Francis Drake's Letter to Queen Elizabeth


Francis Drake's Letter to Queen Elizabeth


Francis Drake was a prominent English privateer and naval commander under Queen Elizabeth I, favored for his notable skirmishes against the Spanish Armada and his 1580 circumnavigation of the globe. In this letter to Elizabeth, Drake describes his most recent victory against Spain, crediting a large storm for the destruction of much of Spain’s forces and referring to himself and his men as “your Majestie’s force" (Drake). Drake’s deferment to Queen Elizabeth reflects the system of patronage present in monarch-privateer relationships, wherein privateers (in essence, English pirates) plundered for the crown (Wiesner-Hanks, 269). As the race to claim land, labor, and other resources in the Americas intensified, these relationships -- in line with the trend toward centralization that had seized many European monarchies -- became more common. For example, Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus secured funding from Queen Isabella of Spain before setting sail for the Indies, parts of which he would later claim for Spain.

Drake was not Elizabeth’s only privateer. England’s attempts to intercept Spanish forces were representative of the larger competitive aspect to conquest and colonization of the New World. For the most part, the English ignored the “Tordesillas line” put in place by the pope in order to divide the Americas to Spain’s and Portugal’s advantages, instead claiming land for their kingdom as they came across it (Wiesner-Hanks, 252). Drake’s defeat of the Spanish Armada, in particular, helped give rise to a superior English navy and increased opportunities for England to exert its influence in the New World.


Francis Drake


Photo: UK National Archives

Drake, Francis. Letter. Received by Queen Elizabeth I, 8 Aug. 1588.

"Francis Drake." The Ages of Exploration. Accessed October 05, 2018.

Wiesner-Hanks, Merry. Early Modern Europe: 1450-1789. Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.




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Francis Drake, “Francis Drake's Letter to Queen Elizabeth,” HIST 139 - Early Modern Europe, accessed June 23, 2024,

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