Sir Francis Drake


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The Queen`s Pirate

Harry Kelsey

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In this lively and engaging new biography, Harry Kelsey shatters the familiar image of Sir Francis Drake. The Drake of legend was a pious, brave, and just seaman who initiated the move to make England a great naval power and whose acts of piracy against his country’s enemies earned him a knighthood for patriotism. Kelsey paints a different and far more interesting picture of Drake as an amoral privateer at least as interested in lining his pockets with Spanish booty as in forwarding the political goals of his country, a man who became a captain general of the English navy, but never waged traditional warfare with any success.

Drawing on much new evidence, Kelsey describes Drake’s early life as the son of a poor family in sixteenth-century England. He explains how Drake dabbled in piracy, gained modest success as a merchant, and then took advantage of the hostility between Spain and England to embark on a series of daring pirate raids on undefended Spanish ships and ports, preempting Spanish demands for punishment by sharing much of his booty with the Queen and her councillors. Elizabeth I liked Drake because he was a charming rogue, and she made him an integral part of her war plans against Spain and its armada, but she quickly learned not to trust him with an important command: he was unable to handle a large fleet, was suspicious almost to the point of paranoia, and had no understanding of personal loyalty. For Drake, the mark of success was to amass great wealth, preferably by taking it from someone else and the primary purpose of warfare was to afford him the opportunity to accomplish this.

Harry Kelsey is a research scholar at the Huntington Library and adjunct professor of history at the University of California, Riverside. Among his previous books is Juan RodrÌguez Cabrillo.

"Kelsey skillfully devotes attention to each of Drake’s character traits until his complex personality stands fully revealed. This is indeed a fascinating and rewarding study."—Geoffrey Parker

“Kelsey’s enormous research range and great detailing of Drake’s life restore reality and truth to the history of the times. A great achievement in the fields of biography and history.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Kelsey does a creditable job of drawing Drake’s character and the influences that molded him. . . . [His] command of the sources is excellent; the notes are a treasure trove of information on 16th-century exploration, and the bibliography is exhaustive. This work will long stand as the definitive scholarly study of the most famous sea captain and pirate of the era of Good Queen Bess.”—Library Journal

“This is a highly enjoyable book, primarily because the author understands that Drake is most interesting aboard ship; thus, he wastes little time immersing us in Drake’s family history, childhood, or domestic life. Kelsey again illustrates that the life of a pirate may be hard but makes for an exciting yarn.”—Booklist

“Kelsey . . . has written a mightily researched revisionist account of Drake. Out with the myth of the nobleman who developed England as a sea power. In with an amoral privateer as interested in personal gain as in national goals. The book is particularly interesting on Drake’s relationship with Elizabeth I: At first she was charmed by him, but eventually his increasingly paranoid and roguish behaviour revealed him as a man not to be relied upon.”—Toronto Globe and Mail


"Kelsey, a California historian, has written a mightily researched revisionist account of Drake."—Toronto Globe & Mail


"A mightily researched revisionist account of Drake."—Toronto Globe & Mail

Sir Francis Drake is going to be important to scholars for its detailed findings on Drake’s early career.”—N.A.M. Rodger, New York Times Book Review

“Scrupulously researched and calmly argued.”—New Yorker

"In this fascinating and lavishly illustrated biography, based on extensive sources gathered from all over the world, Kelsey demolishes convincingly the traditional, heroic portrait of Sir Francis Drake to reveal a ruthless, selfish pirate."—Choice

“An absorbing biography”—Robert Ruth, Columbus Dispatch

"This book smells as much of the sea as of the library: deep water and profound research. The combination is most engaging."—Patrick O’Brian

"New and scrupulously researched biography of Drake."—Charles Nicholl, Sunday Telegraph

"Detailed and reliable; certainly Harry Kelsey marshals enough evidence to sustain is somewhat sober judgments on Drake’s prowess both as a mariner and as a man."—Peter Ackroyd, The Times

"Mr. Kelsey has written a scholar’s book, as solid and sturdy as one of Drake’s ships. . . . His voyage by voyage account is exhaustive in its research and fair in its analysis. . . . This book may not be for every taste, but it deserves an audience beyond those with a professional interest in the great sea rogue and his times."—William F. Gavin, Washington Times

"Kelsey has written a just appraisal of Drake the man. He skillfully untangles the roots of the Drake myth as well. Kelsey’s research is most impressive; he has uncovered new material on Drake in Spanish archives and used the meager personal records of Drake’s family and early life to advantage."—Ed Voves, Philadelphia Inquirer

"The best available life; insightful, enthralling and generally well-paced."—Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, The Independent

"By far the most scholarly volume yet produced on the celebrated Elizabethan seadog, Kelsey's book has been put together from primary sources in nine countries, and notably from the two Spanish archive holdings, the Archives of the Indies in Seville and the Archives of State in Simancas. This means that the book is a model of erudition."—Frank McLynn, Glasgow Herald

"A meticulous reconstruction of Drake’s life and career. . . . It probably become the standard scholarly edition on Drake because of its thorough discussion of historiography and analysis of sources."—Derek Croxton, Journal of Military History

"The chronicle will open doors to rare documents and give the reader abundant information from which to draw and informed appraisal of Drake."—Business Library Review

"Massively researched and persuasively argued."—Ronald Fritze, Sixteenth Century Journal

“Kelsey has written much more than a work of revisionism. The main strength of his biography is the way he has employed a wide range of hitherto undigested archival sources from various European countries to construct a portrait of the real Francis Drake. . . . Kelsey’s treatment of Drake will stand the test of time as a convincing account.”—
Sixteenth Century Journal

“This elegantly written biography presents Francis Drake as a complex, often puzzling, man. . . . This study . . . is a valuable contribution to the scholarship of the era of Elizabeth.”—Mary L. Scott, Journal of the West

“Carefully documented, appropriately illustrated with woodcuts and maps, and cognizant of the historiographical nuances of this subject, the author’s careful analysis separates fact from legend and provides a sound perspective on Drake and his accomplishments.”—Phillip Drennon Thomas, Journal of the West

ISBN: 9780300084634
Publication Date: August 11, 2000
588 pages, 6 x 9
98 b/w illus.
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