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Biography of Sir Francis Drake

Biography of Sir Francis Drake

A more than able captain, skilled navigator, and a fierce politician. He was the pride of England and the agony of Spain. Let's uncover the story of Sir Francis Drake.
Parun Pereira
Last Updated: Feb 10, 2018
Sir Francis Drake
Born: 1540 - Tavistock, Devon, England
Died: 1596 - Portobelo, Colón, Panama
Profession: Vice admiral, sea captain, navigator, politician
Nicknames: El Draque, Draco, The Dragon
Considered a pirate by the Spaniards, Sir Francis Drake was a legend for the English. He was known for motivating his subordinates, and played an important role in leading the English fleet in an attack against the Spanish Armada in 1588. Known as 'El Draque' among the Spanish, it was believed that King Phillip II had offered twenty-thousand ducats as a reward for his life. That was a lot of money in those times (nearly $7 million today). His ruthless and calculative ways helped him gain control over territories on his voyages around the world.
Timeline of Personal Life
Born in the market town of Tavistock, located in Devon, England, to Edmund Drake and Mary Mylwaye, Sir Francis was the eldest amongst twelve sons. His father was a staunch Protestant, who later took up preaching. Named after his godfather Francis Russel, second Earl of Bedford, Sir Francis was eager to learn new things at a very young age. In 1549, his family was forced to take refuge in Kent at the time of the Prayer Book Rebellion. Just before turning thirteen, he embarked on a career in the sea by becoming a member of the crew in a boat that traded from Thames to other ports.

1540 - Birth in Tavistock, Devon
1549 - Fled from Devonshire to Kent due to the Prayer Book Rebellion
1560 - Obtained the command of the Judith
1569 - Married Mary Newman
1581 - Death of wife Mary and subsequent moving to his new house Buckland Abbey
1581 - Queen Elizabeth I knights him, much to the dismay of the Spanish
1585 - Married Elizabeth Sydenham
1596 - Died in Portobelo, Panama
Brave Conquests
At the age of twenty, after the captain of the ship he was on died, he became the owner of the ship. In the company of his second cousin, Sir John Hawkins, he embarked on his first voyage to the New World, on one of the ships that was owned by his relatives. In 1569, he was trapped by the Spaniards on one of his fleets at the port of San Juan de Ulua in Mexico. Although he managed to escape from the clutches of the Spaniards, it is believed that this traumatic experience evoked a feeling of revenge against them.

Under the reign of Elizabeth I of England, on November 15, 1577, Sir Francis Drake set out from the Pacific coast with a fleet of ships on an expedition against the Spanish. Bad weather made him take refuge in Falmouth, Cornwall. After getting some repair work done, he again set sail along with his fleet. Just as he was about to reach the coast of Peru, he was injured by the 'Mapuches', the indigenous inhabitants of that area. He later proceeded after recovering, and after a long chase, captured a Spanish ship with twenty-five thousand pesos of pure Peruvian gold. This haul amounted to thirty-seven thousand ducats of Spanish money.

He was known for his slaving expeditions. The abduction and transportation of people from West Africa, exchanging them for goods of high value, was something he undertook with ease. He managed to do this even though abducting and transporting people was a crime in England, due to the fact that the law did not cover criminals, non-Protestants, and slaves. He mostly attacked African towns and villages, and Portuguese slave ships for this purpose.

After circumnavigating the world, Sir Francis Drake returned to England in 1580. After being awarded the knighthood, he was chosen to become the Mayor of Plymouth, in September 1581. In 1588, as Vice Admiral under the command of Charles Howard, he offered a stiff resistance and overcame the Spanish Armada, a Spanish fleet that was trying to invade England. The Spanish Armada, which was considered impregnable in those times, was driven out of English waters in a tactful and calculative manner by the English fleet.
Timeline of Seafaring Career
Golden Hind
Golden Hind
1567 - First slaving voyage
1570 - Profitable slaving voyages to the West Indies
1572 - Chosen commander of two vessels for war against the Spaniards
1577 - Sent by Queen Elizabeth I for an expedition against the Spanish forces
1578 - Set out on a voyage and navigated through the Straits of Magellan in the famed Golden Hind
1580 - Successful trip around Celebes and Cape of Good Hope, thus becoming the first Englishman to have sailed around the globe
1585 - Sailed to the West Indies, and took control and plundered Spanish cities enroute
1587 - Senior officer during the war with Spain, known for destroying 30 ships
1588 - Led the attack against the Spanish Armada as a Vice Admiral and emerged victorious
1593 - Was made the Mayor of Plymouth by the Queen
1595 - Set out on a voyage to the Caribbean which was to be his last

He survived constant attacks from Spanish gunmen at El Moro Castle, which he bravely survived, but succumbed to dysentery in the year 1596, at the age of 55. This was at a time when he unsuccessfully tried to attack San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was buried at sea according to his wish, and that to be buried in full armor.
Legend Today
Buckland Abbey
Buckland Abbey
The Buckland Abbey is located at Devon, England, and is open to visitors. The house has a grand history of about 700 years. Sir Drake lived there for almost 15 years, before the final voyage. The house, after his death, went to his widow Elizabeth Sydenham. The property was later inherited by the heir, and families stayed there until being bought by Arthur Rodd and presented to the National Trust in 1948.
Mast of the Golden Hind
Golden Hinde
  • The replica of the Golden Hind can today be seen in St. Mary Overie Dock on the River Thames. Though the replica is in a state of cramped space, it is a beautiful site. The dock has been maintained well, and regular upkeep activities keep the Golden Hind intact.
  • The second replica is docked in Devon, in the Brixham sea port. The location of this replica is towards the water's edge, and it can be seen right from the base during low tide, as the floor dries up.
Lesser Known Facts
  • The galleon Golden Hind, which under Sir Drake's leadership, circumnavigated the earth, and was originally named the 'Pelican'. It was renamed by Drake during the voyage before he crossed the Strait of Magellan.
  • The Spanish considered Drake a pirate, and his wealth were to be calculated now, it would amount to $126 million under today's exchange rates.
  • Queen Elizabeth II used the same sword which was used by Sir Drake during his voyages and naval service, to knight Sir Francis Chichester in July 1967.
  • On a voyage to seize Spanish ships with treasure, Drake found out that Thomas Doughty, a co-commander was trying to create a mutiny. Doughty was charged for treason and tried, to be subsequently beheaded. Before the punishment, though he was found guilty, Drake dined with him and tried to cheer him up, just like old times as friends.
Sir Francis Drake left behind a legacy, his courage at sea had Spanish naval officers jittery whenever they heard of his attack. A true pride of the British, the Navy, and his fellow sailors.