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Elizabethan England
Sir Francis Drake and the Circumnavigation

by Wally Peterson

In 1577 Queen Elizabeth I commissioned three men to sail around the world. On November 15, 1577, under the command of three captains, Sir Francis Drake, John Winter, and Thomas Doughty, the "Queen's Corsair" set sail from Plymouth to the Spanish-controlled Rock of Gibraltar.

In secret original plans, Drake was intended to be the sole captain; however, upon leaving, the command was to be split three ways among Drake, John Winter, and Thomas Doughty. The split of command cause dissension among the crew, but soon Drake established himself as the true leader.

The planners also had a different reason for sending Drake. Queen Elizabeth I assumed that a small force of about 200 men could severely disrupt the flow of gold and silver to Spain. The Queen finally decided on Drake due to his skill as a pirate and the relative ease with which she could disown him.

On first day of the voyage the winds blew up and unleashed one of the worst storms ever seen. Drake called off the voyage and took anchor in the nearby harbor of Falmouth. During the storm Drake's ship, the Pelican, began to drag anchor. Drake ordered the mainmast to be cut. The cutting of the mast lightened the ship enough to save it and his crew. This storm cause a lot of controversy due to the heavy damage sustained to Drake's ship, while Winter's ship escaped the storm with no damage. All three commanders were forced to go back to Plymouth before resuming the trip.

Sir Francis Drake, Thomas Doughty, and John Winters set sail again from Plymouth on December 13, 1577. This time the Queens Corsair's left with six ships: the 18-gun, 100 ton Pelican; the 16-gun, 80 ton Elizabeth; the 10-gun, 30-ton Mary Gold; a 50-ton supply ship named the Swan; a 15-ton ship; and another 40-ton ship which was forcibly exchanged at sea. The Pelican, Drake's flag ship, was later renamed the Golden Hinde. The crew of 164 encountered another horrible storm of the coast of Brazil. Once the storm had settled, they could only count five ships instead of six. On April 14, Drake decided to anchor at Cape Saint Mary, the appointed rendezvous, where on the second day they met up with the missing sixth ship.

Drake led the ships through the dangerous Straits of Magellan between August 20 and September 6, 1578. Drake maneuvered the ships though the Straits at incredible speed. However, Drake and his men began to suffer as a result of poor diet. As they passed the Tierra del Fuego-- "land of fires"-- they were confronted by five natives who brought them food and water.

On February 15, 1579, off Qulica, Drake found out that the Nuestra Señora de la Concepcion, captained by San Juan de Anton, was sailing to Panama and decided to sail there. Upon arriving in Panama, Drake and his men found that the Nuestra Señora de la Concepcion was already in the harbor. The Golden Hinde was boarded by a customs officer, who, upon seeing the cannons, mistook the Golden Hinde for a French pirate. Drake was forced to cut the anchor and fight his way out of the harbor. Drake finally found the Nuestra Señora de la Concepcion again on March 1, 1579. San Juan de Anton was wounded by an arrow in Drake's attack and surrendered the ship. With almost no blood shed, Drake had gained the Nuestra Señora de la Concepcion, and her cargo of gold, silver, flour, and other goods amounting to over 400,000 pesos in value.

On September 26, 1580, Drake, in the Golden Hinde, anchored outside of Plymouth but did not port. Drake stopped some local fishermen and asked about the Queen. Drake finally anchored his ship near St. Nicholas's Island in Plymouth Sound, and waited for his wife and the Mayor of Plymouth to bring word of the Queen. Word finally came that the Queen was alive well and on the throne.

On September 26, 1580, Sir Francis Drake became the second man to sail around the world, and the first Englishman to accomplish this feat. Drake received £10,000 from the Queen for his accomplishment, as well as a miniature of herself and a green silk scarf embroidered with the words "The Almighty be your Guide and your Protector to the End." However, the talk of piracy and the treasure taken from Spain eventually led to Drake's loss of favor in the eyes of the Queen.


Works Consulted

Marx, Robert F. The Battle of the Spanish Armada. Ohio: The World Publishing Company, 1965.

This book provides a good background on Drake's voyage around the world. It has lots of good information about Drake and his accomplishments.

McKee, Alexander. The Queen's Corsair. New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1979.

This book contains tons of information. It is full of pictures and maps charting Drake's voyage. It also contains lots of step by step information about Drake's circumnavigation.

Miller, Helen. Captains From Devon. North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1985.

This book contains lots of details and a great account of Drake's voyage around the world. It is very good with the names of the boat and the people that Drake and his men encountered.

Thomson, George Malcolm. Sir Francis Drake. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1972.

This book contains lots of information on the circumnavigation, especially in the chapter entitled "The Boldness of This Low Man." This book also contains several good pictures.

Williamson, James A. Sir Francis Drake. London: Collins, 1951.

There are a few good pictures in this book. There is good information in the chapters entitled "The Circumnavigation" and "The Indies Voyage of 1585."


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