Sir Francis Drake, Elizabethan Sea Dog

Sir Francis Drake, Elizabethan Sea Dog

Sir Francis Drake, navigator and privateer, is one of the greatest English sea-captains. Much has been written about Drake. This page is just to record his mainly connections with Cornwall.

Born at Crowndale, near Tavistock, about 1543, he was the son of Edmund Drake, a sailor who became a yeoman farmer. At the age of 23, Drake became a sailor by joining a relative, John Hawkins, in the slave trade with the Spanish colonies in the New World.

Drake married Mary Newman of Saltash in 1569. (You can visit Mary Newman's Cottage and gardens across the Tamar River in Saltash). They had no children and she died twelve years later in 1581, leaving the newly knighted Sir Francis Drake a widower. He later remarried in 1585. The birthplace of Mary Newman, Drake's first wife, is a cottage in Culver Street.

Mary Newmans supposed home dates from about 1480 and is by far the oldest building which remains intact in Saltash. Very few simple dwellings have survived as intact as Mary Newman’s Cottage, giving an insight into life in the 1400’s. It contains fine early furniture, and has a peaceful garden with views down the Tamar estuary.

Drake returned to the Caribbean in 1569, 1571, and 1572 attacking Spanish ports and ships.When he returned to England, Queen Elizabeth had made peace with Spain and he had to go into hiding, possibly in Ireland. He reappeared in 1575, saying was going to the Mediterranean to open up the spice trade in Alexandria, but his true plan was to circumnavigate the world.

When he returned from his voyage around the world, Drake reached England on September 26th, 1580. On sighting fisherman off the coast of Plymouth, he asked them if Queen Elizabeth was alive. If a Roman Catholic monarch had displaced her while Drake had been at sea, then he might well have been thrown in prison or executed.

Drake sent a courier to London to inform Queen of his success and sent samples of of the silver, gold and jewels booty taken from Spanish treasure ships in the Pacific Ocean. The 26 tons of silver were stored in Trematon Castle near Saltash before being transported to London, where it was stored in the Tower of London. Drake sent for his wife, Mary, and travelled with her to London for an audience with the Queen. Drake was now a national hero.

Francis Russell, Earl of Bedford, was Drake godfather, and a man of considerable influence. He was warden of the stanneries, Lord Lieutenant of Devon and Cornwall, and controlled several parliamentary seats. One of these was the united borough of Trevena and Bossiney. A classic rotten borough, it returned two M.P.'s from 1552 until 1832, when the Reform Act did away with such 'Rotten Boroughs'. On 28 October 1584 Drake was elected one of the two Members for Bossiney. His indenture was signed by only nine persons, friends of Bedford, who controlled both the Bossiney seats, and simply presented the electors with their representative.

Drake was returned to the House of Commons for the Borough in 1584 and in the six-month-long session attended Parliament, sitting on various committees and making several speeches.He worked on the committee considering clauses "for the better and more reverent observing of the Sabbath." His other committee work concerned a bill for bringing in staple fish and ling and a third - Walter Raleigh's - dealing with the planting of Virginia. Elizabeth prorogued Parliament on April 7th 1585, and Drake's brief parliamentary career was over.

Drake re-married, returned to sea, was involved in further attacks on the Spanish, including the defeat of the Armada in 1588.

In 1595 Queen Elizabeth sent an expedition to America headed by Drake and Hawkins. It was disastrous, the two leaders quarreled, the Spanish learned their destination was Puerto Rico and prepared for their arrival. Failing there Drake sailed to Panama where he was also unsuccessful. Discouraged and sick, Drake died on 28 January 1596 off Porto Bello. He was buried at sea.

Sir Francis Drake information

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