The Dogs

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), her Majesty was served by naval commanders who were celebrated for their courage and skill. These men have collectively been called her sea dogs. Many were related, and most hailed from England’s West Country. While all served the queen as naval commanders, they also spent much of their time in other roles, as privateers, explorers, merchants, administrators as well as slavers, and even pirates. Only one on this small list died in his bed and one was even beheaded for treason.

Francis Drake knighted in Deptford by Queen Elizabeth I., Date: 4th April 1581 

Here a short overview:

Sir Francis Drake ( c. 1542-1596)

The archetypal sea dog, Drake was a ruthless, greedy and for a lot of people just an asshole, but also a brilliant sailor and leader. In the late 1560s, he sailed with John Hawkins, but in 1572 he led his own raiding expedition to the Caribbean where he plundered the Spanish treasure fleet.

In 1577 he embarked on a voyage to the Pacific, and after capturing a wealthy Spanish Treasure ship he returned home by circumnavigating the globe. Drake led another expedition to the Spanish Main in 1584-85, and in 1588 he commanded part of the English fleet during the Spanish Armada campaign. He returned to the Caribbean in 1595, but died the following year, while cruising off the coast of Panama, and was buried at sea.

Vice-Admiral Sir Francis Drake and Vice-Admiral Sir Martin Frobisher 


Sir Martin Frobisher (c. 1535-94)

This Yorkshireman spent 15 years as a privateer and trader, but he became increasingly obsessed with the quest for the North-West Passage. In 1574 he set out in search of this legendary sea route around the top of the North American continent, the first of three unsuccessful voyages. By their end, he was penniless and disillusioned. He accompanied Drake on his Caribbean raid in 1584-85, and then served as a commander during the Spanish Armada campaign 1588. Further voyages against the Spanish followed, until in 1595 he was injured during a skirmish at Crozon in Brittany, and died of his wounds.


Sir Humphrey Gilbert (1539-1583)

A half-brother to Walter Raleigh and cousin of Richard Grenville, Gilbert was educated at Oxford and then served as a soldier in Ireland. He became obsessed with the North-West Passage and wrote a book on the subject, which encouraged Frobisher to set off in search of it. Meanwhile, Gilbert developed an interest in the colonization of America. In 1578 he and Raleigh led a reconnaissance expedition to the New World and colonize Virginia, which ended in failure. Undeterred, Gilbert led a new expedition in 1583 but never made it further than Newfoundland. His ship foundered during the voyage home, and Gilbert was lost at sea.


Sir Richard Grenville (c.1541-1591)

As a young adventurer, Grenville fought as a soldier in Continental Europe and Ireland. He then took part in Raleigh’s expedition to colonize Virginia. In the process, he attacked the Spanish shipping and plundered his way around the Azores. In 1588 he held a military command, but he returned to sea the following year, helping guard the coast against another invasion attempt. Then in 1591, he participated in an English expedition to the Azores, where the English were surprised and attacked by a larger Spanish fleet. Grenville’s ship the Revenge was surrounded, but he fought on for 15 hours, until, mortally wounded, he was forced to surrender his sinking ship. This epic sea battle was later immortalized by the poet Tennyson.

Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Admiral Sir Richard Grenville 


Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595)

Hawkins was one of the first English sea captains to venture into the Caribbean and trade with slaves. However, in 1568 his flotilla was attacked and all destroyed by the Spanish. During the 1570s they introduced a new form of warship: the English Galleon, a vessel that was faster, more maneuverable, and better armed than its Spanish counterpart. Hawkins served as a fleet commander during the Spanish Armada campaign 1588 and the following year he led an unsuccessful attempt to intercept a Spanish treasure fleet. He next returned to sea in 1595, sharing command with Drake as the two sea dogs led another raid into the Caribbean. This was Hawkins’ last campaign, he died off Puerto Rico, aged 63.


The Battle of Flores, 1591: Sir Richard Grenville and the last fight of the Revenge


Sir Richard Hawkins (c.1562-1622)

The son of John Hawkins learned his trad under Drake, participating in the Caribbean expedition of 1584-85. During the Spanish Armada campaign, he commanded the warship Swallow, and he subsequently accompanied his father during the post Armada raids on Spanish and Portuguese ports. In 1593 he began a voyage of circumnavigation. His ship Dainty raided Valparaiso in Chile but was then cornered and captured by a Spanish squadron. Hawkins spent three years in prison before his stepmother paid his ransom. He returned to sea in 1620, campaigning against the Barbary Pirates and in 1622 unlike all the others, he died in his bed.


Admiral Sir John Hawkins, Vice- Admiral Sir Richard Hawkins and Vice- Admiral Sir Walter Raleigh 


Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1554-1618)

Known as an explorer, a poet, a soldier, and a courtier as much as a sea dog, Raleigh earned an early reputation as a soldier fighting in Ireland. Inspired by his half-brother Humphrey Gilbert, he participated in the doomed New World expedition of 1578, but returned alone the following year, and founded a colony at Roanoke ( now in North Carolina).

Raleigh assisted in the defense of the English coast during 1588. He became a royal favorite, but in 1592 he was imprisoned for marrying without the queen’s permission. Three years later he led another failed expedition to South America, in search of El Dorado.

In 1596 he served alongside the Earl of Essex, the new favorite of the Queen, during a raid on Cadiz. Raleigh’s fall from grace followed swiftly after the queen’s death. King James, I accused him of conspiring against him, and Raleigh was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He spent 13 years there, where he wrote his History of the World. He was released in 1616, but when his next expedition to the Spanish Main ended in failure Raleigh was accused of inciting was against Spain. He was duly executed on the orders of the King.


  1. An interesting article about interesting men that many today know nothing about. If they do know anything, it’ll be Drake and Raleigh that’ll be familiar. The only film I can think of off hand about the period is The Sea Hawk starring Errol Flynn, a fun film though the history is somewhat suspect.

    • Errol Flynn was a great movie swashbuckler. There were a lot of good old movies about pirates and the Spanish Main, and I don’t think that any of them had a lot of historical accuracy. The Horatio Hornblower films were good. I always liked Damn the Defiant. More recently, Captain and Commander: Far Side of the World was excellent, with a serious eye to historical accuracy.

      • Master and Commander was one of the great movies. In terms of awards, it’s a shame it went up against The Return of the King. I’m not a movie buff/expert by any means, but Peter Weir has produced some truly memorable work, integrating the visual and soundtrack brilliantly. I’m thinking the barn raising scene in Witness, “O Captain My Captain” in Dead Poets Society, and several in Master and Commander. The closing/credits part alone in M&C is memorable. Here is a spirited version of the Boccherini “Night Music” that closes out M&C.

        In your following (next) blog post we discussed racelifting and plot changes. M&C was not immune to minor versions of this. Here are a few in no particular order.
        1. In movie M&C the enemy ship was the French Acheron. ISTR that the enemy was American in the book from which that part was taken. But seeing as the American market is large, that had to be changed.
        2. Dr Maturin, an Irish nationalist, is played by the English actor Paul Bettany. This is a bit of an abomination to some (not me), but the point is that one has no difficulty imagining the movie character to be Irish. The casting does not take you out of the movie-reality. Also, they made Dr Maturin younger and more dynamic (sword fighting in a boarding action, really?) than book-Maturin.
        3. Midshipman Blakeney ISTR was a minor character (in the few books I read of the series) but has a major character role in the movie.

        But the point is that none of the changes significantly altered, much less desecrated, the CHARACTERS. The focal point of the movie was still the friendship between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. Their personalities and values and loyalties were preserved. They were not arbitrarily changed to suit some perverse modern day political agenda.

  2. What a great glimpse into these men…I always envisioned that you’d have to have nad’s of steel and a strong constitution to take to the high sea and command a vessel into the unknown (seems obvious, but thinking about it…dang!). To be a fly on the wall.

    “Drake was a ruthless, greedy and for a lot of people just an asshole, but also a brilliant sailor and leader…”

    Alpha’s are like that, serious about their duty, and people would hate their tactics…like our former President who by necessity was very serious and tough in business (the whiny MSM and snowflakes did not understand this concept). For most of his adult life DJT dealt with the mob, local AH officials, unions, contractors, bankers, and NIMBY’s…otherwise he is known to be very compassionate and generous to those less fortunate.

    The Conniver Hologram wouldn’t survive a day on the high seas…it’d be Davey Jones Locker for him…weasels would not be tolerated. Modern [easier] times allow them to flourish.

    • The Wooden World is an excellent book about Nelson’s Navy. I recommend it highly.

      President Trump was a great president, and for that reason, the swamp hated him. They hated Reagan too. They love the carcass and the ho. It speaks to their character.

      • Will have MrsPM order the book, that era fascinates the imagination, and Master and Commander is one of my favorites. Brutal time in today’s suburban standard.

        • ANY book by N. A. M. Roger is a good book on the topic. He’s a true expert on the subject and a good author.

    • GEN George Patton, US Army had an ego, but he was a great general.

      Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery had an ego, but he was a dufus.

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