Sir Francis Drake Biography

Discover the life of Sir Francis Drake, who sailed to the New World battling the Spanish, and became the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.

The exact year of Francis Drake's birth is unknown, but is believed to be between 1540 and 1543. He was born in Devon in the South West of England, but as a child was forced to move to Kent, nearer to the sea. It is possible that this is because his father was being persecuted for being a Protestant preacher in Catholic England.

As Drake grew up, it seemed unlikely that he would achieve hero status amongst his English brethren; at just over five feet in height as an adult few would have believed that he would become one of the great naval officers in the country's history.

The first taste of the sea came to Drake by way of becoming an apprentice aboard a small coastal freighter in the early 1550's. He took to the sea like a duck to water, and as a young adult had graduated to sailing to West Africa with his cousin, Sir John Hawkins, to purchase slaves. Subsequently he was given command of a ship in a fleet under the order of Hawkins, again to profit from the slave trade. Their voyage was ill fated though. The Spanish attacked the fleet and only those ships commanded by the two aforementioned returned back to England safely. This attack, coupled with his religious beliefs instilled by his father, caused Drake to pledge to spend the rest of his life warring with the Catholic Spaniards.

Thus, Drake recruited a group of seaworthy individuals to sail with him to the New World, places like the Caribbean and Panama. Here, they attacked Spanish settlements, taking any valuables, of which there were plenty. He also caught a first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, past the Isthmus of Panama and vowed to be the first Englishman to sail its waters.

By 1577, he had persuaded Queen Elizabeth I, to finance a voyage to the Pacific Ocean. It was a top-secret agreement initially - the Queen had watched enviously as Spain had amassed a great Empire in the New World, and she wanted a piece of the action. If the Spaniards found this out though, they would almost certainly declare war on England. So, five ships set sail from Plymouth, led by Drake's ship "˜The Pelican', under the pretence that they were seeking a North West passage through the Atlantic, in order to circumnavigate the globe.

Once sailing, the crew were made aware of the real purpose of the voyage - to plunder Spanish settlements on the west coast of the Americas. As they reached the Strait of Magellan underneath the southern tip of South America, matters became tense. Storms battered the boats, but worse, an Englishman who sympathised with the Spanish was attempting to drum up support for a mutiny. He was subsequently tried, found guilty and beheaded.

"˜The Pelican' was the only ship to make it to the Pacific, and upon doing so Drake renamed her "˜The Golden Hinde'. He set about plundering Spanish settlements along the coast of Chile and Peru, and managed to relieve a great Spanish treasure ship, "˜Cacafuego', of its riches. After stopping in North America for repairs (believed to be somewhere near California), Drake sailed across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and then under the southern tip of Africa before returning to England. This made him the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.

He returned to a hero's welcome in the winter of 1580, and was promptly knighted aboard his ship by Elizabeth. It is rumoured that half a million pounds worth of treasure were aboard the ship, and Sir Francis Drake bought Buckland Abbey, near Plymouth, with his share.

England openly declared war with Spain in 1585, and Sir Francis was again at the fore, causing havoc in the West Indies, before leading a daring assault on the Spanish port of Cadiz, where he destroyed many vessels.

This delayed the planned invasion of England by the Spanish Armada, as much rebuilding had to take place. By the time of the invasion, Drake had been installed as the Vice Admiral of the English Fleet. It is rumoured that at hearing that the Spanish were sailing towards the English Channel, Drake was consumed in a game of Bowls, and replied, "˜There's time to finish the game, and beat the Spaniards too!"

Whether he said this or not is irrelevant, because his reputation went before him - the petrified Spanish were no match for the fired up English, and the Battle was over within a few days. It would be Drake's last famous victory over his great enemy. He died, probably of dysentery, in 1596 whilst commanding a ship off the coast of Panama.

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