The Royal Navy's Other Francis Drakes
Pretty much everyone has heard of Sir Francis Drake
(1540–1596). But he was by no means the
only Francis Drake to have attained some distinction in the Royal Navy. It seems that the famed Elizabethan sea dog had
numerous kinsmen in Devon, among them the
Drakes of Buckland Monachorum, who also had a penchant for naming their sons
"Francis" and sending them to sea.
In fact, in some cases brothers would be given the name, to be
distinguished by their middle names.
Such was the case for the sons of Sir Francis Henry Drake (1693-1739),
who named his male offspring Francis Henry, Francis Duncombe, Francis William,
and Francis Samuel, of whom the two youngest rose to high rank in the Royal
Navy, after joining the service as midshipmen when he was about 10, as was not
unusual for the times.
Francis William Drake (1724-1787). Rose rapidly due to fine service during the
War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), and was commissioned a captain when
he was just 23. For a time governor of Newfoundland (1750-1753),
during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), he saw considerable service from the West Indies to the Channel. Promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue (i.e., the rear squadron) in 1778 he
commanded a squadron in the Channel Fleet during the American Revolution,
rising to Vice-Admiral of the Blue in 1780, but was forced to retire due to
ill-health later that year. Promoted to
Vice-Admiral of the Red in 1787, he died shortly afterwards.
Francis Samuel Drake (1729-1789). Commissioned a captain at the outbreak of the
Seven Years' War in 1756, commanded the 50-gun ship Falkland at Quiberon Bay
(1759), and later took part in operations in the Caribbean
that led to the capture of Dominica
and Martinique (1761-1762). During the American Revolution, having been
promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue, commanded a division in the battles of
the Chesapeake (1781), St. Kitts (1782), and the Saintes (1782), and during the
relief of Gibraltar (1783). In 1789, by
which time he was a member of parliament
and a baronet, he was named a Commissioner of the Admiralty, but died shortly
While their careers in the Royal Navy were perhaps not so
spectacular as that of their distant kinsman Sir Francis Drake, both Francis
William and Francis Samuel served with honor and distinction.
FootNote: Francis Thomas Drake (c. 1750-1781) was the acknowledged
illegitimate son of Francis William Drake, above. Presumably through his father's influence, he
entered the Royal Navy and had risen to commander by 1780. Described as "a young man of merit and
promise," in the ancient tradition of the service he went down with his
ship, the 14 gun sloop-of-war Delight, when
she foundered in a storm in 1781.
Bellini Gets a Lesson in Anatomy
In 1479 Venice
and Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II (r. 1451-1481)
agreed to end a long war over control of various territories in Greece and the Aegean. Rather
than "peace," what followed was a "cold war" between the Serenissima and the wily Ottoman emperor,
who not only wanted to acquire Venice's
eastern territories, but was widely known to be interested in some Italian real
estate as well. So when Mehmet expressed
a very un-Islamic interest in having his portrait painted by one of Italy's revolutionary
new painters, the Venetians readily agreed.
In a move that would foreshadow the "confidence building
measures" and "cultural exchanges" of the twentieth century's
Cold War, the Venetians dispatched the artist Gentile Bellini (c. 1429-1507) to
Constantinople, who would not only paint the Grand Turk's portrait, but also serve
as a sort-of "cultural ambassador," and a spy as well.
Now Bellini's arrival in Constantinople
in late 1479 greatly pleased Mehmet. So
naturally, Bellini prospered at the Sultan's court, securing numerous
commissions. The portrait of Mehmet,
then about 48, that now hangs in the National
Gallery in London is believed to be one of these.
Among the other the works that Bellini painted while in Constantinople was one that depicted John the Baptist,
after his beheading.
Now Bellini had probably never seen an actual beheading, and
apparently got it wrong. In contrast, the
Sultan was an old hand at the practice, having had occasion to indulge in it on
an industrial scale. Indeed, on August
14th of 1480, while Bellini was still at his court, Mehmet had
beheaded hundreds, perhaps thousands, of residents of Otranto, on the heel of
Italy, which he had just captured, for refusing to convert to Islam; he did
spare the bishop this penalty, preferring to have the old guy sawn in half
instead. So in the interests of artistic
realism, Mehmet pointed out that the depiction of the Baptist's injuries was
Bellini asked what was wrong.
Rather than explain Bellini's error, Mehmet called over one
of his body guards and a slave, and had the former demonstrate the process and
its results on the latter.
It's not known how carefully Bellini studied the results of Mehmet’s
little demonstration. Nevertheless,
despite the fact that he was making rather good money in Constantinople,
by the end of the year Bellini had departed for home, surely happy that the
Grand Turk had not chosen to demonstrate the consequences of decapitation on his person. .