January 28th, 1596: Francis Drake is Thrown Overboard

Sir Francis Drake; one of the most controversial figures in Tudor history – even by Tudor standards, which speaks volumes. You may recognise him as the potato brandishing adventurer who won Elizabeth’s heart, conquered lands anew and has a tiny ship docked up under London Bridge which can still be visited today. Well I’m here to tell you that most of that is horse-shit, and that Drake was actually a slaver, pirate and a full blown knobsack. Furthermore, he has fuck all claim on my Sunday roasties because that part is a lie too. *

A young Simon Pegg.. .er, I mean Sir Francis Drake.

Typically, like most men who have enough money to cover up their misdeeds, he was revered a hero, but in fact he was bit of a dick, and what more is that a lot of people thought it. Those who profited from his escapades, mainly himself and Elizabeth I, chose to turn a blind eye to his general cuntishness, whereas others expressed concerns regarding his unethical practices. Elizabeth’s minister, Lord Burghley to name but one. Yet when Drake died on 28th January, 1596, he was given a hero’s send-off at sea and mourned by the nation.

So what exactly did he do that was so shocking? Well, sit tight and let me begin the story of Sir Francis Drake… (well, the good bits anyway).

Francis Drake was born in Devon around 1540. His Dad, Edmund, was a bit of a protestant gobshite by all accounts, who went out of his way to rile the local Catholics who had found themselves under pressure from Henry VIII during the reformation. At this time the good Catholics folks of Devonshire began to revolt against the introduction of the New English Prayer Book, and since Edmund was a protestant preacher, he was starting to piss people off.

In 1548 Edmund was forced to flee Devon and head to Kent, moving his wife and 12 kids onto an old shipwrecked boat. Depending on who you speak to this was either due to  due to ‘religious persecution’ or the fact that he’d hit hard times so had taken to going around town, battering and robbing  people. Whatever the reason, Edmund quickly got work as a minister for the local seamen, and the young Francis was taken on as an apprentice for their neighbour, who happened to be a local ship master. The neighbour was so taken with Francis’ hard work that when he died, he left Francis a small trading ship.

Francis didn’t piss about with the boat; he seized the opportunity to join his cousin, the famous slaver, John Hawkins, (which always entertains and dismays me, as this is my Uncle’s name. and he IS NOT a pirate or a slaver. FACT!). John and Francis began to hang out on the French coast, robbing trade ships and making a bit of a name for themselves.

In 1568, the pair decided that they would up their game within the newly established African slave trade. This wasn’t really anything new for John, and he’s often credited (or blamed, as I prefer to see it) for the start of human trades out of Africa. Actually, it’s more likely that it had been happening for a while, and John was simply a more prolific slaver than any of the previous cockweasles that had been doing it. The fact that the men stole and trafficked around 12-1400 people from Sierra Leone and Guinea, and sold them to Spain, (whilst privateering every step of the journey) probably helped to cement this claim.

John Hawkins: merchant, captain and slaver shit-bag.

Francis’ life went on like this for bit, with hundreds of stories of him basically fucking over the Spanish and near escapes. Because of all his encounters with the Spaniards, and one event in 1572 whereby John and Francis had to jump overboard to escape them, he grew to venomously hate them as a race, and seemingly dedicated his life’s work to pissing them right off.

In 1573, in Nombre de Dios, near Panama, he made it his business to use mercenaries to help him rob a Spanish ‘silver train’ – a line of mules that took nicked gold from Peru to Phillip in Spain. Although his folly was a success, the fucking moron stole more than he could carry and ended up burying 20 tonnes of gold and dragging the rest through 18 miles of mountainous jungle, only to find his ships had been stolen on the other side. When he eventually built a raft and got back to himself back to his ship that was anchored offshore, the Spanish were hot on his tail and he had to flee. He still managed to escape with a shit load of gold, but when he returned, he found that Elizabeth had signed a peace treaty with Phillip of Spain. The gold now couldn’t be inventoried as this would be an admittance of piracy and would meant the Spanish could tax it (or worse, demand it back).

This forced Elizabeth to put a bit of distance between herself and Francis. Even Elizabeth knew it would take the piss to sit all chummy with Francis, Spain’s most hated man, after just telling Phillip that she’d be good. So like a kid sent to his room, Francis was forced to behave and not make a nuisance of himself for a bit.

It wasn’t long before Elizabeth and Phillip fell out again, and Francis was recommissioned by her to go mess his shit up, albeit very slyly so it could not be linked to her. By now he was Spain’s most wanted man, driving Phillip so mental with rage that he offered a reward of 20000 ducats (aprox £4million) for his capture. He also gave Francis the rather badass nickname ‘El Draque’, (the Dragon if you couldn’t guess)… like that would dissuade anybody from piracy!

Francis Drake made it his business to fuck over the Spanish ships and steal their gold, taking it back to Elizabeth I and throwing himself in her favour. Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth chose to conveniently overlook the whole slavery thing as Francis was now nicely lining everyone’s pockets and dumping a fuck-tonne of cash in the treasury. In 1581 she knighted Francis on the deck of his ship, The Golden Hinde, and later that year made him the Mayor of Plymouth. As if that wasn’t enough, Elizabeth was so wide for Francis and his achievements that the same year (and again in 1584 and 1593) she made him a MP, allowing him to take breaks when she needed him for ‘state business’ – jolly rodgering the Spanish obvs… as if you couldn’t have guessed.

Liz knighting Francis on the deck of the Golden Hind.

In 1587 Elizabeth gave Francis a licence to seize goods from Spanish ships, ‘should he come across them’, in the interest of protecting the realm. A carte-blanche for piracy. By now Francis was so high in favour he could do no wrong. In 1586, Elizabeth found out that the Spanish were so sick of the English they were planning to invade under a plot called ‘The Enterprise of England’.

It’s important to remember that Phillip was probably a bit of a bitter bastard because a few years previously Phillip had ruled England as Mary Tudor’s husband. When the devout Catholic Mary died, Phillip asked her sister, Elizabeth, for her hand in marriage in order to keep the throne and convert her to Catholicism. When she told him to get bent, he threw him dummy out of the pram and had to fuck off back to Spain, having been bested by a woman and shown up as the bell-end he really was. Now, not only had his pride been dented by the English queen, but he also had her lapdog lackey dipping his hands in his piggy bank too. Being a bit of a hot-headed arrogant fucktard by nature and having to endure this shite, and invasion must have seemed like the only answer.

By this point you may be thinking to yourself ‘HAAAA she has her dates wrong, the Armada was in 1588 NOT 1587, the knobber!!!’ Well, you’d be right, the Armada was in 1588, but this was because it had been set back a year by Francis, now Vice Admiral of the English Navy and dizzy with success. 

He set off to the Spanish Ports of Cadiz and Coruna, where he lay waste to an entire Spanish fleet and a shit-load of provisions; all needed for a successful Spanish attack on England. Also, being the lucky bastard that he was, Francis also managed to capture a Spanish treasure ship that was returning from the New world. As if that wasn’t enough, just to add extra salt in Phillips gaping pride wound, the whole magnificent affair was named the ‘singeing of the King of Spain’s Beard’… which makes me near shit laughing. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Francis Drake was a cunt, but you must admit, this is pure brilliance and it set Spain back by a year, giving the English time to better prepare.

The Spanish Armada is worth a Tudorial in itself, (or you could just watch the Battle of Blackwater episode of GoT, as that seems to have heavily ‘borrowed’ from this slice of history gold). Aside from romanticised stories of Drake playing bowls with the Spanish on the horizon, and Elizabeth riding out at Tilbury, which is more than likely bollocks anyway, the Armada is sold as one of the most magnificent naval achievements of the English. Don’t misunderstand me, it wasn’t shit, but it wasn’t as impressive of big as the history books would have us believe – well the English ones at least.

This absolute beast of a painting is descriptively entitled ‘Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 8 August 1588’, by Loutherbourg. It’s so good, I don’t even have a sarcastic comment about it. It’s kept at the national maritime Museum, but rather helpfully not on display, (like, ‘here’s what you could have won’…)

Arguably, the Spanish were stopped by a few sneaky tactics of Francis Drake’s, and the fucking shite English weather that fucking ruins everything ever all of the fucking time. In the dead of night Francis sent out fire ships towards the Spanish fleet. The Spanish shat themselves. If their boats caught fire, they were fucked; if they jumped overboard, they were fucked. Let’s be honest, who wouldn’t drop a load if a scary as shit, hell fire galleon was heading straight for their face?! The Spanish had no choice but to cut anchors, leaving them at the mercy of the channel winds, which didn’t give one single fuck and separated the fleets and blew them off-course.

This all lead to the battle at Gravelines the next day, whereby the impressive Spanish warships became unstuck due to the long time it took to reload their cannons. The English seized this opportunity to use their little nippy ship and rush in to twat the sides of the Spanish galleons. This part is where Anglicised history curriculums will let you believe that the English had a great victory, but that’s bullshit. If were talking in footy terms, it was a draw at best, with nobody winning. The Spanish were forced to retreat, some even desperate enough to run and hide in the North Sea, (imagine being desperate enough to want to go there!). The problem for the Armada now was that the ships had all cut their anchors to dodge the fireships, so were now being blown all over the shop. With no control, some ships headed North to navigate back to Spain via the Scottish and Irish coastline, logic not dissimilar to that applied by my Dad when out on a ‘quick trip’. With the Armada so spread out there was little point in the Spanish continuing.

I think it’s also important to point out here that whilst Francis Drake may now seem like a war hero, various eyewitness account tell of how he fucked off from battle and his fighting men, to do a bit of the old opportunistic plundering of the desperate Spanish ships. What a prick.

Anyway, on to the ‘throwing him overboard’ bit. Now is the time to confess, there may have been an element of deception in my title. When I said he was thrown overboard, what I forgot to say is that he was dead. I like to think of him walking the plank or being lobbed overboard for being a robdog slaver because it seems such a fitting end for such a dickhead.

However, what really happened was this. In 1595 Drake and Hawkins were up to their usual bastardly escapades when they were sent to capture the port of Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands. To cut a long story short, he failed to do this and not being one to go home empty handed, in November of that year they decided to carry on around to San Juan to take that instead. The men had just less than 30 ships and over 2000 men, but managed to fuck it up so decided to press on and have a go at Panama. The problem was that the bloody flux – dysentery to you and me – had struck the ships, killing many of the crew, including John Hawkins.

In January 1596, getting the sense that his days were numbered, Drake asked for his armour so he could meet his end in attire befitting a man of his status, and since peg legs, eye patches and striped breeches weren’t available the armour would have to do. Upon his death his crew members buried him at sea in a sealed lead lined coffin and burned two ships in his honour.

Drake being ‘thrown overboard’…in a lead coffin, with prayers, gun salutes and respect… (though not on this page).

This all sounds very noble and respectful, but actually the sickness has been ravishing though he crew for weeks and they had been dropping like flies. At the time of Francis’s death both their workforce and their supplies had dwindled to unsuitable numbers, so they would have had more ships than men capable of getting them home anyway. If you read the history books it will tell you the ships were burned out of respect, but I like to think the crew thought ‘fuck it, he’s gone, lets burn his stuff’.

So there you have it, he was thrown overboard, but as part of his burial – which he actually wanted on land so “Ha!” to him. What actually happened was he shat himself to death and his eternal resting place is deep within the very Spanish territory that he failed to claim for the English crown. I’m not sure who would’ve found this worse, him or Phillip, either way his body has never been discovered.

Elizabeth’s Armada portrait, dripping with symbolism. Seriously, if you’ve never noticed before, take a look, its not subtle at all. Her hand is not so discretely pointing to the Americas, there’s a storm through the window where the Spanish ships are sinking, nautical shit is everywhere, she has a massive crown to show who’s the boss lady and most impressively, a big bow right across her fanny. The whole painting is a big ‘Fuck you’ trolling image intended for Phillip II of Spain. I heart it so much.

*Potatoes were introduced to England a decade or so earlier by the Spanish. Drake did however bring back tobacco, so we can add ‘lung cancer pioneer’ to our list of reasons why he was a dick.

The bit about the tiny boat is true. There is full-sized a replica of The Golden Hinde anchored next to London Bridge. It’s quite cool to look at and the staff are great, but it’s not exactly the magnificent ship were led to believe it is. For starters, it looks like it’s been made for the Hobbits of the Shire because its underwhelmingly small, and whilst walking around you can’t stop wondering whether the staff change or serve as YouTube troll bait on the tube ride home. You also have a voice in your head shouting ‘IT’S NOT EVEN THE REAL FUCKING ONE’ the whole time you’re in there. However, it’s cheap – a rarity in London so take what you can get – and if you can bag a Groupon to visit the Clink Prison Museum next door, so not only do you get a good day out, but you also get the added satisfaction of fucking off London’s ridiculous, elitist tourist attraction prices. A small win, but a powerful one. 

Here’s the links:



The Golden Hind.