Study Notes

Early Elizabethan England (1558-1588): Francis Drake

AQA, Edexcel, OCR

Last updated 15 Jul 2024

Francis Drake was an English sailor during the Elizabethan Era who is famous for his raiding of Spanish ships in the Atlantic and later the Pacific. He was made a knight in 1581. His nickname was ‘The Dragon’ or ‘El Draque’ given to him by the Spanish.

Drake was also famous for his Raid on Cadiz in 1587 and was Vice Admiral during the Spanish Armada. Drake was a continued thorn in the side of the Spanish due to these events and his continually attacking of Spanish shipping. He was hated by Philip II of Spain who placed a bounty of Drake’s life equalling about £4 million modern UK pounds.

Between 1577 and 1580, Drake circumnavigated the world setting off from Plymouth and exploring the coasts of South American, Central and North America, the modern day Philippines, and Africa before returning to Plymouth. The initial launch was stopped by bad weather.

It is important to remember that Drake did not set out with the challenge of being the first Englishman to sail all the way around the globe, but to attacked Spanish shipping and colonies in an attempt to break the monopoly that Spain had on shipping in the New World. During the circumnavigation, Drake encountered the Native Americans in modern day California, who welcomed him and his crew. Drake would often claim lands for Elizabeth in the New World which set up the practice of claiming other lands for England.

However, after Drake had completed his circumnavigation it was clear that England was a strong maritime power, one that would eventually rule over a quarter of the globe.

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