The unrelated Drake buried in Gibraltar’s bay.

What did they call ‘Fake News’ in 1933? The article pictured here reporting the death of Edward Tyrwhitt-Drake isn’t fake news per se, but it does serve up some glaring errors. Firstly, Edward was not related to Sir Francis Drake, and secondly, his burial-at-sea in the waters near Gibraltar was not a ‘unique’ event.

My friend Guy Tyrwhitt-Drake, who lives and works in my hometown of Victoria, Canada, is a direct descendant of two of the grander and historically important families of Devon, UK, the Tyrwhitts and the Drakes. Knowing of my interest in Gibraltar Guy provided me with the newspaper clipping and some history concerning the Drake name.

It’s not unreasonable that the writer of the article believed that Edward was a descendant of Sir Francis because the great seaman himself claimed to be related to the gentrified Drakes of Ash (sometimes Ashe). To be classed as ‘landed gentry’ you had to be a land-owning family capable of living off rental income alone. Work was for commoners and Francis Drake went to work at an early age.

The Drakes of Ash owned extensive holdings in Cornwall and Devon, including the family seat in Musbury Parish. Their ennobled lineage included politicians, judges and high-ranking officers of the Army and Navy. One distinguished family member was Sir Bernard Drake. Born in 1537, the eldest son of John Drake of Ash, Sir Bernard was a contemporary of Sir Francis, and a successful captain, who also captured Portuguese and Spanish ships in the name of the Queen of England. But he wasn’t a privateer, and unlike Sir Francis, was proper landed gentry.

The Tyrwhitts owned large tracts of Dartmoor and built Princetown, site of the infamous Dartmoor Prison. The book Shardeloes Papers (Oxford University Press. 1947) records:

“The Tyrwhitts were a knightly family in Lincolnshire from early times; Sir William Kettleby, was at Agincourt, and fourth in descent from him was Sir Roger, a vice-admiral who died in 1548.”

Francis was born in Tavistock, Devon, the eldest of the twelve sons of Protestant farmer Edmund Drake. His actual birthdate is unknown, but it is generally recognized as taking place some time in the year 1540. The family was chased out of Devon for religious reasons and settled in Kent where the father became an ordained minister and young Francis obtained work as a cabin boy, aged nine, on the merchant ship Judith. The Judith’s captain and owner, unmarried with no children, liked and admired Francis so much that on his death he bequeathed the young sailor the sturdy coaster. The rest of Francis’ story is well known, he went on to gain enormous wealth and fame as a privateer, which basically was legalised piracy. He captured dozens of treasure ships and attacked and plundered ports all along the Spanish coast. He was the second captain, after Magellan, to sail around the world and the first to survive the journey. He terrorized Spanish shipping for decades and in 1588 helped defeat the Spanish Armada. Out of fear and respect the Spanish nicknamed him El Draque – ‘The Dragon’.  Francis provided Queen Elizabeth I with so much in the way of riches that he became one of her favourites and she knighted him on April 4, 1581. On receiving the knighthood Sir Francis requested that he should be granted the right to bear the crest and arms of the Drakes of Ash.

Sir Bernard considered Sir Francis to be of a lower class and took great offence at his laying claim to being landed gentry, so much so, that in presence of the Queen’s Court he “boxed the ears” of the otherwise formidable Sir Francis. The Queen was appalled at Sir Bernard’s brazen behaviour and severely reprimanded him. She also ordered that Sir Francis be given a new crest and set of arms highlighting his achievements in navigation. Sir Francis got his own back on Sir Bernard by including a small replica of the Drakes of Ash arms on the crest. He purchased Buckland Abbey near Yelverton, Devon and thus his crest and arms represent the Drakes of Buckland Abbey.

The tale of the confrontation of the two Sir Drakes has been passed down through the centuries, and nearly 400 years after the incident heraldry expert and writer Wilfred Scott-Giles (1892-1983) penned this verse:

 

Sir Bernard said Sir Francis

“You’re making a grave mistake

If now you’re a knight

You think you’ve a right

To the wyvern gules of Drake,”

 

Sir Francis said to Sir Bernard

“Your wyvern gules you can keep

At the Queen’s behest

I will have such a crest

As will make your arms look cheap.”

 

Queen Elizabeth said to the heralds

“Draw Frankie a crest of worth

And thereon between

Pole Stars be seen

His wavy course round the earth

 

And upon a globe on his helmet

The good ship Golden Hind show,

With a dragon to fame

El Draco’s name”

And the heralds made it so.

 

Sir Francis said “Look, Sir Bernard!”

And Sir Bernard proudly spake

“Grand arms you’ve got

I’ll allow but they’re not

The ancient wyvern of Drake.”

 

*Note: In heraldry a ‘wyvern’ is a creature like a dragon with two legs (a dragon has four) and two wings, while ‘gule’ is a bright shade of the colour red.

As for the burial at sea, the fact that Gibraltar was and is a military port and the scene of many battles, sieges and shipboard deaths there would been hundreds, at the very least, of burials at sea. One notable and certifiable such burial in the Bay of Gibraltar was that of Sir David Wilkie. The 56-year-old Scottish painter of Royal portraits, including William IV and Queen Victoria, was returning from the Middle East in late 1841 when he fell ill at Malta. He died several days later at sea near Gibraltar. His burial was immortalized in oils by his friend, one of the most talented artists in English history, Joseph Mallord ‘JM’ Turner, after whom the Turner Prize is named. The painting is entitled Peace: Burial at Sea and is part of the Tate Gallery collection.

A third likely error in the short dispatch from Gibraltar is the tale of Sir Francis losing his temper and killing a cabin boy. The story goes that one day, while at sea, Sir Francis appeared to be lost. The cabin boy is supposed to have piped in his own opinion and turned out to be exactly right. This so enraged Sir Francis that he threw the poor lad overboard. There is no evidence that this ever happened, and it seems unlikely considering Sir Francis would have had some empathy for cabin boys having been one himself.

One death Sir Francis was most definitely responsible for, was that of nobleman Thomas Doughty. Drake and Doughty were co-commanders of four vessels ostensibly sailing on a friendly trip to Alexandria, Egypt. Their real mission, however, was to seek out and loot Spanish treasure ships. The small squadron set off in 1577 and by the time they had crossed the Atlantic and reached the Straits of Magellan Sir Francis had taken sole command and Doughty had been arrested and charged with witchcraft, mutiny and treason. The witchcraft charges were trumped up and were based on the disappearance of one of the ships, The Swan. The primary witness against Doughty was the ship’s carpenter. Sir Francis conducted the trial and Doughty denied witchcraft and mutiny but admitted that he had told Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, of the true goals of the mission. Baron Burghley was in disfavour with the Queen because he spoke out against unprovoked attacks on the Spanish. This infuriated Sir Francis. He denied Doughty the opportunity to be taken back for trial in England and turned down his request to be landed at Peru.  On July 2, 1578 Doughty was beheaded aboard the flagship Pelican. Soon after Sir Francis changed the Pelican’s name to Golden Hind and the ship’s carpenter was rewarded with command of the ship Marigold. Now down to three ships, Golden Hind, Marigold and Elizabeth, Sir Francis resumed the voyage sinking Spanish ships and pillaging towns along the way. When the tiny fleet encountered vicious storms in the Pacific, the Marigold went down with all hands and the damaged Elizabeth turned tail and sailed back to England. The Golden Hind continued on alone, and arrived back in Plymouth in the fall of 1580, awash with booty. In three years the Pelican/Golden Hind had sailed 36,000 miles and circumnavigated the world.

Sir Francis Drake died of dysentery at Portobelo, Panama on January 28, 1596 aged 55. His nemesis Sir Bernard had died at Crediton, Devon on April 10, 1586. He had contracted typhus from Portuguese sailors he had jailed and mistreated.

Although the case of the Drakes should have been settled years ago my friend Guy Drake, he only uses Tyrwhitt-Drake on official documents, says that the Tyrwhitt-Drakes are still regularly referred to as descendants of Sir Francis, including Guy’s recently deceased father, Montague Tyrwhitt-Drake, a high-ranking Canadian judge. Just last year Montague’s memory was honoured by his local private club and the master of ceremonies referred to him as a direct descendant of Sir Francis Drake. On these occasions Guy likes to point out that Sir Francis married twice but fathered no children.

As for Edward Tyrwhitt-Drake, the subject of the newspaper article, besides being Master of the Berkeley Hounds, he trained racehorses and was briefly Sherriff of Buckinghamshire. He had inherited the grand family manor Shardeloes in 1919 but suffered financial difficulties and was forced to sell much of the estate at auction. Guy says the family believes that Edward had died of an aortic aneurism. That would explain his sudden death at Gibraltar. The abscess on his neck could have been the result of bulging blood vessels, an indication of an aneurism on the aorta. Edward was 46 on the day of his death, August 31, 1933. He had no male heirs and the estate passed to his cousin Capt. Thomas Tyrwhitt-Drake, a World War One hero and a genuine descendant of the Drakes of Ash.

 

BY REG REYNOLDS