FRANCIS DRAKE: The Lives of a Hero by John Cummins

FRANCIS DRAKE: The Lives of a Hero

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A graphic account of the man who, among other swashbuckling exploits, was the first to sail around the world and was largely responsible for saving England from invasion by the Spanish Armada. Born in Devon in 1542 of humble stock, Sir Francis Drake has long been one of England's archetypal heroes. Generations of British schoolchildren have heard of his bravery, his sense of humor, and his magnanimity toward captives, how he ""singed the King of Spain's beard"" by his daring raid on Cdiz in 1587, and how, when informed that the Armada had been sighted off the coast of Plymouth, he continued his game of bowles with superb sangfroid. Cummins, a retired professor of Spanish (Univ. of Aberdeen, Scotland), tells us of the perils of the circumnavigation in the Golden Hind, the logistics of Spain's invasion plans, and Drake's many voyages and frequent plundering of Spanish gold. We also read of his less-known devout Protestantism and his claiming of California for England as Nova Albion in 1579. Cummins gives careful and detailed treatment to the controversial case of Thomas Doughty, who was tried and executed by Drake for insubordination during the voyage round the world. Our author brings an extensive knowledge of the English and Spanish literature to his narrative, and he often quotes original documents and eyewitness accounts. He concludes with a fascinating examination of the Drake legend in subsequent centuries, not least the invocation of his spirit in 1941, when Britain was again faced with mortal peril. Although Cummins does not omit Drake's faults, he is no revisionist: He repeats the traditional view, in which sacrilege, greed, slave trading, and piracy are manifestations of a heroic free spirit. A scholarly but basically laudatory picture, nicely timed for the fourth centenary of Drake's death next year.

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 1996
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: St. Martin's