Sir Frances Drake was one of the heroes of the defeat of the "Invincible" Armada, and the first captain to sail around the world. In 1591, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I for his amazing 3 year circumnavigation of the globe.
This latter day Odysseus used celestial navigation–the daily orbiting sun, moon and stars, to guide him on his Homeric odyssey.
Sir Frances Drake should be called SAINT Frances Drake because he was a devout Protestant Christian....Many of the great saints and heroes of the Bible like Joshua and King David were warriors:
This GREAT Briton was a navy of one as he almost single handedly destroyed Spanish sea power....He was the father of the Royal Navy, and unlike the majority Papal Britons, he did not favor an alliance with Spain against the French.
He was beloved by the persecuted Christians of Europe and HATED by the Spanish Inquisition and their supporters. Even today, some sore losers refer to him as a pirate or corsair.
The battle of San Juan de Ulúa
Drake's personal vendetta against the Spanish began during a peaceful trading voyage to the New World. In 1568. Drake served under Admiral Sir John Hawkins and captained a ship named the Judith. They were forced by a storm into the Spanish port of San Juan de Ulúa about 15 miles from Vera Cruz, Mexico:
Promised safe conduct to repair their ships, the Spaniards attacked them without warning. Drake barely escaped with his life and finally reached England 4 months later. Only 100 of the original 400 plus sailors on the Hawkins expedition ever saw their homes again. Many were sent to Spain and burned alive by the Inquisition, while some ended up as slaves rowing the Spanish galleons.
Drake's secret mission to discover the Northwest Passage
In December 1577, Frances Drake set sail with 5 ships to discover the fabled Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean. This mission was TOP SECRET and even the crew did not know their final destination.
Spanish spies were EVERYWHERE at the court of Elizabeth, and secrecy was absolutely essential. The mission's main goal was to sail into the Pacific and find the western entrance to the passage. Then England could set up a colony there and accomplish 4 main objectives:
Establishing a colony to trade with the Orient was the very goal of John Cabot when he left England in 1498. That colony was wiped out by the Portuguese and Spanish . . . so absolute secrecy was essential to the success of the mission.
Nova Albion or New England
Frances Drake left England in December 1577, with 5 ships and 164 men. After many tribulations, he arrived on the Pacific coast in September 1578, with 1 ship and 85 men. He managed to capture a Spanish ship with sailing charts of the Pacific ocean and this enabled him to sail northward to find the passage.
He sailed all the way to Alaska or above latitude 48 degrees before the cold forced him to turn back. It was then he found a harbor to repair his ship andfounded New Albion.
When Drake arrived in New Albion, he had 2 ships and 85 men. He could not return by the Straits of Magellan because the Spanish would be waiting for him so he decided to sail around the world and reach England by that route.
When he arrived at the Moluccas, he had 65 men, so 20 were left behind to found a colony, and continue looking for the Northwest Passage:
The greatest trial for Francis Drake came on the homeward voyage. Somewhere in Indonesia, his ship struck a submerged reef and was absolutely helpless in the vast ocean. Francis Drake's answer to the crisis was to call the crew to PRAYER for divine intervention. JEHOVAH came to the rescue of his great captain and the ship slipped off the reef:
The miracle inspired his men with faith and the rest of the voyage back to England was uneventful.
Francis Drake was knighted by Queen Elizabeth
On September 26, 1580, Francis Drake returned to England with a vast quantity of gold and silver. He immediately went to London where the Queen Elizabeth I received him gratefully. They had a very long private conversation, and he related all the details of his incredible journey.
Strict secrecy was however still absolutely necessary. If the Spanish ever found out that the English had planted a colony in the New World, they would have moved heaven and EARTH to destroy it.
His knighting by his grateful Queen was the high tide of Sir Francis Drake's remarkable career. Not until many years later was the true extent of his miraculous journey revealed to the public.
This fearless act by the queen enraged King Philip II, and he began building his "Invincible" Armada to invade England and put a stop to any British colonization of the New World.
Sir Francis Drake used CELESTRIAL navigation!!
During the Elizabethan age, mariners did not have the GPS so they had to rely on the heavenly bodies: namely the sun, moon and stars for navigation....Here is a quote from the book The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake:
Celestial navigation is the process whereby angles between objects in the sky (celestial objects) and the horizon are used to locate one's position on the globe. At any given instant of time, any celestial object (e.g. the moon, Jupiter, navigational star Spica) will be located directly over a particular geographic position on the earth. This geographic position is known as the celestial object’s sub point, and its location (e.g. its latitude and longitude) can be determined by referring to tables in a nautical almanac.
By using this scientific method, Sir Francis was able to calculate that Nova Albion was 3,000 miles from the east coast of Canada. Later this correct longitude began to show up on maps of the New World.
At that time, no country could have a maritime empire without a correct knowledge of astronomical navigation. As the British Empire expanded, Greenwich, England, was established as the PRIME MERIDIAN for calculating LONGITUDE at sea.
The sun and moon pass over the prime meridian EVERY DAY!!
Greenwich, England, is now the prime meridian for longitude and Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is a term originally referring to mean solar time at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, in London. It is now often used to refer to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) when this is viewed as a time zone, although strictly UTC is an atomic time scale which only approximates GMT in the old sense. It is also used to refer to Universal Time (UT), which is theastronomical concept that directly replaced the original GMT.
The invention of the marine chronometer made celestial navigation unnecessary!!
Latitude was determined by measuring the sun's angle at noon with the aid of a table giving the sun's declination for that day.
Calculating LONGITUDE required an extensive knowledge of the moon's motion, and the moon was not visible every night, so this presented navigators with a major problem.
In 1714, the British Parliament established the Longitude Board and huge prizes were offered for a practical solution to finding longitude at sea.
John Harrison—a humble British carpenter—invented an ingenious clock that could keep time accurately on a ship and therefore solve the longitude problem.
John Harrison–like all great inventors–had to battle years of apathy and ignorance before his invention was accepted by the Royal Navy....
Heavenly charts led to the invention of the computer!!
Believe it or not . . . the heavenly nautical navigation charts led to the development of the computer. One day, a brilliant English mathematician named Charles Babbage was looking at a copy of the Nautical Almanac and he noticed a lot of mistakes therein:
The Royal Navy was very anxious to surpass the French and Dutch in the art of navigation so advances in maritime navigation were encouraged.
Charles Babbage was another brilliant Briton like John Harrison who could have invented ANYTHING if given enough financial help....Babbage is called the father of the modern computer and is also credited with breaking the supposedly unbreakable French Vigenère cipher.
Andrewes, William J.H. (Editor) The Quest for Longitude. Harvard University Press, 1996.
Bawlf, Samuel.The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake 1577–1580. Walker & Co., New York, 2003.
Bourne, William. A regiment for the sea, and other writings on navigation. Hakluyt Society, Cambridge University, England. 1963. (Originally published in 1574).
Corbett, Julian. S. Drake and the Tudor Navy. (in 2 volumes). Burt Franklin, New York, 1899.
Henty, G.A. Under Drake's Flag: a Tale of the Spanish Main. PresonSpeed Publications, Mill Hall, PA, 1998. (Originally published in 1880).
Quill, Humphrey. John Harrison: The Man Who Found Longitude. Humanities Press, Inc., New York. 1966.
Singh, Simon, The Code Book: The Evolution of Secrecy from Mary Queen of Scots to Quantum Cryptography. Doubleday, New York & London, 1999.
Sobel, Dava & Andrewes, William J.H. The Illustrated Longitude. Walker & Co., New York, 1995.
Whitfield, Peter. Sir Francis Drake. New York University Press, 2004.
Waters, D.W. The Art of Navigation in England in Elizabethan & Early Stuart Times. Yale University Press, 1958.
Copyright © 2015 by Patrick Scrivener