Sir Francis Drake and the Ethnocentric Behaviour

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2010
12 Pages, Grade: 2,3



1 Introduction

2 The Life of Sir Francis Drake
2.1 The Early Years of Sir Francis Drake
2.2 Sir Francis Drake as a Pirate and Slave Trader
2.3 The Victory over the Spanish Armada
2.4 Sir Francis Drake and his Connection to Elizabeth I
2.5 The Circumnavigation of the World

3 Ethnocentrism
3.1 What does the Term "Ethnocentrism" stands for?
3.2 Drake’s Behaviour in the “New World” – was it “Ethnocentric”?

4 Conclusion

Works Cited

1 Introduction

England became powerful, when Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558. During her term England became one of the most powerful empires in the world. The first colonies were founded and the English troops conquered the Spanish Armada. A man called Francis Drake was the first English person, who circumnavigated the world. From “Small” to “Big” that was always the motto he lived and finally became famous with. His motto describes his life, a life which began in modest living conditions and finally reached the highest social classes (Damm 25).

The Spanish feared and admired Francis Drake at the same time. This was due to his great courage and his unpredictability. They called him “El Dragon - The Dragon”. He was hated by many Spaniards, but the King of Spain (Philip I.) hated him the most. He even announced to pay 20.000 ducats, on Drake’s head (Wood 73). This was a great honour for Sir Francis Drake. What was it, that made him so dangerous for the Spanish King, and how did the Queen of England appreciated his doing? In which connection did he stand to Elizabeth I.? Who was this man and what influence did he have in the British Empire and on the British throne?

In this work I will try to find answers to all these questions, but also find out more about his occurrence and behaviour, when he landed on unsettled land. I will try to compare his occurrence and behaviour, to the “Ethnocentric” behaviour. Even though the coinage of the term “Ethnocentrism” itself was first introduced in 1906, “ethnocentric” behaviour can certainly be found centuries before that. When the European settlers began to colonize the “new world”, the land was simply taken from the native population. For the Europeans the Natives were outsiders with no rights. In most cases the explorers showed typical ethnocentric behaviour.

How Sir Francis Drake treated the native population is one of the focuses of this paper. Did he show the same ethnocentric behaviour like most of the others did or was he friendly and nice to the native population?

How did he get in contact with them to communicate?

I will give a closer explanation to the term “Ethnocentrism” and want it stands for, before I analyse the way Drake treated to native people, when he landed in the “New World” (America). Her for I will analyse the narratives by Hakluyt about Sir Francis Drake’s landing in the new world, which was somewhere in the vicinity of what is now San Francisco (The Norton Anthology of English Literature 894 ff).

2 The Life of Sir Francis Drake

2.1 The Early Years of Sir Francis Drake

Francis Drake was born in 1540 in Crowndale a town near Tavistock. He was the oldest son and had 11 sisters and brothers. His father was a protestant and it is assumed that he also was a seafarer in his early ages (Hampden 25). He grew up in modest living conditions on a farm in south Tavistock (Benson 8).

When Drake was about 9 years old, a catholic rebellion took place in Tavistock and Drake and his family fled to Upnor, where Drakes’ father became the priest of the town (Benson 11). It was also his father, who taught him how to read and write and with the age of 13 he started an apprenticeship on a ship, to be a sailor. In the beginning he started as a simple ship boy on a little boat, which transported goods from Plymouth to France and the Netherlands (Wood 74). His captain on the boat treated him like his own son and taught him everything important to be a good seafarer, for example how to navigate.

Drake must have learned fast, because shortly before his boss and former captain of the boat died, he bequeathed his boat to Drake, who became Captain of his first own ship with the age of 19 (Hampden 26). Shortly after that the Spanish forbid the trade between the British and the Spanish occupied Netherlands, so that Drake was forced to sell his ship and had to look for something new. He started to work for his John Hawkins who travelled with his ship to Africa to bring home slaves and sell them to other countries (Hampden 26). John Hawkins’ third trip to Africa became the first of Francis Drake, who from now on had the opportunity to make his first experiences with slavery and piracy. During that time he got in touch with Elizabeth I., because she participated on her own way in the slave trading of her country (Benson 25).

2.2 Sir Francis Drake as a Pirate and Slave Trader

Soon Drake became captain of a big ship called “Judith”. From now on he traded with slaves. With many ships he sailed to Africa and sold the slaves to America and Spain. As it was officially forbidden for Spanish people to deal with English slave traders, he got caught by the Spanish fleet. They destroyed all the British ships, except the one of Francis Drake and the one of John Hawkins, who also was captain of one of the ships (Wood 64 ff).

They returned to England with an immense financial loss, because the damages on their ships exceeded the profit they made by selling their slaves. This was the time, when Drake started to fight against King Philip II. of Spain and his monopoly on slave trade. During this period he gained his experiences in the naval battle and his aversion to the Spanish crown grew from day to day.

From 1570 on Drake started his first own trips to the Caribbean Sea. On his way he fought mainly against Spanish ships and stole all their worthy goods. Soon King Philip II. heard of Drake and began to follow more closely on the things Drake did.

In May 1572 Francis Drake left Plymouth with two ships and 73 men (Hampden 65). On board, they had large quantities of arms and provisions (Wood 75). When he arrived in New-Spain (America) he attacked Spanish ships and coastal cities, for which he demanded ransom.

In the battle of “Nombre de Dios” Drake got wounded by a gunshot, but didn’t tell his team. They noticed it, when Drake passed out, because he lost too much blood (Hampden 77). His toughness against himself impressed his team and increased their loyalty towards him. But he wasn’t alone in his fight against the Spanish troops. The maroons, a group of runaway African slaves, who fought against their former owners, always supported him. They also played an important role in his newest plans. He attacked a caravan, which was on its way from Panama City to the Mexican coast, loaded with precious metals of the Spanish. Drake's ambition was rewarded and he captured 100,000 pesos in gold and 18 363 pesos in silver (Hampden 139). He returned to Plymouth in August 1573, where the people from now on called him a hero (Wood 79).

2.3 The Victory over the Spanish Armada

In August 1588, Drake became vice admiral under Lord Howard of Effingham and became one of the most important figures in the battle and the victory over the Spanish Armada. He was captain of a ship called “Revenge“ and responsible for other 34 ships. The sea fight lasted for ten days. From the beginning on both nations had equal amount of ships, but the ships were so different and good, that neither the English nor the Spanish lost many ships. Not until the British sent eight large ships (called Brander (burning ships)) to the Spanish troops. The Spanish were impressed and fled north to Scotland and Ireland were they lost many ships due to storms, which were raging in this area. Finally only half of the Armada reached the Spanish port (Hampden 404).

Motivated by the news over the great victory, Elizabeth I. planed the next attack for December and Sir Francis Drake was supposed to be the commander of all ships.

But this project failed. One of the main reasons was, that Sir Francis Drake was overwhelmed to command such a big project. In July 1589 Drake and the rest of the ships returned to Plymouth. He lost most of the ships and about 11.000 soldiers and sailors (Hampden 409). Elizabeth I. made him responsible for everything. From now on he wasn’t needed anymore. His zenith of success was exceeded. He had to be content with his position in Parliament deputies.

2.4 Sir Francis Drake and his Connection to Elizabeth I.

Queen Elizabeth I. was one of his biggest supporters, if not the biggest supporter, but all the support made him dependent. He knew he was dependent (Benson 145), if England would have had a Catholic King or Queen or even a King, who was friendly minded to the Spanish monarch, that would have caused many problems and danger for Sir Francis Drake. Queen Elizabeth I. was very important for him, as he was a true nationalist and a devout protestant (Lavater-Sloman 335). But Elizabeth I. wasn’t the undisputed ruler of England, so Francis Drake was dependent on a Queen, which herself wasn’t undisputed (Wende 75 ff). King Philip II and the Pope didn’t want her to be the Queen of England.

But in England, Francis Drake needn’t been worried, because he earned so much honour with his first circumnavigation and the profit he made with this trip. Drake was told by the Queen not to talk about the real profit, but it is assumed that the total value was over 326.580 pounds (Hampden 391). During a private audience Sir Francis Drake gave the queen a very precious crown and a diamond cross. In return she gave him the estate Sherford (Benson 148 f).

Finally in April 1581 Elizabeth I. visited Francis Drake on his famous ship the “Golden Hind”, the ship, he sailed around the world with. During her visitation on the ship she knighted him (Benson 148 f) . He became Sir Francis Drake, a man who was born in a low class society and entered the highest circles of the English society. From now on he was seen on tournaments and also often in the palace (Benson 150).

2.5 The Circumnavigation of the World

In December 1577 Sir Francis Drake started an expedition with a ship named “Pelican” later known as “Golden Hind”, four other ships and over 150 men. No one really knew about the plans and aims of this expedition and still today no one really knows why they started, where they wanted to go and what they where looking for.

Drake followed the “Magellan route” and on his way he discovered “Cape Horn” and named it “Cape Elizabeth”. He lost all his other ships on his way, so that he soon had just his own ship to finish this trip.

On his way he attacked and hijacked several Spanish ships and took all their gold and silver. Drake sailed all the way to Panama, from where he decided to return to England. But he didn’t want to sail the same way back he came from. He was looking for a new route back to England. In June 1579 he landed on the west coast of North America (close to San Francisco) in a bay, later named “Drakes Bay”. The native population was very friendly, so Drake decided to take possession of their land and named it “Nova Albion”. On his way back, he passed the Cape of Good Hope. After 1.018 days he arrived in Plymouth and became the first English person, who circumnavigated the world.

But what did really happen in “Drakes Bay” and how did Drake and his men behave there? Most of the other explorers, during this period behaved in a very ethnocentric way, took the land from the native population and treated them in a bad way.

3 Ethnocentrism in Drake’s Behaviour

Ethnocentrism was a special way of behaviour in times, when the great European Countries, like Spain and England explored the seas and landed in a “New World”, that we call America today. To find out how Drake behaved, when he landed in the “New World” and if he showed ethnocentric behaviour as well, it is necessary to explain the term “Ethnocentrism”. Later I will take this explanation as a base, to find out, if Sir Francis Drake was ethnocentric, or if he was different to most of the other explorers during that time.


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Sir Francis Drake and the Ethnocentric Behaviour
University of Koblenz-Landau  (Anglistik)
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Drake, Francis Drake, Sir Francis Drake, Ethnocentrism, Ethnocentric, Eurocentrism, Eurocentric, Behaviour, Europe, Spain, Explorer, Traveller, Ship, Seafarer, Pirate, Queen, Elizabeth, Königin, England, Spanien, Pirat, Seefahrer, Eurozentrismus, Ethnozentrismus, Europa
Quote paper
Florian Schwarze (Author), 2010, Sir Francis Drake and the Ethnocentric Behaviour, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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