Born in Devon, Drake went to sea at a young age on a coasting ship belonging to an aged skipper. When the old man died he left his ship to Drake who soon thirsted for more adventure than mere ‘coasting’.
With adventure in mind, Drake sold the coaster and, at Plymouth, signed on to Sir John Hawkins’ ship and became part of the lucrative slave trade. In early 1566, Drake made several slaving voyages with Hawkins but on a number of occasions was outwitted and cheated by the Spaniards. English prisoners were taken and tortured by the Spanish Inquisition which made Drake, still in his twenties, equate Spain with Catholicism and both with the devil. Fighting for England against the spread of Catholicism was, for him, God’s work.
With this in mind he became a privateer, sharing any booty with the crown, and his experiences began at the end of 1568 when Captain Hawkins was brutally murdered by the Spaniards at San Juan de Ulua in the Gulf of Mexico.
After this Drake only sailed when he was in command and his success as an ‘adventurer’ led to him being licensed as a privateer with a Queen’s Commission. When war broke out between England and Spain he was given command of a royal ship.
In 1571 an attempt to capture a Panamanian stronghold failed although Drake succeeded in outmanoeuvring many Spanish ships with clever seamanship, wit and ruse and returned home famous.
Queen Elizabeth sought his aid and told him that she would be ‘gladly revenged on the King of Spain for diverse injuries that I have received’ whereupon they devised a secret plan to attack and plunder Spanish positions along the Pacific coast. In this famous voyage Drake renamed his ship ‘Golden Hind’ as he passed through the Straits of Magellan on September 6th 1578, continuing up the coast to attack and plunder Spanish positions. He returned to England in March 1580 an even greater hero, with plunder equalling a year’s revenue for the crown. His reward was a knighthood and leadership of the Royal Navy.
In 1585 Sir Francis sailed as commander of a fleet with 2,300 men and captured Santo Domingo, the seat of Spain’s wealth. The damage to Spain was considerable but Spain was still determined to wage war against England and the Queen authorised attacks against the Armada assembling in Lisbon and Cadiz.
In typical style, with unconventional tactics relying on surprise, Drake devastated the galleons at Cadiz and, overtaking a huge, treasure laden ship, the ‘San Felipe,’ brought her cargo home as a fantastic prize. But still the King of Spain continued with his plans for the invasion of England and the battle of the Armada took place, resulting in devastation where less than half of the huge Spanish fleet made it home.
Drake was 45 years old at this point and his luck seemed to have run out, with failed missions and loss of favour from the crown. Disillusioned and broken, he died in Porto Bello but, whether pirate or patriot, El Draque left behind a fantastic legacy and is still remembered with pride today.
by Terry Took © 2015
Terry Took was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Tynemouth for over 50 years. He spent 45 years in the Merchant Navy which included 27 years as North Sea Pilot. He then spent five years as a lecturer at the Marine Department of South Tyneside College.
He is now an Elder Brother in Trinity House and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.