For a couple of years in the mid 1570s Elizabeth nixed proposed exploration projects for fear of Spain. At the same time she was discussing a secret voyage with a select group of Councillors – not west or north this time – but southwards.
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I still have more podcasts to recommend to you all – seriously I’ve been doing a lot of lying around eating bon bons and dreaming of far far away. This week, a shout out for Paul Kerensa and his British Broadcasting Century, a podcast about 100 Years of the BBC and Radio. Paul is also a comedian, and is a congenial and upbeat presenter; the story is a fascinating one, it’s amazingly how relatively recent has been the explosion of media and communication. The podcast uses a liberal amount of rarely-heard clips from broadcasting’s golden era too. I think you will enjoy it – so that’s British Broadcasting Century, available at all good podcatchers, and also at bbcentury.podbean.com
Last week then, we left Francis on his way to Pheasant’s Bay from Plymouth, with two ships, and as it happens two brothers, John and Joseph Drake. By July 1572 they arrived, to find a warning note from a fellow Englishman, John Garret, warning them that they’d been rumbled, that the Spanish knew about their hideout. This worried Drake not one bit, and he stayed exactly where he was, setting up camp, and having his men build 3 pinnaces from their supplies. Before long they were joined by another English raider, James Raunse, whose crew joined Drake’s venture for a while. He brought with him two prizes, and here we get yet another type of ship, a shallop – a small sailing ship designed for war – and a larger Spanish vessel. Thus was Drake, for a while, re-inforced.
Now, I promised faithfully that I would not treat you like the 12 year old me, and overburden you with the finer details of Drake’s derring do, so we’ll summarise. Drake was waiting for the right time to attack his big prize, Nombre de Dios, but you know, the devil finds work for idle fingers, so raiding ensued including the taking of two Spanish ships. Part of the cargo were several black slaves who assured Drake that the people of Nombre de Dios were in a right old panic about the Cimarrones, the escaped black slaves who lived in the isthmus, furious for revenge on their previous Spanish tormentors; Nombre de Dios was therefore preparing their defences. Drake freed the enslaved Africans, as was his wont; meanwhile though his men were spooked and wanted to back out from the attack on Nombre de Dios. So a lesser man than Drake might well have given up at that point and gone raiding in other directions; but such was not his way. Again, he ignored the warnings and stuck to his path and carried his men with him.
Drake’s raiding party on Nombre de Dios numbered just 73 men, a pitiful number with which to attack one of the central entrepot on the Treasure route. As they marched into the town, the church bells pealed in alarm and terror; the tiny English contingent beat drums and blew trumpets, making themselves as terrifying as they could. At the other end of the square they met the armed town’s militia which fired a volley before the English charged them; as they joined battle, John Drake’s contingent charged in from another direction in a proper old strop – and the Spaniards decided now would be a good time to find somewhere else to be – and the town belonged to Drake.
For a short while, it seemed that Drake’s boat had come in; for there in the Governor’s house was a fortune, as was reported:
a pile of bars of silver, of (as near as we could guess) seventy foot in length, of ten foot in breadth, and twelve foot in height, piled up against the wall.
But in ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ fashion, Drake didn’t what to take that yet – first he wanted to check out the town treasury; off they went to try and break the door down, which proved tough and time consuming – at which point Drake fainted and collapsed, trailing blood from his leg. He’d been wounded during the fight with the militia, but decided to ignore it. Thoroughly spooked, Drake’s men decided their captain was more important than the Governor’s silver and they beat a hasty retreat to the ships, worried that if Drake died they would not get home. The attack, just when seemingly crowned with success, had turned to ashes again. As far as the Spaniards were concerned, the attack was a horrible shock; but probably not bloody. A contemporary Portuguese report claimed just one Spaniard died – a number which grew during the following compensation claims by the Spanish just like the proverbial fisherman’s tale, until it numbered 75.
As the English nursed their wounds there’s a nice exchange, rather reminiscent of the Richard and Saladin story; of the Spanish Captain sending a messenger asking if he was the same Drake as terrorised them last year, and did he poison his arrows – many of the English, by the way, still favoured their bows. The letter ended by asking if Drake would like the Spanish to supply them with anything they needed – Drake of course said, no no, we are fine and overloaded with fine things; at which point his men no doubt stifled incredulous objections. Drake overloaded the Spanish messenger with gifts and sent him back to the town. By such acts did Drake gain his reputation.
The design on Nombre de Dios though, was now a busted flush; it was re-inforced with men and artillery and a new earthwork busily constructed; James Raunse threw up his halyards and abandoned Drake for seas anew. It’s at this point, ships floating uncertainly outside Nombre de Dios that Diego enters Drake’s story. Diego was probably an escaped black African slave, held at Nombre de Dios. The Memoires of a preacher with the expedition recorded
one Diego, a negro … came and called to our pinnaces to know whether they were Captain Drake’s? And upon answer received continued entreating to be taken on board, though he had first three or four shot made at him, until at length they fetched him.
Diego would prove an essential aid to Drake – and a long term and close companion. In the short term, he helped the Englishmen build new shelters as they withdrew from Nombre de Dios. Drake meanwhile tried to keep momentum going launching a raid on Cartagena, and cutting out a 250 ton ship with his tiny pinnaces – but most of the valuable prizes lay safely under the guns of the town, warned by recent events. Drake and his company stared into the mouth of the monster of failure.
It was Diego who provided the solution – talking of the Cimarrones, and the potential to ally with them. He was duly sent with John Drake to make contact with the Cimarrones while Drake planned for a new venture – to attack the mule trains from Panama to Nombre de Dios. Drake is often accused of being something of a seat of the pants sort of bloke, but here he was clearly planning head, planning hidden caches of supplies for the aftermath of any attack. By 14th September 1572, Drake and the leaders of the Cimarrones had met and partied on the good ship Pascha, and the alliance was sealed. The Spanish recognised the danger
This league between the English and the Negroes is very detrimental to this kingdom because being so thoroughly acquainted with the region and so expert in the bush, the Negroes will show them methods and means to accomplish any evil design they may wish to carry out and execute.
The partnership was also very important to Drake, and grew stronger the closer they worked together. Drake spoke of the Cimarrones with affection and respect all his life; one of his sailors later remarked to a Spaniard that
‘those Negroes were the brothers of Captain Francis, who loved them dearly.’
Through the winter Drake’s raids continued, but by January 1573, his expedition had suffered further disaster; both John Drake and Joseph Drake had died from wounds and plague; and over 40% of the Plymouth seaman had died of a disease called Yellow Jack. But in the midst of this misery, Cimarron scouts arrived in camp to report that the Flota had arrived, and mule trains were duly starting their torturous journey across the isthmus from Panama.
In February 1572 For 2 weeks, 48 men fought their way through the countryside, 30 Cimarrons and 18 Englishmen, and eventually set an ambush and awaited the mule train. But disappointment had one more hook to fling; a lone Spanish raider came upon one Robert Pike, and despite Drake shouting ‘don’t tell him Pike!’ raised the alarm – and most of the mule train returned to Panama. The name of Private Pike was presumably mud. Drake didn’t shout anything of course, that was just a Dad’s Army reference. Sorry.
None the less Drake persisted, continuing to raid with the Cimarrons, until in March he by chance hooked up with another French raider, one William le Testu, and a new party joined the alliance. Once again a return to the original plan called, and an ambush on the mules train at a difference place. On 1st April, the Cimarrons reported a train of 200 mules with 45 soldiers on it’s way. Now at last the ambush met with success – the Spaniards were driven off with but 2 wounded among the corsairs – including le Testu it has to be said. The mule train yielded 200,000 gold pesos, far more than the raiders could carry, but 100,000 Pesos made it back to the ships, the rest was hidden. More drama awaited though – really there’s so much to tell it’s almost impossible to tell this tale in one episode. Anyway, with the Spaniards in pursuit, Drake appeared at the coast to rendez vous with the rest of his ships and men – to find his ships nowhere to be seen, replaced instead by seven Spanish Shallops. Ooh ‘eck. I might have cried at this point but not Drake; he had a raft constructed, and together with a small group set off through the surf under the Spanish guns to find his pinnaces – which he duly did. In the phrase much beloved of the outraged political commentors on Twitter, you just couldn’t make this up.
One more venture remained; as the pursuit died down, the English returned to try to dig up the treasure they’d buried; they found very little, and found that Le Testu had been discovered, his head removed by the Spanish, and placed on a spike outside the town. But now at last, Drake turned for home.
It’s quite a story, obviously. It’s reasonably difficult to argue that Drake was not here at the height of piracy – while this was going on, his queen for example was trying to patch things up with Phillip II. Drake’s defence would be twofold; one of vengeance against the Spanish for their treachery and the death of his compatriots at San Juan de Ulua; and the cause of Protestantism. Whether you accept this defence is of course up to you, but it is at best a private war, unsanctioned by his government.
On 9th August 1573, the preacher at St Andrews church in Plymouth noticed that he was losing the attention of his audience; whispers spread through the congregation, heads turned. And then to his outrage, they started leaving the church, streaming down to the harbour. Because Drake had returned. When all the divvying up was done, Drake’s take was £20,000, and his status and position and that of Mary Drake were transformed.
For the next few years Drake drops from sight for long periods; all we see of him really is his ferryman’s role in the Rathlin Island massacre. Part of the reason for the silence is that Elizabeth was at this point squishing many ideas for exploration or at least those that risked Spanish fury; in 1575 Phillip had agreed that English ships could trade freely at Spanish ports in the Netherlands. Around this time, adventurers like Richard Grenville had been pitching plans to go south – to and through the Magellan Straits into the Pacific. Elizabeth nixed the ideas for fear of upsetting Phillip.
Drake was now a man recognised by the powerful; the idea of bursting into the pacific was of great interest to the more aggressive privy Councillors like Walsingham and Leicester; how Drake’s next, and maybe greatest project was hatched, may derive from conversations between Walsingham and Drake building on the ideas pitched by Grenville. Drake’s own memory was of being put in front of the Queen herself – the lowly son of a yeoman had reached the fairy at the top of the greasy Christmas tree, just to mix my metaphors. Drake’s queen looked at him and said
Drake, so it is that I would gladly be revenged on the king of Spain, for dyvers injuries that I have received
She then threw a bit of flattery his way, that
He was the only man that might do this exploit, and withal craved his advice therein
Nothing daunted, Drake did indeed give the boss his honest opinion that
Small good was to be done in Spayne, but the only way was to annoy him by his indyes
A line which sounds vaguely Carry On Queenie somehow, to annoy him by his indyes, but I am assured that’s how they spoke back then. The conversation was interesting, because in the marching orders that follow, there was of course no mench of annoying Phillip by his indies or indeed his outies, it was all about exploration and discovery, and trade. But the assumption was that there’d be plunder a plenty along the way; and Elizabeth was already well aware that this was a deep water project, not more of the same at all. On this trip though, Drake would certainly qualify as a privateer rather than pirate – and sponsored this time by the highest in the land.
Now, Queenie was also probably guilty of flattery when she said Drake was the only man who might do this exploit, for Elizabeth was a clever manager of the men around her and make no mistake. But for this planned foray into the deep blue sea well, she was probably speaking nothing but the truth. It would seem logical for the originator of the idea, Richard Grenville to be asked back – but Grenville though madly brave and stiff necked, was no mariner. Drake had proved his chops.
I’m going to pile more on you about this point, because I believe this is one of those occasions when to appreciate the wild, mad courage of the Elizabethan seafarers, a bit of effort is required. 3 years back, my mate Pat took me out on a yatch. We did have a lovely time sailing over to the Isle of Wight, although it was November so, you know, my other pal Charlie was not lying on the prow in a bikini and sun tan oil this time round. But as I held the tiller, I kept my eye on a computer, which showed my direction, all manner of positional and meterological data, and all the positions and trajectories of ships around me. This experience was a long way from the Elizabethan experience.
First there’s the lack of knowledge about the world, the layout of which while less bonkers that the Hereford Mappa Mundi of the 14th century, was still relatively nutty. Specifically here’s a thing. There is a lot of talk and indeed obsession about the straits of Magellan, and most treacherous passage from Atlantic into Pacific; mariners took their lives in their hands just saying the name, a bit like saying Voldemort. And yet a perfectly decent passage was to be had simply by going a bit further south, round cape horn – so why didn’t seafarers choose safety? The reason was that they were convinced that the continent was attached to a massive Antarctic Continent, and that there was no cape Horn, no way round the borttom. So through the straits they went, life in hands.
The vast majority of sailors in the 16th century and before of course had the kind of coastal training Drake had gained in the days of his youth. The problem was to make sure you didn’t fall foul of shoals, currents, lee shores that sort of thing; pilots were available to help you into port, rutters, written pilots books, were used to help navigate new areas by pointing out local coastal features to take note of. None of that was available sailing in the New World, where charts were partial and unreliable or non-existent. So if you found land, you’d spend a lot of time swinging the lead – literally, chucking a weight into the sea to see the depth below you, pulling it up and examining the deposit on it to help see what dangers lay below and how deep. You might be on the point of telling the Master that it was fearful shallow and rocky, just as the crunch sounded from the unseen shoal.
Not only did you venture into uncharted or poorly charted territory, finding where you were in the deep blue sea was very difficult. There were devices now to help with Latitude – Quadrants sighted on the sun for example, or cross staffs, and compasses. Even these were terrifically inaccurate though – try taking an accurate reading on a pitching deck, or on a cloudy day. No one was able to cope with true north and magnetic north, so there was built in inaccuracy, but direction was probably the easiest. There was no way to calculate longtitude. So how did you know where you were? Well, dead reckoning, basically. Based on calculations of speeds, which by the late 16th century were based on knots. You dumped a chip log over the back of the ship, with a line attached with knots tied in it. The number of knots that went through your fingers in 28 seconds was how fast you were going.
OK, so dead reckoning, then. So named due to the likelihood of that being the outcome. I’m guessing we’ve come in this direction, at this speed so that means we’ve come this far. OK skipper? So we are fine, nowhere near any reefs or shoals? CRUNCH.
One more thing then about this exploring malarky. I suspect these days that the sympathy is very much with the native populations that would have to deal all over the globe with some pretty horrendous consequences of globalisation, in terms of disease, murder, and enslavement, and view encounters with that lens – which is fair enough. But in doing that, we should not forget that on an individual level every encounter between unknown local inhabitants and new arrivals was fraught with danger and potential for misunderstanding on both sides. Mariners were often thousands of miles from home in potentially hostile territory a long way from a safe haven.
So how am I going to get a shufti on here? I am going to summarise heavily, Drake’s possibly finest achievement – his circumnavigation of the globe, summarise it horribly. Drake’s little fleet was composed of 5 ships, including the Pelican, the building of which he oversaw himself. It is absolutely titchy, 80 tons, and you can go and see a replica of this most famous ship in Southwark, which became of course the Golden Hind. I have stood looking at it many times, and utterly beautiful she is. Never actually been on it, mea culpa. The total number of sailors on the fleet that set sail was 160, with a very wide range, from gentlemen in the form of the Doughties to all the professions including preachers as well as the practical stuff. And of course Drake’s personal manservant, Diego, now resident in England.
Off they set from Plymouth on 13th December 1577, in full secrecy, south to west Africa, with the first main thrill of violence in capturing some Spanish and Portuguese fishing vessels in the Canaries; and picking up a pilot, Nuno da Silva which was probably worth all the rest. Then further south to cross the line in February 1578 after 60 days of travelling, reaching the coast of Brazil at the start of April. Down the coast they crawled, comparing and improving charts as they went. As they went, a boil was swelling in the fleet, a boil with the name Thomas Doughty swimming in its pussy heart, and a series of disputes and irritations, with accusation of Doughty’s arrogance and light fingeredness. As a Gentleman, Doughty clearly sas himself as due privileges – and even claimed to be Burghley’s agents. Drake demoted him to the tiny flyboat the Swan. This did not help Doughty’s mood. More later.
As they worked their way south, there are examples of Drake’s style and approach with the native Americans they met, but also the dangers thereof. Drake’s desire was to show to the tribes they met that dealing with the English was so much better than dealing with Spaniards, or Portuguese or French. They’d make contact by leaving gifts on the coast, and waiting for people to appear and then take the relationship from there; the golden rule, in the words of a mariner, Edward Cliffe, was that Drake
‘would suffer no man to hurt any of them.’
None the less not all the encounters were happy, and it’s very difficult to get inside the heads of the people they met from this distance and evidence. So just north of the Magellan Straits, at an encounter on the beach, one Thomas Wynter, demonstrating a bow, broke a string; and apparently with the idea that the English were defenceless the locals attacked; 2 English were killed, and one local. Of course we only have English accounts – what really sparked this violence? How did the native Indians really view these visitors? I doubt we’ll ever really know – but it re-inforces the point that even with the collaborative approach Drake took with him, the potential for violence and misunderstanding was always present.
By this time the violence within the expedition also came to the fore; the quarrel between Drake and Thomas Doughty reached an impasse where Drake accused Doughty of treason and fostering mutiny, hotly denied. One of the captains, Winter, promised to keep Doughty safe and under guard, but Drake would not let it pass – and convened a court and jury from the crew. Doughty was condemned, protesting the legality of the court. But once judgement of death had been agreed by the crew, everything went very Elizabethan; Doughty and Drake shared a last supper together, prayed together; Doughty declared Drake his good captain – and then Doughty knelt and had his head cut off. Seriously, the past is a foreign country, and sometimes it’s tempting to suppose that every member of the Early Modern world was as mad as a box of cheese. Interpretations of this affair have varied; some have seen it as proof of Drakes arrogance and high handedness; others of his hatred of hierarchy. But essentially it looks as though Doughty adapted poorly to the egalitarian life of the sea, and Drake could not tolerate his insubordination – and he simply had to go, to preserve the health of the mission. As Elizabeth herself remarked, there can be only one master. Drake at this point made a speech to all his men, interrupting the regular and ubiquitous religious service, explaining his actions, and he did that ‘if anyone wants to leave now, they can’ sort of thing. But such was his charisma that all refused the proffered ship, and into the Magellan straits they sailed, and renamed the Pelican the Golden Hind as they did so.
They made it through in 14 days; very fast indeed, but almost immediately, two of the customary dangers came home to roost. Firstly, such little information as they had, suggested the coast was towards their North West – of course as you’ll all know from your geography, its north. Secondly a massive storm hit them, and they were anyway driven south- the ship the Marigold and all 29 of her sailors were lost. Of course re-assembling in a sea no one knew was hard – and at this point the Captain of the ship the Elizabeth gave up anyway, and turned for home into the Atlantic.
As they sailed northwards then along the coast, Drake realised that this massive southern continent had been a myth; and started a happy process of claiming any land that looked unoccupied as the possession of his queen, quite beyond his queen’s ability to enforce of course, and which it goes without saying involved no discussion with the locals.
Encounters with native peoples continued, usually peacefully, but on the odd occasion with disastrous result; as one incident when two English men were killed probably by the Arau-canians, who were continuing to fiercely resist the Spanish conquistadors incidentally. When the boat carrying the remaining English reached the safety of the ship, Drake was urged to turn his culverins on the Arau-canians but he refused
‘We might have taken a revenge upon them at pleasure with our great shot out of our ship, but the General would not for special causes consent to it.’
From here, Drake returned to pillage; at the start, the Spanish had no idea of the violence that was to fall on them – they had no enemies in the Pacific, and did not expect Drake, allowing him to ransack totally unprepared towns like Valparaiso, for example. Things got harder as news spread, and Drake often found treasure hidden by the time he arrived; but pay dirt was hit with the capture of the treasure ship Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, completely unarmed, and containing treasure to the tune of £126,000. It was a massive haul.
Throughout, descriptions survive of Drake, and there are positive aspects story that emerges. OK fair dos so they were being robbed blind and without doubt didn’t buy the privateers story; but the reports emphasise Drake’s humanity. None of his prisoners were killed, the captains were treated with respect, frequently his prisoners were given gifts as they left. Ok, the gifts were usually stuff he’d stolen; but compared to the routine brutality the Spanish had inflicted in the new world, the English in Ireland, French pirates in the Caribbean – Drake impressed all with his approach. That’s not to say he was clear of brutality – when crossed he could be hard indeed; one Spaniard he suspected of hiding information was hauled off his feet by his neck with a rope to make him talk. Even here though, Jerome survived the experience. Writers also attested to Drake’s popularity with his own men
‘I endeavoured to find out if the General was well-beloved and everyone told me that they adored him,’
By April 1579, Drake was determined to turn for home. His plan was to reach the Atlantic by the fabled North-west Passage, the so-called Strait of Anian. If that failed, rather than return the way he’d come, he’d head west and try to circumnavigate – something he figured, correctly, that his Spanish pursuers would never guess he’d attempt. By June, he’d got as far north as he dared, just south of the modern Canadian border – and at least ascertained that the Strait of Anian, if it existed, was not where it was said to be.
Before attempting to cross the Pacific, Drake, needed to careen his ships, and sailed back south, possibly as far as the 38th Parallel, and there stopped. Searches a plenty have gone on to find the spot – to no avail, maybe San Francisco bay. But wherever it was, Drake and his men met the Miwok there, and not just the tribesmen, but their chief. On the basis of the meeting, Drake claimed he’d been granted lordship, and claimed the land as Novo Albion.
Sailing Westwards, Drake managed to trade at the Moluccas; in December 1579 an incident occurred for which Drake has been roundly condemned, by Miranda Kaufman in particular. 3 black Africans and a pregnant woman called Maria were left at a place called Crab Islands. They were left with food; and the interpretation is difficult. One view is that for the group to have been deserted on the basis of race seems right out of character given all we know about how Drake dealt with people; and if he’d been worried about the amount of food left, why had he not left them earlier back at Novo Albion? However the thought of 4 people deciding they wanted off on a remote island also seems a little unlikely.
By March, Drake had reached Java and by May the east African coast. By now we know that Diego his friend and manservant was probably dead; we know not how, but we know he was still alive at least in November 1579; he appears to have died near the Moluccas at some point. Then it was a matte4 of Sailing round the cape of Good Hope and up the western Coast of Africa.
So, it is September 26th 1580, and we are in the channel near Plymouth. Some fishermen as was their habit, were working their nets, when they spotted a ship in the distance coming towards them, riding low in the water and therefore clearly heavily laden. The ship approached them – without any outward suggestion of threat, and one of their number indicated to the fisherman that they wanted information. The question when it came was a strange one; not ‘where the devil are we and what is that strange accent you are using?’ or anything like that, but Is good Queen Elizabeth still alive? The fisherman said yes, she lived still – and realised that the ship they saw called The Golden Hind was in fact the Pelican returned at last, all alone.
In port though, everyone was nervous and no one could relax. There was plague in Plymouth so Drake and his sailors stayed aboard, and only received a few visitors – Mary Drake among them. But it was not just plague that held him back. News of Drake’s voyage had filtered back continually; the Portuguese and the Spaniards were besieging the English court, telling tales of devastation, often having been through the fisherman’s tale process, demanding reparation Elizabeth had a tricky decision to make; with the acquisition of the Portuguese crown and with Spanish victories in the Netherlands delivered by the Duke of Parma, Phillip’s power was truly awesome. Surely this was time for the queen of a small island to curry favour to survive, turn Drake over to Phillip like a sacrificial goat, and hand the treasure back? Afterall, it’d be cheaper than an international war and probable defeat. Her chief minister Burghley was sternly telling her that the treasure should be locked up, as should Drake, and the ill-gotten gains returned to their rightful owners; or at least tp the Spanish and Portuguese. But Hatton, Leicester, Walsingham, all the investors mark you, were saying precisely the opposite. Also fresh in Elizabeth’s mind would have been the Spanish intervention in Ireland at Smerwick, landing Spanish recruited soldiers within her kingdom to ferment rebellion. London was humming with excitement like a disturbed bees nest. Elizabeth called a Privy Council.
The Golden Hind fretted. Drake and his fellow seaman would have been well aware of the dilemma their queen faced. It was a difficult time, if there had been psychiatrists couches in the Early modern world, everyone in the Golden Hind would have been lying on them.
Eventually, a messenger arrived, and I ask you to imagine the excitement and indeed terror among the ship’s complement as Drake accepted the letter and no doubt retired to his cabin with the messenger to read and hear it. It seemed to be good news, or at least encouraging news; the queen told Drake him not to fret, and come and see her with samples of his voyage. Drake took maps and notebooks, and the two of them spend 6 hours together; the way Elizabeth reacted subsequently rather suggests that the excitement and wonder of it all won her round too. But even at this stage the deal was probably not finally sorted – Drake was told to extract something for himself, but bring the rest to London to be registered. Even yet it might be handed back, though in true Elizabethan fashion, the Queen would make jolly sure not all of it was registered.
Elizabeth played with the Spanish ambassador Mendoza, mercilessly, refusing to see him for long periods, denying multiple charges – some of which it has to be said were demonstrably untrue, others demonstrably true. She goaded Philip, ostentatiously placing three stolen emeralds in her crown for the Ambassador to see. Meanwhile she allowed Drake to take at least £24,000 from the treasure deposited at the tower for himself and his crew, probably more. The total amount is difficult to know; but it could have reached £600,000, over twice the annual revenue of the crown. Whatever the figure it was a massive windfall, and time was to prove that Elizabeth had no intention of looking a windfall in the mouth. She sensed the public mood too; and Drake, the yeoman’s son, became now a highly visible item at court, patronised and praised by the Queen, as he reportedly spent money like water to cut the requisite dash for a newly found celebrity
The Queen shows extraordinary favour to Drake, and never fails to speak to him when she goes out in public, conversing with him for a long time. She says that she will knight him on the day she goes to see his ship. She has ordered the ship itself to be brought ashore and placed in her arsenal near Greenwich as a curiosity.
Leicester and Walsingham were similarly enthusiastic, but Burghley and Sussex were not; Burghly refused a gift on the grounds that
he did not know how his conscience would allow him to accept a present from Drake, who had stolen all he had.
It has to be said that Drake was not gracious, lapping it all up basking in the Queen’s favour; and actually if you’ve see Rik Mayall as Flashman in Blackadder two, that might give you an impression. He was a public hero, feted by ordinary folk wherever he went, and many of the grandees at court hated it all, especially coming from such a commoner. So there’s a story that in 1582, Drake was at a party holding forth when the Earl of Sussex suggested that it was hardly a great feat to capture an unarmed treasure ship. Pshaw answered Drake, he was as ready to make war upon the King of Spain himself. He probably wasn’t kidding either.
On April 1 1581, Drake had brought the Golden Hind to Deptford to show the queen. London turned in force out to see the spectacle, in such numbers that they caused the collapse of a bridge that duly deposited a 100 people in the Thames mud. That evening at a magnificent feast, Elizabeth knighted the farmer’s son – and such a rise was so rare it’s not surprising if it went to Drake’s head; and indeed his fame and notoriety was European wide, with Drake sitting for numerous portraits to spread his fame. He was for England a protestant hero – little old England had taken on the beast and stolen a march, she had arrived. His voyage of 36,000 miles had dwarfed those of Vasco da Gama and Columbus, and 2 of Magellan’s three circumnavigations, while the care he’d taken of his men meant he’d lost none to scurvey, a pretty rare achievement. Cry Harry and all that.
Having said that, Drake had taken advantage of an Empire unaware of its weakness; and Phillip saw to it that his empire would not be so vulnerable again. The experiences of Richard Hawkins and Cavendish would be very different in the 80s and 90s, leading to nothing but defeat.
OK, so I said 3 episodes; that leaves us one more to cover all the rest – Frobisber, Gilbert, Raleigh and so on, and because as Drake himself wrote to Walsingham before the Armada
There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.”
And so the glory awaits you me hearties, in three weeks time, and the true glory of the complete finisher. Meanwhile I have a treat for you next week – which is a guest episode from Ben Jacobs. Ben is one of my favourite purveryors of fine podcastery, Wittenberg to Westphalia. The podcast is many years old, and is not yet at Wittenberg it has to be said, but as ever with these things the journey is every bit as good as the arrival. Next week, Ben will talk to us about one of the great stories of early Modern Europe – warfare, and the impact it had on the development of the nation state.
If the speech of podcasting is silver, then the week after I have gold in store for you – namely a week off. However don’t forget to sign up for membership of the History of England – this week for example we have an episode on John Clare the poet who found his poems in the fields and just wrote them down – and who gives us an insight into the real impact of enclose and agricultural change, and then it’s back to the story of Margaret Beaufort, so, sign up at the historyofengland.co.uk/become a member.
Have fun then everyone, see you soon, and good luck.
 Kaufman, M ODNB, Diego