Review: Drake – Tudor Corsair by Tony Riches


Devon sailor Francis Drake sets out on a journey of adventure.

Drake learns of routes used to transport Spanish silver and gold, and risks his life in an audacious plan to steal a fortune.

Queen Elizabeth is intrigued by Drake and secretly encourages his piracy. Her unlikely champion becomes a national hero, sailing around the world in the Golden Hind and attacking the Spanish fleet.

King Philip of Spain has enough of Drake’s plunder and orders an armada to threaten the future of England.


Ironically, like many of us armchair historians, my most vivid image of Sir Francis Drake was the story of him playing bowls at Plymouth while learning that the Spanish Armada had been sighted—and wanting to finish his game before doing anything about it. Another great legend shattered! As expected, Tony Riches gives us the accurate story of this famous figure, a bit less dramatic than the myths but much more believable. A good portion of the book concerns Drake’s adventures at sea and presents a lot less interaction between him and Queen Elizabeth than I thought we’d see, though there was plenty of courtly intrigue. We don’t witness a flamboyant and dashing presence in the Elizabethan court; this Drake was all business and not prone to showy antics. In fact, at one point the ostentatious Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex was foisted on him, much to his displeasure. But he had to please the queen, after all.

I found the book to be more of an episodic novel than a plot-filled adventure. We get a lot of action:

The urgent clanging of church bells echoed in the darkness like a death knell, telling us the alarm had been raised in the town. Our raid would be more dangerous now, but we’d come too far and waited too long; there would be no going back.

John drew his sword and gave me a nod, then took his sixteen men to the marketplace. I led the rest of our men up the broad street and gave the order to light our fire-pikes. We marched like an invading army to the beat of our drums, blazing torches on the pikes lighting our way.

As before, our attack relied on bluster and bravado, as we were certain to be outnumbered by the Spanish militia. I had no wish to injure any of the townspeople, but if they needed an excuse to abandon the town, we were ready to offer them one.

The sharp crack of my brother’s arquebus was the signal for our trumpeters, who began their fanfare. The Spanish militia would be forgiven for fleeing such an attack, and we helped them on their way with a fusillade of arquebus fire, aimed high into the air.

There were many stops along the way as Drake harassed the Spanish—sometimes with great success, other times, not so much. I must say, because of my lack of geographic knowledge, I frequently lost track of where they were because I didn’t recognize the city names. A map would have helped. Luckily, all roads led to Plymouth, which was Drake’s home territory. He had a long-suffering wife who he adored, and a strong local standing which was very important to him. This Drake was totally relatable, flawed as most famous men really are, and quite likeable. I took away a much clearer vision of the Spanish/Elizabethan conflict, which was much broader than the typical “heroic queen” story we are fed in the movies.


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Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony’s other published historical fiction novels include: Owen – Book One Of The Tudor Trilogy, Jasper – Book Two Of The Tudor Trilogy, Henry – Book Three Of The Tudor Trilogy, Mary – Tudor Princess, Brandon – Tudor Knight and The Secret Diary Of Eleanor Cobham. 

For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on  Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

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