Captain Sir Francis DRAKE

Born: ABT 1540, Buckland Abbey, Devon, England

Died: 28 Jan 1596/7, aboard DEFIANCE off Porto Bello

Father: Edmund DRAKE

Mother: Dau. MYLWAYE

Married 1: Mary NEWMAN

Married 2: Elizabeth SYDENHAM (m.2 Sir William Courtenay of Powderham) 1585

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Son of a puritan farmer and preacher. He taught himself the art of sailing while he was the navigator of a small merchant ship. Later he served as an officer aboard West African slave ships. The Drakes stood in good stead with the Russells, their landlords, sufficiently so for Lord Russell's son, the youth Francis Russell, to stand as godfather to Edmund's eldest son and to provide him with his Christian name.

Sailing from the Caribbean Sea to the Gulf of Mexico in 1567 Drake and his cousin John Hawkins were attacked and defeated by a Spanish Armada. They lost all of their ships, barely left with their lives. From then on Drake had a deep hatred for Spaniards. In 1570 and 1571 Drake familiarized himself with the Caribbean waters and made many friends amongst escaped African slaves. Soon Drake led battles against the Spanish with the help his African friends.

In 1572 Drake was equipped with 2 ships and 73 sailors by his cousin Hawkins and associates. Queen Elizabeth commissioned Drake as a privateer to sail for America. In 25 days Drake crossed the Atlantic and found himself in the Caribbean Sea. After an unsuccessful attack on the Spanish port Nombre de Dios (Nicaragua), Drake started to make new plans on plundering a Spanish caravan transporting gold. From the beginning, the entire escapade seemed to be another loss for Drake. However, inspite of many set backs, the voyage brought Drake success and fame. Bringing his plunder to Elizabeth, he was selected to be the head of an expedition that was to sail around the world. The shareholders in the enterprise included Elizabeth, the Lord High Admiral, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Sir Francis Walsingham, surveyor of the navy, Sir William Winter, John Hawkins and Drake himself. Drake was flattered with this appointment and made new more extravagant and hazardous plans.

Drake began his expedition on 13 Dec 1577. The ships sailing were as follows: Pelican, 100 tons, Captain-general Francis Drake; Elizabeth 80 tons, Captain John Winter; Marigold 30 tons Captain John Thomas; Swan, a fly-boat, 50 tons, Captain John Chester; Christopher a pinnace 15 tons, Captain Thomas Moone. Drake sailed with the Queen's courtesan and his friend Thomas Doughty. After harsh weather and rough sailing, Thomas Doughty, a mutineer, convinced Drake's exhausted crew to revolt. Drake's reaction was ruthless. When Drake reached his destination on the West Coast of South America, Drake had Doughty convicted to be beheaded in a court-martial.

Drake was blown away from John Winter's ship Elizabeth by Cape Horn and learned that Tierra del Fuego is an island; then Drake sailed alone by Chile and Peru. Winter in Elizabeth had turned for home, believing that Drake had sunk.

After the incident with Doughty, Drake changed his ship's name to Golden Hind. Sailing to Valparaiso, Drake encountered severe storms. His three-mast ship was devastated by the journey. No Spaniards were able to identify the Golden Hind as a pirate ship and fell victim to Drakes attacks. Drake plundered a Spanish war ship and the port of Callo. Drake's real treasure was the information on the heading of Spanish galleon the Nuestra Senora de la Conception, popularly named by the Spanish sailors Cacafuego. She was a 120 ton merchant vessel, sailing from Peru to Panama, where her treasure and passengers would cross the Isthmus on her way to Spain. Although pirates had been raiding the West Indies for decades, Drake was the first to pass from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast of South America. Since the Spaniards did not expect to encounter marauders, most ships went unarmed. The Cacafuego originally was known as Nuestra Senora de Ia Concpcion. Drake had been feverishly pursuing the Cacafuego for several days. On Mar 1, she was sighted near Esmeraldas, Ecuador. It was midday and Drake did not want to attack before dark. He was afraid that reducing sail would arouse suspicions and trailed wine pots filled with water to slow his speed. Some nine hours later, Drake caught up to the Cacafuego. Expecting to meet only Spanish ships, her captain turned toward the stranger. Drake waited until the Cacafuego came alongside, then sent his boarders swarming to the attack. The Cocafuego's crew surrendered quickly. Drake led the captured ship out to sea beyond sight of the coast. Elated by this marvelous piece of good luck, Drake treated these captives generously. He dined with the officers and gentlemen. All prisoners were released with presents appropriate to their rank. Three days were needed to search the Cacafuego and to transfer her rich cargo. The ships separated on Mar 6. According to an anonymous history of the voyage the English raiders enjoyed a wry comment by a Spanish youth. ''Our ship,'' the Spaniard joked, ''shall no more be called the Cacafuego, but the Cacaplata. It is your ship that shall be called the Cacafuego. Only Drake knew the amount of his booty and he obeyed Queen Elizabeth's order never to reveal the secret. Spanish merchants in Seville claimed that the Cacafuego carried 400,000 pesos in illegal cargo in addition to registered treasure worth 360,000. If this estimate was accurate, Drake took some 266,000 in gold and silver. And he also seized jewels and other valuables concealed in the passengers luggage.

Drake plundered unimaginable wealth. The task of relocating the Galleons hold took Drake's crew four days. Drake acquired 80 pounds of gold, 20 tons of silver, 13 cases of silver coins, and cases full of pearls and precious stones. On Sep 26th, 1580, the Golden Hind burdened with the holds heavy and it's precious cargo, sailed to the port of Plymouth after three years of adventures around the world. Upon his return, Queen Elizabeth knighted him on the deck of his ship the Golden Hind and made him the mayor of Plymouth. Queen Elizabeth had a good deal to be grateful for with Drake's journey. Queen Elizabeth grabbed his booty, and no accounting was ever made. BEF the treasure was taken to London, Drake took out 10,000 pounds for himself, another 8,000 which he distributed among the crew. Under the usual English booty rules, the crewmen would have received a third of the entire plunder. But they had agreed to sail for set wages and thus had to accept whatever Drake gave them. The remaining loot was stored in the Tower of London. The queen and her courtiers furtively removed most of the treasure and all the jewels. The Tower still held 12 tons of silver and 100 pounds of gold in Dec 1585 which was only a small part of the original amount. Drake said his backers received 47 for each pound invested in his voyage, a profit of 4,700 percent. Although Drake established fame for his bravery and courage, he wasn't well liked by his contemporaries. He was, however, liked by Queen Elizabeth and she placed him in command of a fleet of ships with which he inflicted a great deal of damage on the Spanish Empire. Drake,Francis(Sir)01.jpg (58844 bytes)

Records for 1581 and 1582 show that Drake was investing and speculating heavily in real estate, and that he was hobnobbing with those for whom it was second nature. Sir Arthur Bassett of Umberleigh, Devon, a West Country Puritan and associate of the Earl of Bedford and Richard Grenville, was one of them.

Camelford, in the duchy of Cornwall borough in the parish of Lanteglos, has been suggested as the seat Drake held in 1581. It returned two Members, and one of them was nominated by none other than the great magnate Francis Russell, Earl of Bedford, Drake's own godfather. Now for the first time perhaps, that connection was gathering its rewards. Bedford's influence was profound. He was warden of the stanneries, Lord Lieutenant of Devon and Cornwall, and controlled several parliamentary seats, all of which he assigned to friends and relatives who would assist him in promoting his particular cause in government, the Puritan faith. Sir Francis Drake satisfied Bedford on all counts. He was the son of an old family tenant; he was his godson; he was a national hero; and he was an unbridled Puritan, a patriot who cheerfully signed the Devon Instrument of Association in 1584, proclaiming unreserved support for the queen and the Protestant succession, and who symbolized the nation's rising pride and confidence.

In 1584 Drake was elected one of the two Members for Bossiney, in Cornwall, on 28 Oct. His indenture was signed by a mere nine persons, creatures of Bedford, who controlled both the Bossiney seats, and simply presented the electors with their representative.

In 1585/6 Drake lost his seat at Bossiney. Partly is was because he was otherwise employed. Partly it arose from the death of Bedford in 1585.

In 1586 came Drake's plan to create havoc on several Spanish held ports in South America and the Caribbean. As usual court and peerage were well represented. The Earls of Rutland, Shrewsbury and Bedford, seem to have invested money in the venture, and Shrewsbury supplied the bark Talbot. Leicester contributed the Galleon Leicester, commanded by his brother-in-law, Francis Knollys, and the tiny Speedwell. Some of the main investors were connected with the navy. Sir William Winter provided the Sea Dragon; the Lord Admiral, Charles, Lord howard of Effingham, the White Lion, captained by James Erisey, a West Country man; and the Hawkins brothers, the Bark Bond (Capt. Robert Crosse), the Hope, the Bark Hawkins (Capt. William Hawkins the younger), probably the Galliot Duck (Richard Hawkins), and possibly also the Bark Bonner, whose captain, George Fortescue, had been one of Drake's circumnavigators.

On Jan 28th, 1596, 16 years after Drake was knighted, he began his last journey against the Spanish strongholds of the West Indies where after successfully accomplishing his objectives Drake passed away. As a farewell, Drake's crew ignited two captured ships and while the cannons soluted him, the water of the Caribbean Sea engulfed him.

By Indenture dated 27 Jan 1595/6 he conveyed to William Strowde of Newenham co. Devon, esq., and Thomas Drake of Plymouth gent., his brother, the mansion house, barton and demesne of Buckland Monachorum and Shirlford and all else his estate in co. Devon except the manors of Yearcombe and Sampford Spyney, to the use of him the said Sir Francis Drake and the heirs of his body lawfully, begotten with contingent remainders in default of such issues to the said Thomas Drake and the heirs of his body lawfully begotten and the right heirs of the said Sir Francis. The said Sir Francis Drake of Buckland Monachorum, knt., General of her Majesty's Fleet now in service for the West Indies, made his will dated 27 Jan. 38 Eliz. (1595-6) bequeathing to his cousin Francis Drake, son of Richard Drake of Esher co. Surrey esq., Equerry of the Queen's Stable the manor of Yearcombe, on condition the said Francis and Richard pay Thomas Drake of Plymouth gent.,2,000 pound within two years of testator's death: if not paid then the said manor to testator's said brother Thomas Drake and his heirs for ever. He bequeathed to Jonas Bodenham gent., the manor of Sampford Spyney to him and his heirs for ever. He appointed his said brother his executor and Charles Manners, Jonas Bodenham, Thomes Webbs, Roger Langesford. George Watkins and William Maynard were witnesses. The manor of Shirford is held of the Queen in chief by service of the twentieth part of a knight's fee and is worth by the year clear 10 pound. The manor of Yearcombe is held of the Queen by the service of a sixtieth part of a fee and is worth andc .,20 pound. The manor of Sampford Spyney is held of the heirs of the late Earl of Devon, service unknown and is worth andc., 3 pounds.

The mansion house and premises in Buckland aforesaid held of the Queen in chief by service of a twentieth part of a fee and worth andc., 30 pound. The messuage and premises in Plymouth held of the Mayor and Commonalty of that borough in free sonage and worth andc., 3 pound. 3 messuages and premises in Yearcombe are held of that manor by fealty and are worth andc., 3 pound. He died 28 Jan last past without heir of his body and his wife Elizabeth survives him dwelling at Buckland, Thomas Drake is his brother and heir and was at his brothers death aged 40 years.

The following extract, taken from the codicil to his will, made on board ship the day before his death, wherein he refers to Richard Drake of Esher, of the Ashe family, as his cousin, indicated that his grandfather, Edmund Drake, as either a brother or first cousin of John Darke of Exmouth, who married Margaret, daughter of John Cole, although it is possible, as claimed by some, that he was a son of Gilbert or Robert, brothers of John, no record of whose descendants is in existence.

"In the Name of God, Amen. The seaven and twenteth day of Januarie the eighth and thirtieth yere of the Raigne of Our Soveraigne Ladie Elizabeth by the Grace of God of England, Frannce and Irelande Queene, Defender of the Faith, etc.:

"I, Frauncis Drake, of Buckland and Monathorn, in the Countie of Devon, Knight, Generall of Her Majesties Fleete, now in service for the West Indyes, beinge perfect of minde and memorie (Thankes be therefore unto God), although sicke in bodie, doe make and ordaine my last Will and Testament in manner and form followinge, viz.: First. I commend my soul to Jesus Christ my Savior and Redeemer, in whose righteousness I am made assured of everlastinge felicitie, and my bodie to the earth to be entombed at the discretion of my executor. Item, I give, devise and bequeath unto my well-beloved Cosen, Frauncis Drake, the sonne of Richard Drake of Eshire, in the Countie of Surrey, Esquier, one of the Quiries of Her Majesties Stable, all that my Mannor of Yarckombe, scituate, lyinge and beinge within the Countie of Devon, with all the rights, members and appurtenances to the same, belonginge, or in anie wise appertaininge. To have and to hould all and singular the saied Mannor of Yarckomb, with all the rightes, members and appurtenances unto the same belonging, unto the saide Frauncis Drake, Sonne of Richard Drake, his heirs and assignes for ever."

Among the families Drake may have met through the Champernownes none was more prestigious than the Blounts, who were connected by the marriage of Catherine Blount, sister of the 5th Lord Mountjoy, to John Champernowne. Catherine Champernowne, John's sister,was the mother of Sir Walter Raleigh and of the Gilberts. Catherine and John were the nephews of Kate Ashley, Queen Elizabeth's faithfull servant. In 1592 the 7th Lord Mountjoy leased to Sir Francis Drake fishing rights on the Tavy, and his younger brother, Charles, was a volunteer aboard Drake's Revenge during the Armada campaign. Lord Arundel, who married Lady Mountjoy's niece, also willed Drake a ring.

The Tower Room at Berkeley Castle contains a collection of mid-17th century furniture which is believed to have belonged to Sir Francis Drake.

John Sugdens book, "Sir Francis Drake" states on pp. 173-5, regarding Elizabeth Sydenham and other relations, "Brief as it was, Drake's experience in the Commons had been valuable, strengthening his power and widening his circle of influential friends". An impressive array of gentlemen had floundered with him in the committees- Sir Drew Drury, Sir William Herbert, Sir Robert Germin, Sir Thomas Manners, Sir William More, Sir Nicholas Woodroofe, Sir Henry Neville... and on and on, all of them potential supporters, some possible investors for future voyages.

Sir Francis further advanced his new status in 1585. He married again, but the bride, young Elizabeth Sydenham, was very different from the wife he had lost two years before. Mary Newman had belonged to the society from which Drake himself had sprung, from people who lived a step ahead of want and insecurity, and whose world was dominated by their economic betters. Elizabeth, by contrast, was no simple sailor's wife, but the sophisticated and elegant heiress of one of the wealthiest men in the West Country, a member of an influential family accustomed to privileged company. The difference between Mary and Elizabeth measure the distance Drake had travelled.

Elizabeth was many years his junior. According to legal proceedings held at Tavistock in 1598 she would have been born about 1562 and was in her early twenties at the time she married. Of her appearance we perhaps have an indication. Dedicating a poem to her in 1596, Charles Fitzgeffrey called her 'the beauteous and virtuous Lady Elizabeth', but since dedications were then made by permission and often to solicit favour, and since the poet's patrons were the Rowse family of Halton, Elizabeth's trustees, we may excuse Fitzgeffrey if he was merely being gallant. Two portraits, however, would bear him out, although neither is fully authenticated. They show a regal lady in the full and elaborate dresses then fashionable, slender and trim, with long, sensitive hands, dark hair, and an oval face displaying a firm narrow chin and a petite mouth betokening some humour.

Nothing tells of how they met, but it may have been at Fitzford, in the parish of Tavistock, not far from Buckland. Drake knew the Fitz family, and at one time acted as trustee for another of their properties at Lewisham, and the wife of John Fitz, head of the household, was Mary Sydenham, one of Elizabeth's four aunts. Or perhaps he met her through the many social occasions that brought the West Country elite together. Certainly, Miss Sydenham was well connected and made a good marriage. Her paternal grandfather had been Sir John Sydenham, Sheriff of Somerset, and his wife, who survived until 1608, was Ursula Brydges, the sister of John, first Lord Chandos. Their extensive brood were significant local figures. The oldest of Elizabeth's five paternal uncles, Sir John Sydenham, inherited the estate of Brympton d'Every. An aunt, also called Elizabeth, married the Sheriff of Devonshire.


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Francis Drake


Elizabeth Sydenham

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The father of Drake's bride was Sir George Sydenham, sometime sheriff of Somerset, who had inherited from his father the estate of Combe Sydenham in the same county and had added to it since. In 1561, for example, he had purchased the manor of Sutton Bingham from Sir William Kayleway of Rockborne. He played the local benefactor, providing 15 pounds per year from his properties at Combe Sydenham and nearby Stogumber for the upkeep of six cottages he had donated to poor widows, and was a pillar of the county administration, regularly mustering the local levies at Bridgwater. Sir George's wife, Elizabeth, was of no less distinguished lineage than the Sydenhams. She was the daughter of Sir Christopher Hales, once Attorney-General to Henry VIII and the prosecutor of Wolsey, More, Fisher and Anne Boleyn.

As the only child (see visitation of Gloucestershire, p. 122) of such a formidable union, Miss Elizabeth Sydenham had a most secure future long before she met Sir Francis Drake. She stood to inherit a battery of family properties, and in time she did so: the house of Combe Sydenham, the manors of Sutton Bingham and Bossington; tracts of land in Bossington, Selworthy, Lucombe, Porlock, Sutton Bingham, Coker, Wester Colcombe, Combe Sydenham, Stogumber and Monksilver, all varying in size and tenure, some held from the Crown and others from the Dean and Chapter of Bath and Wells; and the patronage of the rectories of Stogumber, Monksilver, Puriton and Woolavington. No ordinary bride, indeed.

Undoubtedly Sir Francis would have liked to bequeath the bulk of his estate to [brother] Thomas because that would have preserved it in the hands of the Drake family. The difficulty was that Buckland Abbey and the manors of Sampford Spiney, Sherford and Yarcombe had been assigned to Lady Drake by the terms of her marriage settlement and there was thus a very real danger that on Drake's death they would pass to the Sydenhams. This awkward situation was further complicated by Drake's wish to provide for Francis Drake of Esher and Jonas Bodenham. After his death, Lady Drake married Sir William Courtenay of Powderham.
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