The Role of Sir Francis Drake in the Latter-Day Restoration

by Rex Jensen

The Golden Hind was the name of Francis Drake's ship he used for over a decade to torment and raid the Spanish Main. The ship was 120 ft long, had a 92ft main mast, a displacement 300 tons, and had a top speed of 8 knots or 9mph.

Sir Francis Drake lived and died for one purpose. Drake's mission in life was to prevent the Spanish Armada from landing in England. What does this event have to do with the restoration you ask? It has to do with those events, and there are many of them, which God had a hand in, and which are all part of the marvelous tapestry woven by the hand of God which allowed the conditions to exist in which the gospel of Jesus Christ could be restored to the earth.

Drake is not typically included in lists of the protestant reformers, that's because he was not a protestant reformer. Neither is Drake typically included by Latter-Day scholars among those who made significant contributions to the restoration (Columbus, Gutenberg, the framers of the U.S. Constitution, etc). Drake might, however, be included among those who contributed in significant, albeit, unusual ways, to the restoration. Still, his contribution was significant. Without his contribution, the progress of the protestant revolution would have been dealt a serious setback, and the restoration itself could have been greatly delayed.

Francis Drake, born in Devon, England, became a sailor by profession, and distinguished himself early. He sailed with his brother in law to the West Indies where he witnessed the treachery and cruelty of the Spanish sailors.

In 1492 Columbus, sailing under the flag of Spain, discovered America. During the next fifty years Spain engaged in it's conquering an exploiting of America. Spain conquered and controlled most of South America, Central America and Mexico. Spain eventually found the gold which Columbus had sought but failed to find. Eventually, Spain developed gold and silver mines in Peru, sailed the precious ore up the Pacific Coast to Panama, transported the heavy metal overland on donkeys and into waiting Spanish ships in the Caribbean. The precious ore was then sailed across the Atlantic to Spain.

Spain, already a powerful force in Europe, began to flex its muscle and could do so effecively, because of its "gift" of wealth from the Americas. Parallel to these events in Spain, Britain was undergoing dramatic changes as a result of King Henry VIII and his rift with the Catholic Church. Henry wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon, to marry Anne Bolyn. But the Catholic Church did not grant divorces, so Henry left the Catholic Church by appointing his own church authorities (this was the origin of the Church of England), authorities who would grant him a divorce.

Thus, England became more or less a protestant nation and an enemy of the Catholic realm, who's chief defender was King Charles in Spain. Francis Drake, thirsting for revenge upon the Spanish ships who had so abused his cousin, began raiding the Spanish Main, Spanish ships on the high seas, and even ambushing the ore laden donkey trains crossing the isthmus of Panama. Drake obtained (stole) a significant amount of gold and silver from the Spanish between 1557 and 1589. His daring assaults with the smaller, more maneuverable English ships both surprised and frustrated the Spanish king.

Meanwhile, Spain, who also ruled Portugal at this time, being incensed by the infidel British defection from Catholicism, not to mention Drakes infuriating raids on their ore laden ships; began to build a large armada of ships. England knew of Spain's ship building endeavors and they knew of Spain's intentions of landing a military force on England's shores and restoring England to Catholicism by military force, which would have included the deposing of Queen Elizabeth, King Henry's daughter by Ann Bolyn, and replacing her with a king (or queen) loyal to the pope.

Drake was a protestant, and had a strong dislike of Spain, and consequently was perpetually trying to get Queen Elizabeth to fund his sorties into Spanish waters. In 1581 Drake sailed to Cadiz and attacked and destroyed, or sunk, many Spanish ships anchored in the harbor. Drake then sailed into Lisbon harbor and succeeded in destroying more Spanish ships and inadvertently set fire to the port itself.

The port was used for the drying of hardwoods used in making water and storage barrels for the Spanish fleet. The fire destroyed tons of wood soon to be used in making these barrels. In June of 1582 the Armada finally sailed towards England. But twice, storms drove the ships back towards Spain, and later the armada had to wait in France for weather to improve. Finally, the English Channel was crossed and the armada was spotted off the coast of Plymouth. Although Drake was not the commander of the English fleet, it was his skill and leadership the queen depended upon to protect England from the Spanish.

As the Spanish Armada engaged the British navy in the English Channel, many of the Spanish sailors became sick, because of the green, undried wood of the water barrels, caused by Drake's burning of the cured wood in Lisbon harbor. Because so many Spanish sailors were sick from the stomach and bowel illness, they were unable to perform well. Many ships had difficulty mustering enough men to man the sails.

Even so, the Spanish objective was to land on the Isle of Wight, or the southern coast of England and begin a slaughter of the English "infidels," ending, they hoped, in executing Queen Elizabeth and replacing her with a loyal Catholic on the throne of England.

But Drake, with his brilliant tactics, and the smaller, more maneuverabable ships, were able to thwart all landing attempts by the Spanish, and push the Armada through the English Channel and out into the North Sea. The Spanish, with the English now in control of the channel, could only sail north along the English coast, around Scotland and Ireland, and return to Spain. In doing this, the Spanish were assaulted by several violent storms which wreaked havoc with their ships and destroying most of them on the rocky crags of the English and Irish coastlines.

Thus, the great Spanish Armada limped back to Spain, defeated, battered, and demoralized, more by the weather than by English ships, never to threaten England again. The English only sank one Spanish ship, and captured two others. The Spanish also only sank one English ship. The combination of the wealth of gold and silver Drake stole from the Spanish, the water and food barrels made from inadequately cured, green wood, and the smaller, more maneuverable English ships preventing a landing on English soil, protestantism was sustained in England, and Catholicism and its vice grip, were prevented from wielding power in England.

The irony of this most significant historical event is that England was able to prevail only becaue of 1) Spanish gold and silver stolen by Drake, 2) the "luck" of setting fire to the dock in Lisbon harbor, which burned the curing wood sued for water and food on the ships, 3) because England had nowhere near the wealth and resources of Spain, they were forced to build smaller ships, which proved a great advantage in this conflict, and 4) the "bad luck" of the severe storms along the English and Irish coasts which virtually destroyed the Armada.

So in an indirect way, Sir Francis Drake, who was a privateer (a kind word for a pirate operating with governmental approval), effected the maintaining of a climate of religious freedom, though quite modest, of surviving in England, where John Lathrop, Joseph Smith's ancestor, would be forced to emigrate to America where religious freedom was sufficiently protected by the new United States Constitution, that God could, through him, restore the Gospel of Jesus Christ again to the earth. Had the Spanish Armada succeeded, protestantism would have been dead in England, and who knows, embolded by their success and their pillaged wealth from the Americas, Spain may have forcibly eliminated all efforts of religious freedom in Europe--and possibly even the American Colonies.