On this Day

15th November 2022
On this Day

445 years ago today, five small ships sailed out of Plymouth Sound in Devon, England at five o’clock in the afternoon. Leading the fleet was a 120 ton racing galleon named The Pelican, later to be renamed The Golden Hinde. Supposedly on a diplomatic mission to Alexandria, Egypt, the ships’ true destination was a mystery. Why would a diplomatic mission equip their ships with heavy armament guns? More importantly, why was such a mission headed by the notorious Francis Drake?

The preceding century is frequently referred to as the “Age of Exploration” for Europe. Ships from this continent sailed all over the world in search of spices, precious metals, territories and slaves. These maritime voyages were particularly profitable for Spain, who used silver mined in Peru to fund wars and stimulate trade, strengthening political influence. Spain’s status as a global superpower was tied to its silver production. Their treasure ships became key targets for nations wanting to follow in Spain’s success.

 Queen Elizabeth 1

What followed the original departure in the November of 1577 became one of the most famous examples of English success at sea. At the time, few of the crew knew that they were about to be part of Drake’s most audacious mission yet. To avoid a war between Spain and England, Queen Elizabeth I herself struck a deal with him. Drake would serve as a privateer for England, raiding the underbelly of the Spanish Empire. Returning eighteen months later having completed a circumnavigation of the globe not having been able to find the fabled Northwest Passage. 

 NPG Drake

copyright national portrait gallery

November 15th 2022 marks 445 years to the day that Sir Francis Drake set out to plunder silver from Spanish territories, making history in the process. The storms in the English channel drove Drake’s fleet back before they reached Falmouth, forcing them to return to Plymouth for repairs. It would be another month before the ships were able to set off again.


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