Francis Drake was born in Tavistock around 1540, as a young boy his family moved to Kent and settled in an abandoned ship on the River Medway. He began his life at sea as an apprentice on a merchant ship, but soon, he would join his kinsman, John Hawkins, transporting enslaved people from the West Coast of Africa to trade with Spanish colonies in the Americas.
During the second of these voyages, Drake and Hawkins were attacked by the Spanish who had been prohibited from trading with English protestants. Drake swore vengeance against Spain and began his career raiding Spanish territories. Soon, he attracted the attention of Elizabeth I of England, who secretly endorsed his acts of piracy and reaped a sizable portion of the rewards.
Drake became one of the most accomplished European seafarers of his time and is most often remembered for his circumnavigation of the globe in 1577 and for his role in defeating the 1588 Spanish Armada. However, Drake had a varied career that saw him as merchant, slave-trader, pirate, mayor, vice-admiral and even a brief period serving in Parliament. Drake’s actions, alongside those of his fellow mariners, paved the way for English colonialism which would begin to take shape in the century following his death.