Biography of Francis Drake

Portrait of Sir Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake was an Elizabethan seaman famous for his exploits against the Spanish Armada.

When and Where was he Born?

1540-43, Devon, England.

Family Background:

Francis Drake was the son of a Tenant Farmer and Protestant Preacher on the Crowndale Estate of Lord Francis Russell, Second Earl of Bedford.


Within family and then went to sea at age of thirteen.

Timeline of Sir Francis Drake:

1553?: Drake works on coastal ships.

1565: He is now engaged in longer voyages to Guinea and the Spanish Main.

1567: He takes command of the ship “The Judith” and goes with Sir John Hawkins to the Gulf of Mexico but the expedition was not a success.

1569: He marries Mary Newman on 4th July.

1571: He sails on to the West Indies to tries to recoup his losses which he had made to the Spaniards.

1572: He gains a privateer’s licence from Queen Elizabeth the First and sails with two small ships the “Pasha” and the “Swan” and plunders Spanish ships off Pananma. He becomes a legend back in England. It is said he was the first Englishman to see the Pacific Ocean.

1573: Francis Drake returns to Plymouth a hero.

1577: He sets out with five ships to explore the Strait of Magellan. He changed his ship’s name en route to “The Golden Hind”. After tremendous storms in which one ship the “Marigold” is lost and one “The Elizabeth ” is forced to return home he sails alone northward to Vancouver but fails to find a North West passage into the Atlantic. He turns South again and sails across the Pacific for 68 days without sighting land. He makes his first landfall in Java.

Golden Hind replica
Replica of the Golden Hinde at Saint Mary’s Over Dock, 
Cathedral Street, Southwark (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1580: In September he finally reaches England once more via the Cape of Good Hope and was hailed as the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world. Queen Elizabeth visits him at Deptford despite Spanish Protests and gives him a knighthood.

1582: Death of his first wife who was buried on 25th January in Saint Bordeaux.

1585: He sails again to plunder Hispaniola and the Coast of Florida. He brought home with him some dispirited colonists as well as potatoes and tobacco. He marries his second wife Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir George Sydenham of Combe Sydenham, Somerset.

1587: Francis Drake pillages the Spanish port of Cadiz.

1588: Drake takes a large part in fighting the Spanish Armada in the English Channel under the lead of Vice Admiral Charles Howard. He captures the Spanish Galleon “Rosario”

1589: He sails to aid the Portuguese against Spain but is unsuccessful.

1596: He is taken ill on an expedition with Sir John Hawkins to the West Indies.

When and Where did he Die?

28th January 1596, Died at sea off Puerta Bella, Panama of dysentery.

Age at death:



1. July 4, 1569: To Mary Newman, who was buried January 25, 1582-3, in Saint Bordeaux.
2. 1585 to Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir George Sydenham of Combe Sydenham, Somerset.

Site of Grave:

He was buried at sea in a lead coffin, dressed in a full suit of armour. Despite numerous diving attempts since it has never been found.

Places of Interest:


The Hoe, Plymouth.
Buckland Abbey, Yelverton, PL2 0EY. (treasures).


National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
The Golden Hinde Educational Museum, Saint Mary’s Over Dock, Cathedral Street, Southwark.


Combe Sydenham Country Park, Monksilver, Taunton, TA4 4JG.

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