For most of his eventful life he had dedicated himself to the pursuit of creating wealth, principally by attacking Spanish ships and relieving them of their gold and valuables. He had an uncompromising hatred of those from that country born of long standing memories, from the reign of Queen Mary, a ruler that had earned the nickname, Bloody Mary. His Protestant ancestors had been persecuted during the violent Roman Catholic purges carried out on her orders. More recently, and within his own direct experience, the Spanish had acted treacherously with his cousin and mentor John Hawkins. He had been cruelly duped and betrayed by them, after seeking their help, at the same time he, Drake, had barely escaped with his life. He did not forget such events and had fully earned his name of El Draco, ‘The Devil’ and his reputation throughout the entire Spanish military and naval establishments.
John Hawkins with Sir Francis had been joint leader of this current expedition consisting of some twenty-eight ships until he had died shortly after their abortive attack on Puerto Rico ten days previously. The attack had been a fiasco; Drake himself had only narrowly escaped death after his cabin was hit by a cannon ball, which shattered the stool upon which he had been sitting. Drake had immediately assumed sole command of the fleet and sent anxious concerns rippling around the decks by his sudden and impetuous actions. Unlike other raids, this time the Spanish in Puerto Rico had been prepared for them and following the defeat he had ordered the fleet to sail south.
He sighed, and looked slowly around the heaving grey seas, taking another deep breath of fresh sea air as he did so. He sometimes thought this was the only time he was truly content, with the whole world laid out before him, a world free of the devilishly complex Elizabethan court politics he detested so much. This would be his last voyage, an undertaking he would not have even contemplated if his fortunes had been different. His fortunes had plummeted as fast as they had accumulated after a lifetime of serving Queen Elizabeth I. All had been lost backing the cost of the ships and voyage to mount an ill-fated attempt to raid mainland Spain the previous year. It had been a total disaster. He had been driven to it by pride and the conviction that so soon after the defeat of the Spaniards' Armada they would be easy victims. It had turned out very differently and he had been lucky to escape with his life. As a result he had returned with no bounty to pay the provisioning costs provided by The Queen, himself and the other financial backers. She had threatened to take away his Knighthood and made it clear he was not welcome at court. Being now seriously short of money, he resolved to do something quickly; hence now in his fifty sixth year on earth he was back at sea in command of this small force. He cursed to himself as he felt a spasm of pain from his stomach, He knew something was wrong inside him and wished fervently that he was back home in Buckland Abbey with his new wife.