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A portrait of Sir Francis Drake
A portrait of Sir Francis Drake from The English hero, or, Sir Francis Drake reviv'd. 1695. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Mapping the Voyages of Sir Francis Drake

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Sir Francis Drake was born around 1540 in Tavistock, England. He began his training for sea navigation at a very young age on the ship of a wealthy relative named William Hawkins. In 1567 he accompanied his cousin John Hawkins on a slave trading expedition. In 1572 Francis Drake began his first independent mission to raid the Spanish Main. He is best known for his circumnavigation of the world which took place from 1577 to 1580.

Many maps of Francis Drake’s voyages can be found in the Library of Congress; featured below is a map from the collections of the  Geography and Map Division. The map shows the routes taken by both Sir Frances Drake and Thomas Cavendish during their circumnavigations of the world. The map was published in 1595 by Jodocus Hondius. There are only eight known copies of the map.

A map showing the routes taken by Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish during their circumnavigations of the world.
Vera totius expeditionis nauticæ : descriptio D. Franc. Draci …Jodocus Hondius. 1595. Geography and Map Division.

Francis Drake’s circumnavigation began in December 1577 and lasted until September 1580.  During the voyage Drake searched for a western entrance to the Northwest Passage. He raided Spanish settlements in the Americas and claimed the region of present-day California. Drake named the area New Albion, an archaic name for New Britain.  Drake returned to England and shared the stolen Spanish treasures with Queen Elizabeth I. In 1581 Queen Elizabeth knighted him aboard his ship the Golden Hind.

An image of the Golden Hind is shown at the bottom center of the map. Insets of Portus Iavae Majoris (the south coast of Java) and the Port of New Albion are shown in the upper right and left corners. Helen Wallis, the author of The Voyage of Sir Francis Drake Mapped in Silver and Gold made the following statement about the insets in her book:

“These are the only details of local topography to survive in the printed contemporary records of Drake’s voyage.”

Below is an enlargement of the inset of the port of New Albion.

An inset map of New Albion from the Hondius map.
An inset map of the Port of New Albion from Vera totius expeditionis nauticæ : descriptio D. Franc. Draci …by Jodocus Hondius. 1595. Geography and Map Division.

Drake named an Island near Cape Horn “Elizabeth Island” after Queen Elizabeth I. The island was never discovered and is thought to be a phantom island. The map of the Strait of Magellan shown below was made during the 18th century by the French cartographer and engraver Pierre Francois Tardieu. The area south of Terre de Feu (Tierra del Fuego) is shown as Archipel des Iles Elizabethides on the map.

A map of the Strait of Magellan.
Carte du Detroit de Magellan et de la terre de feu pour servir aux Recherches sur les Terres de Drake. Pierre Francois Tardieu. 17–. Geography and Map Division.

In addition to the maps held in the Geography and Map Division, the Rare Book and Special Collections Division holds maps of the voyages of Sir Francis Drake. In 1980 the antiquarian book dealer Hans Peter Kraus donated the Sir Francis Drake collection to the Library of Congress.  The collection consists of maps, books, manuscripts, and other materials related to Sir Francis Drake.

Below is a map from the Kraus Collection that is known as the Silver Map. The map was made by Michael Mercator, the grandson of Gerard Mercator. Drake’s circumnavigation is shown in a dotted line.

A map made out of silver, showing Sir Francis Drake's circumnavigation of the world.
World Map, in two hemispheres, engraved or struck on silver, and bearing the track of Drake’s 1577-1580 circumnavigation of the earth. Michael Mercator. 1600. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

The Kraus collection includes maps of Francis Drake’s raids on the Spanish settlements of Santiago, Santo Domingo, Cartagena, and St. Augustine. Featured below is a map from the Kraus collection of Drake’s raid on Santo Domingo.

A map of Sir Francis Drake's raid on the Spanish settlement of Santo Domingo.
Map and views illustrating Sir Francis Drake’s West Indian voyage, 1585-6. Baptista Boazio. 1589. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

In  July 1588 King Phillip II of Spain launched the Spanish Armada to invade England, restore Catholicism in the country, and overthrow the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Lord Charles Howard led the English fleet against the Spanish Armada with Sir Francis Drake as second in command. The Armada was defeated in August 1588.

Sir Francis Drake was regarded as a hero, navigator, and privateer by the British, in Spain he was labeled as a pirate. I have focused on a few of the maps related to the explorations of Sir Francis Drake, please refer to the following sources to acquire more information.

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Comments (2)

  1. As illustrated in the map entitled, ‘Vera totius expeditionis nauticæ,’ did Francis Drake encounter the islas de los Ladrones or islands within the vicinity as recorded in his journals?

    • William A. Lessa stated the following in his article “Drake in the Marianas?”:

      “There is no evidence that Drake ever indeed stopped in the Marianas, whether at Guam, Rota, or any other place in the archipelago. According to the World Encompassed, the latitude of the spot where he had his unpleasant experience was about 8° north of the equatorial line. This is in sharp disagreement with the known latitude of Guam, which is about 13°25′ N., and of Rota, which is about 14°10′ N.”

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