Francis Drake

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Sir Francis Drake, portrait by an unknown artist, after 1580. National Portrait Gallery (London)
Signature of Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake (* around 1540 in Tavistock , Devon ; † January 28, 1596 near Portobelo , Panama ) was an English privateer and explorer , later vice admiral and the first English circumnavigator .

Early career

Francis Drake in an illustration by Henry Bone , 1829

Childhood and adolescence

Francis Drake was around 1540 in Crowndale , England (near Tavistock in Peterborough West Devon the county Devonshire born), the eldest of twelve children. As with many of his contemporaries, his exact date of birth is not known. He grew up in a Protestant farming family who were driven from their land in a Catholic uprising and fled to Upnor (northeast of Rochester in Kent ). Since the brother Thomas was intended to be the heir of Drake's father Edmund, Francis and his brothers had to provide for their own livelihood from an early age. His father, who worked as a pastor in Upnor , taught him to read and write before Francis began his training as a seaman when he was about 13 years old.

Sailor training

First as a cabin boy , then as a seaman and finally as a helmsman , he sailed on a small coastal ship between Plymouth , France and the Spanish Netherlands . The skipper had remained childless and saw in Drake something like an adopted son . From him Drake learned the art of navigation . Before the skipper died, he bequeathed his ship to Drake, who was now around 20 years old. At that time, Spain imposed an embargo on English merchants calling into the Netherlands. They were accused of spreading Protestantism . With that, Drake's prospect of financial independence and prosperity came to an abrupt end. He operated the inherited ship for a while, but was then probably forced to sell it and instead to hire out from his cousin John Hawkins . So he went on a trading ship of his cousin as paymaster on a trip to northeast Spain (1564).

First ventures

Because of Spain's embargo, Queen Elizabeth I issued English ship associations letters of piracy , which allowed them to board Spanish ships and take over their inventory - in some cases for the benefit of the British treasury. Captain James Lovell also took part in such actions .

Experience in slave trade and piracy

On November 9, 1566, Lovell's voyage to the Cape Verde Islands began , in which Francis Drake took part as an officer . During this venture, a number of Spanish and Portuguese ships were seized. For Drake, these acts of piracy marked the experience of his first "sea battle". The company essentially consisted of an attempt to undermine the monopoly on the slave trade held by King Philip II of Spain . As part of the Atlantic triangular trade , black African slaves were bought on the coast of West Africa , crammed into ships and transported to the Caribbean to be sold to the Spanish settlers there.

The Spanish Crown strictly forbade the settlers to trade with the English Protestants. However, the ban had little effect. Far from the influence of the motherland, the settlers willingly took the slaves from the English. Lovell's trip was a financial failure, however, because the responsible governor of Rio de la Hacha, the royal treasurer Miguel de Castellanos, refused to accept the import request from the English. Rio de la Hacha (today's Riohacha ) was only a tiny town on the coast of today's Colombia , but at that time it was one of the two access points for the Colombian highlands (the other was Santa Marta ).

First conflicts with Spain

Not long after Drake's return, another venture was prepared, this time by his cousin John Hawkins . The goal was the same as on the Lovell's voyage: the enslavement of Africans in order to sell them to the settlers in Central America, bypassing the Spanish trade monopoly. Six ships left Plymouth Sound on October 2, 1567 with a total of 408 people on board. After the Portuguese caravel Gracia Dei was captured near the Cape Verde Islands , Drake took command of the ship. In an attack on a settlement on the Tagarin River (today's name Peninsula ) in Sierra Leone in January 1568, 250 black Africans were captured and enslaved. Then the fleet sailed to the Caribbean and first called the small island Dominica and then Borburata (in today's Venezuela ). However, the governor refused to deal with the English.

Drake was named captain of the 50-ton Judith at that time . In June 1568 the fleet reached Rio de la Hacha. The Spaniards fired at Judith , who had been sent as the vanguard , whereupon Drake had the governor's house bombarded. The English now blocked the port and forced the governor Miguel de Castellanos to trade. Hawkins was able to sell 200 of his slaves. In July 1568, Hawkins called at Santa Marta. After Hawkins' musketeers fired into the air, feigning an attack, he managed to sell another 110 slaves. The alleged attack was supposed to enable the local Spanish officials to skilfully pull themselves out of the affair later. At this point there were 57 slaves on Hawkins' ships. An attempt to "get rid of" the remaining slaves, this time in Cartagena , failed.

On the return voyage, the ships got caught in a heavy storm. After severe water ingress in Hawkins' flagship , the small port of San Juan de Ulúa (→  The Conflict of San Juan de Ulúa ) could only be reached with great difficulty . After the Spanish silver fleet entered the port a few days later , a truce was agreed with the new Viceroy of New Spain , Martín Enríquez de Almansa , who was on board , but the Spanish broke it. During the battle on September 23, 1568, with the exception of the Minion and the Judith, all English ships were destroyed. The Spanish admiral ship and one of the Spanish merchant ships were sunk. Hawkins managed to escape aboard the Minion . Drake escaped aboard the Judith . Both ships returned to England in January 1569. Of the 408 crew members on the English ships, only a handful survived. Those who were not killed in the actual battle were either captured and fell victim to the Spanish Inquisition , or they died of hunger, thirst and exhaustion on the grueling journey home.

The Jesus of Lübeck on a fleet list from 1546 ( Anthony's roll , Pepys Library , Magdalene College, Cambridge )

John Hawkins retrospectively reproached Drake, claiming that he had abandoned him and his comrades. The question of the possible help that Drake could have provided with his 50-ton ship, which was only equipped with very light armament and was already overloaded with survivors of the Jesus of Lübeck , remained unanswered. The incident played a key role in turning the mood in England against Spain. For Drake, he was vital to his future attitude. Since this venture, Drake harbored a very personal hatred of King Philip II of Spain and especially his governor in New Spain, Viceroy Martín Enríquez de Almansa. In retrospect, one can say that Drake's aversions gradually increased into a very personal private war against the Spanish crown.

Piracy under its own command

First pirate trips (1570–1571)

Drake married on July 4, 1569 at St. Budeaux Church near Plymouth. The marriage to Mary Drake was childless. In 1570, Drake prepared the first pirate voyage to the Caribbean. The trip itself was probably uneventful. Drake later claimed that it was for educational purposes.

A short time later, also in 1570, a second trip followed. Here Drake had the tiny Swan with 25 tons. He reached the West Indies in February 1571. On the 21st of the same month, Drake's men attacked a Spanish "frigata" (a type of Portuguese coastal sailboat with two masts), killing or wounding several Spaniards. Drake left a note on board the looted ship:

“To the captain and the crew of this 'Frigata'. We were surprised that you ran away from us in this way and that you later refused to speak to us under our parliamentary flag, now that you know us and a few days ago you saw for yourself that we would not harm anyone under our parliamentary flag just wishing to talk to you guys. And since you have refused to speak to us under our parliamentary flag without malice and harm, you now find your ship ravaged by your own fault. We do no harm to those who come to speak politely to us under our parliamentary flag; and those who don't (talk to us) are their own fault. Do not think that we are afraid of those ships [the watch squadron under Diego Flores de Valdes]; with God's help it will cost them their lives before they triumph over us. Now you have proof that it would have been better to talk to us - because in your 'Frigata' there was nothing more than the equivalent of four silver reals. Carried out by Englishmen who are well-disposed if given no reason to the contrary. If we are given a reason to the contrary, we will be more devils than humans - signed Francis Drake. "

Next, Drake called at Venta Cruces , one of the main hubs for the onward transport of Spanish gold and silver from South America. Here he captured around 100,000 pesos in merchandise. At the beginning of May he reached Bastimentos, where around a dozen smaller ships were looted. Merchandise worth another 150,000 pesos was stolen. On May 8, 1571, a Spanish dispatch boat was captured, killing two Spaniards and wounding at least seven. A Spanish monk was then stripped naked and mocked by the English sailors. Towards the end of May, other Spanish ships were hijacked, and this time the booty was a good 400,000 ducats. The official list of the damage caused amounted to 160,000 pesos, which at the then usual exchange rate of 8 shillings 3 pence corresponded to the equivalent of 66,000 pounds in Tudor currency. It was then that King Philip II of Spain first heard of Drake and his apparent private war. The Spaniards called Drake from then on El Draque , which roughly corresponds to the Spanish pronunciation of the name. The trip marked the beginning of English piracy in the Caribbean.

The second great pirate voyage to the Caribbean (1572–1573)

On May 24, 1572, the next venture began. This time Drake had two ships at his disposal, the Swan with 25 tons and the Pasco with 70 tons. A total of 73 people were on board both ships. These included two of his brothers, John and Joseph.

Assault on Nombre de Dios

Nombre de Dios in a depiction by Peter Schenk in Hecatompolis , 1702

Some time after the arrival of the English ships in the Caribbean, Drake met the English captain James Raunse. The latter had taken part in John Hawkins' unfortunate trip to San Juan de Ulúa as commander of the merchant William and John , but had broken off the trip prematurely and had returned to England. Drake and Raunse got together and decided to attack Nombre de Dios , another major hub for the transport of gold and silver to Spain. At that time the English armed force consisted of around 100 men.

The attack began on July 28, 1572 between 2 and 3 a.m. After a brief skirmish with the local militia, Drake and his people were practically in possession of the village. A stack of silver bars was found in a warehouse, "70 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 12 feet high ... each bar weighed 35 to 40 pounds." Drake sustained a gunshot wound to his leg in the attack, which he initially hid. However, due to the loss of blood, he collapsed. Thereupon the sailors broke off the operation, for fear of being lost without Drake.

On the morning of July 29th, they withdrew to the island of Bastimentos . The mayor ( Alcalde ) of Nombre de Dios sent an emissary and asked whether Drake was "the same Drake who had been to this area before and who had earned a reputation for his humanity". He also wanted to know whether the English arrows had been poisoned and whether Drake needed any food. The answer was as follows:

“Our captain, although he believed that this soldier was just an ordinary spy , treated him very politely and answered his master's questions that he was very much that Drake and that it was never his practice to poison his arrows ; the Spaniards could cure their wounded with ordinary medicine ... as far as the food on offer was concerned, the island of Bastimentos had enough to offer and that he was only thirsty for some of the special goods that this country had to offer ”[gold and silver] “To please yourself and your company. So he advised the mayor to keep his eyes open, because if God gave him life and health, he would like to reap some of that which they "[the Spaniards]" had sown, which they took out of the earth for misfortune to bring over the entire earth. "

The messenger was sent back "so overloaded with English gifts that he declared that he had never been so honored in his life". The defense in Nombre de Dios was subsequently strengthened and the neighboring villages were alerted. James Raunse had had enough and sailed home. Drake, on the other hand, sailed to Cartagena . On August 15, 1572 he went into the harbor and captured two ships. Now that the Swan was becoming a burden, it was sunk. Drake transferred command of the Pasco to his brother and moved himself to one of the small pinnaces he was carrying .

Fort Diego and the Blockade of Cartagena

At this point he decided to make contact with the Cimarrones , escaped black slaves whom he had encountered before and who at that time represented a considerably greater danger to the Spanish colonists than the occasional pirate raids or the Indians with whom Drake also came into contact. A former slave named Diego had fled in Nombre de Dios and followed Drake. He stayed with Drake and returned to England with him (Diego later took part in Drake's world tour and is therefore likely to have been the first African to circumnavigate the world). The fact that a person abducted from his homeland as a slave by Europeans voluntarily joined a man like Drake after this experience shows that Francis Drake thought differently from his cousin John Hawkins, for whom blacks “were not even human”. From then on, Drake had a deep respect for people of other skin colors or cultures, although he always remained a child of his time.

Drake's brother John set out with Diego to look for the Cimarrones. After contact was made, two groups of Cimarrones arrived. On September 14th, an alliance was formed and detailed plans began to be drawn up. A fort was built on an island a few nautical miles off the coast east of the promontory of Cativa and named Fort Diego after its architect . Drake then left the command to his brother John and sailed to Cartagena for groceries and information. A few days later a Spanish ship showed up. John Drake, armed with a broken rapier and a pillow as a shield, was shot by a Spanish musketeer while trying to capture the ship .

Drake and his people spent the autumn of 1572 practically blocking the port of Cartagena. He always made sure that the prisoners reached safe land. Occasionally they had to be protected from the irrepressible hatred of the Cimarrones, who had no affection for the Spaniards. On October 27th, Drake drove a Spanish frigata onto the beach. The ship had a cargo of gold and silver on board. However, the attempt to take over the ship failed when several hundred Spanish cavalrymen showed up. After returning to Fort Diego, yellow fever broke out among the crew . 10 crew members died within ten days. Among them was Joseph, the second of Drake's brothers. To the horror of the sailors, Francis carried out an autopsy on his brother's body in the hope of finding some cause for the deadly disease. But the attempt did not produce anything. In the end, nearly 40 percent of seafarers fell victim to the disease.

Assault on a Spanish caravan off Panamá

Drake turned to his real goal now. He was planning a raid on one of the regular caravan transports that transported gold and silver across the isthmus of Panamá to the Caribbean coast for shipment to Spain.

At about this point the Cimarrones Drake showed a tall tree in which they had cut climbing stakes. They used the tree as an observation tower. From this tree, Drake could see the Caribbean on one side and Panama and the Pacific Ocean on the other . At that moment he made an oath: "He kindly asked the Almighty to give him (a long) life so that he might one day sail in this ocean in an English ship."

After the Cimarrones found out through a spy that the Treasurer of Lima was about to leave Panama in a caravan, Drake prepared an ambush. A few miles from Venta Cruces, the English and their allies hid themselves on either side of the beaten path that linked Panama and Venta Cruces. In order to be able to recognize themselves in the dark, they wore white shirts over their clothes. However, a drunken sailor named Robert Pike wandered outside, whereupon the Spaniards fled. Drake's men only captured a few lamas that had belonged to the vanguard. On the way back to the coast they met a group of Spanish travelers. In the skirmish that followed, several Spaniards were killed and the rest fled. Drake himself was wounded. At first they withdrew to Venta Cruces.

There were several women in one house who had just given birth and were very worried, especially about the cimarrones. Drake ensured their safety and had them guarded to avoid incidents. A participant in the expedition later said: “We never did violence to those who were captured by us after they were under our control, but either released them immediately or kept them with us for some time ... We took care of them their nourishment as for ourselves and protected them from the anger of the Cimmarrones. "

They returned to the ships on February 23, 1573 . A month later they met the French captain Guillaume Le Testu , who told them about the massacre on Bartholomew's Day in Paris . Drake and le Testu decided to work together. The latter was impressed by the level of organization of the English and especially by their close ties with the Cimarrones. At this point there were 31 Englishmen left. In addition to the pinnaces, they also had a Spanish ship of around 20 tons that had been captured in the meantime. Le Testu owned a ship of about 80 tons with a crew of about 70. It was agreed to land near the Francisca River, about five miles east of Nombre de Dios, and to hide the ships. Then they wanted to set up another ambush. The booty was to be shared honestly, and the ships were instructed to resume the corsairs near the Francisca River on April 3rd. The march began on March 31, 1573. On April 1, they came across three mule caravans with a total of about 200 animals. The caravans were accompanied by 45 soldiers, but they were only weakly armed. Some of the soldiers ran barefoot and offered little resistance. A Cimarrón was killed and le Testu was shot in the stomach.

The mules carried about 200,000 pesos in gold and silver: “Those who accompanied Captain Testu took as much as they could carry; even the slaves who led the animals cheered them on, out of hatred of the Spaniards, and showed them where the gold was so that they would not mess around with silver. There were plates of gold, like two different seals from the High Chancellery of France, some from Castillian ducats, others from pistoles. ”About 100,000 pesos in gold were brought back to the ships and 15 tons of silver were buried. The booty amounted to approximately 40,000 pounds in Tudor currency. That corresponded to about a fifth of the annual tax revenue of the English crown. The booty was shared between the English and French as agreed. Le Testu was badly wounded and couldn't keep up. He was eventually caught up with the Spaniards who beheaded him and cut out his heart.

Drake and his men reached the Francisca River on April 3, but found seven Spanish sloops with artillery and 85 musketeers instead of their ships . Drake had a raft built (referred to as "crazy construction") and then went to look for his ships with an Englishman and two French. They found her about three miles offshore. It turned out that a Frenchman accompanied by Testus had been captured by the Spaniards when he died and had revealed the location of the ships that had subsequently fled. After the rest of the crew had been picked up and the booty shared, the French sailed home. The drunken French sailor was found and told them about Le Testus' death. In retrospect, 13 of the hidden silver bars were recovered. The ships were repaired and preparations were made for the return voyage. Drake invited the Cimarrones to choose presents. Their leader Pedro chose a gold sword Drake had received from le Testu. Drake would have liked to keep the sword for himself, but willingly gave it to Pedro.

The return was on Sunday, August 9, 1573. It attracted so much attention that the Congregation at St. Andrews Church left in the middle of Mass to see Drake. In the meantime, the relationship between England and Spain had eased somewhat. Drake was told that it would be better if he went unnoticed for a while. It is therefore not possible to determine exactly where he was during 1574. Possibly he took part in a trade trip to Hamburg. It was around this time that he took his cousin John Drake under his wing. The childless Drake, who during his time as a cabin boy had been considered a son by his captain himself, now did the same for his cousin.

Assistance to the Earl of Essex in Ireland (1575)

Portrait of Walter Devereux, unknown painter, 1572

In 1575 Drake was enlisted in Ireland by Walter Devereux , 1st Earl of Essex . Drake was to transport troops to Rathlin Island . There, the soldiers of the Scottish had McDonnell - clans under Sorley Boy McDonnell hiding their families, to save them from the clutches of the British. Once the operation was over, Drake was to patrol the waters between the island and the Mull of Kintyre to prevent the Scots from interfering with the action or later taking the island again. For the purpose of transporting troops, Drake provided three of the small ships that he had taken from the Spaniards on his journey to Panamá.

Preparations began on May 1, 1575. In July, Drake transported the mercenary leader John Norreys with 300 foot and 80 cavalry soldiers and siege equipment to Rathlin Island. The landing on Rathlin Island followed on July 22nd, and the Scottish defenders surrendered after a short time. Despite the unconditional surrender, the Earl of Essex set an example. More than 600 people were cruelly killed in this unworthy slaughter. Most of them were women and children. Only the sons of some Scottish nobles who were held hostage were spared. Drake commanded a small Spanish "Fregata" at the time, which had been baptized in the name of Falcon . The ship had a crew of 25 men including Drake himself and his 13-year-old steward John Drake. Hence, it can be assumed that Drake had nothing to do with the military operations or the massacre. The massacre was by no means criticized at the time, on the contrary. Elisabeth congratulated the Earl of Essex, and it is safe to say that the whole thing was intended as a "chilling example" for potential rebels.

During his stay in Ireland Drake met a merchant named James Sydae and a mercenary named Thomas Doughty. Both were to play a role in the famous world tour some time later. Drake's role in Ireland ended in September 1575 when he was discharged from the service of the Earl of Essex. In early 1576, however, he returned again. On that occasion he discussed his plans for a trip to the Pacific with Doughty and, more significantly, with the Earl of Essex. The latter issued him an introductory letter with which he traveled to London some time later to present his plans to the leading Minister of State, Francis Walsingham . Preparations for his famous circumnavigation began.

Circumnavigation (The Famous Voyage) (1577-1580)

Circumnavigation route

On December 13, 1577, Francis Drake set out with the Pelican , which he later renamed the Golden Hinde , accompanied by four ships and a crew of over 150 on an expedition to an unknown destination. To this day it is not clear whether he should look for the legendary southern continent Terra Australis or attack the Spanish cities on the west coast of South and Central America. A targeted search for the Northwest Passage from the Pacific would also be possible . Whether he acted on behalf of Elizabeth I or even had a letter of security cannot be clearly established from the known sources.

Capturing the Cacafuego , engraving by Levinus Hulsius , 1626

Drake first headed for the Strait of Magellan , but had to give up two ships on the east coast of South America on the way there. Another incident concerned the nobleman Thomas Doughty who was sailing with us. This was repeatedly dissatisfied with Drake's instructions and measures and tried to incite the team against their leader. During a stopover on the way to the Strait of Magellan, Drake had a court martial held in Puerto San Julián on July 1, 1578 , as a result of which Doughty was sentenced to death. A day later, Doughty was executed on the spot.

After crossing the Strait of Magellan in September 1578, another ship sank, and the remaining escort began its return journey to England after losing sight of each other in stormy seas and not being found again despite a search. In this search Drake discovered an island he named Elisabeth Island . The widespread view that he discovered Cape Horn with it is based on a publication after 1618, after the Dutch Willem Cornelisz Schouten and Jacob Le Maire sailed around Cape Horn in January 1616. On the Golden Hinde , Drake sailed north along the west coast of South America. He captured numerous Spanish ships and raided and plundered Spanish settlements. The penetration into the port of Callao (the port of Lima ) on February 15, 1579, in which around 30 Spanish ships were anchored , still seems particularly daring . Its booty, however, was small, especially when compared to the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, laden with treasures from the New World . The galleon , also known as Cacafuego (“fire shit”), could be hijacked without much resistance on its way to Panamá , contrary to what is often described in history.

Fully loaded with the stolen Spanish gold and silver treasures, Drake was about to return to his English homeland. He ruled out another crossing of the Strait of Magellan . He was left with the search for the Northwest Passage into the Atlantic Ocean and, alternatively, the crossing of the Pacific Ocean. After he had to break off the search for the passage because of the cold effects of the high northern latitudes on the crew and ship, he landed on June 5, 1579 on the west coast of North America, not far from today's San Francisco in a bay that later became " Drakes Bay " after him " was named. Since the Indians living there reacted kindly to the strangers, Drake took possession of the land for the English crown and named it "Nova Albion". However, even a few years later, the discovery was not followed by any English settlement.

Finally Drake crossed the Pacific and sailed via a few intermediate stops to Ternate on the Spice Islands (today's Moluccas ). There he concluded a trade agreement with the Sultan of Ternate. After Drake had necessary repairs carried out on the ship, he set off on the return trip. Whether he was thinking of a possible search for the legendary southern continent Terra Australis incognita is not known, but it would be possible. Because his follower (according to G. Sammet), the former French admiral Gaspard II. De Coligny , had commissioned the cartographer Guillaume Le Testu to work out a map of the world, which he well knew. It appeared in 1555 and showed undiscovered coastlines in northwest Australia .

In any case, Drake narrowly escaped disaster when his ship hit a reef . It was patched up poorly and they escaped to Java in what is now Indonesia. Thoroughly repaired and provisions, the return journey to Africa finally began. On June 15, 1580, Drake circumnavigated the Cape of Good Hope in uninterrupted voyage to reach the coast of Sierra Leone on July 22nd . On September 26, 1580, after 1,018 days, he entered the Sound of Plymouth. He was the first Englishman who had successfully circumnavigated the world and the first commander of a circumnavigation fleet ever to arrive alive at the starting point of the expedition. A London consortium led by Thomas Gresham (founder of the London Stock Exchange ) that financed the trip made a 4,700 percent return on their investment.

1581 to 1585

Sir Francis Drake with his coat of arms
This plaque celebrates the 400th anniversary of the passing of a law to build an aqueduct from Dartmoor to Plymouth in 1585, on the initiative of then Mayor Sir Francis Drake
Elisabeth Sydenham, the second wife of Francis Drake

On April 4, 1581 Elizabeth I visited the Golden Hinde in Deptford , a district in what is now the London borough of Lewisham . Elisabeth stepped aboard via a gangplank while a large crowd gathered to see Drake. As the inquisitive crowded aboard the ship behind the queen, the gangplank broke and about 100 people fell into the mud below the ship. Nobody got hurt. On board, Elisabeth lost one of her garters , whereupon Monsieur de Marchaumont (the ambassador of the Duke of Alençon ) stepped forward, picked up the ribbon and returned it to the Queen. Elisabeth put the garter back on in front of the ambassador and declared that she would later leave it to him as a deposit as soon as she no longer needed it. After lunch on board the ship, Drake knelt before the Queen with his head bowed. She took the sword and whispered, “Francis Drake, you are a villain, and for the sake of my honor I must renounce you.” A moment later she turned to the French ambassador. “I am convinced that Monsieur will gladly receive the accolade will carry out for me. ”Finally the ambassador carried out the accolade with which Drake was honored for his services and his loyalty to the English crown.

In the same year Drake received a coat of arms , which showed a wavy crossbar between two stars on a blue shield, under the motto Sic parvis magna ("From small to large"). Shortly before, on December 19, 1580, he bought the former Buckland Abbey , which became his main country residence. On August 1, 1581, Drake and his wife took possession of the building. This country estate was followed by others: Yarford, Sampford Spiney and Sherford. Drake grew to become one of the largest landowners in Plymouth .

In September 1581 he was elected Mayor of Plymouth for one year. During this time he was responsible, among other things, for the construction of a water pipeline to Plymouth.

In the meantime, John Doughty, the half-brother of Thomas Doughty, who was executed on the circumnavigation, had further stoked his hatred of Drake. He attempted to bring Drake to court, but the court overturned the case. In May 1582, Drake filed a complaint against him because he had publicly stated that "the Queen honored the most arrogant villain, the most disgusting scoundrel, the most fake thief and the cruelest murderer." Shortly thereafter, Francis Walsingham's secret service arrested a certain Patrick Mason, who claimed that the Spanish ambassador had hired him to recruit Doughty. Drake should be kidnapped or murdered. Subsequently, Doughty was imprisoned in Marshalsea Prison until late October 1583 .

In 1582, Drake was hit by a stroke of fate. His cousin John Drake, who accompanied him after the world tour and visited the royal court with him, was missing. John Drake had received his own ship on another voyage, which Drake had planned and partially financed. After the ship was separated from the rest of the fleet in a storm, John decided to emulate his cousin Francis and attempt a repeat of the 1579 world tour. However, his ship ran aground in the Río de la Plata . John was then captured by the Spaniards. He was first interrogated in Fe Santa and Lima . He revoked his Protestantism and converted to Catholicism . In 1589 he went in a penitent shirt in the procession of the Autodafé in Cartagena . His name is last mentioned in official documents in 1650. Also this year he went in a penitent shirt in the Autodafe procession. At the time he was 88 years old.

In 1583, Drake's wife, Mary, died. Between 1584 and 1585 Drake was a member of the English Parliament in his hometown. At the same time he kept planning new ventures, but mostly with little success. On February 9, 1585, he married a second time. Elisabeth Sydenham was born in 1562, a good 20 years younger than Drake.

New pirate voyage in the Caribbean (1585–1586)

Sir Francis Drake's route of the pirate voyage through the Caribbean, hand-colored copper engraving by
Giovanni Battista Boazio , 1589
Attack on Santo Domingo, hand-colored copper engraving by Giovanni Battista Boazio, 1589
Attack on Cartagena, hand-colored copper engraving by Giovanni Battista Boazio, 1589

When the merchant ship Primrose reached England in June 1585, a major change in the political situation occurred. Shortly before, there had been a bad harvest in Spain. Due to the improved climate between Spain and England and in view of the emergency, Phillip had asked Elisabeth for help. As a result, Elisabeth had ordered the entire merchant fleet of the city of London with food to Spain. However, shortly after their arrival, the ships were stormed and confiscated by Spanish soldiers. Only the Primrose had managed to escape after a fierce battle between soldiers and the crew of the ship. One of the Spanish prisoners who were brought back to England was the governor of the province of Bizkaia . He had a written order with him ordering the takeover. The English then realized that such an order could only have been given by Phillip personally.

On July 1, 1585, Drake received a commission that authorized him to attack Spanish ports and ships. A total of 25 ships and eight pinnacles were under his command. He himself sailed on board the Elisabeth Bonaventure . On this venture he was accompanied by several veterans of the Golden Hinde , including his brother Thomas and Tom Moone, the former ship's carpenter. The ships left on September 14, 1585 and sailed for the Caribbean. Drake attacked Santo Domingo . This led to a momentous incident. As often before, Drake had Cimarrónes with him. One of them was a boy whom Drake sent over to the Spanish side under a parliamentary flag to negotiate with the Spanish officials. A Spanish soldier recognized the boy as a Cimmarrone and rammed a pike through his body. The boy crawled back to the English side and died at Drake's feet. Drake was furious. He hanged two Dominican monks and informed the Spaniards that he would hang two more prisoners every day if the killer was not extradited or the Spaniards did not try him themselves. The next day the soldier was hanged by the Spaniards in front of Drake's eyes. Drake then had a third of the buildings in Santo Domingo destroyed. These included monasteries and churches as well as the castle. The governor's house and cathedral were looted and all ships in the harbor were set on fire.

Drake next attacked Cartagena , killing 28 Englishmen and nine Spaniards, as well as a number of galley slaves and Indian auxiliaries. Cartagena prison was stormed. About 100 Turkish prisoners were freed, who were later brought back to England and handed over to an envoy for the purpose of improving relations with the Ottoman Empire . At this point, John Drake had already been held in Cartagena. He must have been brought out of town during the attack. However, it is unlikely that Francis Drake was already aware of his cousin's detention. It was not officially known that John was there until 1587.

By then, Drake had lost two-thirds of his crew to fighting and disease. He realized that Cartagena could only be held if reinforcements came from England. The planned attack on Panama was out of the question. He had to withdraw and start the journey home. On the way back he attacked St. Augustine on the east coast of Florida . Here, too, the booty was small. Finally he sailed on to Roanoke Island . Sir Walter Raleigh tried to found an English colony here in 1585. But this attempt failed (as did two later ventures). The Indians had fought tirelessly against the white intruders. So Drake took the remaining settlers on board and returned to England at the end of July 1586.

For Drake and the investors on the trip, it was a financial disaster; in the end there was a 25% loss. Politically, however, it was a success for the English crown as the trip had a devastating effect on Spanish finances. The Bank of Seville went bankrupt, the Bank of Venice almost went bankrupt as well. Pope Sixtus V and the Dukes of Savoy ( Charles Emanuel I ) and Tuscany ( Francis I ) refused Philip II of Spain further loans. Lord Burghley remarked: "Verily ... Sir Francis is working hard on the King of Spain!"

Disruption of preparations for the Spanish invasion (1587)

Sketch of the attack on Cadiz, work of William Borough , Drake's deputy in the attack on the city, 1587

Spain reacted increasingly irritated to the British attacks. The execution of the Catholic Maria Stuart (ordered by Elizabeth I) on February 8, 1587 increased Philip II's claim to the English throne . England, which fell away from the Pope, was finally to be re-Catholicized again. Philip II therefore had prepared for the invasion . Álvaro de Bazán , the Marquis of Santa Cruz, received orders to prepare for the invasion. He pulled together a large fleet in the port of Cádiz . The English secret service quickly learned that the fleet could be expected to run out as early as the summer of 1587.

On April 2, 1587, Drake left the port of Plymouth with a commission to attack Cádiz . On April 19, he sailed directly into the port of Cádiz on board the Elizabeth Bonaventure and with a retinue of 23 ships. The English captured, sank and burned 37 ships according to their own statements. Philip II was presented with a list of 24 lost ships with a total value of 172,000 ducats . Drake then ordered the landing in Lagos (Portugal), but this failed due to fierce resistance from the Spanish. Finally he had the castle of Sagres (Portugal) taken and a base built on the peninsula. For three weeks, the English fleet cruised off Cape São Vicente and in the open sea to intercept all ships that were bringing supplies to the Portuguese capital Lisbon to equip an armada . Well over 100 barges and small caravels under 60 tons were brought up or destroyed. Finally Drake heard the rumor of a valuable prize. Off the Portuguese Azores , Drake intercepted the São Felipe , a Portuguese carrack with 1,400 tons of water displacement from the East Indies . £ 115,000 worth of goods were captured. The prize goods brought in a further £ 26,000. The Queen of England received £ 40,000 of this, Drake £ 17,000 and the remainder was distributed among the shareholders, officers and men. The Spanish preparations for the invasion were initially brought to a standstill with Drake's resolute venture.

Drake later wrote: “I scorched the beard of the Spanish king!” The Pope ruled: “The king is playing around with his armada, but the queen is serious. If only she were Catholic ... she would be our most beloved because she is of great value! Just look at this Drake: who is he? What kind of powers does he have? And yet he burned 25 of the King's ships off Gibraltar and as many again in Lisbon ! He robbed the fleet and took Santo Domingo . His reputation is so great that his compatriots flock to him to share in his booty ... We are sorry to have to say this, but we do not have a high opinion of this Spanish Armada and we fear disaster! "

Battle against the Spanish Armada (1588)

The route of the Spanish Armada

A year later, in August 1588, Sir Francis Drake, as Vice Admiral under Lord Howard of Effingham, was instrumental in the victorious battle against the Spanish Armada. On board the Revenge , Drake was responsible for a squadron of 34 ships. Drake's brilliant achievement during the ten days of naval battle consisted, among other things, in the targeted elimination of the Nuestra Señora (the flagship of Admiral Don Pedro de Valdes ) and the destruction of another galleon ( San Salvador ). However, he also had to be accused of a lack of teamwork, which almost lost the flagship of Lord High Admiral Charles Howard . Drake was also involved in the Battle of Gravelines when he drifted Brander on the night of August 7th to 8th in the direction of the Spanish fleet, which lay in a doldrums on the coast of Dunkirk . The Spanish losses during this battle were so devastating that it was decided on the Spanish side to retreat around the northern tip of Scotland (then much more lossy) .

Counter Armada (1589)

Shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Sir Francis Drake submitted a plan to the Queen of England that would finally break the Spanish supremacy at sea. Elisabeth I consented to the company and, as the main shareholder, participated in the high costs of the company. Sir Francis Drake, meanwhile promoted to admiral, was in command of a fleet of 150 ships. On board the ships were 18,000 soldiers under the leadership of Sir John Norreys . First, the Spanish ships in Santander , San Sebastian and other ports were to be destroyed. Afterwards, Lisbon was to be conquered in a combined land and sea attack in order to help the Portuguese king-designate, António of Crato, to power. (→  Personal union of Spain and Portugal )

But Drake did not obey the royal orders. He raided the small town of A Coruña . The soldiers ransacked a wine depot and got drunk. Drake was unable to manage such a large fleet. At Peniche (around 80 kilometers northwest of Lisbon) Norreys and his soldiers were dropped off. However, the walk to the capital took several days. The surprise effect was gone. Drake wanted to bomb the city from the seaside. However, it was repeatedly driven away by adverse winds. Out of sheer anger and desperation, he finally had the city of Vigo razed to the ground.

The venture was a fiasco. A storm-disheveled fleet returned to England. 12,000 sailors and soldiers died from fighting or disease. None of the goals set was even remotely achieved. Elizabeth I made Drake a scapegoat and dropped him. For the next six years, Drake had to be content with his deputy in parliament.

Last ventures

Sir John Hawkins , portrait from 1581

In 1595 Drake made another raid against Spanish settlements in the Caribbean. As the leader of a force of 27 ships with 1500 seamen and another 1000 soldiers, a capsized treasure galleon was to be plundered off San Juan and the city of Panamá was to be taken. Drake's longtime friend and cousin Sir John Hawkins was also there . However, both were often in dispute over the claim to leadership, which only came to an abrupt end with Hawkins' death on November 12, 1595. The attack on San Juan had to be abandoned due to fierce resistance from the Spaniards. A ransom extortion after the conquest of Rio de la Hacha was unsuccessful. Drake angrily burned Nombre de Dios and sent the soldiers to Panama under the leadership of William Baskerville . But here, too, the resistance was great. A defeated army returned with nothing achieved. On January 28, 1596, Drake died on board the Defiance off Puerto Bello (today's Portobelo ) of dysentery (dysentery). Drake's body was buried in a metal coffin at sea.

Historical meaning

Even though Spain and Portugal still dominated the oceans for some time, Francis Drake had a decisive influence on the image of England as an aspiring sea ​​power . He succeeded in disrupting Spanish world trade. The Spaniards were now forced to take expensive protective measures against the British pirate trips . He also played a part in the failure of the Spanish invasion of the British Isles. All of this contributed to the rise of England to sea power.

Numerous places bear the name of the Englishman in honor of Sir Francis Drake. This is the name of the waterway between the southern tip of South America ( Cape Horn ) and the Antarctic Drake Passage . The waterway between the British Virgin Islands is called the Sir Francis Drake Canal . The island of St. Michael's Island in Plymouth Sound was renamed Drake's Island as early as 1583 , the Drake Glacier is located in Antarctica, a bay off San Francisco and a bay off Costa Rica are named Drakes Bay .

Francis Drake as a historical figure

Amy Brandon-Thomas as Elisabeth Sydenham (Lady Drake) and Lyn Harding as Sir Francis Drake in Louis N. Parker's Drake at Her Majesty's Theater , London, 1912


In the movie


  • The 45-minute documentary Pirate Gold for England belongs to the series Sphinx - Secrets of History . The adventures of Francis Drake .
  • The television series (26 episodes of 25 minutes each) The Adventures of Sir Francis Drake ( Sir Francis Drake , Great Britain 1962/63) is about the fictional adventures of Francis Drake (played by Terence Morgan ). In the Federal Republic of Germany the series was broadcast in 1967 in 13 episodes and in the GDR in 1975 for the first time in six episodes.
  • The first episode of the two-part ZDF documentary Pirates from 2015 deals in detail with life and Francis Drake's circumnavigation.

In the video game

  • In the video game Uncharted: Drakes Fortune ( Uncharted: Drakes Fortune , USA 2007, Naughty Dog) Sir Francis Drake represents the direct ancestor of the video game hero and treasure hunter Nathan Drake. Various notes by Francis Drake are presented in the video game and also about fights against Spain reports.
  • In the third part, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (USA 2011, Naughty Dog), the video game hero Nathan Drake goes back on the trail of his ancestors, including to Cartagena / Colombia.
  • In the fourth part of the series, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End (USA 2016, Naughty Dog), Nathan Drake is on the hunt for the lost pirate treasure of Henry Avery and his pirate settlement (New Libertalia). Francis Drake also plays a role here, as you can find numerous notes from him in the course of the game.
  • In the video game Assassin's Creed lV: Black Flag , one can find clothes, pistols and swords from Francis Drake.


Unless otherwise stated, the article explanations and verbatim quotations are based on the biography John Sugden wrote of Sir Francis Drake, published in 1991. Further information is supported by the sources and can only be found in the following books:

  • Wolf-Ulrich Cropp: Gold Rush in the Caribbean - In the footsteps of Sir Francis Drake. Delius Klasing Verlag, Bielefeld 2000, ISBN 3-7688-1175-1 . (detailed biography of Drake, linked to current research and comprehensively illustrated by a travelogue on the trail of the world tour)
  • John Hampden (ed.): Sir Francis Drake, pirate in the service of the Queen. Heine, 2001, ISBN 3-453-18719-9 . (translated original texts by Drake's fellow travelers on the circumnavigation of the world (Francis Fletcher and John Cooke), as well as notes from other contemporaries)
  • Hans P. Kraus: Sir Francis Drake: A Pictorial Biography. (English; detailed biography with numerous pictures and scans of original documents)
  • Peter Padfield: Armada . Braunschweig 1988, ISBN 3-07-508985-0 . (contains a biography and detailed information on Drake's work during the battle against the Spanish Armada)
  • John Sugden: Sir Francis Drake. Touchstone-Book, Simon & Schuster, New York 1991, ISBN 0-671-75863-2 . (comprehensive biography of Francis Drake and the main source for large passages in this article)
  • Bryce Walker: The Armada. (= Time-Life book series Die Seefahrer ). Time-Life Books, New York 1984, ISBN 90-6182-418-4 . (richly illustrated detailed representation of the prehistory and the battle against the Spanish Armada)

Web links

Commons : Francis Drake  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. The information in the sources varies for the year of birth between 1540 and 1545.
  2. David Hannay: The Case of Mr. Doughty. In: Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. 163, Jan-Jun 1898, pp. 796-808.
  3. ^ Henry R. Wagner: Sir Francis Drake's Voyage Around the World: Its Aims and Achievements. 1926. (Reprint: Kessinger Publishing, 2006, ISBN 1-4286-2255-1 )
  4. Harry Kelsey: Sir Francis Drake; The Queen's Pirate. Yale University Press, New Haven 1998, ISBN 0-300-07182-5 .
  5. A historically documented plaque made of brass in honor of Francis Drake's landing in 1579 was forged by some art experts in 1933. The forgery, which was actually planned as a joke around the association E Clampus Vitus , was not cleared up until the 1970s.
  6. W.-U. Cropp: Gold rush in the Caribbean. 2000, p. 178.
  7. The second motto in the picture referred to the successful circumnavigation: Auxilio divino ("with divine help").
  8. B. Walker: The Armada. 1984, p. 48 ff.
  9. W.-U. Cropp: Gold rush in the Caribbean. 2000, p. 239 f.