"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 which 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 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 below). 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 ( --see reproduction below).
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.
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. 1.)
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 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.
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 that voyage.
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.