On 4th April, 1581 Francis Drake hosted a banquet on his ship The Golden Hind to celebrate his circumnavigation of the globe and to honour his patrons, principally, Elizabeth I.
The ship had set out from England in 1577 named The Pelican, but Drake renamed it The Golden Hind as he rounded The Horn, in honour of one of his patrons, Sir Christopher Hatton, whose personal emblem was a hind.
Evidently the first question Drake asked on his return to Plymouth in September 1580 was “Is Elizabeth still Queen?”. You might think this an odd question, but Drake had managed to relieve various Spanish treasure ships of their cargo and so it is likely that Drake was merely asking the question to see whether or not England was still at odds with Spain. Drake’s expedition had come across one particular Spanish ship, the Nuestro Senora de la Concepcion, north of the port, El Callao, the chief port of Peru. She had the nickname of Cacafuego, which means the fire shitter. The printmaker Freidrich van Hulsen (1580 – 1665) created this image of the Drake’s capture of the ship.
We have no idea of the exact amount of booty Drake amassed from this encouter, but we do know that for every £1 invested, his backers received £47. Elizabeth forbade him to reveal the exact amount she received, or had appropriated above that due to her as an investor. We also understand that there was a great deal of jewels and plate that were taken from this particular ship that were ‘off the books’. Wikipedia tells us that the Spanish captain estimated this part of the haul as being 400,000 pesos – a staggering £12m in today’s money, which gives us an idea of what the official cargo might be have been worth.
As part of the entertainment Drake’s crew performed their versions of dances they had seen done by the indigenous North American Indians and Drake regaled the diners with tales of his exploits and adventures during his voyage. We know he presented the Queen with various gifts including a solid gold enamelled frog. At the time Elizabeth was being wooed by the French Duc d’Alencon, whom she had nicknamed her frog, and it was at this banquet that Elizabeth raised Drake to the rank of Knight. Both the Spanish and the French Ambassadors were present at this banquet and she took the opportunity of inviting the French Ambassador to dub her plucky pirate ‘Sir’ Francis Drake. If there were ever a more overt political snub to the Spanish, this had to be it! This dubbing told the Ambassadors exactly where Elizabeth’s allegiance lay without the need for words.
Whether Hilliard made the gold frog, I have no idea and so I have used artistic license to have him doing so. Also we have no idea whether he used Spanish gold, but it occurred to me that if he had created this now lost frog, this might be the case. What we do know is that, at some time after his return from this voyage, Elizabeth had commissioned a very special jewel to present to Drake, which is now in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. It contains Elizabeth’s portrait, together with one of her personal symbols – The Phoenix. It is exquisite and Hilliard may, or may not, have created the beautiful locket, but we do know he painted the miniature. Here’s the link to the V&A online entry for the Drake Jewel if you would like to know more about this beautiful jewel. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O11103/pendant/