On this day in history, 26th September 1580, Sir Francis Drake returned to England from his 3-year circumnavigation of the Globe, arriving at the port of Plymouth in The Golden Hind, which was laden with treasure and spices.
Drake had left Plymouth on his travels on 13th December 1577 with his fleet of five ships. Storm damage to two of his ships had delayed his departure. The purpose of this journey had been to sail into the Pacific and raid the Spanish colonies there. It was a secret mission authorised by Queen Elizabeth I, and investors of Drake's mission included the Queen, Sir Francis Walsingham, William and George Wynter, Christopher Hatton and John Hawkins. Only one ship, The Pelican", made it safely to the Pacific, arriving there in October 1578. As a tribute to its success, it was renamed The Golden Hind, after Sir Christopher Hatton's coat of arms. Drake then sailed along South America's Pacific coast, plundering towns and Spanish ports, and capturing Spanish ships laden with gold, silver and jewels.
In June 1579, Drake landed just north of Point Loma (present-day San Diego, California), which was Spain's northernmost holding in the Americas. He claimed it for England in the name of the Holy Trinity and called it Nova Albion, “New Britain”. He then turned south and made his way back home.
Drake came back from his voyage with a beautiful jewel for the Queen from Mexico. It consisted of a ship with an ebony hull, an African diamond and enamelled gold. In return, Elizabeth gave him a jewel, now known as the “Drake Jewel”. It had a sardonyx double cameo portrait of an African male and a European regal figure on one side and a locket containing a miniature of the Queen by Nicholas Hilliard on the other. You can see a photo of the jewel in an article by Nicola Tallis at nicolatallis.com/
Drake was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the Globe and was rewarded by Queen Elizabeth I with a knighthood on 4th April 1581, aboard the Golden Hind at Deptford.
Article based on an earlier article on The Elizabeth Files and an extract from On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway.
While Drake was a hero in Elizabethan England and his trip round the world important, he was also a state authorized pirate and rogue. I think Elizabeth admired a bit of a pirate in her men and heroes, but his mission was also to spy on the Spanish territories and harrass their gold trails. Much of his life was dedicated to causing trouble for the Spanish, he and Hawkins began their careers as slavers, part of his treasure trove was stolen from the Spanish and he had a bad habit of burning their ships. He may have been a hero to generations of mislead schoolchildren, but we now cannot close our eyes to the less savoury aspects of Elizabethan and Spanish colonization, the suffering of native peoples, slavery, war, the conflict which almost resulted in the Amarda landing in Holland and England from Ireland, plus the ongoing fallout for years to come. Although I have a secret softspot for the Hollywood rogue who was Francis Drake, even admiring his skills as a navigator and seaman, I am no longer one of those schoolchildren brought up on the exploits of Drake et al. Today I am more cautious about his reputation and have to condemn his piracy, state sponsored or not. I know that there was much more to the inevitable conflict with Spain than Drake harassing Spanish ships, the treatment of Mary Queen of Scots, ideas that conflicted religiously, expansion, ambition on both sides, interference in the Netherlands, etc, etc, but Drakes actions on this voyage did not lay down the foundations of peace. The Amarda was not a direct result of Drake and his cronies but some of the resentment which built up to that venture, launched after the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, as international condemnation intensified, came to fruition in the Amarda as a partial reponse to the state sponsored piracy of Drake in the name of Elizabeth I.