Sir Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake

26th November 2015

During an age of exploration largely dominated by the Spanish and Portuguese, Sir Francis Drake was one of the first renowned English explorers. In the 15th century, the world was divided by east and west – with Portuguese staking claim to much of the African coastline and the Spanish claiming much of South America. Sir Francis Drake set out on a number of journeys throughout the 16th century that would see him raid Spanish ports on a hunt for treasure.

Drake’s first experience of sailing came when he was aged just 12, having become an apprentice on a trade ship. Following the death of his master, whilst Drake was in his teenage years, he inherited the ship. He later sold this ship and began travelling to the Americas with his cousin, Sir John Hawkins. The two of them would complete several successful raids of foreign ships and lands in hunt for gold and treasure.

Whilst in his 20’s, he embarked on a journey to San Juan de Ulua in Mexico, which came to an abrupt end after Spanish ships began firing at him. He escaped but was content on seeking revenge. Four years later, he sailed to Panama and stormed the town of Nombre de Dio, stealing 20 tonnes of treasure in the process.

These raids did not go unnoticed back in England, with Queen Elizabeth I holding drake in high regard. She sponsored Sir Francis Drake’s voyage to become the first Englishman to successfully circumnavigate the world. In November 1577, Drake embarked on his journey - only to return shortly after due to adverse weather conditions. Not content with giving up, he tried again a few weeks later and embarked on a journey that would not see him return to England for three years.

He set off from Plymouth with 164 men and four extra vessels, content on reaching the Pacific coast by sailing west. They faced many ferocious storms, which eventually resulted in the four extra ships either sailing back to England or being destroyed. Despite this, Drake remained content on completing the circumnavigation on board his vessel, the Pelican.

Whilst locating a route to the Pacific, he discovered that Tierra del Fuego, of modern-day Argentina, was not part of a giant southern continent. He defied those who said it was impossible to sail around Cape Horn and is credited with the discovery of the Drake Passage, below South America.

Upon successfully sailing to the Pacific coast of North America, Drake claimed New Albian (modern-day California) for Queen Elizabeth I. Drakes Bay in California was named in his honour. He also discovered that Java, now part of Indonesia, was not part of a mysterious southern continent.

Drake continued to sail west, sailing around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and making the journey back to Plymouth. He finally returned to Plymouth on 26th September 1580, having successfully gained many treasures during his travels. Elizabeth I knighted drake on board his ship and he became one of the most celebrated seafarers in British history.

Later, in 1587, during a time of risen tensions between Spain and England, Drake led a fleet of vessels in a charge against Spanish troops in Cadiz and Corunna. Drake was successful in wrecking over 30 vessels and subsequently delaying the Spanish Armada. The following year, he was appointed vice admiral of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada and successfully Spain’s flagship, the Rosario – thus ending the conflict.


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