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December 13, 1577 – Francis Drake Sets Off to Circumnavigate the Globe

Portrait of Sir Francis Drake, by Jocods Hondius
Sir Francis Drake, by Jocodus Hondius, National Portrait Gallery (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Francis Drake was an English explorer and sea captain – best known for the journey that began on this day, the first English circumnavigation of the globe (the second carried out in a single expedition, and third one overall).

Drake departed from Plymouth with five vessels. The two larger ships were the Pelican (which was renamed the Golden Hind on the trip) and the Elizabeth; the three smaller ones were the Marigold, the Swan, and the Benedict. Only the Golden Hind made it all the way, returning three years later with only 59 remaining crew aboard….but with a rich cargo of spices and captured Spanish treasures. How rich? The bounty came from raiding on six coastal towns and plundering thirteen Spanish ships before scuttling them – and Queen Elizabeth’s half-share of the cargo surpassed the rest of the crown’s income for that entire year.

To reward Drake, Elizabeth knighted him – and swore all his crew to secrecy about the voyage to try to keep him and England safe from Spain’s righteous fury. She also allowed him to continue his privateering, and while this contributed to the continuing deterioration of Anglo-Spanish relations, it also helped curtail Spain’s power. Indeed, once Walsingham’s spies found out about Spain’s plans to send an invasion Armada against England, Drake set out to lead a preemptive strike on the Spanish shipyard of Cadiz, which actually delayed the Armada for a year and gave time for England to mobilize their defenses – and for Elizabeth to write an incredible speech rallying her troops…. ;).

And it all started with the voyage that began 445 years ago ….


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December 13, 1577 – Francis Drake Sets Off to Circumnavigate the Globe
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