Sir Francis Drake

A memorial to Sir Francis Drake, Elizabethan sailor and explorer, was unveiled in the south cloister of Westminster Abbey on 4th October 1979. The oval memorial (known as the Navigators' Memorial) also commemorates Captain James Cook and Sir Francis Chichester, who all sailed around the world in different eras. The general design was by the Abbey's Surveyor Peter Foster and the detail of the marble globe showing the three ships was from a cartoon by Eric Fraser. The Latin inscription around the border can be translated:

Circumnavigators of the world. Sir Francis Drake. Captain James Cook. Sir Francis Chichester.

The mosaic of coloured marbles (Tinos for the background, Lapis Lazuli for the sea, Napoleon for the land areas and Golden Travertine for the ships) shows a map of the world on which are the three ships of the navigators. Three different coloured lines trace the routes they took around the world. In the Portland stone border, carved by Arthur Ayres, are sculptured doves, dolphins and an oak and laurel branch.

Drake was born in 1540 in Crowndale, near Tavistock in Devon, a son of Edmund Drake. He lived in Plymouth with the Hawkins family and sailed on ships belonging to this family. In 1569 he married Mary Newman. Sir Francis Walsingham sent Drake on a voyage around the world, where he raided Spanish settlements in South America and the Pacific. In 1580 he arrived home after a three year voyage in the Golden Hind (formerly the Pelican) and was later knighted by Queen Elizabeth I. In 1588 Drake fought with the English fleet as a Vice Admiral under Lord Howard of Effingham to defeat the Spanish Armada. Drake died while on another voyage on 27th January 1596 and was buried in a lead coffin in the sea off Panama.

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

Drake relics are housed at Buckland Abbey in Devon and Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire


27th January 1596


4th October 1979




Cloisters; South Cloister

Memorial Type


Material Type


Sir Francis Drake
Sir Francis Drake by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sir Francis Drake
Circumnavigators of the world memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster