Sir Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake
by Unknown artist
circa 1581
NPG 4032

The most famous of all English seafarers, Drake earned his fame and fortune through his skilful seamanship and outstandingly successful piracy. His circumnavigation of the globe from 1577 to 1581 involved a number of very profitable raids on Spanish ships and ports. Drake's increasingly frequent and serious attacks upon the Spanish during the 1580s were an important factor contributing to Philip II's decision to launch the Armada against England in 1588. Drake served as vice-admiral of the English fleet which defeated the Armada.

In 1568 John Hawkins undertook his third slave-trading journey to Africa. This voyage was made up of six ships, two of which were owned by Queen Elizabeth, and one that included Francis Drake among its crew. Although this voyage was not a success as a Spanish fleet captured some of the ships, both Hawkins and Drake managed to escape. They returned to England with their reputations intact, if not the great profits they had hoped for.

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