1540 – Born on Devonshire, England. An English admiral who circumnavigated the globe, played an important role in defeating the Spanish Armada, and was the most renowned seaman of the Elizabethan Age.
1549 – His detestation of Catholicism had its origins not only in his father’s teaching but in his own early experiences, when his family had to flee the West Country during the Catholic uprising.
1553 – When Drake was about 13 years old, he was apprenticed to a small coastal vessel plying between North Sea ports.
1563 – When he was about 23, dissatisfied with the limited horizons of the North Sea, he sold his boat and enlisted in the fleet belonging to the Hawkins family. Now he first saw the ocean swell of the Atlantic and the lands where he was to make his fame and fortune.
1569 – He married his first wife, a Cornish woman named Mary Newman.
1572 – Obtained from the Queen a privateering commission, which amounted to a license to plunder in the King of Spain’s lands—Drake set sail for America in command of two small ships, the “Pasha,” of 70 tons, and the “Swan,” of 25 tons.
1577 – He was chosen as the leader of an expedition intended to pass around South America through the Strait of Magellan and to explore the coast that lay beyond.
1578 – He set sail in December with five small ships, manned by fewer than 200 men, and reached the Brazilian coast.
– On August 21st, he entered the Strait. It took 16 days to sail through, after which Drake had his second view of the Pacific Ocean—this time from the deck of an English ship.
1579 – In July, he sailed west across the Pacific and after 68 days sighted a line of islands (probably the remote Palau group). From there he went on to the Philippines, where he watered ship before sailing to the Moluccas. There he was well received by the local sultan and appears to have concluded a treaty with him giving the English the right to trade for spices.
1580 – On September 26th, Francis Drake brought his ship into Plymouth Harbour. She was laden with treasure and spices, and Drake’s fortune was permanently made.
– He became the first captain ever to sail his own ship around the world—the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan having been killed before completing his circumnavigation—and the first Englishman to sail the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the South Atlantic.
1581 – Drake was made mayor of Plymouth, an office he fulfilled with the same thoroughness that he had shown in all other matters. He organized a water supply for Plymouth that served the city for 300 years.
1585 – He married again, his second wife, Elizabeth Sydenham, was an heiress and the daughter of a local Devonshire magnate, Sir George Sydenham.
– Elizabeth placed him in command of a fleet of 25 ships. Hostilities with Spain had broken out once more, and he was ordered to cause as much damage as possible to the Spaniards’ overseas empire.
1586 – Drake was given carte blanche by the Queen to “impeach the provisions of Spain”.
1596 – An expedition that he led to Portugal proved abortive, and his last voyage against the Spanish possessions in the West Indies was a failure, largely because the fleet was decimated by fever.
– He died on January 28th at sea, off Puerto Bello, Panama. Drake himself succumbed and was buried at sea off the town of Puerto Bello (modern Portobelo, Panama). Few men have been more famous in their lifetime.
1596 – Sir Thomas Baskerville, second in command, took the expedition home to England.
1961 – the television series Sir Francis Drake debuted on ITV, starring Terence Morgan in the title role.