Sir Francis Drake achieved lasting fame as a result of his association with the victory against the Spanish Armada. He was a loyal subject of Elizabeth I and his place in British History is due to more than just his involvement in the Spanish Armada. Drake seemed to epitomise the glories of Tudor England.
For all his fame, little is known about Drake’s background. We do not know for sure the year of his birth. The accepted year is 1540, though it could have been 1538 or 1542. Drake was born in Tavistock, Devon, on the outskirts of Dartmoor. His grandparents farmed nearly 180 acres of land here and it is believed that they had a reasonably comfortable lifestyle when there was a good farming year. Drake’s father, Edmund, may have been a sailor as some historians believe but is is possible that he helped out on the family’s farm.
Edmund Drake was a Protestant and he may have been the victim of religious persecution. For whatever reason (and some believe it was because he was involved in petty crime), the Drake family moved to Kent. Here the family lived in the hulk of an old ship. Edmund Drake worked as a preacher to naval sailors. As a result of the move, Francis now lived by the sea and had frequent with those who went to sea. Their tales and stories may well have fascinated him.
Drake’s first job was when he was apprenticed to a man who owned a small coastal freighter. Drake did well and when the man died, he willed Drake the small boat as he had no family of his own.
In 1569, Drake married Mary Newman. They had no children and she died in 1581. By then, Drake had been knighted and was becoming very wealthy. He married again in 1585 to Elizabeth Sydenham who came from a wealthy family. They lived in Buckland Abbey in Devon. It is in this building where “Drake’s Drum” is kept. The legend has it, that when the drum is heard to make a drumming noise, the nation is in danger.
Form 1577 to 1580, Drake circumnavigated (sailed around) the world. This was a huge achievement and by doing only this, Drake would have won his place in English history.
To the Spanish, Drake was nothing more than a pirate – a feared one at that. They called him “El Draque” (the Dragon). He and his naval fleet was a constant source of trouble for the Spanish bullion ships that left what is now Mexico ad South America. many were sunk of were boarded and had their valuable cargo taken. Queen Elizabeth I, to stay on good terms with Spain, publicly rebuked Drake but did no more than that. In fact, Elizabeth loved jewels and the treasures brought back by Drake satisfied her love for these precious objects. Few historians doubt that she was against what Drake did to the ships of Spain.
Drake further built up his reputation in Spain when he “singed the king’s beard”. This is when he sailed his fleet into Cadiz in 1587, and attacked the Spanish fleet there. It was this fleet that was to have been pat of the Armada of 1587. The damage done by Drake and his men delayed the Armada for one year.
Drake is most associated with the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Drake was a gifted sailor and leader of men but he was also a flamboyant showman. His part in the defeat of the Armada has overshadowed the part played by the man who actually lead the English Navy – Lord Howard of Effingham. Drake had to follow orders, and while he should get some of the credit for the fire ships that broke up the Armada at Gravelines, this ploy had to receive Effingham’s support first.
However, Drake is credited with training his men in the art of broadside. Traditionally, naval ships fought close to one another to allow boarding parties to gain control of the enemy’s ships so that they themselves could use them. Drake got his ships to sail in line and sail alongside his enemy but at a distance. He then got his gunners to fire a murderous volley at the enemy with the sole purpose of sinking them. it was a highly effective strategy.
Drake died in 1596 in the West Indies. He was doing what he did well – attacking the Spanish. However, on this adventure in 1596, his expedition against the Spanish was not going well. He got the “bloody flux” and died on January 28th. Drake was buried at sea in a lead coffin off of the coast of Puerto Bello, Panama.