10 facts about Sir Francis Drake and his circumnavigation of the globe

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IT WAS on this day in 1577 when Elizabethan sea captain Sir Francis Drake set off on an epic voyage which would lead to him becoming the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.

Drake’s place in history depends on your point of view. He appears to have been as much a heroic and daring adventurer as he was a ruthless villain worthy of being dubbed The Queen’s Pirate.

The nature of his circumnavigation voyage can be viewed two ways – romantically, he was embarking on an exploration of the New World, or he set out with warmongering and wealth on his mind.

To mark the date Drake set sail, here are 10 facts about the legendary seafarer:

  • Drake would have been on his way a month earlier but for bad weather. He set off on November 15 but was forced back and eventually left on December 13.
  • Drake departed with a fleet of five ships, but only one, his flagship the Pelican, survived.
  • After nearly three years at sea Drake arrived back on English water on September 26, 1580, making his expedition only the second at the time to have sailed around the world. Drake was subsequently knighted by Queen Elizabeth I who was delighted with the vast amount of treasure he returned with.
  • The Spanish were a lifelong enemy of Drake’s, and vice-versa. To them he was known as a pirate, which prompted the nickname El Draque and a bounty of 20,000 ducats (about £4 million by today’s money) on his head. Drake was second-in-command of the English when the Spanish Armada was defeated in 1588 while attempting to invade.
  • Prior to his famous circumnavigation of the globe Drake was involved in slave trading. Including the transportation of people forcibly removed from West Africa.
  • Another controversy is the execution of his co-commander Thomas Doughty, who Drake had beheaded for supposedly leading a mutiny aboard the Pelican.
  • Drake’s ship was later renamed the Golden Hinde. A full-sized replica of the ship is located in Bankside in London, used for tours and educational programmes.
  • Drake was once Mayor of Plymouth and was also elected as an MP.
  • Despite his buccaneering ways, Drake died in his mid-50s from the unglamorous dysentery in January 1596 after a failed attack on San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was buried at sea.
  • Nathan Drake, the lead character in the Uncharted video games for PlayStation was created as a fictional descendant of Sir Francis.

Do you think Francis Drake deserves to be seen as one of England’s greatest heroes or do you view him in a different light? Add your comments below.

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