Sir Francis Drake (c.1540 – c.1596)

Sir Francis DrakeSir Francis Drake was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.

Born in Devon around 1540, Drake began his maritime career at an early age. In 1567, he was involved in a fleet led by his cousin John Hawkins, on one of the first slaving voyages made by England. It was their job to round up slaves in Africa and transport them to the ‘New World’ to work in horrifying conditions. However, the fleet was attacked by a Spanish squadron, losing all but two of the ships. As a result, the Spanish came to consider Drake a pirate, while he considered them his sworn enemies.

Next, Francis Drake embarked on two profitable trading voyages to the West Indies in 1570 and 1571. The following year, he came to command two vessels and embarked on a marauding expedition on Caribbean ports which belonged to his sworn enemies, the Spanish. On this exhibition, Drake laid eyes on the Pacific Ocean, his fleet capturing the port of Nombre de Dios and finding a grand cargo of Spanish treasures and a degree of notoriety. He was secretly commissioned by Elizabeth I to lead an expedition against the Elizabeth ISpanish Colonies, setting off with five ships but reaching the Pacific Ocean with only one remaining. This ship was Drake’s flagship, the Pelican, which was then renamed the Golden Hind. On this journey, he became the first English sailor to navigate the Straits of Magellan.

Drake proceeded to travel up the western coast of South America, attacking Spanish ports as he went. Hoping to find his way back to the Atlantic, he continued North, sailing further up the west coast of America than any European before him. He was, however, unable to find a route to the Atlantic, so he began travelling southwards again, before travelling west across the Pacific in July 1579. These travels allowed him to encounter the Moluccas, Java, Celebes and the Cape of Good Hope, finally arriving back in England in September 1580. With him, he brought a rich cargo of plundered Spanish treasures and spices. Soon after, Queen Elizabeth knighted him aboard his flagship, in a move which further aggravated the king of Spain.

Francis Drake traveled once more to the West Indies and Florida, plundering and robbing Spanish cities as he went. On his way back to England, he picked up English colonists from Roanoke Island.

British fleetIn 1587, it became clear that a war with Spain was about to begin, so Drake travelled to the port of Cadiz and trashed 30 of the Spanish ships there. He went on to become vice admiral of the English fleet which defeated the Spanish Armada.

Drake then set off with John Hawkins on what would be his final expedition. This time, the Spanish were prepared for his arrival in the West Indies, and the expedition was unsuccessful. On 28 January 1596, Sir Francis Drake died of dysentery off the coast of Panama. His body, along with that of Hawkins, was buried at sea shortly after.

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