Sir Francis Drake(1540-1596), Admiral and circumnavigator
Sitter associated with 39 portraits
Born in Devon, Drake went to sea at a young age and earned his fame and fortune by skill and piracy against the Spanish. In 1557 he and his cousin John Hawkins sailed to Africa and became England’s earliest recorded slave traders. After leading two expeditions to the West Indies, Queen Elizabeth I granted him a privateer’s commission, effectively authorising him to plunder Spanish ports in the West Indies. In 1577 Elizabeth commissioned him to lead an expedition to South America through the Straights of Magellan. Drake’s ship, the Pelican (later renamed the Golden Hind) was the only ship to reach the Pacific. He arrived back in Plymouth in 1580, becoming the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. In 1585 he commanded a fleet of 25 ships and sailed to the West Indies, plundering Spanish ports and taking Santiago in the Cape Verde Islands, Cartagena in Colombia, St. Augustine in Florida and San Domingo in the Dominican Republic. In 1588, Drake served as second-in-command to Admiral Charles Howard in the English victory over the Spanish fleet, known as the Spanish Armada. In 1596 Elizabeth enlisted him for another voyage against Spain in the West Indies, but it failed. He died off the coast of Panama and was buried at sea.
More on Sir Francis Drake: Tudor & Jacobean Portraits book in our Shops | Elizabethan Treasures: Miniatures by Hilliard and Oliver catalogue in our Shops
by Unknown artist
etching, early 17th century
after Unknown artist
woodcut, published 1684
View a wide collection of video content on our YouTube channel from past projects to our latest films.
Artist and sitter interviews
Get insights into creating portraiture from BP Portrait Award 2020 artists and their sitters.
Watch our film created to say ‘goodbye’ to the Gallery before we closed for our major transformation project.