Francis Drake the first Englishman to sail round the world.
The famous naval commander who defeated the Spanish Armada.
The most famous sailor of his generation.
Came from a modest background. The eldest of eleven children, Francis was born on a farm just a few miles from Buckland Abbey. Buckland was the last Cistercian Monastery to be built in England and was founded in 1278 by Lady Amicia the Dowager Countess of Devon as an act of remembrance to her only son who’d been poisoned.
The monks farmed the land for almost 300 years until Henry VIII who bitterly opposed the wealth and power of the Catholic Monasteries, closed them down.
Buckland Abbey was sold to the fiercely Protestant Grenville family who demolished part of the church, converting it into a private home. Sir Richard Grenville was a professional soldier and sailor with a violent temper who dreamed of sailing around the world and of wrestling the control of the oceans from the Catholic Spanish Empire, which he detested. In this he was not alone.
Francis Drake, a devout Protestant, had gone to sea as a young man. On his first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World in 1568 he’d been tricked out of a fortune by the Spanish. He exacted his revenge in a daring and carefully planned raid on the town of Nombre de Dios on the Spanish Main earning him the name of “El Draco” the Dragon.
Two of his brothers died on that expedition leaving Francis even more determined to wage his private war on the Spanish Empire. The Spanish controlled the Pacific Ocean transporting silver and gold from mines in Peru and Mexico to Panama and from there to Spain. Drake like Grenville, realised that if he could cut the flow of Spanish treasure in the Pacific it would strike a blow at the very roots of their empire.
Unlike Grenville, Drakes timing was perfect and Queen Elizabeth I who distrusted the Spanish endorsed the plan presented to her by a sailor whom she greatly admired. Drake sailed from Plymouth in November 1577 leaving behind his young wife Mary Newman who married Francis Drake at St Budeaux church on 4th July 1569.
After 2 years news came of the capture of a Spanish ship heavily laden with treasure by a man fitting El Draco’s description who had then vanished again into the Pacific.
The Spanish were outraged, how could anyone do this, some believed that Drake must have a magic mirror allowing him to see what was happening thousands of miles away and then a year later, in September 1580, Mary heard that her husband had returned to Plymouth.
His ship the Golden Hind, had so much Spanish Treasure onboard that it was using silver coins as ballast. Drake was now a very wealthy man and a national hero.
He proved that the Spanish Empire was not invincible. His was a remarkable achievement, in terms of navigation alone. Francis Drake the first Englishman to sail around the world was also the most famous.
The haul of treasure was equivalent to £25 million pounds and with just a small part of his share; Drake bought Buckland Abbey from Sir Richard Grenville. Drake was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I onboard the Golden Hind and his new coat of arms was installed at Buckland Abbey bearing the motto “Sic Parvis Magna” From small Beginnings to Great Achievements.
Not long after moving to Buckland his wife Mary died. Sir Francis Drake was now a very eligible widower and two years later he was married again to Elizabeth Sydenham, a beautiful and wealthy heiress. But Drake was not destined for the quiet life.
Rumours were growing that the Spanish were assembling a fleet of ships, an armada, with which to invade England. Queen Elizabeth I asked for Drakes help and this was to be his finest hour. El Draco was the mastermind behind the devastating raid on the Spanish Fleet in Cadiz harbour and then the following year he helped orchestrate the destruction of the so called “Invincible Armada” in the English Channel.
Wherever he went Drakes Drum beat out the rhythm of the battle striking fear into the hearts of the Spanish. Having fought off the threatened Spanish invasion of England Drake came home to Buckland and busied himself with improving the water supply to Plymouth and other public spirited activities and then in 1595 El Draco came out of retirement for one last mission to realise his unfulfilled ambition of taking Panama from the Spanish.
His wife Elizabeth closed up the house and moved back to her family home.
Uncharacteristically for Drake the expedition was poorly planned, short of food and water the crew were soon decimated by fever in January 1596 in the Caribbean scene of so many of his earlier adventures Drake fell ill with dysentery.
He knew that the end was near and as he lay dying called for his armour, then he signed his will leaving Buckland Abbey to his youngest brother for both of Drakes marriages had been childless.
Sir Francis Drake was buried at sea in a lead coffin off Nombre de Dios on the Spanish Main where as a young man he’d had his first victory.
Drakes Drum was brought back to Buckland Abbey and legend says that in times of national crisis the drum will sound of its own accord summoning Sir Francis Drake back from the dead.
The very beginnings of Standard Musical Notation - quarter tones not as we have now in half tone degrees
Sir Francis Drake
A Self Portrait of Rembrandt - The only one in the World
The Abbey Gardens
Hope you like this small offering of my visit to Buckland Abbey today. If you would like to see more pictures or find anything else of interest please click on the link.
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