Books: Reviews

The Birmingham Post (England), August 23, 2003 | Go to article overview

Books: Reviews


Drake, by Stephen Coote. (Simon & Schuster), pounds 20. Reviewed by Cathy Mayer

The story of Francis Drake playing bowls as the Spanish Armada massed is a favourite anecdote to brighten up history lessons.

But the real Drake, self-made man, pirate, God-fearing Protestant, inspirational leader and ruthless authoritarian is a far more complex character.

Stephen Coote's biography of the Elizabethan hero is another surprising mix.

Despite compelling insights and intricate research, Drake's swashbuckling exploits sometimes seem to drag. Tied up in some slightly archaic turns of phrase, the story is slow to get going, and the book is almost over by the time you finally reach the best-known tales of the Armada.

But there's no question the tale of Drake's life is a fascinating one. Sir Francis by the time he died, he started life in much humbler circumstances, his star rising and falling with according the changing whims of royal patrons.

His first voyages had the simple goal of making as much money as possible through slaving, and it wasn't until later that his piracy began to single him out, both to his Queen, the Spanish and the Portuguese.

And his famous circumnavigation of the globe was prompted, it seems, by this talent for making enemies. The voyage to South America had intended to return the way it had come, but after annoying enough people, Drake decided it would be foolhardy, and chose to explore the uncharted Pacific - helped by charts and maps acquired during more piratical ventures.

Certainly an inspirational leader, Drake was also determined to be the only one in charge. Although he commmanded absolute loyalty from his crew, relations with the other gentlemen on board were much more fraught - and this combined with a massive ego to produce fatal results. …

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