Sir Francis Drake: A Pictorial Biography by Hans P. Kraus
"This Englishman calls himself Francis Drake and is a man aged
38. He may be two years more or less. He is low in stature, thick-set,
and very robust. He has a fine countenance, is ruddy of complexion
and has a fair beard...He is a great mariner, the son and relative
of seamen." Such was the appearance of Drake in 1579, when the
Portuguese pilot Nunho da Silva described him in a deposition before
the Inquisition, in Mexico (first published in Nuttall, New
Light on Drake , 1914, p. 301; a manuscript of da Silva's
statement to the Viceroy is in this collection ).
Such still was his appearance when an artist in England, possibly
Jodocus Hondius, made the fine large engraving of him which appears
as the frontispiece.
Drake was born at Crowndale, near Tavistock, Devonshire, probably
in 1543 (the exact date is unknown). His father Edmund then was
a tenant farmer--he previously had been a sailor, and later was
to be an ardent Protestant preacher. The Drake family was forced
to leave Devon because of an anti-Protestant outbreak in 1549.
They fled, first to Plymouth, then to Gillingham in Kent. His
first nautical employment was as an apprentice on a small bark
made trading trips to France and Holland. The owner of the bark
died, and bequeathed it to Drake, but the latter did not continue
as a ship owner. He sold his bark, and went on a voyage to America
under a Captain John Lovell, in 1566-1567. This was a slave trading
enterprise in a single ship.
The Crispin de Passe
portrait of Drake,
Drake's portrait from
The World Encompassed,
The brilliant Crispin de Passe portrait is after a smaller Hondius
portrait, extant in only two copies. It was published in Effigies
Regum ac Principum...in re nautica...prae ceteris spectabilis ,
1598 ( --see
reproduction opposite). The dotted line on the hemispheres shows
the track of Drake's circumnavigation in the Golden Hind .
Another portrait is from The World Encompassed , 1628
In 1581, after his voyage of circumnavigation and knighting by
Queen Elizabeth, Drake bought the first of his Devonshire estates,
Buckland Abbey, a thirteenth century monastery, and the home of
the Grenville family for the previous forty years. It lay on the
east side of the deep and wooded valley of the Tavy, midway between
Tavistock and Plymouth, and a few miles above the junction of the
Tavy with the Tamar which flows into Plymouth Sound.
Drake had no children, and his lands in Devonshire were inherited
by his brother Thomas and his descendants. An 18th century map
of the county (the present copy is a unique example on vellum)
shows the Drake residence at Buckland Abbey (see right hand page,
upper right corner, "Place Sir Fr. Drake"). Further, one of the
subscribers to the map was Sir Francis Drake of Nutwell Court.
Members of the Drake family continued to reside at both of these
houses until the present century.
In the lower part of the map (of which only a small part is reproduced
on the opposite page) is shown Plymouth, a city closely associated
with Drake throughout his career. From its harbor he set forth
on many of his expeditions. He was a member of Parliament from
Plymouth, and was also Mayor there.
Benjamin Donn's Map of the County of Devon , 1765.
 (Detail showing Drake's residence at Buckland Abbey.)
Elizabeth I, who was born in 1533 and who reigned from 1558 to
1603, was Queen of England during all of Drake's adult life. Her
reign developed into a most brilliant success from most unpromising
beginnings. A contemporary thus described the situation in the
year of her accession: "The queen poor; the realm exhausted; good
captains and soldiers wanting; the people out of order...if God
start not forth to the helm, we be at the point of the greatest
misery that can happen to any people, which is to become thrall
to a foreign nation". (Anonymous, The distresses of the commonwealth ...addressed
to the Lords of Council, December, 1558. Domestic mss. Eliz. Vol.
Certainly Drake must be credited with a large part in reversing
all these gloomy facts and forebodings. He was of course not the
only brilliant English warrior of his day, but he surpassed his
contemporaries much in the way that another Elizabethan, William
Shakespeare, outshone all the poets of genius around him. Under
Elizabeth, the first attempts at an English settlement in America
were made (in Virginia, a land named in allusion to her), and in
her name Drake claimed Upper California for England.
Her opponent Philip II of Spain (reigned 1556-1598) was by far
the most powerful monarch of his day. He inherited the vast Spanish
possessions in America, with their rich mines of gold and silver,
and later he fell heir to the throne of Portugal, with its profitable
royal monopoly of East Indies spices.
But the reign of Philip was just the reverse of that of Elizabeth.
He began in prosperity, and ended in failure, with his nation well
on its way to the disasters which overwhelmed it soon after his
death. First, the English wanted to trade with his colonies, as
in the Lovell-Drake expedition of 1566-1567. When such attempts
were repulsed, as in the Hawkins-Drake expedition of 1567-1569,
Drake conducted raids and attacks upon the Spanish colonies, forcing
Philip to expend vast sums on fortifications and other military
and naval preparations. When Philip put an end to these guerrilla
raids by open warfare, Drake was there to "singe his beard" by
burning his transports at Cadiz and harrying his coastal shipping,
in 1587. When Philip's Armada finally sailed against England in
1588, it ended in disaster, with Drake again an opponent.
It is one of the ironies of history that Philip had been proclaimed
King of England on July 25, 1554, as the consort of his cousin,
Elizabeth's half-sister Queen Mary Tudor, and that he was a Knight
of the Garter, England's highest order of chivalry. His title as
King of England lapsed upon Queen Mary's death, in 1558.
The portraits of Elizabeth and Philip displayed here are by Crispin
de Passe, as published in his Effigies , 1598.
The Crispin de Passe portrait of Queen Elizabeth, 1598. 
The Crispin de Passe portrait of King Philip II of Spain,
The portrait of Queen Elizabeth from Camden's Historie ,
1630, engraved by Francis Delaram after an original by Nicholas
The Earl of Essex sailed with the expedition commanded by Drake
and Norris against Spain and Portugal, in 1589, though Elizabeth
had forbidden him to take part in it. Although Essex was Elizabeth's
favorite for many years, he finally led an insurrection against
her, and was executed.
The copy of the Herwologia in this collection formerly
belonged to Sir Robert Naunton, a follower of the Earl of Essex,
who later became Secretary of State under King James I. He has
added to this copy several autograph poems in Latin and English;
the one below, signed with his initials "R. N.", is on the subject
of his old patron, the Earl of Essex.
The portrait of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, favorite
of Queen Elizabeth, engraved by Willem de Passe. From Henry
Holland's Herwologia Anglica , 1620). 
William Cecil, Baron Burghley (1520-1598) was Queen Elizabeth's
Lord Treasurer, and virtual Prime Minister of England during most
of her reign. The paths of Drake and Burghley crossed at several
times during their careers; they were sometimes adversaries, sometimes
collaborators. Burghley is known to have looked with great disfavor
upon such semi-piratical ventures as the circumnavigation raid
of 1577-1580. While he was kept in ignorance (officially, at least)
of the aims of the voyage, he actually must have been well informed
of the plans. He is even credited with having sent a secret agent
on the voyage, Thomas Doughty, who was executed by Drake's order
in South America. The true facts of this case remain quite mysterious
and obscure, but it is considered at least possible that he was
under orders from Burghley to restrain any illegal plundering,
and that he was removed from the scene by Drake because plundering
was one of his main purposes. In any event, Burghley was in favor
of restoring to the Spaniards all the treasure taken by Drake on
Portrait of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Lord Treasurer
of England. Contemporary oil painting. 
Burghley's connections with later voyages of Drake were more auspicious;
he favored the West Indies raid of 1585-1586, evidently believing
that war with Spain was inevitable. The Drake-Norris expedition
of 1589 met with only reluctant approval, as there were serious
difficulties in financing it, and Drake and Norris were demanding
great sums from the Queen for it.
The portrait of Burghley, shown to the right, is very similar
to the one in the Combination Room at St. John's College, Cambridge
(Burghley's alma mater). The artist is unknown, and it is not at
all certain which of the two (if either) can claim to be the original.
The present one is certainly lifelike and somewhat less idealized
than the Cambridge portrait.