In Search of a Kingdom: Francis Drake, Elizabeth I, and the Perilous Birth of the British Empire

Custom House. Mar. 2021. 464p. ISBN 9780062875358. $29.99. HIST
Bergreen (Casanova: The World of a Seductive Genius), who followed the tragic course of Ferdinand Magellan’s around-the-world voyage in his bestselling Over the Edge of the World, now tells the story of another circumnavigation, this one undertaken by English pirate Francis Drake. Unlike Magellan, Drake survived his journey, returning to England with a fortune in gold and other valuable goods looted from the ships of England’s arch-nemesis, Spain. Bergreen shows how Drake’s successful piracy proved crucial to the survival of the cash-strapped reign of Elizabeth I, who unofficially endorsed Drake’s raids on Spanish shipping and territories. The exploits of El Draque (The Dragon, as he was known to Spanish sailors) proved pivotal in encouraging England’s command of the seas and imperial ambitions, though personal profit was of more importance to Drake than selfless patriotism. Elizabeth is as much a force in the narrative as Drake, with Bergreen recounting the machinations of her court to give full historical context to Drake’s marauding. Unfortunately, the book as a whole is marred by inconsistencies in chronology and repetitions that detract from an otherwise compelling story.
VERDICT An intriguing-but-flawed exploration of an often-overlooked aspect of Elizabethan history.
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