Queen Elizabeth’s Explorers

Elizabeth I: The Phoenix Portrait, c. 1575, attributed to Nicholas Hilliard

We generally write about the people of court and their lives – not necessarily what was happening in the world around the time of their reign. However, when we posted our article,  The Legacy of Henry VIII, it opened a new door to the history of the Tudor Dynasty.

The more we research Queen Elizabeth, the more we realize how much she was like her father, King Henry VIII. Henry was always looking for ways to be remembered in history – whether it was wanting to claim the country of France as his own, or having built the most palaces during his reign, he wanted to leave a mark in the history books. Unfortunately for him, he is remembered more for his tyranny and having six wives, of whom he beheaded two. Elizabeth, on the other hand, did a much better job of being remembered as a great ruler and explorer of new lands.

The reign of Queen Elizabeth brought about great exploration of the New World and beyond. In fact, the short-lived colony of Virginia (1584-9), at Roanoke Island was named after the virgin queen herself.

In this article we will touch base on two of the most famous of Queen Elizabeth explorers, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake.

Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh

Walter Raleigh was born circa 1552 in England as the youngest of five sons born to Catherine Champernowne.

Walter Raleigh was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1585 – he was appointed warden of the stannaries. This means he exercised judicial and military functions in Cornwall. He was also named Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and vice-admiral.

Sir Walter Raleigh was a known favorite of Queen Elizabeth’s and a great explorer during her reign. Raleigh was an early supporter of colonizing the new world, but Elizabeth would not allow him to leave her service. Instead, Raleigh invested in having others go in his place to establish a colony near Roanoke. Raleigh dispatched 107 settlers to Roanoke in 1585, under the command of Sir Richard Grenville. Raleigh would name the colony Virginia, in honor of his virgin queen.  This group was deterred by the Native Americans who attacked them regularly and so the colonists returned to England. On their return they brought back to England things the country had never seen before, potatoes and tobacco.

In 1587*, Raleigh sent another group of settlers – 150 of them to the new world to settle Roanoke. On this trip the people built houses and planned a longer, if not permanent stay.  Commander John White sailed back to England for supplies and had been delayed by the Spanish Armada. White finally returned in 1590 and the colonists had vanished. They are now referred to as the “Lost Colony of Roanoke Island” and the mystery is still investigated to this day.

Sir Walter Raleigh fell from the Queen’s graces when he secretly wed her Lady-in-Waiting,  Bessy Throckmorton in 1592. When Queen Elizabeth discovered the marriage she (as always) went into a jealous rage and threw both Walter and Bess into the Tower of London. They were only briefly imprisoned and Raleigh again voyaged for the Queen in 1594.

Sir Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake

Francis Drake was born circa 1540 in England and was the oldest of twelve sons born to Edmund Drake and his wife Mary Mylwaye.

Francis Drake was involved in piracy and illicit slave trading before being chosen in 1577 as the leader of an expedition intended to pass around South America, through the Strait of Magellan, and explore the coast that lay beyond. Drake successfully completed the journey and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I upon his triumphant return. In 1588 he saw action in the English defeat of the Spanish Armada, though he died in 1596 from dysentery after undertaking an unsuccessful raiding mission.**

Sir Francis Drake was one of the most celebrated of Queen Elizabeth’s Explorers – he was instrumental in the seizure of Spanish gold from looting their ships on his voyage, in 1579. This made the Queen very happy. On this trip Drake anchored at what is now present day San Francisco and claimed it for Queen Elizabeth – he dubbed it “New Albion” or “New Britain.”

Drake continued to serve the Queen until his final day. During his final voyage for the Queen to obtain more of the Spanish gold in Panama he contracted dysentery and died 28 January 1596 from fever. Sir Francis Drake was buried in a lead coffin at sea near Portobelo, Panama. He was dressed in full armor. The search for his coffins continues to this day.***



*The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain by Charles Phillips, page 128 “Voyages of Discovery”
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain by Charles Phillips, page 128-129 “Voyages of Discovery”

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