Noble Knight or Menacing Pirate? Sir Francis Drake and His Controversial Reputation

Student Author(s)

Allison Utting

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Janis Gibbs

Document Type


Event Date



To compete with Spain’s flourishing fortune in an empire stretching across the globe, nations in Europe, most notably England, turned to employing skilled naval men in legal piracy. These jealous leaders recruited skilled seaman to captain armed ships and attack enemy merchant shipping. The warm waters of the Caribbean off the coast of the New World teemed with treasure and the potential to make ordinary men into legends. This was the case of Sir Francis Drake, one of the most famous privateers to have sailed the seven seas. During the last half of the sixteenth century, Sir Francis Drake plundered numerous Spanish port towns, pillaged countless ships, and became the first man to circumnavigate the globe and return alive. Described as daring, greedy, patriotic, savage, and heroic, Drake has perplexed contemporaries and historians alike as to the true nature of his character and his motives. Over the last 419 years, Drake’s historical image has continued to evolve and undergo revision. This project sought to explore the man behind the myth and to reanalyze the character and existence of a bygone figure as the progression of time can lead to historical misinterpretation. An analysis of primary sources led to the conclusion that Sir Francis Drake earned an unwarranted portrayal as a devilish pirate due to his audacious personality and the nature of his exploits as a privateer. However, his reputation as the heroic knight of English legend was limited by his self-seeking motives and vengeful behavior.

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