All The Queen’s Men

“If England had not used the services of privateers and pirates during its long struggle with Spain, there is some likelihood that people today in North America would be speaking Spanish rather than English.” 
Robert Earl Lee, Blackbeard the Pirate

A Ship

They were called the “Sea Dogs.”

Queen Elizabeth I was surrounded by dynamic, brilliant, intrepid and creative men.  They were her privateers, independent, but used as an auxiliary navy to plunder Spanish ships. If the Spanish took exception, the Queen could deny that she had any hand in the mischief.

Sir John Hawkins, the leader of the Sea Dogs, engaged with the Spanish ships in the Caribbean. His résumé included slave-trading pioneer, treasure-hunting pirate, high-ranking naval commander, spy and war hero.  He reformed the navy and improved the pay and conditions for sailors.

Sir Francis Drake, sea captain, slaver, and politician, is usually remembered as a hero, the favourite of Queen Elizabeth, who awarded him with a knighthood.  He was second-in-command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588.  On the other side of the channel, the Spanish knew him as the ferocious pirate, El Draque – the Dragon.  Perhaps his greatest feat was to be the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.

Sir Walter Raleigh was destined to be one of the most celebrated figures in British history. A privateer, explorer, poet and favourite of the Queen, he was the first to attempt colonization in  North America.  He was unsuccessful, but his efforts opened the way for others to follow.

With the passing of Queen Elizabeth I, peace was made with Spain.  The Sea Dogs continued their piratical activities on the Barbary Coast, to the embarrassment of the English Crown.  The time of the Privateers was coming to an end.  Once the force behind British imperialism and expansion, they became, in the end, a threat to national security.  As Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, “All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil.”

“And what is the sea?” asked Will. 
“The sea!” cried the miller. “Lord help us all, it is the greatest thing God made!”
Robert Louis Stevenson


Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

26 thoughts on “All The Queen’s Men

    1. Oh Cindy, you do make me smile. I am learning as I go along. We always talk about pirates, but we don’t really known anything about them. This has been an extraordinary journey these past few days. History is not easy – it demands are full attention. It challenges our value systems and easy answers.


  1. nicely said – Sea captains were a hard lot, many sailors were impressed ( little better than slaves ) – and these were tainted by slavery, which drops them a bit on the scallywag scale — three cheers for Wilberforce

    Isn’t Robert Louis Stevenson like a gemstone that shines brighter the more it is polished ?


    1. Thank you! I remember reading Mutiny on the Bounty when I was in high school – it was a difficult read for me. History does not let us rest on our laurels. It challenges us to face who we are and examine our personal actions and value systems. And it is the writers, like Robert Louis Stevenson who give us our compass. You said it so well, I must repeat it – “Robert Louis Stevenson is like a gemstone that shines brighter the more it is polished.”


  2. It’s rather funny to think of the highly censored version of Drake and Raleigh that we were given at school. Stevenson’s words about the comingling of good and bad is very apt.


    1. I remember that, according to my history lessons, these men were close to sainthood. And yet, it is good to know that they were flesh and blood. I agree the quote was apt. Stevenson’s understanding of humanity’s paradox – commingling of good and bad – was exactly what I felt when I read these men’s histories. I went ahead a couple of centuries to read a little about William Wilberforce – I loved his quote:

      “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”


  3. I find heredity as fascinating as history., Our nearest neighb9urs in the country some years ago had come from Uk like me, and were the descendants of Walter Raleigh. Adrian was the spitting image of his ancestor, with grey black eyes, black hair, white skin and aquiline nose and delicate features…


    1. What a great story! The DNA comes through. There is so much to Sir Walter Raleigh’s story. It is no wonder that he is considered one of the most famous sons of England. I did not know that he was a extraordinary poet!! Here is one I found that captures his thoughts on life.


      What is our life? A play of passion,
      Our mirth the music of division,
      Our mother’s wombs the tiring-houses be,
      Where we are dressed for this short comedy.
      Heaven the judicious sharp spectator is,
      That sits and marks still who doth act amiss.
      Our graves that hide us from the setting sun
      Are like drawn curtains when the play is done.
      Thus march we, playing, to our latest rest,
      Only we die in earnest, that’s no jest.


      1. Oh Rebecca, you’ve really got me going… first of all, I only told you the half of the story… Raleigh had a half brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert, who died when his ship the Squirrel, only 30 tons, went down when he was exploring the North West Passage. Humphrey Gilbert had flaming red hair, and all my friend’s children had the red Gilbert hair !!!
        Margaret Irwin’s biography of Raleigh, ‘That Great Lucifer’, and Robert Lacey’s Raleigh are both wonderful…
        I always loved his poem Give me my scallop shell of quiet, but also his Epitaph :
        Even such is Time, which takes in trust
        Our youth. our joys, and all we have.
        And pays us but with age and dust…. and so on.
        And his hilarious riposte to Marlowe’s Passionate Shepherd to his Love…
        The worst thing James 1 ever did, was to behead him for political reasons…Forgive me going on… he’s one of my favourite people..


      2. I agree with you wholeheartedly!!! A most unjust beheading!

        I do love that poem. Now you have me going. I’m on Google and reading about Sir Humphrey Gilbert. I found both books – “That Great Lucifer” and “Raleigh” on Vancouver Public Library Website. Thank you so much for your recommendations!!

        And I never knew he had red hair!!!


    1. When I was going through my “ship” photos, I had forgotten that I had this one! And it gave me the next series. This ship is the Victory! Stay tuned…for one of the greatest love stories!


  4. I can only guess about the conditions on those slave ships. No wonder the sailors had to be tough. I had a different discussion with a gentleman who loves to sail, even race his vessel. He claims it is great fun!


  5. Thank you for your fascinating potted history, Rebecca. I think these flamboyant characters will always be admired, more for the outcome of their actions, than for what the way in which they carried out their ‘duties’. 🙂


    1. Thank you so much! This past week has been a journey for me as well. It is easy to look back and administer a form of judgment of those who lived on the outskirts of mainstream society. Yet, we must contend with our choices, our actions and our direction. Robert Louis Stevenson says it much better than I can…

      “In each of us, two natures are at war – the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. But in our own hands lies the power to choose – what we want most to be we are.”
      ― Robert Louis Stevenson


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