Sir Francis Drake
Or: The Hinde End Of Things
Which would you rather be, a pirate or a knight? Can't decide, eh? Well, what if I told you that you could be BOTH?
Drake fans (love the Drake)--actually prefer to call him a privateer, but those against him (hate the Drake) considered him little more than a coarse brigand and noble upstart. But history remembers his name and not theirs, so think carefully before choosing sides.
Drake is best known for his roles in England's defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and for being the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe, a trip that took him three years with no in-flight movies. All he had to keep him sane during his voyages were the stars, the sails, and plunder, plunder, plunder.
When He Was Just Little Franny
Drake was born in--we think--1541, in Tavistock, Devon. His parents weren't particularly rich, noble, or Catholic, three things you'd want to have been when Queen Mary hit the throne--so his Dad's job in the Protestant preaching business forced the family to seek warmer religious climes.
They found them in Chatham, Kent, taking up residence in an unused, laid-up ship, where he spent the best portion of his youth. The kid was raised on a boat, people. Nature v. Nurture debaters, take note.
Francis starting hitting the surf when he was only twelve, and was apprenticed to the captain of a merchant ship, which he inherited, sold, then reinvested the money in a new career with John Hawkins. Together, they became among the first Englishmen to profit from the slave trade, running between Africa and the New World.
Everyone Needs a Hobby
When they had nothing better to do--or even when they did--Drake and his crew would prey on the ample Spanish traffic in the waters off the Americas. The Spanish claims in South America in particular were yielding vast amounts of silver, which Drake thought would look better made into nice, simple crosses than new ashtrays for the Pope. When he enjoyed success in his 'appropriations', the booty was always for both him and his Protestant Queen. The Spaniards referred to him as El Draque-The Dragon.
All Aboard the Silver Train
Drake had numerous adventures, including a dramatic raid
on Nombre de Dios
, during which he took a musket-ball
to the leg and barely managed to hobble away with his life. The wound
left him dreaming of a way to exchange the lead
for an disproportionate amount of silver
--and he chose the Silver Train
(appropriately) for his next target.
Running across the Isthmus of Panama from Peru to Nombre di Dios, the train was a long line of mules lugging silver back to Panama for eventual shipment to Spain. When the idea struck him, though, the rainy season was about to begin; according to the escaped slaves he befriended, called cimaroons, the train would not run again until after the rains had ceased. Drake decided to hunker down about fifty miles east, building a base and occasionally pinching a ship or knocking over Cartegena. In the meantime, he watched the men around him die of Yellow Fever and dysentery. Two of his brothers fell to disease and Spanish soldiers.
Drake's first attempt at a raid was spoiled by Spanish intelligence and his own crew's drunken dancing, which gave their party away. Weeks later, he mounted a second raid, this time with the assistance of a French group of privateers, and it met with overwhelming success.
The Spanish soldiers broke ranks under the combined musketry of English, French, and Cimaroon soldiers, the latter of which hated the Spanish as much as the English were supposed to hate the French, who were supposed to be allies of the Spanish, but hated them anyway. Ok. Together, they turned over literally more loot than they could carry. Some had to be left behind. At the end of the day, the pirates--I mean entrepreneurs--walked away with nearly two hundred thousand pieces of eight.
The greatest evil of the raid was the prospect of having to roll all that coinage themselves before the bank would take it.
Drake returned to England in 1573.
Land is for the Birds
It wasn't too long before Drake set out on the expedition of his life. The 1577-1580 circumnavigation of the globe most likely began as another raiding trip, at least as far as the crew knew. But when the five ships Drake headed out with reached the Americas, plans changed--two were destroyed, a third was lost with all hands, a fourth turned back, and Drake was left with the trip's surviving members aboard a single ship: the Pelican.
Being rather a silly name, Drake changed it to the Golden Hinde, sometimes spelled Hind.
Captain's Log: If I Have to Eat One More Lime...
Things of Note that Happened Along the Way:
Magellan and his boys returned in such a sorry state from their trip fifty years before that everyone who met Drake was well impressed by his success.
Queen Elizabeth thought enough of him that she took a meal aboard the Golden Hinde in Deptford and later bestowed upon him the title of knight. He received £10,000 from the Crown, a miniature of Elizabeth, and a green silk scarf emblazoned with the legend, 'The Almighty be your Guide and your Protector to the End.' Drake's wealth and fame increased enormously, and it is for this effort most remember him. But he wasn't quite finished.
Been Round the Whole World, and He STILL Hated the Spanish Most of All
Sir Francis Drake quickly became a favorite at Elizabeth's court, and increased his popularity by heading out to sea again and seriously slapping the Queen's old Catholic enemies around.
The Big Swim
On his final voyage in 1596, Drake managed to catch that infamous old killer of soldier and sailor, dysentery. He died off the coast of Panama, and was buried at sea in a lead casket along with two of his most recent prizes.
And they say you can't take it with you.
Bottles of Rum for:
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