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The Sea Dogs... Puppets in a Political War
Adv. Eng. 3/4
Sea dogs of the 1500 and 1600’s worked for queen Elizabeth, robbing
and pillaging the Spaniards. Over this period of 200 years many shipments of
gold and treasure were stolen from Spanish ships while they were sailing
from port to port on the Spanish main. In one attack the infamous Francis
Drake, “...surprised and attacked a heavily laden string of 200 mules. The
booty that Drake captured in this attack included 30 tons of heavy silver
ingots” (Cochran 28).
There were many different and obscure English privateers who pirated
against the Spanish, but only three of them live on now through their heroic
tales. The three most well known sea dogs include John Hawkins, Sir Walter
Raleigh, and Sir Francis Drake. Drake was by far the most popular of all the
sea dogs. It is said that he accumulated the most wealth of anyone in the
pirating business (Wood 102). Sir Walter Raleigh was another sea dog, but
he didn’t prove to be as successful (Cochran 32). Another pirate during the
Middle Ages was John Hawkins. He robbed the Spaniards of slaves and
riches (Cochran 26). Together these three men were accountable for what
would be worth millions and millions of dollars being converted from Spanish
hands to English.
These three sea dogs were not just part time pirates though. Pirating
was their main job. William Wood stated that, “...(Spaniards) they were only
naval amateurs, compared with the trained professional sea dogs.” Drake
alone was responsible for over 150 attempted or successful attacks on
Spanish treasure ships (Howarth 105). Drake also accomplished something
that only a select few (George Bush) are able to do: he was knighted. One
reason many believe he was knighted though was not because of heroics, but
because, “...a fair share of the immense booty he brought back to England
passed quietly into royal hands” (Cochran 29). Hawkins and Raleigh also
accomplished many great achievements. Raleigh was knighted as well, but
even this and many other great feats, are still over shadowed by Drake’s
clever and bold pirating. But, if you look at the big picture, these sea dogs
were just puppets in a political war between England and Spain.
Elizabeth’s reasoning behind having the sea dogs do her dirty work
was quite simple: the sea dogs were the best, most successful, and most
trained group of naval operators in the world (Wood 170). Many times the
Queen would consult with Drake, Raleigh, or Hawkins on matters of relations
with Spain. She would also ask the sea dogs to take reprisal against Spain for
any treasure they managed to steal from her (Wood 119). Usually this
revenge would be to either rob back from them or atomize one of their ports.
But the destruction was not why they enjoyed pirating.
Sea dogs enjoyed pirating for one main reason: it was a fruitful
opportunity. In this line of business you could make a great deal of money
depending on how many ships you were able to hit. And the money that we
are talking about isn’t small peanuts. The amount we are referring to would
now be considered millions. In fact, Francis Drake made enough money in
his lifetime that he was able to contribute funds to Shakespeare’s Globe
Theater. But the sea dogs did not just attack treasure ships. They also
attacked Spanish colonies and ports.
In 1595 Raleigh ransacked the Spanish held island of Trinidad. He
held the tiny city of Saint Joseph at ransom for three days as he robbed all of
its inhabitants (Cochran 33). The deceptive part of robbing a Spanish port
was first getting in it though; so, the English would resort to trickery. One
time Hawkins needed to have some repairs done on his boat, but he was in
Spanish waters, so he sailed into a Spanish port under Spanish flag and color.
And as he was docking he rose up his native English colors, and conquered
the city - as well as fixed his boat. But the sea dogs were not only involved in
stealing gold and riches. They were involved in the highly successful slave
John Hawkins is best known for his involvement in the slave trade.
The weird thing about this though, was that most of the slaves were being
taken from west Africa and the Canarie Islands and being traded to Spain
and Portugal (Wood 75). But once the English heard about this, Elizabeth
wanted in. So she supplied Hawkins with the ship “Jesus of Lubock”, and he
and 170 other men
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Tudor England, Elizabethan era, Sea Dogs, Maritime history of England, Francis Drake, John Hawkins, Spanish Armada, Walter Raleigh, Piracy, Cimarron people, Anglo-Spanish War
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