THE GREAT SEA-CAPTAINS
S matters are looked at in these times, Elizabeth's
relations to Spain were exceedingly strange. To-day if
two countries are not at war, they are at peace, but
in the sixteenth century it was not at all uncommon for
two rulers to annoy each other as much as possible
without any formal war, and more than once a third
country joined one side or the other because in so
doing there was an opportunity for gain.
Philip would have been glad to conquer England, but as
long as Elizabeth maintained peace with France, there
was little hope for him. Moreover, the Netherlands were
keeping his hands full, and what was most exasperating,
Elizabeth was helping the revolters. There was one more
thing to be considered, if Philip did conquer England,
there was no hope of his being able to claim
 the throne as long as Mary was alive. So it was that
this ruler of half Europe, was really at the mercy of
that exasperating monarch, Elizabeth of England, and
she hectored and tormented him to her heart's content.
Early in her reign most of her advisers would have been
glad to go to war with Philip, but Elizabeth delayed.
She hated war. Every year of peace enriched and
strengthened her kingdom, and moreover, even without
fighting Philip, she was gaining much of the wealth and
power that a Spanish conquest would have brought her.
This gain came about through the exploits of her
sea-captains. As has been said before, it was regarded
as an honorable occupation to get some negroes on the
African coast, carry them to the Spanish colonies in
America, and sell them for a goodly amount of Spanish
gold. This was precisely what Sir John Hawkins did, but
when he had leisurely made his way back to England, he
found himself in trouble. Elizabeth sent for him.
"They tell me you are no better than a pirate," she
said, bluntly, although her look was not so stern as
Cecil would have wished.
 "Your Majesty," replied Hawkins, "I am but a plain,
"And so my plain, simple sailors are bringing me into a
war with King Philip?" asked Elizabeth.
Hawkins was no more afraid of the queen of England than
of the king of Spain, and he told his own grievances as
frankly as if she had been one of his men.
"Your Majesty," said he, "I took the blacks from the
savage countries of Africa, and surely there was no
harm in that. I carried them to Saint Domingo, and I
sold them to the planters. The governor of the island
was willing, and the planters were glad to get them. I
paid the harbor dues, and I left one hundred negroes
with him to pay a larger duty if the king asked more of
an Englishman than he did of a Spaniard. I bought hides
with the money and sent them in a Spanish vessel to be
sold in Spain. The king seized them, and he won't pay
me a penny for them."
"Well, my plain, simple sailor," asked the queen, "is it
your will that I and my council should go to Spain and
get your hides?"
"Your Majesty," he answered, "give me a
 good vessel under me and plenty of sea-room, and I'll
trouble no council to care for me and my right."
Elizabeth was in a rarely good-natured mood. She patted
the captain on his broad shoulder.
"I'd gladly know what the king of Spain would do with
such a saucy fellow as you," she said. "You'd better go
home and think no more about the New World. One side of
the Atlantic is enough for a man." The captain
withdrew, but Elizabeth bade an attendant call him
"Let me understand when it is your will to go on
another trip," she said, "for no one could expect a
pirate to obey his queen, and then, too, I have a
vessel that might be the better for a voyage or two,
even in the hands of a simple sailor like yourself."
Cecil objected and the Spanish ambassador raged, but it
was not long before Hawkins set out on another voyage,
this time in a great ship of the queen's, and she as
well as many of her council took shares in the
enterprise. "See you to it that you do no wrong to the
king of Spain," were the queen's orders, but she lent
the commander one hundred good soldiers. When Hawkins
 back in all the glory of a successful voyage and with
bags of Spanish coins for queen and councilors, he was
invited to dine with his sovereign. The Spanish
ambassador was also dining at court, but he could have
had little pleasure in his dinner, for he was thinking
of what he should have to write to the king of Spain.
What Philip said when the letters reached him no one
knows, but whenever he came to the name of Hawkins, he
wrote on the margin "Beware, beware!"
On one of Hawkins's voyages went a kinsman of his own
named Francis Drake. He was a young man of medium
height, with broad shoulders, reddish beard, and keen,
kindly eyes. The voyage on which he went was
unsuccessful, for a Spanish ship set upon the
Englishmen and robbed them. Worse than that, there were
not provisions enough to last on the trip home, and one
hundred of his comrades volunteered to take their
chances on the land that the rest of the company might
be sure of safety.
Drake made up his mind that the king of Spain should
pay for his own lost investment and his kinsman's
captured hides to say nothing of reprisal for the
suffering and perhaps death of the
 hundred brave men who had sacrificed themselves for
their comrades. He did very little talking about his
plans, but there were sailors enough in Plymouth who
were ready to go anywhere with him, and he had friends
who were willing to invest in any undertaking that he
would lead. He set sail for America.
He was not going out vaguely into the west, hoping that
somewhere he might pick up something worth bringing
home, he had a very definite plan. He sailed straight
for Panama and landed. There he waited. While he was
waiting, he climbed a tall tree one day, and far to the
westward the Pacific Ocean spread out before him. "If
the almighty God will give me life," said he, "I'll
sail a ship in those waters before many years."
After a while he and his men heard bits of Spanish
song, the tinkling of bells on the necks of mules, and
the sound of the feet of the animals striking upon the
well-trodden path. Then the English dashed out, for
this was King Philip's treasure train that once a year
paced leisurely up the path with the output of the
mines, with gold, silver, emeralds, and diamonds. There
 than the ship could carry, says the old story. The ship
could easily come again, the ocean was free; so they
buried the great bars of silver and steered for
When Drake arrived, he made no boast of what he had
done, he divided the treasure and did no talking. He
read books on geography, he studied charts and globes,
he questioned seamen who had been on the farther side
of the ocean, and he had more than one interview with
the queen and different members of her council. To
agree as a council to support Drake would be to declare
war against Spain, and it would not answer to have the
names of the councilors who invested in the enterprise
made public, but many a one among them, and even the
queen herself was ready to fill a coffer or two with
good Spanish gold.
The preparations were so unusual that the voyage could
not be kept secret. "I pray your Majesty," wrote the
Spanish ambassador to Philip, "I pray you order your
planters in the New World to hang every Englishman upon
whom they can lay hands, and bid your sailors sink
every ship that comes in their sight."
The two vessels, one of one hundred and twenty
 tons and one of eighty tons, with three little sloops,
were made ready. Everything about then was put in the
best order possible for fighting or for sailing.
Luxuries were not forgotten, for this keen young sailor
did not scorn the elegancies of life. There was
handsome furniture finely carved. There was a beautiful
silver service for his table, every piece engraved with
the arms of his family. His cooking utensils were of
silver. He had a liberal supply of perfumes, many of
them the gift of the queen. Expert musicians were on
board, for this luxurious captain must dine and sup to
the sound of music.
With his men he was ever kindly, even affectionate, and
he was not afraid to share their work if there was
need, but they knew him for one that could command, and
they never failed in their respect. Nine or ten men
formed his council. He decided all questions himself,
but he ever listened attentively to what they had to
say. They dined at his table, but not one of them
ventured to be seated in his presence or to wear a hat
without the invitation of their commander. November 15,
1577, the little fleet set sail at five o'clock in the
afternoon—on a one day's voyage it proved
 for the Golden Hind, Drake's own ship, was
injured in the "forcible storm and tempests" that
arose, and he had to go back to land.
Three years later many a man England was troubled about
the deeds of this commander who was so fond of perfumes
and music and silver plate, for there were stories
abroad of what he had done on the other side of the
sea. Philip was furious; the Spanish ambassador raged,
and more than one who had invested in Drake's venture
every shilling that he could raise would have rejoiced
to lose his money if he could have been sure that Drake
would never return. In the midst of the anxiety and
uncertainty, some eager to have him come in safely and
others trembling at the thought of his arrival, there
was a mighty roaring of the signal guns at Plymouth
Harbor, for Drake had returned, and he had been around
On a little hill, somewhat withdrawn from the crowd
that stood shouting and cheering to see the ship come
in, stood two men, the elder grave and troubled, the
younger eager and excited.
"I verily believe," said the elder, "that you would
willingly be among those doltish screamers on the shore
 "It's not so bad a thing, is it, for a man to know that
his money has come back to him doubled ten, twelve,
perhaps a hundred times? It's little wonder that they
"That goes as it may," returned the elder, "but the
gold in that vessel is devil's gold. If half the tales
be true, Francis Drake is no better than a pirate. Has
he not burned settlements, stolen treasure, and sunk
"Well, what of it, if they be those of Spain?" asked
the young man indifferently, shading his eyes to see
the ships more clearly.
"Nothing of it if a man cares for naught but gold,
nothing of it to him whose empty money-bags are a sorer
grief to him than the ill that is sure to come to
England from this wild and savage piracy."
"You mean that old leaden foot will bestir himself?"
"Philip is slow, but he will strike at last."
"Let him. One Englishman can meet two Spaniards any
"He boasts best who boasts last," said the elder.
"Remember that every Spaniard has his hands full of
gold from the American mines."
 "And it is you yourself who are blaming Captain Drake
for taking it from them," laughed the young fellow
gaily. "Goodby, uncle, I'm going down among the wicked
folk to see the ships come to shore."
For once the stories were not equal to the reality. In
the holds of Drake's vessels were such masses of
treasure that men hardly ventured even to estimate it.
Vast quantities were carried to the Tower of London.
Drake made most costly gifts to the nobles, but some of
them refused to accept anything from the "master thief
of the unknown world," as they called him.
"He is nothing but a robber," declared they, "and he
will bring war upon us."
"Is it robbery, demanded others, to take from Spain
what Spain has stolen from us? How else can a man get
his rights? Has not Philip taken our ships, hindered
our commerce, captured our sailors, and tortured them
to make them give up the true faith? Have we not a
clear right to take reprisal when and where we can?"
"It is a lawful prize," reasoned others, "and if war is
to come, this Spanish gold will save taxes and fight
many a battle for us."
 The Spanish ambassador went straight to the queen and
said gravely, "I present from my master, the king of
Spain, a request that the pirate Drake be surrendered
"The king of Spain is generous with his presents,"
answered Elizabeth flippantly. "For this one I return
him all due thanks."
"Your Majesty," said the ambassador, "this man Drake
has sunk our ships, stolen our treasure, and
interfered with our possessions in the New World."
"If you can prove his misdeeds to my satisfaction,"
rejoined the queen with a little yawn, "this wonderful
treasure of yours shall be restored, though one might
think it was but fair payment for the rebellions that
Spain has caused in Ireland—or does my good friend
Philip claim Ireland too for his own? As for his
possessions in the New World, I don't know what right
the Pope has to give away continents. The sea and the
air are free to all, and neither Pope nor Spain can
keep my brave captains from sailing the ocean, I doubt
whether I could keep them from it myself. Shall we talk
of other matters? You have an
 excellent taste in music, and here is a rare bit of
song that has but newly come to me:—
" 'The little pretty nightingale
Among the leaves green—' "
"Your Majesty," broke in the exasperated ambassador,
"if I report this scene to King Philip, matters will
come to the cannon."
"You really shouldn't say such things," said Elizabeth
with a coquettish glance at the enraged Spaniard, and
she added quietly, "If you do, I shall have to throw
you into one of my dungeons."
Elizabeth made Drake a knight, she wore his jewels in
her crown, and she dined with him on board the
Golden Hind. She often had him at court, and
never wearied of hearing the story of his adventures.
"Tell me of the savages," she commanded, and Drake
"We saw them moving about under the trees, and when we
came near, they paddled out to meet us. They made a
long speech with many gestures, and it seemed as if
they couldn't do us reverence enough. The next day they
came again, and this time they brought a great ragged
bunch of crow's
 feathers. The man who stood at the king's right hand
knelt before me and touched the ground with his
forehead three times. Then he gave me the feathers. I
noticed that the king's guards all wore such bunches on
their heads, so I stuck them in my red cap as well as
ever I could, and the savages all danced around me and
made the most unearthly screeching that I ever heard.
Then they began to show us their wounds and sores, and
made signs that we should blow on them to heal them. I
gave them plasters and lotions. They ought to do some
good, for they were mixed on a day that Dr. Dee said
would make any medicine of worth."
"Tell me about the Cacafuego," bade the queen,
and Drake said:—
"We took a Spanish ship, and one of the sailors said,
'Let me go free and I will tell you such news as you
never heard before.' I promised, and he said, 'There's
a ship not far ahead of you, her name is the
Cacafuego, and if you can catch her, you'll have
such a prize as you never saw in a dream—and I'll get
my revenge on her captain for this,' he muttered, and
then he put his hand on a great red scar on his
forehead. We chased her to Payta, but she had gone to
Panama, and when
 we came to Panama, she was somewhere else. 'I'll give
a gold chain to the first man that sees her,' I said,
and, your Majesty, if I had even given an order to drop
anchor, I verily believe every man of them would have
climbed the masthead. Well, about three o'clock one
afternoon my page John caught sight of her, and we
pursued. Oh, but it was glorious! I wish you had been
there!" said the sturdy sailor, forgetting for a moment
that he was addressing the sovereign of England.
"So do I," declared Elizabeth, and she too forgot that
she was a queen, she forgot everything but the wild
adventures that the man before her had met. Drake went
"We fired across her bow, but she wouldn't stop. Then
we shot three pieces of ordnance and struck down her
mizzen mast, and we boarded her. A man could wade up to
his waist in the treasure in her hold. There were
thirteen chests full of Spanish reals, there were six
and twenty tons of silver, and fourscore pounds of
gold, and there were jewels and precious stones. Your
Majesty can see them in the Tower, but oh, how they
glittered and flashed and sparkled in the dark hold of
the vessel when we broke open the
 caskets and turned the light of the lanterns on them,
and how the dons swore at us! It's many a month that
they should do penance for that day's work."
"I really wonder that you didn't excommunicate them as
you did your own chaplain," said Elizabeth.
"They were only swearing, and he was a coward,"
explained Drake. "A man who'll go about among the
sailors before a fight and tell them he is not sure
that it is the will of God to give them the victory
ought to be excommunicated, he ought to be hanged."
"Tell me again just what you said," demanded the queen,
"that I may see what penalty you deserve for daring to
show dishonor to one of my chaplains."
"I chained him by the leg to the forehatch," replied
Drake, "and I said, 'Francis Fletcher, I do here
excommunicate thee out of the church of God, and I
renounce thee to the devil and all his angels;' and
then I tied a riband around his arm, and I said, 'If so
be that you dare to unbind this riband, you'll swing
from that yardarm as sure as my name is Francis Drake.'
 "And what was it you wrote on the riband?" asked the
queen, though well knowing the answer.
"I wrote 'Francis Fletcher, the falsest knave that
liveth.' I don't see how I could have done less."
"Neither do I," agreed Elizabeth heartily, "and it
would but ill become me to differ with a man who has
just given me a New Albion. Where say you that my new
"On the western shores of North America," answered
Drake, "and perchance, your Majesty, this new domain
may stretch into Asia itself, for the western land
reaches much farther west than I had thought, and it
may be that in the far north the New World touches the
"Then I am perhaps queen of the Indies," said Elizabeth
with a smile. "Now go, my brave sailor, but see to it
that you come soon to court again, for there is much
more that I would know of this wicked journey of
So it was that these bold buccaneers went on their
voyages, not so much for adventure or discovery as for
the sake of gold. The easiest way to get gold was to
take it from the Spanish settlements in America, but
when Drake sailed, the
 Spaniards on the eastern coast of America were becoming
wary. Too many of their treasure ships had been
attacked and too many of their settlements robbed for
them to live as carelessly as had been the case in the
earlier days. Spanish ships on the Atlantic were manned
with men who could fight, and Spanish settlements on
the eastern coast of America were guarded and
On the Pacific shore matters were different. Spanish
gold from the fabulously rich mines of Peru was carried
leisurely up the coast in vessels manned chiefly by
negro slaves. At Panama it was unloaded and taken
across the isthmus. Then it was carefully guarded, and
vessels well supplied with Spanish troops bore it
across the ocean to the treasure vaults of Philip. It
did not occur to the Spaniards that even an English
corsair would venture to round Cape Horn, and when
Drake appeared among the unprotected ships and the
unfortified settlements, he found an easy prey. It was
less dangerous for him to cross the Pacific and double
the Cape of Good Hope than to return to England among
the Spanish vessels on the Atlantic; and that is why
Drake was the first Englishman to sail around the
 These English buccaneers sailed under a sort of roving
commission from the queen. They were to give her a
share of their profits, but they knew well that if they
could not extricate themselves from any trouble that
they might fall into with Philip, she would make no
effort to defend them, but would declare that they had
had orders to do no harm to her "good friend, the king
of Spain." Still, the prizes of success were so
enormous and the charm of adventure so enticing that
there was no lack of bold leaders to rob the coffers of
Spain, to fill the treasury of Elizabeth, and to
prepare experienced seamen for the great struggle that
awaited England when Philip "of the leaden foot" should
at last arise and show his might.