Sir Francis Drake

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Sir Francis Drake

by Unknown artist
oil on panel, circa 1581
71 3/8 in. x 44 1/2 in. (1813 mm x 1130 mm)
Purchased, 1957
Primary Collection
NPG 4032

On display in Room 1 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

  • Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596), Admiral and circumnavigator. Sitter associated with 39 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Unknown artist, Artist. Artist or producer associated with 6580 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The public clamoured for Drake's likeness. The demand was met in court circles by grandiose full-length portraits such as this one. Drake is fashionably dressed in a satin doublet with slashed sleeves and brilliant red jerkin and hose. The crest above his coat of arms shows the hand of God leading his ship, the Golden Hind. Technical analysis shows that the head and upper body were painted on a single board which was later extended. The painting of the tiled floor was designed to imitate marble.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • I-Spy National Portrait Gallery, 2010, p. 8
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 161 Read entry

    One of the most famous English seafarers, Sir Francis Drake is best known for his circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580. He earnt his fame and fortune through his skilful seamanship and outstandingly successful piracy; the Spanish called him El Draque (The Dragon), and his raids on Spanish shipping contributed to the decision by Philip II of Spain to launch an Armada against England in 1588. During this attack Drake acted as second in command of the English fleet. He died in 1596 during a raid in the West Indies and was buried at sea. Drake is depicted at full length in this portrait, wearing a satin doublet with slashed sleeves and a brilliant red jerkin and hose, and with his hand resting on a globe. Very unusually, the construction of the panel suggests that it was originally a bust-length portrait that has been extended through the careful addition of extra panels; there is nothing to suggest that the two sections are not of a very similar date. The crest above Drake's coat of arms, which was granted to him in June 1581, shows the hand of God leading his ship, the Golden Hind, with the inscription Auxilio Divino ('By divine aid'). Drake also took the motto Sic Parvis Magna ('Greatness from small beginnings').

  • Bolland, Charlotte, The Tudors Passion, Power and Politics, 2022, p. 114
  • Bolland, Charlotte; Cooper, Tarnya, The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12th September 2014 to 1st March 2015), p. 129
  • Clare Gittings, The National Portrait Gallery Book of Elizabeth I, 2006, p. 21
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 13 Read entry

    A portrait of a successful Elizabethan: circumnavigator; scourge of Spanish colonies and commerce; Vice-Admiral of the English navy against the Armada; well-dressed social climber – ‘So much out of so little’, says Drake’s Latin motto.

  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 25
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 25
  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 48
  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 61
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 186
  • Schama, Simon, The Face of Britain: The Nation Through its Portraits, 2015-09-15, p. 257
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 69

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1581back to top

Current affairs

Sir Francis Drake is knighted on board his ship the Golden Hind.
The heir to the French crown, François, Duke of Anjou comes to England to finalise marriage negotiations with Elizabeth I. He returns home unsuccessful the following year.
Parliament passes legislation against Catholicism.
The Jesuit missionary Edmund Campion is executed for treason.

Art and science

The mathematician Norman Robert publishes a pioneering study of magnetism The Newe Attractive
The first ballet Ballet Comique de la Reine by Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx is performed in Paris.


The Oath of Abjuration - the seven northern, Protestant provinces of the Netherlands formally renounce their allegiance to Philip II of Spain and become an independent republic, the United Provinces .
Stephen Báthory of Poland invades Russia as part of the Livonian war.
Akbar, Mughal Emperor of India, conquers Kabul (in present-day Afghanistan).
Arjan Dev becomes the fifth of the ten Sikh Gurus.

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