●Charles River Editors’original biography of Sir Francis Drake
●Sir Francis Drake’s Famous Voyage Round the World by Francis Pretty
●Drake and the Fleet Tradition (From Drake, Nelson, and Napoleon) by Sir Walter Runciman
●Elizabethan Sea-Dogs, A Chronicle of Drake and His Companions by William Wood
The life of Sir Francis Drake, or, more precisely, the tale of it, is one of those prime examples that history is written by the winners. Drake was the most famous sailor of the Elizabethan Era, and he has long been considered a hero by the English. His successes against the Spanish as a captain and a privateer were legendary, and Drake was celebrated for fighting the Queen’s enemies, sinking their ships, and capturing the treasure that would otherwise be used to finance attacks on England. Drake vigorously pursued every mission given to him by Elizabeth I, and brought all his skill, experience and training to bear against her enemies. He was recognized at court for his valor, praised in story and song, and remembered for the kind of personality and esprit de corps that the English have long desired and celebrated in their military heroes.
While that might have summarized Sir Francis Drake’s life from an English perspective, that’s not at all how the Spanish remember “El Draque” (“The Dragon”), the 16th century’s most notorious pirate. Referred to as “the main cause of wars” in one 1592 letter to the Spanish King Phillip II, Drake harassed Spanish ships in several oceans and was so despised by the Spanish that Phillip II placed the equivalent of a 7 million dollar bounty on his head. This should come as no surprise, given that Spanish accounts tell of a captain who attacked and boarded Spanish merchant ships to steal their treasure and made off with it in the kind of haughty and dramatic ways that have become standard fare in pirate lore. El Draque also had no qualms about killing those who refused his requests. At the same time, Spain was hardly above using privateers and piracy themselves, as one English writer would later put it, “The Spaniards had carried barbarism to such a pitch in seizing our ships and condemning their crews to the galleys, that Queen Elizabeth was never averse to meeting murder and plunder by more than the equivalent in retaliation.”
Which version of Drake’s life is more accurate? As usual, the reality falls somewhere inbetween. For most of his career, Drake was unquestionably a privateer and not a member of any organized Navy, thus answering to nobody except the Queen, and had he failed, he might have been shackled in irons and imprisoned. It was due to the fact he was successful that he was instead given a seat of honor at Elizabeth’s own table in her own court. While privateers were used by all European powers during times of war, Drake also happened to target enemy ships when no state of war existed, thus clearly veering into the realm of piracy. Naturally, Elizabeth’s enemies claimed that he was engaging in piracy with her blessing, which was probably true at times and untrue at others.
While contemporary accounts reveal two very different sides of the same man, Drake’s legacy has since been shrouded in legend, with tales concerning buried treasure, encounters with Native Americans, and his famous circumnavigation of the globe. The Ultimate Sir Francis Drake Collection looks at the life, career, legends, and controversies of the Elizabethan Era’s most famous captain. Included are an original biography, a contemporary account of Drake’s voyage, and two additional biographies of Drake. A table of contents and pictures of important people, places, and events in his life are included.