On September 26, 1580, some fisherman not far from shore in the English Channel saw a small ship, riding low in the water, moving cautiously toward Plymouth Sound. A man aboard the ship hailed the fisherman and asked whether the Queen was alive? The fisherman replied to Sir Francis Drake that she was, but that a plague – influenza, apparently — was raging in Plymouth itself.
1018 days after he had set sail from England, Drake had returned with a hold full of treasure and a trove of important information about the world. Before he could approach Plymouth, however, he had to know whether Elizabeth, who had sent him on a secret mission through the Strait of Magellan to the west coast of North America, was still queen, or whether a successor, who might well have been Catholic and an ally of Spain, now reigned.
This is part 1 of the story of the second circumnavigation of the globe, and the extraordinary things that happened along the way. In today’s episode, Drake discovers a cure for scurvy 180 years before a Scottish doctor in the Royal Navy learned that citrus fruits did the job, and his sailors make the coolest souvenirs in history, at least that we know of. And that’s the very least of it, for Drake sets the stage for the English settlement of North America.
References for this episode
Samuel Bawlf, The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake: 1577-1580
John Sugden, Sir Francis Drake