Sir Francis Drake
"But let them take heed that if they go homeward, for if I find them in my way I will surely sink them".
Born in Devon to a sea-faring family, Drake went to sea from an early age with his cousin Sir John Hawkins. His pirate raids against the Spanish ships off the coast of America brought him and his queen; Elizabeth I vast riches. In reward Elizabeth knighted him aboard his ship the Golden Hind. He further endeared himself to the Spanish when he led the English ships to victory against their invasion Armada of 1588. He is famous to this day for insisting on completing his game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe after word came of the approaching Spanish ships.
His achievements include being the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe; only one ship had achieved this before. In 1997 it was finally established to the satisfaction of the American National Maritime Historical Society that it was Drake who discovered Cape Horn in 1578, not the Dutch, who are credited with finding it in 1616.
His discovery was kept secret by Elizabeth I so that her enemies could not profit from the knowledge that there was a sea passage from the Atlantic to the rich Pacific spice markets. Drake's journey up the west coast of South America wrought havoc with the Spanish ships and he captured 26 tonnes of treasure. Further up the coast in1579 he landed in California to refit his ship and claimed the land for the Queen. This was the first English possession on the American continent.
Drake died of dysentery off Panama in 1596. In the early hours of 28th January, Drake asked a servant to help him put on his armour so that he could die like a soldier. He died an hour later and was buried at sea in a lead coffin off Porto Belo "as the trumpets in dolefull manner echoing our….lamentation for so great a loss" There is an on-going campaign to have his coffin located and returned home to Plymouth.
By his skill and daring Francis Drake helped open the Americas to the English nation and in doing so would later sew the seeds of future wealth, status, influence and empire.