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Sir Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake: The Construction of a Hero

Bruce Wathen
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt163tbv9
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  • Book Info
    Sir Francis Drake
    Book Description:

    For four hundred years Sir Francis Drake's exploits have fascinated, inspired and entertained. Every age has sought to reconstruct the narrative of the great Elizabethan seafarer: the basis of his fame has shifted continually over the years, from single-handed victor over the Spanish Armada, to hero of commerce, explorer, and ruthless entrepreneur. In each incarnation, however, he has always been portrayed to answer the demands and anxieties of each new era. Here, for the first time, the history of Drake as a cultural icon, and of his myth, is explored, from his appearances in west-country folklore to Elizabethan poetry, from eighteenth-century garden architecture to Victorian pageants and twentieth-century films. There is a particular focus on the `long' nineteenth century, during which Drake's reputation underwent a rigorous reconstruction to present him as a hero of empire. BRUCE WATHEN gained his PhD from Exeter University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-760-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    In a recent biography of Sir Francis Drake the author noted that, ‘In all more than one hundred original books, fact and fiction, have dealt at full length with Drake’s career.’¹ Perhaps surprisingly, this is probably a conservative estimate. The lives of few historical characters have received more intense investigation than that of Francis Drake. His fantastic sea-faring exploits have long exerted a great fascination and a multi-layered mythology has built up around him. Undoubtedly his reputation owes much to the Victorians who looked to an idealized Elizabethan past when constructing their imperial history. And yet Drake had survived (or...

  6. Chapter One Auxilio Divino
    (pp. 12-32)

    This epigram was one of several written by the scholars of Winchester School and pinned to the main mast of theGolden Hindeshortly after her arrival at Deptford in 1581.¹ Here she was laid up in dry-dock on the queen’s orders to act as a permanent monument to Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe. The ship and her captain generated a huge amount of public interest and the poem is a prophetic statement of eternal fame for Drake. A failure to recognize the achievement of sailing around the world would result in the stars of both the northern and...

  7. Chapter Two ‘Sir Francis Drake Revived’
    (pp. 33-47)

    The celebration of Drake in print during the seventeenth century was far more fulsome than anything that had appeared while Sir Francis was still alive. Material was also far more plentiful. But there were also periods when the production of Drake-related material dried up; these lacunae are as revealing as the cultural products themselves and suggest that far from acting as a simple signifier of English military prowess, the revival of Sir Francis was a complex and politically loaded activity.

    The popular cultural construction of Drake as the hero of the Armada conflict, first seen in popular ballads, re-emerges in...

  8. Chapter Three ‘Behold the warrior dwindled to a beau’
    (pp. 48-66)

    With Protestant succession secured by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the problems surrounding the celebration of Sir Francis Drake, loyal subject and Protestant hero, were at once removed. It was not long before Drake was again ‘revived’ as an inspirational character at a time of national crisis. The outbreak of the Nine Years’ War² in 1689 provided the perfect opportunity for Drake’s exploits to be recalled. Drake was, in fact, a particularly relevant figure when we consider the parallels between the Anglo-French conflict and the war with Spain in the sixteenth century. Like Spain, France was a Catholic country; it...

  9. Chapter Four ‘Homage to Britannia’
    (pp. 67-84)

    The wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France are a crucial period when charting the construction of Sir Francis Drake. Between the years 1793 and 1815 (and in the following decade) very little material appeared that was concerned directly with Drake. This does not mean that Sir Francis was on the verge of disappearing into obscurity – enough evidence exists to prove that knowledge of his exploits was still in circulation – but reproduction of the Drake narratives in printed form certainly seems to have slowed. In the previous chapter I suggested that the tradition of Drake as a naval hero was at...

  10. Chapter Five ‘Who the New World Bade British Thunders Shake?’
    (pp. 85-102)

    In the previous chapter it was suggested that knowledge of Sir Francis Drake during the first decades of the nineteenth century was becoming increasingly anecdotal. Versions of the famous mariner were disseminated from tourist guide-books as much as from the pages of naval histories. In 1834, however, the first full-length biography of Drake since the final edition of Robert Burton’sThe English Hero(1777) was published. This appeared in Robert Southey’sThe Lives of the British Admirals² (1833–7). Southey had been commissioned to write the series of naval biographies for Dionysius Lardner who used the work as part of...

  11. Chapter Six ‘The Prose Epic of England’
    (pp. 103-122)

    Reference has already been made to the nineteenth-century preoccupation with narratives of causation, with stories that sought to connect past and present through uninterrupted sequences of cause and effect eliding moments of historical disjunction. Charles Knight’sOld Englandis clearly engaged in this process. For Knight the naval supremacy and empire that was enjoyed by Victorian Britain could be attributed to the activities of the Elizabethan sea-dogs – particularly Drake – who had wrested control of the high seas from Spain. But one historian did more than any other to shape the way in which the Elizabethan maritime past was perceived: James...

  12. Chapter Seven ‘Mould him in bronze’
    (pp. 123-142)

    During the final quarter of the nineteenth century the work of Charles Kingsley and James Anthony Froude continued to exert a powerful influence over the way in which the Elizabethan past was constructed. The bowls myth in particular seems to have caught the popular imagination. Although this had become an integral part of the Drake narrative by the 1840s, it wasWestward Ho!that was chiefly responsible for the wide dissemination of the tradition in printed form. Kingsley was, in fact, becoming popularly identified as the source of the story. An article on the origins of the mythical game published...

  13. Chapter Eight ‘Gun to Gun he’ll Challenge us’
    (pp. 143-162)

    The construction of Sir Francis Drake that emerged in the period between the 1888 Armada tercentenary celebrations and the outbreak of the First World War clearly reflects the anxieties of a nation whose long economic and naval hegemony was facing serious challenges from both within and without Europe. In the previous chapter it was mentioned that the rapid spread of industrialization – particularly in Germany and the United States – led to a dramatic shortening of Britain’s commercial and industrial lead over the rest of the world. Statistics expose this worrying trend. In 1880 Germany’s share of world trade stood at 9.7...

  14. Chapter Nine ‘a pirate, and a good one’
    (pp. 163-178)

    In the years between the world wars, the lateVictorian and Edwardian consensus of opinion on Drake began to break down. As we have seen, from the middle of the nineteenth century right up until the Great War, ‘high’ and popular culture had usually been united in fervent hero-worship of the great empirebuilding mariner. Academics such as Froude and Corbett were as fulsome in their praise of Sir Francis as popular poets like Newbolt and Noyes. But this convergence did not survive the First World War. It is generally accepted that, in the aftermath of the war, ‘the literary culture of...

  15. Chapter Ten The Future
    (pp. 179-181)

    Although interest in Sir Francis Drake has fluctuated in the four hundred years since his leaden coffin slipped beneath the waves of the Caribbean Sea, his reputation as one of England’s greatest heroes has survived largely intact. Only in very recent years has his heroic status been subjected to revision, and even now there is little evidence that Drake will be relegated to the role of a peripheral historical character. Yet there is no single reason why Sir Francis has been held in such high regard for so long. Each age has identified and emphasized what it has found desirable...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 182-191)
  17. Index
    (pp. 192-200)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 201-201)