Sir Frances Drake was the son of a farmer and Calvinist preacher and was the eldest of 12 brothers. The Elizabethan seafarer is famous for his circumnavigation of the globe aboard the Golden Hind, which is represented on the latest coin release from Ship That Changed The World.
Drake was born in Tavistock, Devonshire, England in approximately 1540. His relatives came from seafaring stock and by 1568, he had undertaken his first command on a slave trading venture to Cape Verde and the Spanish Main.
Domesticity did not suit Drake, and although recently married to Cornishwoman Mary Newman, he departed on another expedition to the Spanish Main in 1570. During these exploits he was wounded and returned to England, swearing to avenge himself of King Phillip of Spain.
His reputation as a seaman had not gone unnoticed, and Queen Elizabeth I commissioned Drake as a ‘privateer’ to sail for the Americas. The mission was a success and the intrepid navigator returned home with a ship full of Spanish treasure.
By 1575, a truce with Spain was in force and Drake left England to serve with the Earl of Essex in Ireland. Two years later, the political climate had changed and Drake was charged with a new expedition. He received five ships, the largest being the galleon Pelican (later named the Golden Hind). The fleet left Plymouth with no less ambition than to circumnavigate the world.
Drake is credited as the first English commander to complete the round-the-world feat. Upon his triumphant return to England, Queen Elizabeth was delighted with the spoils of his venture, and awarded him a knighthood aboard Golden Hind at Deptford near London.
After the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587, the hostility between Spain and England escalated. Drake sailed to Cadiz, “singeing Philip of Spain’s beard” by destroying or capturing 37 enemy ships, thus delaying the preparation of the Spanish Armada.
With the threat of invasion of England imminent, Drake is famously believed to have finished his game of bowls on Plymouth Ho before sailing to defeat the enemy.
Towards the end of his life, Drake sat for parliament but set off once again on a last expedition in 1595. In that same year he died of the ‘bloody flux’, possibly a tropical disease, his body was placed in a lead coffin and he was buried at sea off Puerto Bello.