There are few sea explorers who made as quite a big a dint in the history books as Sir Francis Drake. Despite having a relatively short life, Drake is perhaps most famous for having circumnavigated the world. Without Drake, we may not have known quite so much about the world as we do right now – his expedition and travels have resulted in some of the most detailed map-making across the years. Drake’s life makes for fascinating reading. He was in regular contact with royalty, and even had dual roles in Parliament. However, Drake loved the sea – and was on boats from an early age, having taken the first opportunity at the age of 18 to go exploring.
Here are a handful of interesting facts about Sir Francis Drake which you may not be aware of – see how much you can remember from school, too!
Sir Francis Drake was born in 1540 and died in 1596, aged 56. It’s amazing what he accomplished in such a short life!
He is thought to have been named after his Godfather, Francis Russell, who was once the Earl of Bedford.
Francis Drake was born in Tavistock, Devon. He came from a large, family, as one of 12 sons!
Drake’s father was originally a farmer. Due to persecution, a situation known as the ‘Prayer Book Rebellion’ caused Drake’s family to move from Devon to Kent. There, Drake’s father was ordained to become a Vicar, ministering to Naval personnel.
Francis Drake became famous as being the first person to circumnavigate the world in a single expedition.
At the behest of the English government, he selected his own crew and ship, which berthed at Plymouth. He first sailed as a purser at the age of 18, and quickly rose through the ranks.
Drake carried out his famous circumnavigation between the years 1577 and 1580.
In 1572, Queen Elizabeth gave Drake a ‘Privateer’s Commission’. This was the ‘authority’ to seize property belonging to King Philip of Spain!
For his gallant services and for the achievement of the globe’s circumnavigation, Francis Drake was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1581.
She is recorded as having sometimes scolded his ‘cavalier’ attitude, but privately, she was known to admire his determination and mischievous sense of humor.
Drake also became mayor of Plymouth in 1581.
Upon becoming Vice Admiral in 1588, Drake was responsible for the English fleet, having helmed them in action in battle against the Spanish.
Drake had a firm reputation as a skilled, strong-willed commander, with exceptional navigational skills. These were coupled with a tactical mind suited to making the most of weather conditions and coastal features.
His strict but fair control of his ship meant his crew were loyal and confident. The Spanish were formidable opponents, but Drake was known and feared because of his cool head and well-trained crew.
Drake attended the Houses of Parliament as ‘Member’ representing Camelford and, later, Bassinet. However, he prioritized his work at sea, and he once described his dedication to the Navy as his ‘first love’.
His Parliament activities were interrupted when his presence was needed aboard ship to undergo sea farming operations. It seems you just couldn’t tear the man away from the water!
A famously recorded incident recounts how, when playing a game of bowls, Drake was interrupted as he was warned the Spanish fleet was on the approach. He reportedly quipped that there was ‘ample time to finish the game and beat them’!
In 1589, Drake sailed to Spain for a lengthy and bloody battle, resulting in approximately 20,000 deaths and the destruction of 20 ships.
Sir Francis Drake had many successes and even a few failures. In 1595, a series of failures reduced his capacity for battle, and it was reported that his ‘strong will alone kept many loyal to him, willing to risk their lives’.
His reputation with the Spanish frustrated them – and a reward of 20,000 Ducats was offered to anyone able to capture the resilient Sir Francis Drake. None were lucky enough to win the prize money.
He lived in ‘Buckland Abbey,’ a Manor based in Devon. His family home was passed down through several generations until acquired by the National Trust.
Knowing he was dying from dysentery, Drake asked to be buried at sea in full armor, in a lead-lined coffin. Subsequent searches for him across the ocean floor, however, proved to be fruitless.
Drake was married twice. His first wife was Mary Newman, who he remained married to from 1569 to 1581.
Drake’s second wife was called Elizabeth Sydenham – and their marriage lasted from 1585 to 1596.
Drake is famous for discovering that it was possible to sail from the Atlantic Ocean directly into the Pacific Ocean. Previously it had been thought Tierra de Fuego was a continent – but, instead, a group of islands south of the Magellan Strait allowed clear access.
On July 2nd, 1578,Drake had Thomas Doherty, who was acting as his Co-Commander, beheaded after finding him guilty of mutiny and treason.
Built in 1577, Drake’s flagship was called ‘The Golden Hind’, but was originally called ‘The Pelican’. It was renamed as tribute to Christopher Hatton, who was Drake’s Patron. His family crest was that of a Golden Hind.
A replica of his galleon in Brixham
A pub in Gloucester named the ‘Pelican Inn’ claims it was built using timbers originating from Drake’s Golden Hind.
Drake’s ship was impressively speedy. The Golden Hind could make a speed of 8 knots. However, this was despite the fact it weighed an incredible 120 tons! It was 102 feet (31 meters) long.
However, it wasn’t the only ship Drake sailed – as you may already know! In fact, the last ship Sir Francis Drake sailed on was called ‘The Defiance’.
The Spanish nicknamed Sir Francis Drake ‘El Drague’, meaning ‘The Dragon’. Given his reputation with the invading Spanish, this may well have been deserved from their viewpoint!