The Queen's favourite pirate
Born in Tavistock, Devon, in Elizabethan times, Francis Drake was a noted seafarer. But as one of the central English commanders who fought against the Spanish Armada, Drake is probably better known as a privateer, or pirate.
From 1577 to 1580, Drake led what became known as his circumnavigation of the globe – the first Englishman to do so – on board his ship, the Golden Hind, which sailed from and returned to Plymouth. Although it was not really a planned circumnavigation, in the sense he was not exploring: Drake’s aim was to raid the Spanish.
Upon his return, Drake brought back a huge amount of treasure and privately met with Queen Elizabeth I and shared the wealth with her.
The Queen knighted Drake on his ship in London and this privateer became Sir Francis, using his share of the loot to buy Buckland Abbey in Devon – now a National Trust property close to Plymouth you can visit.
Drake would later go on to be one of the leading naval commanders against the Spanish Armada, whose aim was to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I. Sailing from Plymouth, Drake led the attack against the Armada with ships that were faster and more manoeuvrable than the larger Spanish galleons.
He later died of dysentery, a common disease in the tropics at the time, while anchored off the coast of Portobelo, Panama in 1596.
The dragon all of Spain feared
If you were an English person in Drake’s day, his achievements were seen as legitimate, especially if you were a beneficiary of his pursuits. While on the other hand, the Spanish who had claimed all of the New World as their territory, nicknamed ‘El Draque’, the dragon.
Piracy really is in the eye of the beholder.
Spain’s territorial claim was a problem for the English, who felt the Spanish should let them in. If you were Spanish, Drake became a feared pirate who robbed them of their riches – with a lot of his exploits taking place before any war had formally broken out with Spain.
Over the course of a number of voyages, Drake attacked many Spanish towns and killed many people. In 1586 he captured Cartagena and demanded a ransom of 100,000 ducats from the townspeople before he and his men would leave.