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English admiral Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe in 1577-1578, helped defeat the Spanish Armada and was the most renowned seaman of the Elizabethan era.
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Francis Drake, born around 1540-1544 in Devonshire, England, was involved in piracy and illicit slave trading before being chosen in 1577 as the leader of an expedition intended to pass around South America, through the Strait of Magellan, and explore the coast that lay beyond. Drake successfully completed the journey and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I upon his triumphant return. He later saw action in the English defeat of the Spanish Armada.
"There is plenty of time to win this game, and to thrash the Spaniards too."
"There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory."
"There is little friendship in the world, and least of all between equals."
Like many of his contemporaries, no birth records exist for Sir Francis Drake. It is believed he was born between 1540 and 1544, based on dates of later events. Records show he was 22 when he obtained his first command in 1566. Two portraits help further narrow the date: one painted in 1581, when he was 42, and another painted in 1594, when he was 53.
Francis Drake was the eldest of 12 sons born to Edmund Drake and Mary Mylwaye Drake. Edmund was a farmer on the estate of Lord Francis Russell, the second earl of Bedford, who was also Francis' godfather. Francis was apprenticed to a merchant who sailed coastal waters trading goods between England and France. He took to navigation well and was soon enlisted by his relatives, the Hawkinses. They were privateers who prowled the shipping lanes off the French coast, seizing merchant ships.
By the 1560s, Francis Drake was given command of his own ship, the Judith. With a small fleet, Drake and his cousin, John Hawkins, sailed to Africa to engage in the slave trade. They then sailed to New Spain to sell their captives to settlers, an action that was against Spanish law. In 1568, Drake and Hawkins were trapped in the Mexican port of San Juan de Ulua. The two escaped, but many of their men were killed. The incident instilled in Drake a deep hatred of the Spanish crown.
In 1572, Francis Drake obtained a privateer's commission from Queen Elizabeth I (essentially a license to plunder any of King Philip of Spain's property.) In that year, he embarked on his first independent voyage to Panama. He planned to attack the town of Nombre de Dios, a drop-off point for Spanish ships bringing silver and gold from Peru. With two ships and a crew of 73 men, Drake captured the town. However, he was seriously wounded during the raid, so he and his men withdrew without much loot. They stayed in the area for a time, and after Drake’s wounds healed, they raided several Spanish settlements, picking up much gold and silver along the way. They returned to Plymouth in 1573.
With the success of the Panama expedition, Queen Elizabeth sent Francis Drake out against the Spanish along the Pacific coast of South America in November 1577. He was accompanied by two other men, John Wynter and Thomas Doughty. The agreement was that the three men would share command responsibilities on the expedition. Soon after raiding several Spanish settlements near the Azores, Drake assumed command, a declaration that didn't set well with Doughty. Tensions flared between the two all the way across the Atlantic.
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