Francis Drake by an unknown artist

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    Sir Francis Drake,    by Unknown artist,    circa 1581,    NPG 4032,    © National Portrait Gallery, London
Francis Drake, one of the most renowned sailors of the Tudor age.
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)
NPG 4032
© National Portrait Gallery, London
On display in Room 1 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Francis Drake (around 1540–96) was one of the most famous sailors of the Tudor age. He lived during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

At this time there was a desire to explore the world, to find new trade routes, nations to trade with and lands to Colonise To take control of an area or a country that is not your own, especially using force, and send people from your own country to live there. . This would help make the Tudors more wealthy and powerful, and be key players on the world stage. Drake was a skilled sailor and a favourite of Elizabeth I. He was an important part of these global plans.

Analysing the portrait

  • View larger image
    Sir Francis Drake,    by Unknown artist,    circa 1581,    NPG 4032,    © National Portrait Gallery, London
Sir Francis Drake, by Unknown artist, circa 1581

Look carefully at the portrait. Take your time – look at it for at least a minute. What can you see?

    • He is wearing fashionable clothes of the time. These include a pale-coloured doublet (a close-fitting, padded jacket) made of Satin A type of cloth with a smooth, shiny surface. with slashed sleeves, a bright red cape, jerkin (sleeveless jacket) and hose (short trousers or leggings). He also has a lace ruff around his neck.
    • His red clothes would have been coloured using an expensive dye called cochineal.
    • The portrait is very large – nearly 2 m tall (about the same height as a doorway). It creates an impactful impression as well as showing that Drake could afford to Commission A formal request made to an artist to create an artwork. a portrait so big.
    • Drake has his hand on a globe, referring to his skill as a sailor. He had just returned from sailing right around the world in 1580 – the first British person to do so.
    • Drake's Coat of arms A design or shield that is a special symbol of a family, city or other organisation. , which was granted to him in 1581 by Queen Elizabeth I, 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’).
    • His Pose To sit or stand in a particular position in order to be painted, drawn or photographed. , his clothes and the sword by his side help to make him look broad and strong.
    • Drake did not make the voyage around the world alone. He was supported by a large crew. This included Diego, an African man who worked for Drake as an interpreter. No known image of Diego exists.
    • The wealth on display in this portrait came partly from Drake’s involvement in the Transatlantic slave trade The buying and selling of African people as slaves between the 1500s and 1800s, using trade routes that crossed the Atlantic Ocean. – he was one of Britain’s earliest traders in enslaved African people.
    • It also came from privateering (having official permission to raid enemy ships and steal their cargoes).
But assuredly his very name [Francis Drake] was a great terror to the enemie…
Thomas Maynarde, 1595

Why is this portrait significant?

  • The portrait is a celebration of Drake’s Circumnavigation The act of sailing all the way around something, especially all the way around the world. (voyage around the world). This made him a hero in Tudor Britain England and Wales from 1485 to 1603, when kings and queens from the Tudor family ruled.   .
  • He had recently been knighted by Elizabeth I – becoming Sir Francis Drake. His likeness (images of him) was in great demand.
  • This portrait shows Drake as elegant and courtly, rather than as the rugged adventurer and privateer he also was.
  • It is not known who painted this portrait, but we do know that Drake was painted by successful court artists such as Marcus Gheeraerts, who also painted Elizabeth I.

Who was Francis Drake?

  • Drake is best known for his voyage around the world between 1577 and 1580, becoming the first English person to do so.
  • Drake was one of the first British traders in African people. This was the early beginnings of the Transatlantic slave trade The buying and selling of African people as slaves between the 1500s and 1800s, using trade routes that crossed the Atlantic Ocean. .
  • He undertook voyages on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I as early as 1560, with his cousin John Hawkins, to West Africa. On this occasion his crew hijacked a Portuguese slave ship. They seized 300 enslaved Africans who were then sold on to Plantation A large area of land, especially in a hot country, where crops such as coffee, sugar and rubber are grown. owners in the Caribbean.
  • He became the first European to sail and explore much of the Americas. However, he didn't ‘discover’ these lands (as is sometimes said about him), as Indigenous Coming from a particular place and having lived there for a long time before other people came there. peoples were settled there long before he arrived. He landed on the east coast of North America in 1579 and named the area Nova Albion (New England).
  • While Drake was considered a hero in Tudor Britain England and Wales from 1485 to 1603, when kings and queens from the Tudor family ruled.   , he was hated by the Spanish and remembered as a pirate in Spain. They nicknamed him ‘El Draque’ (the dragon). He attacked Spanish ships carrying treasures from their Colony A country or an area that is governed by people from another, more powerful, country. in South America, and raided Spanish and Portuguese ports in the Atlantic Ocean.
  • In 1588, he was second-in-command in the fleet of ships that defeated the Spanish Armada A large group of armed Spanish ships sailing together. They were sent to attack England in 1588. . This was a key event in Queen Elizabeth I’s quest to make her country rich and powerful.

Questions

  1. Why do you think Tudor people like Francis Drake wanted to have portraits made of themselves?
  1. Do you think this portrait successfully shows Drake as wealthy and powerful? Why?
  1. What other evidence might you find in a museum or gallery that could tell you more about Francis Drake and life in Tudor times?