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Their pirates and ours
by Louis Proyect
07 October 2001 00:32 UTC
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>By the
>end of the 18th century, the Beys of Algiers,
>Tunis and Tripoli had become notorious for
>harboring pirates and were themselves engaging
>in piracy and the slave trade in whites (chiefly
>captured seamen). European states found it more
>convenient to ransom these unfortunates rather
>than go to war. Adm.
>Horatio Nelson, commanding the British
>Mediterranean Fleet, was forbidden to carry out
>reprisals. "My blood boils," he wrote, "that I
>cannot chastise these pirates."

What arrant nonsense. Sir Francis Drake, the most renowned pirate of 
the Elizabethan era, was employed by the British court.

The Columbus Dispatch, November 8, 1998, Sunday 


Robert Ruth , Dispatch Staff Reporter 

The 16th century had few historians of the caliber of Cornelius Ryan 
or Barbara Tuchman. Consequently, many details about the lives of 
such luminaries as William Shakespeare and Sir Francis Drake are 
sketchy at best. 

One of the best features of Harry Kelsey's absorbing biography of 
Drake is that the author acknowledges throughout his book that much 
of the renowned seafarer's life is shrouded in mystery. But Kelsey, 
through exhaustive research, does as good a job as possible filling 
in the blanks. Interestingly, Kelsey credits Drake's enemies - the 
Spanish - for much of his legendary stature. Many of Drake's English 
contemporaries were far less impressed with his abilities as a sea 
captain, military leader and buccaneer - and seemingly with good 

As Kelsey implies in his title, Drake was first and foremost a 
pirate, far more interested in plunder than in defending England 
against her foes. But even as an oceanic brigand, the author 
contends, Drake's success was limited. 

Most of Drake's legend, Kelsey writes, is based on a fabulously 
successful raid on Spanish ports and treasure ships along the western 
coast of South and Central America. 

It was during this three-year voyage that Drake struggled through the 
treacherous Strait of Magellan and became the second man to 
circumnavigate the globe. Drake returned to his native Plymouth, 
England, in September 1580 with tons of gold, silver and other booty 
stashed in the belly of his flagship, the Golden Hind. 

Profits from this foray transformed Drake from a mildly successful 
merchant-pirate into one of the wealthiest men in Britain. He bought 
prestige in Queen Elizabeth I's court by sharing his treasure with 
the crown. 

Because Elizabeth feared retaliation from Spain, many details of the 
trip were kept secret, a fact that grated on Drake in later years. 
Drake had a huge ego and did not cotton to keeping his exploits 

Drake's Spanish victims did not keep mum, however. To them, Drake was 
a wily buccaneer of fearsome proportions. Fed by oftentimes inflated 
accounts from the Spanish, Drake's reputation soared throughout the 
rest of Europe. 

Drake also has been incorrectly credited for playing a major role in 
the defeat of the Spanish Armada in July 1588. Although Elizabeth 
appointed Drake vice admiral of the British fleet, he did not figure 
prominently in the Armada's defeat, according to Kelsey. 

Drake's warship, the Revenge, captured one of the Spanish fleet's 
most heavily armed galleons - the 46-gun Rosario. But the Rosario's 
surrender came only after she had been disabled in a collision with 
another Spanish vessel. 

The Battle of Gravelines, off the French coast, was the campaign's 
turning point. But Drake left this battle early so he could return to 
England with the gold he had confiscated from the Rosario. 

Lord Charles Howard of Effingham, the English fleet's admiral, and 
captains John Hawkins and Martin Frobisher were far more important, 
Kelsey argues, to Britain's victory over Spain. 

As a pirate, Drake was never able to duplicate his 1577-80 feat along 
the Pacific side of South and Central America. Most of Drake's other 
raids on Spanish possessions in the Americas were financial disasters 
for his backers, including the queen. 

By the early 1590s, Spain knew that its coastal defenses in the New 
World must be strengthened. Drake and other pirates found they no 
longer faced unarmed convoys and unfortified ports. 

Drake's final voyage was another failure. He died on Jan. 28, 1596, 
at age 55 of dysentery on a ship in the Caribbean Sea off Panama. 

Patriotism was low on Drake's priority list, Kelsey writes. Instead, 
Drake was driven by an obsession for wealth and influence. Although 
he was often impetuous and sometimes paranoid, Drake was fearless in 
battle. ''Francis Drake was a rogue, an able seaman and a pirate,'' 
Kelsey writes. ''Drake was a commoner who made himself rich and in 
the process became a friend of the queen.'' 

The man who emerges from the historical record is, Kelsey concludes, 
''an interesting fellow but not the Francis Drake of patriotic 

Louis Proyect, lnp3@panix.com on 10/06/2001

Marxism list: http://www.marxmail.org

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