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King Arthur Legends
Sir Francis Drake: The Queen's Pirate
by Harry Kelsey
$35.00 / Yale Univ. Press
Sir Francis Drake:
The Queen's Pirate
tries to set the record straight on the lovable rogue who captured
the heart of a nation. Considered the scourge of Catholic Europe,
a dragontea (dragon), and a gran luterano (grand
lutheran), and the supreme defender of the Protestant Cause,
Drake was, in fact, a pirate and profiteer, a middling seaman,
and a man of doubtful piety. He never repeated the success of
his bold, but lucky raids and was never trusted with full command
of the English Fleet.
Queen Elizabeth was dazzled by his company but did not fully
trust him as a captain. His raids in the New World, and on Cadiz
and Lisbon made him a national hero, but, more than that, the
author points out, it established him in the Spanish mind as
the terrifying enemy of their national cause. Ironically, his
reputation as a fierce and irresistible naval captain was created
by the Spanish who sailed home with him from the New World.
The great merit of this book lies in its sober glance at what
the life of an elizabethan adventurer was really like. Marginally
supported by the crown because of his spoils, his propaganda
value for the nation, and his personal charm, he remained all
the while essentially a hired pirate, no greater at his trade
than a dozen other profiteers. As to his supposed piety, he is
known to have cheated his brother's widow, executed a close friend,
abandoned a pregnant ship-whore on a deserted island, and directed
parodic religious ceremonies on board his ships.
As a fascinating undressing of a myth, the book draws the reader
back to the unlovely but swashbuckling realities of early modern
sea-life and statecraft, leaving Drake a slighter, more ordinary
figure while forcing us to question how much any of our myths
are related to historical truth. Luckily, the Drake who emerges
is a little more fiery than the man of myth though a little less
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