Letter of the Day | Untold stories in history
THE EDITOR, Madam:
The monthlong Black Lives Matter protests continue with removal of statues and monuments of historical leaders engaged in slavery and colonisation. The rage and the fury are across the world. Sir Francis Drake’s monument has been targeted in Plymouth, United Kingdom, reportedly because he had worked on a vessel captured from the Spanish that was transporting slaves. I often ate lunch near that monument overlooking Plymouth Sound, while attending the local School of Navigation at various times in the 1960s, studying marine certification for my own seafaring career.
Every English schoolkid knew the story of Drake defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588, and his chutzpah in delaying his battle to complete a game of bowls he was engaged in when the invaders’ fleet was first sighted entering the English Channel bound for London.
Drake was a favourite of the Warrior Queen Elizabeth I, receiving his knighthood after circumnavigating the globe on the Golden Hind and plundering Spanish vessels to return the pirated treasure to the monarch. Recently, I discovered that the account of his maritime victory in 1588 was distorted, to say the least. In fact, he had captured one galleon when following the invaders up-channel and sacrificed four of his own ships by setting them on fire, causing four Spanish vessels to sink.
The Spanish Armada proceeded into the North Sea and escaped, but 22 vessels perished in storms off Scotland and Ireland. The news media of the day consisted mainly of songs sung in taverns; one favourite was written by Thomas Deloney – the John Lennon of his day – that greatly embellished Drake’s victory, even claiming that foul weather favoured England’s Protestant Queen rather than Spain’s Catholic King Philip II.
No mention was ever made of Drake’s ill-fated raids on Corunna and Lisbon in 1589 when he attacked the remaining vessels of the Spanish Armada, but ended up losing several of his own vessels and more than 20,000 of his sailors. Today, many seem determined to obliterate some aspects of history; with so much fake news floating around since 1588, also before and after that date, maybe it will prove difficult for protesters to really set history straight.