Drake Starts round the world voyage
The true purpose of Drake’s great voyage is still much debated: was it simply a piratical expedition to take Spanish treasure – early on he did indeed capture a Spanish vessel, the Santa Maria, off the coast of Africa. Or was it to set up British outposts in the New World and stake claims to territory in the Americas? To find the legendary North West Passage? Or was it indeed planned as a circumnavigation?
Because of the delicacy of the situation in Europe the voyage was clouded in secrecy. Spain was very much a threat to England, and there were disagreements on policy at home, where Burghley was determined on avoiding conflict with the Spanish. Thus cartographic details were withheld from geographers, and few details of the planning of the voyage are clear.
Queen Elizabeth is thought to have financed the fleet of five vessels, Drake’s Pelican as flagship, and including a tiny supply boat The Swan. When they set sail there were 164 mariners, but as ever in this era the attrition rate was fearsome.
The voyage in fact started from Plymouth on November 15, but adverse conditions forced them to return to Falmouth , some of their ships already damaged and in need of work. They began again, once more from Plymouth, on December 13, the three leading lights of the voyage being Drake, Thomas Doughty, and John Wynter. They let it be known that Alexandria was their destination, but Doughty, to his later cost, let the cat out of the bag to Lord Burghley that they intended action against the Spanish in the Americas.
Francis Drake , the most experienced seaman, assumed command of the fleet, eventually trying and executing his rival Doughty in very controversial circumstances when they arrived in South America.
The voyage was an epic one, lasting three years: several Spanish treasure ships were seized; cities sacked; California and even Oregon or Vancouver reached, before the Pacific was crossed and the Cape of Good Hope rounded on the return to England.
Drake’s voyage was to prove historically significant: a Protestant power had staked claims in the New World; Spain had been insulted, robbed and humiliated; and the English view of the world as theirs to grab and of their seamanship as second to none was reinforced.