of Drake's luck, for as the commander who made the capture he reaped a large share of the prize money. The Queen was delighted too, because it helped to pay the charges of the Navy. 178 But Drake thought also of his men, on whose behalf he lobbied the Commissioners of the Navy incessantly in the aftermath of the campaign. With Sir John Hawkins (knighted during the battle) he now set up the Chatham Chest for the benefit of poor seamen. That a humble working seaman of the Crown should have adequate provision made for his support in sickness and old age was quite a new concept. 179

The next year, so that the Queen 'might ... prosecute the Victory against the Spaniards given her by God. . . shee suffered a Fleete to be set forth into Spaine, which by a great adventure, and a certaine military alacrity, never sufficiently to bee commended, Sir John Norrys and Sir Francis Drake ... rigged and prepared at their owne and other private men's charge.' 180 The shattered remnants of the Armada lying in the ports of northern Spain were to be destroyed, and Lisbon was to be overrun in order to place upon the Portuguese throne Dom Antonio, the Prior of Crato, whose cause Elizabeth had wholeheartedly espoused at the outbreak of war. In the event, the attempts of 1589 miscarried. Unaccountably, the expedition neglected its primary objective, Santander, where the majority of the surviving ships of the Armada lay in disrepair, and assaulted the less important harbors of Corunna (La Coruña, then called by the English 'the Groyne') and El Ferrol, which were strongly defended. The worst single blow to the expedition was the failure to provide it with the promised--and indispensable --siege train. The defenders of Lisbon seized the advantage that the English dallying at Corunna offered them: the English forfeited the advantage of surprise which Drake knew, only too well, was 'half a victory,' Finally, it became clear that the two objectives of the expedition were not really compatible. 181

It is well to recall that in 1589, although Drake was the superior sea officer, he was not commander-in-chief, for he shared the command equally with Sir John Norris, the military chief. Norris had been not only a colleague of Drake's in Ireland, in 1574-1576, but was a widely respected soldier with long experience of the wars in the Low Countries--the finest schooling in the military arts that the sixteenth century could provide. 182 But although the expedition was led by the most expert land captain and the most eminent sea officer of the day its promise was not realized. As in 1587, Drake had to withdraw his ships without entering the mouth of the Tagus. Perhaps Camden's estimate of the effects of the Lisbon raid was the most charitable. 'The truth is,' he wrote, 'England reaped this benefit by this voyage, that from this time forward it feared nothing from Spaine, but tooke greater courage against the Spaniards.' 183

153. Read, Sir Francis Walsingham , II, p. 374; Merriman, IV, pp. 354-98; Neale, Elizabeth I ..., II, pp. 168-78.

154. Geyl, I, pp. 278-97; Wernham, Before the Armada , pp. 363-73; Andrews, Drake's Voyages , pp. 87-93. Hakluyt (relating the amusing escape of the Primrose , "a tall ship of London," from arrest by the Corregidor at Bilbao--by sailing off with him and his officers on board) prints "the Kings Commission for a generall imbargment or arrest of all English, Netherlandish, and Easterlings ships, written in Barcelona the 19 of May 1585" (1598-1600), II, ii. pp. 112-4; (1903-5) VI, pp. 413-8. Cf. also the remarks of Sir Richard Hawkins on the outbreak of war in his Observations (C. K. Markham, The Hawkins Voyages , p. 318).

155. Camden, III, pp. 60-1.

156. Corbett, Spanish War , pp. 86-96.

157. Lady Eliott-Drake, I, pp 73-4.

158. Walsingham to Sir Edward Stafford, quoted in Corbett, Spanish War , pp. xxi.

159. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor navy , II, pp. 79-108; Maura, pp. 181-225.

160. Philip II to Mendoza, 13 May 1587, in: CSP, Spanish , IV, p. 83.

161. Kernkamp, I, pp. 175-177, 197-210.

162. Herrera Oria, pp. 33-49.

163. Mattingly, pp. 121, 365-366.

164. Venetian Ambassador in Spain to the Doge and Senate, 6 May 1587, in: CSP, Venetian , VIII, p. 272.

165. Camden, III, p. 123.

166. Corbett, Spanish War , pp. 199-206. The Queen's share of the value of the carrack, which she applied to the benefit of the royal finances, was nearly £45,000 (Scott, III, p. 503).

167. Camden, III, p. 123.

168. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor navy , II, pp. 79-86, 92, 135. See Petruccio Ubaldino's narrative in G. P. B. Naish, "Documents illustrating the history of the Spanish Armada."

169. Laughton, Defeat of the Spanish Armada , II, pp. 179-182, 323-331.

170. Waters, "The Elizabethan Navy and the Armada campaign."

171. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor navy , II, pp. 221-3, 275-89; Lewis, The Spanish Armada , pp. 159-72.

172. Anderson, "A New, Authentic and complete Account of a Voyage round the World. . ."

173. Eg., Drake to Walsingham, 10 and 23 August 1588, in: Laughton, Defeat of the Spanish Armada , II, pp. 97-100, 146-9.

174. Mattingly, pp. 283-287, 293-296.

175. The English Hero , p. 148.

176. Sir Richard Hawkins in his Observations (in C. R. Markham, The Hawkins Voyages , pp. 318-9) authoritatively records both Spanish and English contemporary points of view on the question. Cf. Barbour, "Privateers and pirates of the West Indies."

177. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor navy , I, pp. 207-209; II, p. 328; ibid. , Successors of Drake , pp. 100-102; Tenison, X, pp. 83-85, 91-92, 97-98.

178. Laughton, Defeat of the Spanish Armada , II, pp. 190-4.

179. M. Oppenheim, Administration of the Royal Navy , p. 145; Williamson, Sir John Hawkins , pp. 446-7.

180. Camden, IV, pp. 6-7. For the planning see Read, Lord Burghley and Queen Elizabeth , pp. 437-440.

181. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor navy , II, pp. 318-358. Once again the Venetian ambassadors put their fingers on the trouble. They realized at what point the campaign was doomed: "It is thought that Lisbon, and by consequence all Portugal, owed its salvation to the days wasted in the attempt on Corunna . . ." (in: CSP, Venetian , VIII, p. 453).

182. Oman, op. cit. ; Sir Roger Williams, The Actions of the Low Countries , pp. xvi-xix, xxix-xxxi, xxxix.

183. Camden, IV, p. 9. Strong criticism of the Queen is made in the standard modern account, Cheyney, A history of England , I, pp. 153-189. This is rectified by the analysis of Elizabeth's many genuine difficulties in Wernham, "Queen Elizabeth and the Portugal expedition of 1589."

Return to top of page


Although the Queen was far from enthusiastic about the meagre results of 1589's efforts, it is quite false to claim that on their return the commanders were disgraced. Their services were already too considerable, and affairs of state were too weighty for this kind of petulance. But Drake was nothing if not an offensive commander; and the royal finances could not continue to support burdens on the scale of the enormous expenses of the campaigns of 1588 and 1589. Instead, Sir John Hawkins worked out a more modest strategy by which moderately sized squadrons were to cruise, in rotation, off the Azores, where they were to interrupt--and, it was hoped, intercept--the vital convoys of the trade between Spain and America. 184

Drake spent most of the next five years in gracious retirement in the tranquil home at Buckland Monachorum (now Buckland Abbey) which he had made for himself when he bought the property from Sir Richard Grenville after the circumnavigation. Here, within sight of the Tamar estuary winding away towards Plymouth Sound and the sea, he surrounded himself with the treasures he had won on his voyages. He was an important figure in local affairs: he had already been Mayor of Plymouth from 1582 to 1584, and first became a Member of Parliament in the latter year. He owned a number of mills, and managed both these and his estates with care. This shrewd eye for business and his interest in engineering assisted him in working for his pet project-- not to be fully realized till long after his death--of making Plymouth into a first-class naval base. With energy and efficiency he laid down the foundations for his great scheme by supplying Plymouth with good water, brought into the town by a series of ingenious works. With his characteristic flair for the dramatic he rode into the town at the head of the rushing water as it first reached Plymouth, as though he had just conjured the torrent out of the hills. As a Member of Parliament Drake was a frequent and lively speaker in the Commons, and served on several important committees--particularly those relevant to the prosecution of the war, commercial matters and naval business. 185

Although Hawkins had carefully calculated the balance of strength in the Atlantic up to the time in 1590 when the new strategy was adopted, it was not prospering in execution, largely because that balance had changed markedly and rather suddenly. Challenged and stimulated by their reverses in 1586-1589, the Spanish Navy and its ancillary organisations had built more and better ships, bought new equipment, updated their artillery and improved their training. The Spanish Fleet was now mightier than ever, better fitted to fulfil its role in the Atlantic, better navigated and more efficient. Its captains had grown in proficiency and daring. 186 As a result, the Queen's great galleon the Revenge (in which Drake had flown his flag in the Armada fight), and her gallant captain, Sir Richard Grenville, were overwhelmed off the Azores in 1591. The English were outfaced by this new Spanish strength; Grenville's colleague, the chastened Sir Martin Frobisher, was left with forces which were now inadequate to meet it, though they cost almost as much as Drake's fleet would have done and hurt the enemy much less. Full-scale offensive operations were again envisaged--but in American waters, rather than on the obviously too well defended European shores.

In November 1592 Drake's star was again in the ascendant; in December a courtier wrote to his country cousin, Bassingbourn Gawdy, that 'Drake is at the court and all the speech is that he goeth very soon to the sea.' 187 On New Year's Day, 1592/3, Drake made the Queen the gift that was traditional at that time for a patron whom one hoped to serve in the year to come. It was a manuscript, the basis of the text of what was later published as Sir Francis Drake Revived ; a product of his leisure, it racily recounted his profitable raid on the Isthmus in 1572-1573 In his letter of presentation, printed in 1126 as a preface, Drake composed a fascinating self-portrait. In the guise of a mariner charting the course of his own career, he hints broadly to the Queen that he would much rather render her new services against the Spaniards than dwell on old ones faute de mieux :

'... I have thought it necessarie my selfe, as in a Card [i.e., chart] to pricke the principall points of Cousailes taken, attempts made, and successes had, during the whole course of my employment in these services against the Spaniards, not as setting Sayle, for maintaining my reputation in mens judgement, but only as sitting at Helme if occasion shall be, for conducting the like Actions herafter ...' 188

As Drake here hoped, preparations for the great offensive operation now got under way: the swingeing attack envisaged was to be in an area where Drake had no rival. But the war was dragging on and there were not enough contributions to add to Drake's own. 189 A threat of invasion was in the air once more: the Spaniards clearly intended to dominate the Channel and raid England from the bases in Brittany that they had seized. Operations to prevent this cost the life of Frobisher, and the enterprise which Drake had put forward was delayed by more than two years. 190

However, it became known in England that the dismasted flagship of the homeward-bound treasure fleet of 1594 had fetched up in the harbor of San Juan de Puerto Rico: the news of great wealth unexpectedly lying in an exposed position swung opinion back towards the Caribbean expedition. So, in 1595, 'the Queen, being advertised that a great masse of wealth was brought to Porte-Rico ... for the use of the Spaniard, to the end to cut off the sinnews of warre by intercepting the same, and withall to busie him with warre in another world, sent thither Sir John Hawkins, and Sir Francis Drake with equall authority at sea, and Sir Thomas Baskervill General over the land Forces . . .' 191 Although Camden did not say so, there, once again, lay the rub: divided command. But, compared to the situation nearly thirty years before, what a change for Drake this appointment was! In 1567 he had sailed under Hawkins as a man his junior in every respect. In 1595 he was appointed his equal; and in fame he far surpassed him.

In many ways the two men were opposites. The frequent practice of dividing the command was supposed to make the differing virtues and defects of contrasting characters compensate one another. But if the Queen really thought that on this occasion she had arranged a satisfactory balance, for once she erred. Surprise, always desirable, was crucial now that a freshly armed Spain was ready for war at sea. The upshot of the division of command was that surprise was forfeited. Drake felt that large complements of men were needed, since he was aware that the Spaniards had strengthened their defenses in the West Indies. Hawkins, on the other hand, had long been known as an advocate of reducing the size of crews so as to make room for generous victualling, water and ventilation. An attack on Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, ostensibly to secure food for Drake's heavily manned ships, failed. Then a landing to replenish water supplies was made. In angry dispute over the diversion, Hawkins had raised his voice so loud that he had been overheard on deck. In the landing, men who had thus learnt the destination of the fleet were captured. 192

The secret was out. Immediately the Governor of Las Palmas sent a swift caravel to Puerto Rico. San Juan was now walled, and it had a citadel--most of which still exists--of very massive construction, designed by the best Spanish military engineers to be second only to the fortifications of the almost impregnable Havana. Even so, a speedy and determined attack might have accomplished much, as the totally successful lightning assault on San Juan in 1598 by George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, showed. The defenders of San Juan, forewarned by the caravel, later declared that had the fleet proceeded there directly from England, they could have done nothing to prevent the capture of the stranded treasure. 193

But Francis Drake was no longer the young man of resourcefulness and vigor whom Cumberland imitated. As Hawkins, now dying, had predicted, the attempt on Puerto Rico failed. Baskerville's land forces had to be withdrawn. Drake, become sole commander through the death of his old colleague, sailed on into the Caribbean, heading, for the last time, for Rio de la Hacha on the Spanish Main. He was bent on his old dream: the seizure of Panama.

The attack failed miserably. Recommendations for strengthening the Spanish hold on the Caribbean, made in 1587 in the aftermath of Drake's last attack by the consultant military engineer Battista Antonelli, had produced a survey advising Philip II to change the human geography of the vulnerable Isthmus. 194 In the very year the expedition sailed, as Antonelli had suggested, the entrepôt on the Atlantic shore for the treasure of Peru ceased to be the unhealthy, exposed and worm-infested Nombre de Dios that Drake knew. As its place had been taken by the easily defended and well fortified Porto Bello, along the coast to the east, the track to the capital from Nombre de Dios was little used, and overgrown: the city of Panama was now hardly accessible. The Spanish forces were becoming well led and adequately armed; they were often late upon the scene, but at least on this occasion they arrived in time--hot foot from Peru under the highly skilled Don Alonso de Sotomayor, the newly appointed president of the audiencia of Panama. 195

When Baskerville returned, after four days, defeated, Drake 'never carried mirth nor joy in his face' again. 196 Off Puerto Rico he had been heard to exclaim: 'Now is no time for me to let down, my spirits.' 197 Now, even his great spirit was numbed by adversity. He signed his will. The same night, in delirium, he rose from his bed, declaring that he would meet his old enemy, Death, 'like a soldier'--armed. His ship was the Defiance : and this was his watchword. 198 Then they laid him down again. And so it was, that on 28 January 1596, at the darkest hour before dawn, 'our famous Hero Sir Francis Drake departed this life,' . . . 'almost in the same place where first he beganne to grow famous to the world by his fortunate successes.' 199

Then, 'his body, being put into a coffin of lead, was let down into the sea, the trumpets in doleful manner echoing out their lamentations' over the desolate waters, while 'all the cannon in the fleet were discharged, according to the custom of all sea-funeral obsequis.' 200

'Where Drake first found, there last he lost his Name,
And for a Tomb left nothing but his Fame...
The Sea that was his Glory is his Grave.' 201
'Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong. Hark!
Now I hear them--ding-dong-bell.' 202

The remarkable collection on which this history is based contains much unknown material. Some pieces in it are unique. All reflect the exceptional enthusiasm, pertinacity and discernment of their collector, Mr. H. P. Kraus, in finding and selecting them. That this task should have been achieved in a span of less than twelve years, in the second half of the twentieth century, when it might well be supposed that there is no original material to be found outside the great public collections, is indeed a notable feat of antiquarian percipience and industry. This collection is especially attractive in that it adds important insights to our appreciation of the graphic and literary record of Drake's feats, which have often been recounted, but never completely understood.

Furthermore, the collection reveals new aspects of the effects upon Spain of Drake's depredations on her settlements and her trade around the Caribbean and the Pacific. In particular, also, it sheds light upon the nautical background of the Duke of Medina Sidonia, and makes Philip II choice of him to command the great Armada of 1588, in succession to the Marquess of Santa Cruz, much more comprehensible. One of the fruits of forming such a collection is that it draws together much otherwise scattered material into a coherent record which enables the story of Drake's life to be seen as a whole. What is more, it can here be assessed very largely from the points of view of his contemporaries. This presentation of so outstanding a collection is a fresh and original contribution to scholarship.


184. The scheme was worked out by Hawkins in December 1587 as an offensive to follow up Drake's raid in that year on Cadiz and the Portuguese fisheries; it was submitted to Walsingham early in 1588 and to Burghley in July 1589. See Williamson, Sir John Hawkins , pp. 409-410, 450-453; Laughton, Defeat of the Spanish Armada , I, pp. 58-62; Andrews, Drake's Voyages , pp. 148-152.

185. Lady Eliott-Drake, I, pp. 108-22; Neale, Elizabeth I and her parliaments , II, pp. 24, 245, 308.

186. Fernández Duro, Armada española , III, pp. 67-93, 182-185; Corbett, Successors of Drake , pp. 4-5, 276-277.

187. Birch, Memoirs of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth , I, p. 92; Philip Gawdy to Bassingbourn Gawdy, 8 December 1592, in: Great Britain and Ireland, Historical Manuscripts Commission, Gawdy MSS. , p. 52 (the date of this letter, here printed as 1594, is corrected to 1592 in Corbett, Drake and the Tudor navy , II, p. 397).

188. Sir Francis Drake Revived , pp. v-vi.

189. It was at this time that Drake sold the lease of his London house, the Herbar, probably to finance the expedition. See the MS. (unpublished) deed of this sale, in Mr. Kraus' collection [II]; and Stow, Survay of London , p. 183.

190. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor navy , II, pp. 361-412. Until Dr. Andrews' promised volume on the 1595-1596 expedition commanded by Hawkins and Drake is published by the Hakluyt Society, the best account of it available is probably the relevant chapter in his Drake's Voyages , pp. 158-79.

191. Camden, IV, p. "57" ( recte : 75).

192. Ruméu y Armas, Piraterías y ataques navales contra las Islas Canarias , II (2), pp. 673-743.

193. Fernández Duro, Armada española , III, pp. 106-15; Corbett, Drake and the Tudor navy , II, pp. 417-424; Blanco, pp. 9-10.

194. Printed by Richard Hakluyt in Principal navigations : (1598-1600) III, pp. 548-57; (1903-5) X, pp. 135-56. Cf. Ceán-Bermúdez and Llaguno y Amírola, Noticias de los arquitectos y arquitectura de España, and Angulo Iiíguez, Bautista Antonelli .

195. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor navy , II, p. 398.

196. Maynarde, Sir Francis Drake his Voyage , 1595, p. 19.

197. Drake's words, heard by his nephew Henry Drake and reported by him to Thomas Fuller, The Holy [and the] Profane State , p. 139.

198. See the album of drawings of the flagship and of land-sights executed in the Defiance : Charles de La Roncière, "Un atlas inconnu de la demière expédition de Drake."

199. The English Hero , p. 173; Camden, IV, p. 76.

200. The English Hero , pp. 173-4.

201. Ibid. , p. 174.

202. Shakespeare, The Tempest , Act I, scene ii--Ariel's song, 406-407.

  Top of Page
Top of Page
  Home >> Digitized Rare Books >> Drake Biography
  The Library of Congress >> Especially for Researchers >> Research Centers
  October 25, 2005
Contact Us:  
Ask a Librarian