Thursday, 13 December 2018 22:11

The Second-Most Successful Pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy: Sir Francis Drake ($115 Million)

Written by
Rate this item
(1 Vote)
The Second-Most Successful Pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy: Sir Francis Drake ($115 Million) The Second-Most Successful Pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy: Sir Francis Drake ($115 Million) Image from Wikipedia

Golden Age of Piracy: Top 10 Countdown Part IX-A

This is the first of two sections of the ninth installment of a series focusing upon the ten most successful pirates (as determined by the estimated total value of their combined hauls) of the Golden Age of Piracy (generally considered to have begun around 1700 and ended with the killing of Barthlomew “Black Bart” Roberts in 1722).

# 2. Sir Francis Drake: $115 million

Perhaps surprisingly, the second-most successful “pirate” of the Golden Age of Piracy was none other than Sir Francis Drake of England.  He pilfered no less than $115 million (in 2018 dollars). 

Famous for his legitimate exploits on the high seas, Drake was nonetheless considered a pirate by his enemies (Spain in particular).  Generally denoted as the second ship’s captain to circumnavigate the globe (Magellan’s exploration group having done so in 1519-1522), Drake was actually the first to complete such a trip as commander throughout the entire endeavor; Magellan had died in 1521 before his cruise was completed. 

Francis Drake was recognized as the premier naval commander of the 16th century.  Although technically only second-in-command of His Majesty’s Navy during the 1588 destruction of the Spanish Armada, it was Drake who garnered the credit for having outmaneuvered and outwitted the larger fleet of Spanish warships, consequently establishing England as a legitimate sea power and thus surpassing Spain as the dominant European power.

But it was Drake’s illegal (technically) capture and pilfering of Spanish treasure shipments that qualified him as a true pirate.  Subsequent to his tenure as a navy commander, he continued a similar career as a privateer before later turning to what was technically piracy. Drake was so successful as an “outlaw” that King Phillip II of Spain at one point offered the equivalent of $8 million in today’s dollars for his capture, dead or alive.

Drake’s early life is relatively well-documented (in terms of mid-16th century records). Born in Tavistock, Devon, England sometime between 1539 and 1544, he was the eldest of twelve sons of Edmund (1518-1585) and Mary Milwaye Drake. As Protestants, the Drake family was forced to flee Devon during the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549.  Finding refuge on the coast of County Kent, Edmund was appointed to minister religion to the King’s Royal Navy seamen.  This affiliation ultimately led to Francis being apprenticed to a coastal trader who, being childless at the time of his death, bequeathed his ship to the young Drake.