Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Great Expedition - Sir Francis Drake on the Spanish Main 1585-86


Sir Francis Drake is probably one of the most famous figures of the 16th century - a man of action who came to symbolize Elizabethan England just as much as the Queen he served. Drake was the archetypal Elizabethan 'Sea Dog'. He was the leading member of that unique band of seafarers who helped thwart the Spanish Armada, but who also pursued their own destiny as explorers, pirates and adventurers. Drake himself has been described as a privateer, a courtier, a politician, a slave trader, an explorer, a naval commander and, of course, as a pirate. Clearly Francis Drake was a man of many parts. To the English, Drake was a hero and one of the greatest seamen of his age. To the Spanish, though, he was El Draque (The Drake), a name whose similarity to the Latin draco (dragon) was used by Catholic propagandists to vilify him as a creature of evil. At best his enemies saw him as a pirate, operating beyond the bounds of legal and civil niceties. The real Drake lay somewhere in between these polarized views, a complex character whose exploits thrilled and horrified in equal measure. Without doubt Drake was a gifted leader of men, a skilled navigator and sailor, and an accomplished naval tactician. He was also driven by a burning religious zeal, and a voracious appetite for plunder.