Sir Francis Drake: A Pictorial Biography by Hans P. Kraus
The Last Voyage, 1595-1596
Drake's last campaign was an expedition commanded jointly by
him and his old associate Sir John Hawkins, under whom his career
had had such a spectacular beginning at San Juan de Ulúa,
in 1567. Nearly thirty years later, they sailed from Plymouth on
August 28, 1595. Their primary objective was a treasure ship which
had suffered damage at sea, and which was in the harbor of San
Juan, Puerto Rico, with 2,000,000 ducats aboard.
The attempt to surprise this ship failed, as San Juan was well
fortified and well defended. Drake then went to Nombre de Dios,
on the Panama isthmus, which he used as a base for an attack on
Porto Bello and Panama, where the treasure from Peru was carried
across the isthmus for shipment to Spain. This attack (Dec. 27-30,
1595) was also a failure. They returned to Nombre de Dios, then
sailed again; but on January 28th, 1596, Drake died at sea off
Porto Bello. He was buried in the waters of the Caribbean, the
scene of many of his most daring exploits, the next day, in a lead
The document to the left displays one aspect of this last voyage.
It again was a joint venture, and to raise money for his investment,
Drake sold his 71-year lease of a house called "The Herbar" in
the Dowgate ward of London. The document is the one which Drake
received as his record of the transaction; it is signed by the
purchaser, Alderman Paul Banninge.
The Herbar was a most interesting building. It had been a royal
residence, under King Richard III (1483-1485), and for a time it
had been occupied by King Philip II of Spain's diplomatic chargé d'affaires in
London (c. 1571-1578). Drake's lease of the property dates from
November 6, 1588, so that it is quite possible that he purchased
it with his prize money from the capture of the Rosario during
the Armada campaign of that year.
Document recording Drake's sale of the lease of his house "The Herbar" in
London, 1593, apparently to finance his last expedition. 
Caro de Torres' Relacion , 1620, relating the success of Sotomayor.
On the Spanish side, the defenses at Panama were commanded by
Don Alonso de Sotomayor (1545-1610), a soldier of great experience,
who was sent there by the Viceroy of Peru and made commander-in-chief
("Capitan General"). The English troops were under Sir Thomas Baskerville
(d. 1597) ("Coronel Tomas" in the text). Their attempt to cross
the isthmus was defeated, and soon after this Drake died.
A biography of Sotomayor by Francisco Caro de Torres (c. 1560-1630)
relates this Spanish success in detail. The author includes a lengthy
eulogy of Drake, praising his courtesy, his outstanding performance
as a navigator, especially in his circumnavigation, and lauds his
humane treatment of prisoners--the latter indeed an exception in
the generally brutal condition of sixteenth century warfare.
The text and translation of Caro de Torres' eulogy are printed
on these two pages.
Francis Drake was greatly disheartened by the ill success
of this voyage, which had caused the deaths of two commanders
[Hawkins and Clifford] and of so many gentlemen, so he went with
his fleet to the Escudo of Veragua, along the coast to the westward.
There he took counsel with his brother and with Colonel Thomas
[Baskerville] and with such others as were left; he declared
to them that he was determined not to return
to England without again attempting the expedition up the Chagres
River in launches, for so much time had by now passed that the Spaniards
would be unprepared for them, and if they could reach the way station
at Cruces it would be simple to capture Panama because from there
the route was an easy one. He thought that it was better to be defeated
than to return to England, where he would be disgraced in the eyes
of the Queen and her favorites, for they would hold him responsible
for the failure of the voyage and forget his previous successes.
Therefore, with great courage, he resolved to renew his attempt,
in the course of which he was overtaken by a fever which killed him.
This was when the fleet had arrived at the mouth of the Chagres River,
which may be considered famous as the scene of the death of so great
a sailor. Although he had not been brought up a soldier by profession,
his Queen gave him appointments as commander-in-chief of her forces,
and employed him in positions of trust and honor. In his profession
as a seaman he was one of the most outstanding mariners the world
has ever seen: in sailing around it only Magellan preceded him. Despite
such celebrity he was courteous and kindly to his prisoners, and
hospitable to them, as reported by Captain Ojeda. Don Francisco de
Zárate, who fell in with Drake in the Pacific, when he was
voyaging from New Spain towards Peru, was sumptuously entertained;
Drake discussed important questions with him and returned all his
property to him with great humanity and courtesy--his silverware,
his servants, a slave woman and his ship. This is a virtue which
can never be sufficiently praised, even in enemies.
Passage on the success of Sotomayor from Caro de Torres' Relacion ,
1620, continued. 
An anonymous Spanish Relacion covers the successful
defense of Puerto Rico against the attempt to seize the treasure
ship there. Events are related up to Dec. 20, 1595, and the license
for printing is dated Feb. 21, 1596, less than a month after Drake's
death, which of course was not then known in Spain. The present
edition (hitherto only one other edition known) is unrecorded and
A translation of the text is on the opposite page.
A contemporary account of Drake's repulse at Puerto Rico in an anonymous Relacion ,
REPORT OF THE VOYAGE OF HIS MAJESTY'S FIVE WAR FRIGATES, UNDER
THE COMMAND OF DON PEDRO TELLO DE GUZMAN, THIS YEAR, 1595.
Everybody was surprised and overjoyed at this happy outcome,
when two sail came in sight. We gave them chase until three in
the afternoon, when our vice-admiral brought one of them by the
lee, grappled with her and took her, leaving the Santa
Isabel to keep her company. The flagship and the remaining
vessels of the squadron continued in chase of the other ship.
About then--that is to say, around four o'clock in the afternoon--the
vice-admiral shot off three guns, as a warning to the flagship.
Ordered to search the sea, the lookouts sighted nine sail coasting
along the island of Guadeloupe. We thereupon abandoned the chase:
the flagship returned to the convoy to pick up the frigates and
spoke with [Vice-]Admiral Gonzalo Méndez, who transmitted
the report he had extracted from the prisoners he had taken,
First, that they had de parted from Plymouth on 8th September
in the year aforesaid, in company with a fleet commanded by the
generals Francis Drake and [Sir] John Hawkins. The prize and
her companion had lost company with the fleet in rough weather,
four days earlier. Ships that might lose company had been ordered
to rendezvous with the main body either at Bayona [in Galicia,
on the north coast of Spain] or at Puerto Santo [in the Canary
Islands] or off Guadeloupe [as might be requisite according to
the stage of the voyage reached]. If they did not fall in with
the fleet at those roadsteads they were to proceed to Puerto
Rico where they were told the expedition would spend ten days.
They had fallen with the island on the previous afternoon, and
had sighted and counted nineteen sail, but had not succeeded
in fetching them to speak with them; then they had taken our
frigates for ships of their own squadron, and that was why they
had fallen in with our flotilla.
Asked how strong their fleet was, they said that it consisted
of 26 sail. Of these six were Queen's ships: five of them ranged
from 800 down to 500 tons, and the other was of 300. Among the
remaining 20 vessels, which were adventured by private persons,
some were comparable to them in strength and burthen. All of
them were under orders from the Queen.
Asked what effect the fleet was intended to accomplish when
it left England, witness said that he knew no more than that
it was to proceed to Puerto Rico and there take the silver; but
that it was so well victualled and stored that the men believed
that they were expected to spend a long time in the Indies.
News of Drake's death spread slowly. On June 20, 1596, Andres
Armenteros, a member of the Council of the Indies, the Spanish
governmental committee which supervised operations in America,
wrote from Seville to the Duke of Medina Sidonia, Drake's old opponent
at Cadiz and during the Armada campaign. He informed the Duke that
Drake was dead, and that his body had been carried back to England
in a barrel of beer--this latter detail was of course not true.
Armenteros also speaks of a combined English-Dutch flotilla which
was being assembled. Even as he wrote, this fleet was sailing towards
Spain, under the command of the Earl of Essex and Lord Howard of
Effingham, both of them old military associates of Drake.
Their successful attack on Cadiz (June 22-July 5, 1596) was a
repeat performance of Drake's stunning attack on that same city
in 1587, and the flames of this raid, as the Spanish war and merchant
ships were again being destroyed, form a fitting postscript to
the career of the great warrior and discoverer.
The Armenteros letter (reproduced to the right) is unpublished,
so far as we can discover. A translation of the portion that relates
to Drake is printed below.
TRANSLATION OF ARMENTEROS' STORY
I received your Grace's letter, of which I return a transcript
herewith, and I gave it to the Flemings to make them understand
the obstacles to the plans for trade in Calais. They called a
meeting and discussed the question exhaustively, eventually deciding
that what has been set down in the margin of the transcript will
be the best course for His Majesty's service. I send this to
Your Grace so as to comply with Your Grace's instructions, for
this is the right and profitable course of action. Your Grace
will already be aware that Drake's fleet on its return reached
England with only five ships, and very few men in them: Drake's
body was on board, embalmed, in a beer cask. Because of this
failure the preparations of another war fleet which was being
got ready in England, with ships from Holland and Zeeland participating,
have been wrecked, because they were planning to fit it out with
the two million pieces of eight that they wrongly thought Drake
had been successful in capturing at Puerto Rico...
I kiss Your Grace's hands, those of Her Grace the Duchess,
etc. Seville, 20 June, 1596.
The Licentiate Armenteros.
A hitherto unpublished letter of Andres Armenteros to the Duke of Medina
Sidonia, reporting that Drake's body, embalmed, was brought back to
England in a beer cask, 1596. 
The account of Drake's last voyage in the third volume of Hakluyt's Principal
Navigations , 1600. 
The most comprehensive account of these dramatic events, as seen
by the Englishmen whom Drake commanded on his last voyage, is a
temperate and reliable narrative which corrects the many erroneous
Spanish stories about it, some of them found when Howard and Essex
sacked Cadiz. Though the story that follows is very nearly contemporary
with the operation, for this second and definitive edition of Principal
Navigations  Richard
Hakluyt took care to see that it was complete and impartial. This
chronicle of the final decline of Drake's fortunes (Volume III,
pp. 583-590) is probably by one of his captains and the beginning
is reproduced above.
In undertaking this narration of the life of Sir Francis Drake
the object throughout has been to present it as it was seen through
the eyes of the men of his time. So, if it is to be concluded fittingly,
the last word must, by right, belong to his great countryman Richard
Hakluyt. It is unthinkable to leave the English hero to the fate
to which Licentiate Armenteros (see p. 176) consigned him when
so incomparable a historian of voyages and discovery has recorded,
in the present account, exactly how the greatest of English mariners
did meet his end. The close of the epic story of the life of Sir
Francis Drake, as told by Richard Hakluyt (Volume III, pp. 587-588)
only four years afterwards, is transcribed below.
The 29 [December, 1595] sir Thomas Baskervil with 750 armed
men, besides Chirurgians and provand boyes [boys serving for
an allowance of food, without pay] went for Panama.
The last of December the Generall [i.e., Drake] burned halfe
the towne, and the first of Januarie  burnt the rest, with
all the Frigats, Barks & Galiots, which were in the harbour
and on the beach on shore, having houses built over them to keep
the pitch from melting.
The second of January sir Thomas returned with his souldiers
both weary and hungry, having marched more than halfe the way
to the South sea...The march was so sore as never Englishman
marched before...upon the top of an hill, through which we must
needes passe, the Spaniards had set up a Fort and kept it with
some 80 or 90 men, who played upon us as we came up, before wee
were aware of them, and so killed some twentie or more among
us...Then sir Thomas had perfect knowledge that they must passe
two such Forts more, [even] if he got that [one], besides [knowing]
Panama to be very strong, the enemie knowing of our comming long
Also our souldiers had no victuals left, nor any meanes
to get more; which considerations caused sir Thomas to return
and give over his attempt...the 5 [January] we set saile at 12
of the clocke, and stood to the westward.
The 10 day we saw an Iland lying westward some 30 leagues
called Escudo, where wee came to anker...we sawe a roader [i.e.,
a vessel riding at anchor], who seeing us, set sayle, but that
night with our Pinnesses we tooke him...The men being examined
by the Generall confessed him to be an Advisor sent from Nombre
de Dios to all the ports along the coast westward...It is a sickly
climat...and given to much raine: here we washed our ships and
set up the rest of our Pinnesses.
Cover of the oval container preserving the Silver Map of his circumnavigation,
bearing Drake's coat of arms. [58a]
The 15 day Captaine Plat died of sicknesse, and then sir Francis
Drake began to keepe his cabin, and to complaine of a scowring
The 23 we set saile and stood up again for Puerto Bello,
which is but 3 leagues to the Westwards of Nombre de Dios.
The 28 at 4 of the clocke in the morning our Generall sir
Francis Drake departed this life, having bene extremely sicke
of a fluxe, which began the night before to stop on him. He used
some speeches at or a little before his death, rising and apparelling
himselfe, but being brought to bed againe within one houre died.
He made his brother Thomas Drake and captaine Jonas Bodenham
executors, and M. Thomas Drakes sonne [the later Sir Francis
Drake, first baronet] his heire to all his lands except one manor
which he gave to captain Bodenham.
The same day we ankered at Puerto Bello, being the best
harbour we found along the maine both for great ships and small...After
our comming hither to anker, and the solemne buriall of our Generall
sir Francis in the sea: Sir Thomas Baskervill being aboord the Defiance,... M.
Bride made a sermon, having to his audience all the captaines
in the fleete.