Remembering Francis Drake 420 Years Later

Today, 420 years ago, Sir Francis Drake or “El Draque” died in the Caribbean at Portobelo (January 27, 1596).  This pirate in the Caribbean and of the New World had left his mark on world history.  Was Drake a patriot or a pirate?  Two events would become thorns in Drake’s side that gave him a life long passion to overthrow the Spanish and their Catholic empire.  As an eight year old, and being the oldest of 12 boys, Drake and his family would be driven from their land in Plymouth by Catholics to the hull of an abandoned warship in a royal dockyard.  The Drake boys would grow up in a sailor’s boatyard.  Francis would learn to read and write from his father’s Protestant Bible.  He would become a master seaman by becoming an apprentice at 12 hauling logs and coal across the English Channel to France.  His family would return to Plymouth after Queen Elizabeth took the throne of England in 1558.  By the age of 25 he was sailing on his first voyage of exploration to the New World.  While helping a family kinsman (John Hawkins) with his slave trade from Africa to Spanish colonies, an incident would occur that set Drake’s heart aflame for revenge.  After some pirating of Portuguese ships off Africa and pirating Spanish villages off Venezuela, and filling their holds with the booty, a storm would strike the fleet and severely damage their ships, two of which were the Queen’s.  While striking a deal with Spain to peacefully have their boats repaired in San Juan de Ulua (one of two of Spain’s ports to transport riches back to their homeland), both Hawkins and Drake were betrayed and attacked by Martin Enriquez. Both captains were humiliated and Drake believed that this man’s actions now gave him a “passage of arms in a holy war”.  Drake would target the other major sea port of Spain at Nombre de Dios near Panama on future visits to the area.  A man seeking revenge on Spain, King Philip II, and the Catholics would circumnavigate the globe to accomplish his deeds.  Drake’s crew would have outright respect for Drake who pirated by day and prayed at night.  At Nombre de Dios Drake found in the governor’s house piles of silver bars weighing forty pounds a piece that filled an area of 70 ft. x 1o ft. x 12 ft.  He called this the “mouth of the treasure of the world”.  Having a bloody leg injury he would leave the treasure behind.   He would return to attack mule trains coming from South America loaded with “25 tons of silver and 100,000 pesos in gold”.  He would attack Hispaniola, Catagena, and settlements along the Pacific.  He plundered the Spanish treasure ship Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion.  Drake, who became one of Queen Elizabeth’s favorites, would present her with gifts of gold, a diamond cross, and an emerald crown. He would defeat the Spanish Armada without losing one English ship.  The “humble English captain” would be knighted as “the master thief of the unknown world” in 1581. Prisoners of Drake’s would marvel at the captain’s good manners and cheer who often enjoyed music and drawing in his spare time.  This gifted seaman would grow the English empire, bring unbelievable riches to the English economy, and boost Queen Elizabeth’s reign while pursuing his personal vendetta.

Sir Francis Drake and the Struggle for an Ocean Empire, by Alice Smith Duncan

Relive history in 100 pages of captivating history with amazing details of the 16th century.  I highly recommend this book for all students studying this era.


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