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Sir Francis Drake
Throughout the Elizabethan era many European explorers arose due to the colonizing wants of the European rulers as they viewed more property equaled more power. Sir Francis Drake was arguably one of the most influential men to sail the seas during the time. Drake was a drastic influential figure to all of England during this Elizabethan time period due to his circumnavigation of the globe, making him the first Englishman to do so, his privateering for the English government against the Spanish Armada, and also his defeating the Spanish Armada making many consider him a hero or a protector of England.
Drake came from a family of yeomen farmers in Devon, a small place in southwestern England but moved to the coast due to his father’s occupation. His father was a strict Protestant preacher in the time of Religious intolerance in England. It was there where he became an apprentice to the master of a coasting bark at an early age and quickly learned how to master the art of ship handling and piloting (Perry 331). In 1558 however, Queen Elizabeth came into power as mildly Protestant, reinstating the Church of England, which King Philip of Spain did not like. Philip then decided that the Spanish would capture any English vessels found forcing Drake out of his casual trade across the English Channel (Moseley).
The first expeditions of Drake were slave-trading to Cape Verde and the West Indies in 1566 under the command of a Captain Lovell. The following year, Drake and John Hawkins sailed yet again on another expedition; however, this time the Spanish attacked them at San Juan de Ulua, which is today Vera Cruz, Mexico. Drake’s and Hawkins’ ships were the only ones able to escape the clinches of the Spanish (Solnick 256). It was during this expedition that Drake was given the command of his first ship, the Judith (Perry 331).
It was during the early 1570’s that Drake created a name for himself in the Spanish Main. This name was not good for the Spanish however referring to Drake as a pirate while the English simply referred to him as a privateer on the side of the English. Drake tracked large amounts of silver and gold bullion from New Spain and Peru to the Panama Port of Nombre de Dios, and he successfully was able to depart with much of the gold and make it all the way back to England making him wealthy and well known at this point in his career (Ramsager).
Because of the weakening relationship between Queen Elizabeth of England and King Philip of Spain, Elizabeth decides that she must allow Drake to make and expedition to circumnavigate the globe. In late 1577, Drake was placed in charge of five small ships that were to set sail from Plymouth, England. This journey would make Drake the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world making him a legend in the minds of the English and one of the most well known seafarers during the Elizabethan Age (Solnick 256). After sailing down the coast of Africa and crossing the Atlantic and took port in Brazil, Drake and his fleet abandon two of the ships. The three remaining ships then set through the Strait of Magellan who was the first given credit to circumnavigate the glove, but all of them were separated when making the journey across the Strait of Magellan by several storms. The Golden Hind was the only ship that made it back to England by the way of the Cape of Good Hope even though Elizabeth was able to make it back to England going back across the Atlantic (Perry 331).
Throughout the great expedition, Drake made many successful raids along the South American western coastline. In early 1579, Drake and his crew made off to Lima where he heard many Spanish ships lay with tons of gold. He was able to easily obtain the gold from the anchored ships. After this huge success, Drake quickly left in fear that many of the Spanish would be looking for him for revenge. After not being able to find the legendary North-west Passage, he had no choice but to cross the Pacific Ocean to reach England three years later, and he was allowed to keep a quarter of the treasure that had made it back to England with him (Moseley).
Drake was sent off to the Caribbean once again in 1585 by Queen Elizabeth because the Spanish were once again seizing the British ships in the Iberian harbors. He made his way with a fleet of twenty ships with two of them being the Queen’s. Drake captured and raided ports at Santo Domingo and Cartagena, which was the capital of the Spanish Main at the time, and also destroyed fort St. Augustine in Florida. On the way home he picked up settlers at the failed attempt at the Roanoke colony (Perry 332). Drake was sent off once again in 1587 by Queen Elizabeth to Cadiz, where he destroyed some twenty Spanish ships in the harbor, delaying their planned attack on the English for almost a year (Moseley). When the Spanish Armada finally took off in the following year, 1588, Drake served under Lord Howard of Effingham as vice admiral, and the two were able to defeat the enemy in the English Channel. This was one of the last known up scale expeditions that Drake was a part of. He was defeated in 1589 with 150 ships leading to an embarrassing time and again in 1595 which was the next time that Drake would be employed after his humiliating defeat six years earlier (Perry 332).
Drake was one of the most influential seafarers of his time, and he is still known as a hero in England while the Spanish viewed him differently. The Spanish referred to him as “El Diablo” or the devil in the Spanish Main due to his very successful expeditions against the Spanish, making off with much of their treasures that they acquired from the New World. Drake was also the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe while Magellan was credited with the first account of it even though he did not make it back to Europe.
Moseley, Brian. "Sir Francis Drake." The Encyclopedia of Plymouth History. 11 Mar 2004.
Plymouth Data. 7 Sep 2008
Perry, John. "Drake, Sir Francis." Encyclopedia Americana. 1999.
Ramsager, Henry. "Sir Francis Drake: The Privateering Pirate." Suite101.com. 31 Oct 2001. 7
Solnick, Bruce. "Drake, Sir Francis." Academic American Encyclopedia. 100th. 1995.