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The 26th of September 1580

Francis Drake's epic voyage lasted from his departure on December 13 1577 (actually the second attempt at departure, his fleet was driven back to port after the first on November 15) to his arrival back at Plymouth on September 16 1580, almost three full years. The voyage was purportedly to Alexandria, but in fact was boldly intended to raid Spanish colonies on the Pacific Coast of South America.

It is remembered primarily as a sailing feat and for its geographical implications: the circumnavigation of the globe; his claiming of the lands above Spain's colonies, i.e. he claimed most of North America for the crown; for his voyage further north along the west coast of North America than anyone hitherto had managed, perhaps as far as Alaska; and for his exploration of the Spice Islands. But it had huge political and economic significance too.

When Francis Drake seized the Spanish galleon Nuestra SeƱora de la Concepcion he uncovered proof that contrary to a previous papal ruling giving a monopoly on East Asian trade to Portugal the Spanish were heavily involved there — the ship was sailing west with its cargo across the Pacific. His plundering of that ship, and before it another galleon the Cacafuego, gave yet further reason for Philip of Spain to attack England. And it provided Elizabeth I with a massive boost to the royal treasury — she had probably sponsored the voyage in secret, and her half share of the treasure with which the Golden Hind landed (having set out as The Pelican) was said to have doubled her income for the year.

Drake set out with 164 men on his six vessels; he returned with just 60 on one, the rest lost in action, to disease, and to what amounted to desertion when The Elizabeth took advantage of separation in a storm to head for home in September 1578. And one man, Thomas Doughty, was conveniently executed for treason and witchcraft — Doughty was one of three leaders of the expedition thus a rival to Drake.

It would be Drake knighted at Elizabeth's behest when the voyage ended.

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