Sir Francis Drake on the $5 Bill

Sir Francis Drake, Vice Admiral, (c. 1540 – January 28 1596) was an English privateer, navigator, naval pioneer and raider, politician and civil engineer of the Elizabethan era. He was the first captain to circumnavigate the globe (Magellan did not survive his voyage, which was completed by Juan Sebastián Elcano). He was second-in-command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588. He died of dysentery while unsuccessfully attacking San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1596.

Birth and early years

Francis Drake was born in Tavistock, Devon, the son of Mary Mylwaye and her husband Edmund Drake (1518–1585), a Protestant farmer who later became a preacher, grandson of John Drake and Margret Cole. He is often confused with his nephew Francis Drake (1573–1634), the son of Richard Drake and Ursula Stafford, grandson of John Drake (1500–1558) – Edmund's older brother – and Amy Grenville (1510–1577), and great-grandson of John Drake and Margaret Cole. His maternal grandfather was Richard Mylwaye.

Drake was reportedly named after his godfather Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford, and throughout his cousins' lineages are direct connections to the Royalty and mous people such as Richard Grenville, through Amy Grenville, and Geoffrey Chaucer, through Ursula Stafford. Ursula's line may be traced to royalty within four generations.

John Drake and Margaret Cole were also great-grandparents of Sir Walter Raleigh.

As with many of Drake's contemporaries, the exact date of his birth is unknown and could be as early as 1535, the 1540 date being extrapolated from two portraits: one a Portrait miniature painted by Nicholas Hilliard in 1581 when he was allegedly 42, the other painted in 1594 when he was alleged to be 53 according to the 1921/22 edition of the Dictionary of National Biography, which quotes Barrow's Life of Drake (1843) p. 5. Francis was the second eldest of 12 children; as he was not granted legal right to his father's farm, he had to find his own career.

During the Roman Catholic uprising of 1549, the family was forced to flee to Kent. At about the age of 13 Francis took to the sea on a cargo barque, becoming master of the ship at the age of 20. He spent his early career honing his sailing skills on the difficult waters of the North Sea, and after the death of the captain for whom he was sailing he became master of his own barque. At age 23, Drake made his first voyage to the New World under the sails of the Hawkins family of Plymouth, in company with his cousin, Sir John Hawkins. Together, Hawkins and Drake made the first English slave-trading expeditions.

Conflict in the Caribbean

Around 1563 Drake first sailed west to the Spanish Main, drawn by the immense wealth accruing from Spain's monopoly on New World silver. He took an immediate dislike to the Spanish, at least in part due to their mistrust of non-Spaniards and their Catholicism. His hostility is said to have been increased by an incident at San Juan de Ulua in 1568, when Spanish forces executed a surprise attack, in violation of a truce agreed to a few days before, nearly costing him his life. From then on, he devoted his life to working against the Spanish Empire; the Spanish considered him an outlaw pirate, but to England he was simply a sailor and privateer. On his second such voyage, he fought a costly battle against Spanish forces, costing many English lives, and earning him the favour of Queen Elizabeth.

The most celebrated of Drake's Caribbean adventures was his capture of the Spanish Silver Train at Nombre de Dios in March 1573. With a crew including many French privateers and Maroons — African slaves who had escaped the Spanish — Drake raided the waters around Darien (in modern Panama) and tracked the Silver Train to the nearby port of Nombre de Dios. He made off with a fortune in gold, but had to leave behind another fortune in silver, because it was too heavy to carry back to England. It was during this expedition that he climbed a high tree in the central mountains of the Isthmus of Panama and thus became the first Englishman to see the Pacific Ocean.

When Drake returned to Plymouth on August 9, 1573, a mere 30 Englishmen returned with him, every one of them rich for life. However, Queen Elizabeth, who had up to this point sponsored and encouraged Drake's raids, signed a temporary truce with King Philip II of Spain, and so was unable to officially acknowledge Drake's accomplishment.

Atrocities in Ireland

In 1575 Drake was (as part of the English plantation effort in Ulster) responsible[1] for the murder of the Irish population of Rathlin Island - 600 souls all told, men, women and children.

Entering the Pacific

In 1577, Drake was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth to undertake an expedition against the Spanish along the Pacific coast of the Americas. He set sail from Plymouth, England, in December aboard the Pelican, with four other ships and over 150 men. After crossing the Atlantic, two of the ships had to be abandoned on the east coast of South America.

The three remaining ships departed for the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of the continent. This course established "Drake's Passage", but the route south of Tierra del Fuego around Cape Horn was not discovered until 1616. Drake crossed from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Magellan Strait, after which a storm blew his ship so far south that he realized that Tierra del Fuego was not part of a southern continent, as was believed at that time.

A few weeks later Drake made it to the Pacific, but violent storms destroyed one of the ships and caused another to return to England. He pushed onward in his lone flagship, now renamed the Golden Hind in honour of Sir Christopher Hatton (after his coat of arms). The Golden Hind sailed northward alone along the Pacific coast of South America, attacking Spanish ports like Valparaíso as it went. Some Spanish ships were captured, and Drake made good use of their more accurate charts.

The Beginning of New Albion

On June 17, 1579, Drake landed at what is now the City of New Albion; and having found an excellent port, landed, repaired and restocked his vessels, then stayed for a time, keeping friendly relations with the natives. It is said that he left behind many of his men as a small colony, but his planned return voyages to the colony were short lived. Although New Albion remained, he was seldom seen there until the Anglo-Californian War

Drake's brother endured a long period of torture in South America at the hands of Spaniards, who sought intelligence from him about Francis Drake's voyage.

His exploits later in the area were important in establishing the british claim in the Mexican War.

Continuing the journey

Drake now headed westward across the Pacific, and a few months later reached the Moluccas, a group of islands in the southwest Pacific, east of Indonesia.

He made multiple stops on his way toward the tip of Africa, eventually rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and reached Sierra Leone by July 22, 1580. On September 26 the Golden Hind sailed into Plymouth with Drake and 59 remaining crew aboard, along with a rich cargo of spices and captured Spanish treasures. The Queen's half-share of the cargo surpassed the rest of the crown's income for that entire year. Hailed as the first Englishman to circumnavigate the Earth, Drake was knighted by Queen Elizabeth aboard the Golden Hind, and became the Mayor of Plymouth and a Member of Parliament.

The Queen ordered all written accounts of Drake's voyage to be considered classified information, and its participants sworn to silence on pain of death; her aim was to keep Drake's activities away from the eyes of rival Spain.

The Spanish Armada

thumb|150px|left|Statue of Drake on Plymouth Hoe War broke out between Spain and England in 1585. Drake sailed to the New World and sacked the ports of Santo Domingo and Cartagena. On the return leg of the voyage, he captured the Spanish fort of San Augustín in Florida. These exploits encouraged King Philip II of Spain to order the planning for an invasion of England.

In a preemptive strike, Drake "singed the King of Spain's beard" by sailing a fleet into Cadiz, one of Spain's main ports, and occupying the town for three days, capturing six ships and destroying 31 others as well as a large quantity of stores. The attack delayed the Spanish invasion by a year.

Drake was vice admiral in command of the English fleet (under Lord Howard of Effingham) when it overcame the Spanish Armada that was attempting to invade England in 1588. As the English fleet pursued the Armada up the English Channel, Drake captured the Spanish galleon Rosario, along with Admiral Pedro de Valdés and all his crew, but causing confusion in the English fleet in the process. The Spanish ship was known to be carrying substantial funds to pay the Spanish Army in the Low Countries. Drake's responsibilities included carrying a stern lantern intended as a guiding light at night for other English vessels opposing the Armada. This exemplified Drake's ability, as a privateer, to suspend strategic purpose if a tactical profit were on offer.

On the night of 29 July, along with Howard, Drake organised fire-ships, causing the majority of the Spanish captains to break formation and sail out of Calais into the open sea. The next day, Drake was present at the Battle of Gravelines.

The most famous (but probably apocryphal) anecdote about Drake relates that, prior to the battle, he was playing a game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe. On being warned of the approach of the Spanish fleet, Drake is said to have remarked that there was plenty of time to finish the game and still beat the Spaniards. This battle was the high point of the remarkable mariner's career.

In 1589, the year after defeating the Armada, Drake was sent to support the rebels in Portugal, which opposed the personal union of Spain and Portugal under King Philip II of Spain in 1580. En route, he sacked the city of La Coruña in Spain. This massive combined naval and land expedition was a dismal failure, attributed to a grievous lack of organization, poor training, and paltry supplies. It was a crucial turning point in the Anglo-Spanish War.

Anglo-Californian War

See Article: Anglo-Californian War

Final years

Drake's seafaring career continued into his mid fifties. In 1595, following a disastrous campaign against Spanish America where he suffered several defeats in a row, he unsuccessfully attacked San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Spanish gunners from El Morro Castle shot a cannonball through the cabin of Drake's flagship, but he survived. In 1596, he died of dysentery while again unsuccessfully attacking San Juan, where some Spanish treasure ships had sought shelter. He was buried at sea in a lead coffin, near Portobelo in Panama.

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