Category Archives: History

Happy Birthday, Aphra Behn!

And if you’re just now asking yourself “Who in the world is Aphra Behn?” then this is surely the blog for you!

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When I was at University I took a course on the Renaissance/Restoration poets, and completely fell in love with Ms. Behn and John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester. For those of you that don’t know, Restoration authors such as Aphra (sounds odd, but will use it anyway) and Rochester wrote in the time period of (roughly) 1660-1689. This was an interesting period of time, as Charles II had just been restored to the throne of England, and the focus in literature and poetry was on simplicity and the interesting mingling of human reasoning and natural passions. This gigantic shift from the Romantic form of literature seemed to happen almost overnight. And who was in the very throes of it? Why, Ms. Aphra Behn, of course!

Aphra Behn was born sometime in 1640, being baptized in December of that same year. Not much is known about Behn’s early life – which many believe she wanted, but being purposefully vague and misleading on such facts. Her biographer Janet Todd wrote that Behn “has a lethal combination of obscurity, secrecy and staginess which makes her an uneasy fit for any narrative, speculative or factual. She is not so much a woman to be unmasked as an unending combination of masks.” And certainly she was a mystery – she sometimes wrote under the pen name “Astrea” and though she was a well-known figure in the literary world, her life was a mystery to many. 

behn 1As a stout Stuart supporter, Behn became attached to the royal court after King Charles II came back into power in 1660. Now we get into the exciting (and more traceable) details of this woman’s life – in 1666 her connections to the crown landed her a job as a spy during the Second Anglo-Dutch War and she arrived in the Netherlands in July of that year. However, her time there did not pan out as planned, as Charles II was extremely neglectful of payments – and Behn was forced to return to England after having to pawn some of her jewelry in order to live abroad. After her return to England, she began working as a playwright (though reportedly had written poetry prior to this job) for the King’s and Duke’s Companies in London. Her work as a scribe was popular, and her plays began to be seen on the stage in 1670  with The Forc’d Marriage and 1671 with The Amorous Prince. After her third play, The  Dutch Lover, was noted a flop, Behn traveled for three years before settling down once again to write – this time more comical works that proved infinitely more popular than her earlier works. The most popular and well-known of which is, of course, The Rover – premiering in 1677 and featuring a group of well-bred Englishmen’s amorous adventures in Naples at Carnival time. 

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Behn continued to write “ferociously”, as Todd notes. Over her (somewhat short) lifetime, Behn would write and stage 19 plays and translate/author other essays and poetry. She became one of the first “prolific, high-profile female dramatists in Britain” and was one of the most productive playwrights in Great Britain, second only to Poet Laureate John Dryden (Todd). She became friendly with the other playwrights and literary greats of the day, and moved in interesting circles for a woman of the times. As one of the first women to earn her living solely from writing, we women today have a great deal to thank her for!

behn4Publishing her famous novel Oroonoko just a year before her death in 1688, Behn truly wrote until her health completely deteriorated. Though she died at age 48 in relative poverty, Behn was buried in Westminster Abbey under her tombstone which reads, “Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be Defence enough against Mortality.” (Hilarious even in death…) Happy Birthday to this early feminist!

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To Neverland… and Beyond!

“Life is a long lesson in humility.”

Would you imagine that the person who wrote this somewhat jarring quote above also once wrote,

“‘Wendy,’ Peter Pan continued in a voice that no woman has ever yet been able to resist, ‘Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys.’”?

Well you might be surprised to find out that indeed it was the very same author. J.M. Barrie was a man of many talents (not least of which being so obviously a feminist before his time)!

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James Matthew Barrie was born on May 9th, 1860, the ninth of ten children born to Margaret Ogilvy and David Barrie, a weaver in Kirriemuir, Scotland. James had a happy childhood until he was 6, when his elder brother died in a skating accident just before his 14th birthday. His mother was confined to her bedroom for months on end, ill with grief. Barrie tried to cheer her up by dressing in David’s clothes and walking around as him. Though by doing so he scared his mother out of her wits, their relationship was eventually strengthened by it. For the next couple years, before James was sent away to school, he and his mother shared a love of literature – reading aloud works like Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Crusoe, and poems by Walter Scott. 

Throughout his youth Barrie remained a voracious reader – and even formed a drama group with his friends during his teenage years. He left school wanting to become an author, and despite pressure from his family to join the religious order, he was able to attend university and study literature! After graduating the University of Edinburgh he worked for over a year as a journalist at the Nottingham Journal, and then returned home to his mother in Kirriemuir and began writing her childhood stories into a series eventually named “Thrums”. The editor of the St. James’s Gazette in London liked the series so much that he commissioned and published these stories. Though now not Barrie’s most popular work, these stories made him a well-known figure in the literary world and allowed him to begin writing plays – as he wanted.

barrie5Barrie wrote several successful plays (and a couple flukes), but his third script brought him into contact with a young actress of the day – Mary Ansell – who would later, in 1894, become Barrie’s wife. For their union Barrie gifted Mary a St. Bernard puppy – who would become the inspiration for “Nana” in later years. They settled in London but kept a country home in Farnham, Surrey. In 1897 Barrie became acquainted with a nearby family – the Llewelyn Davies family.  Barrie spent most of his free time with the family – and despite this relationship being depicted in movies and tv these days, it was a bit different than we see! Barrie met the family when the father Arthur was still alive, and was there for the five sons through the death of their father and eventually their mother, prematurely. Around this time Barrie unfortunately found his 10-year marriage falling apart. Amid rumors that their marriage was never consummated, Barrie’s wife took a lover twenty years her junior – Gilbert Cannan – an acquaintance of Barrie’s through theatrical politics. Barrie and Ansell’s marriage ended in divorce, though Barrie continued to support Mary throughout her subsequent marriage to Cannan and for the rest of her life. 

barrie2Inspired largely by the stories he told to the Llewelyn Davies family, Barrie began to formulate a story of a boy who wouldn’t grow up, who flew around and had adventures. Not unlike Charles Dodgson’s Alice a century before, Barrie began to write his story into a play and once debuted in 1904, the play Peter Pan; or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up was an immediate success. George Bernard Shaw said of the performance, “ostensibly a holiday entertainment for children, but really a play for grown-up people” – a wonderful description of the meanings and metaphors found in Peter Pan. Though children may see the adventure story on the outside, the adults in the audience could see what was really at play (pun intended) – Barrie’s social commentary on the adult’s fear of time and growing old and losing their childish innocence and fun, to name just a few.

After Sylvia’s death in  1910, she named Barrie as co-guardian of the boys, along with her mother. Barrie remained close to the boys all their lives (though tragically two of the elder sons died young and Barrie seemed to suffer the trauma of losing a child). In 1911 Barrie wrote the novel Peter and Wendy as a follow up to the play, and in 1929 he donated all the proceeds from Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London – which the hospital still holds to this day. 

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Barrie continued to write several plays until his death in 1937 – though to hear the names of them, you wouldn’t think to associate them with the author of Peter Pan! Titles like Pantaloon (1905), Half an Hour (1913), A Kiss for Cinderella (1916), Shakespeare’s Legacy (1916), Mary Rose (1920), Cricket (1926), and The Boy David (1936) are some of the few that stand out, but are among dozens. He passed away in 1937 at the age of 77 from pneumonia in a London nursing home.

To the author of (arguably) the most beloved children’s story of all time (that wasn’t really intended for children), we have one thing to say to you on your birthday…

we hope that second star to the right is everything you imagined for all of us! 

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The Statute of Anne, and Other Copyright Tales

As antiquarian booksellers we all know what the copyright of a title is. We know where to find it, how to interpret it and what it means. But do we know how it came into being? I would venture to guess that more than a few of us are in the dark about how copyright laws came into existence to begin with! Today we would like to particularly focus on the Statute of Anne – otherwise known as the Copyright Act of 1710, which went into effect 308 years ago today – and how it drastically changed how copyright law worked in Great Britain, naming the author, rather than the publisher, as the holder of the copyright!

The crest of the Stationers Company in Great Britain.

The crest of the Stationers Company in Great Britain.

Prior to 1710, the law in effect in Great Britain was the Licensing of the Press Act 1662. Following the spread of the printing press brought over to the UK by William Caxton in 1476 (a prior blog on which you can read here), publishing and printing was widespread and copyright virtually nonexistent. The Licensing of the Press Act was enforced by a highly regarded guild of printers – the Stationers’ Company – who were given the “exclusive power to print and responsibility to censor literary works”. The censorship was thoroughly hated and disputed often, leading to public protests throughout Great Britain. As the Act needed to be renewed every two years to remain valid, authors and smaller printers protested its renewal repeatedly. Finally their efforts paid off in 1694, when Parliament refused to renew the Licensing Act, acknowledging that the ability of only a select few to print the works of an entire country had led to an unhealthy monopoly in the printing business.

After the dissolution of the Copyright Act, authors were finally able to join the fray - standing up beside the stationers/publishers petitioning Parliament for a new system. Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe were two of the most notable authors of the time calling for new licensing (in particular calling for authors to have power over their own work). In 1705 Defoe wrote that without current licensing, “One Man Studies Seven Year, to bring a finish’d Peice into the World, and a Pyrate Printer, Reprints his Copy immediately, and Sells it for a quarter of the Price … these things call for an Act of Parliament”. Suddenly the lobbyists saw an opportunity – rather than lobbying because they were losing out on profit due to lack of licensing, they chose to lobby for the authors instead – their “hearts-of-gold” (we use this term loosely) winning out in the end. They argued for licensing to be reinstated, but with reference to authors – to guarantee them an income – and arguing that without the ability to make a profit from their work, “learned men will be wholly discouraged from propagating the most useful Parts of Knowledge and Literature” (stationer John Howe, 1706).

With the sudden support of authors and other “learned men”, stationers had bigger and better forces and petitioned Parliament in both 1707 and 1709 to write a bill providing copyright to authors (and the publisher they are able to use, obviously). Parliament finally took note and, whatever the motivations of the passage, a bill was finally passed on April 5th, 1710, and is known as the Statute of Anne due to its being passed during Queen Anne’s reign. It consisted of 11 main sections, and its most important and obvious part was the right to copy, “to have sole control over the printing and reprinting of books”, [with no provision to benefit the owner of this right after the sale. Problematic]. The right would “automatically be given to the author as soon as it was published, although they had the ability to license these rights to another person or company.”

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Though the Statute of Anne was by no means perfect, and lawsuits arose after copyrights expired and other booksellers began printing works that had been copyrighted but not re-upped… yaddah, yaddah – it was absolutely the first time that the treatment of authors by printers was recognized and the first step toward a more public law - pressing for less monopoly on printing and therefore, simultaneously, easier spread of the written word.

 

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Celebrating Women Authors on Maya Angelou’s Birthday

We recently saw an interesting article online, detailing the “Best Female Authors” of all time. On this, what would be Dr. Maya Angelou’s 90th birthday, we would like to channel her inner strength and power as a leading poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist and honor some of the most famous female authors of all time.

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Top Twenty-Five Female Authors of All Time in One Sentence or Less

Followed by the First Sentence or So Found about these Powerful Ladies on the Internet (A Rather Fascinating Social Experiment, No?)

(Obviously Debatable, but these names are based on Book Sales and those found to be Classics Today)

Jane Austen:an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century.”

Virginia Woolf:an English writer, who is considered one of the foremost modernist authors of the 20th century and a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device.”

Charlotte Bronte:is one of the most famous Victorian women writers, only two of her poems are widely read today, and these are not her best or most interesting poems.”

Agatha Christie:Lady Mallowan, DBE was an English writer. She is known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, particularly those revolving around her fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.”

Mary Shelley:an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818).”

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Louisa May Alcott:was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania on November 29, 1832. She and her sisters Anna, Elizabeth, and [Abba] May were educated by their father, teacher/philosopher A. Bronson Alcott, and raised on the practical Christianity of their mother, Abigail May.”

J.K. Rowling:is the creator of the Harry Potter fantasy series, one of the most popular book and film franchises in history.”

George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans):was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era.”

Emily Dickinson:is one of America’s greatest and most original poets of all time.”

Sylvia Plath:was one of the most dynamic and admired poets of the 20th century.”

Toni Morrison:American writer noted for her examination of black experience (particularly black female experience) within the black community.”

Margaret Atwood:is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, inventor, and environmental activist.”

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Elizabeth Gaskell:often referred to as Mrs Gaskell, was an English novelist, biographer, and short story writer.”

Willa Cather:established a reputation for giving breath to the landscape of her fiction.”

Dorothy Parker:was an American poet, writer, critic, and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.”

Gertrude Stein:was an American author and poet best known for her modernist writings, extensive art collecting and literary salon in 1920s Paris.”

Ursula Le Guin: an “immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’” 

Isabel Allende:s a Chilean-American writer. Allende, whose works sometimes contain aspects of the genre of “magical realism,” is famous for novels such as The House of the Spirits (La casa de los espíritus, 1982) and City of the Beasts (La ciudad de las bestias, 2002), which have been commercially successful.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay:received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923, the third woman to win the award for poetry, and was also known for her feminist activism.”

Mary Wollstonecraft: “an English writer and passionate advocate of educational and social equality for women.”

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Alice Walker:is a Pulitzer Prize-winning, African-American novelist and poet most famous for authoring ‘The Color Purple.’”

Maya Angelou:an impactful civil rights leader who collaborated with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X during the Civil Rights movement. “

Judy Blume:spent her childhood in Elizabeth, NJ, making up stories inside her head. She has spent her adult years in many places, doing the same thing, only now she writes her stories down on paper.”

Betty Friedan: “a leading figure in the women’s movement in the United States, her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique is often credited with sparking the second wave of American feminism in the 20th century.”

Thank you to these powerful, courageous and wonderful writers for their influence on female empowerment!

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Happy Birthday, Gabriel García Márquez!

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After his death in April 2014, the President of Colombia called this author “the greatest Colombian that ever lived.” Let’s find out why!

Author Gabriel García Márquez was born on March 6th, 1927 in the small Colombian town of Aracataca. His father, a pharmacist, and his mother left him to be raised by his maternal grandparents, before coming back to Aracataca for Gabriel and his brother when he was almost 10 years old. His maternal grandparents, his grandfather in terms of his liberal political beliefs and his grandmother’s belief in the supernatural, were very influential in Márquez’s upbringing, and so was, surprisingly, his parents romance before marriage. His father was not the ideal choice in his mother’s list of suitors, and yet he spent quite a bit of energy romancing her (window violinists, love letters, the whole nine yards) and eventually won both her and her family over. This story Gabriel would eventually, much later, adopt for his novel Love in the Time of Cholera. 

But, I get ahead of myself. First things first! After being reconciled with his parents at age 10 and moving to Sucre, Márquez became a shy and serious teenager, often found writing humorous poetry, to the delight of his family and friends! Though he was not very athletic as a child, after attending high school at Colegio jesuita San José he was awarded a scholarship to study in Bogotá. After graduating in 1947, Márquez stayed living in Bogotá to study law. 

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 8.05.52 PMHowever, Márquez’s passion lay in writing, despite continuing his law studies in order to please his father. That did not stop him from publishing his work, however. Having published poems throughout high school in his school journals and papers, La tercera resignación was his first published work as an adult, which appeared in the 13th of September, 1947 edition of the newspaper El Espectador. Coincidentally and luckily for Márquez,the assassination of Gaitán, in 1948 led his school to be closed indefinitely. Márquez began working as a reporter at El Universal and eventually moved on to write for El Heraldo. 

Márquez’s literary skills were honed in the 1950s, when he became part of a group of journalists and authors known as the Barranquilla Group – the Bloomsbury group of Bogotá, if you will. He became enthralled by the works of contemporary authors like Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner – and authors who mixed the every day with the extraordinary, like Franz Kafka. Throughout this time, Márquez continued working as a journalist, honing his literary skills. 

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In 1955, Márquez’s first novella Leaf Storm, was published after seven years of trying to find a publisher – somewhat shocking, considering the group he was a part of in Barranquilla. Later on, Márquez would remember Leaf Storm as his favorite of his works – insisting that it was his most spontaneous and most sincere work. It follows both a child and woman’s point of view of death in stream of consciousness style.

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 7.54.19 PMIn 1967 Márquez finished 18 months of daily writing to publish his most critically successful work, and the one he would win the Nobel Prize for years later – One Hundred Years of Solitude. After achieving international fame for said work, Márquez spent the following years traveling the globe with his family, acting as a negotiation liaison for several political situations, and writing other works such as Autumn of the Patriarch, The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother, Chronicle of a Death Foretold (see our holding, a 1st Italian edition, here) and Love in the Time of Cholera. All of his works held a kind of “magical realism” – origins that one can trace back to his upbringing with his realistic grandfather and supernatural-believing grandmother. 

By 2005, Márquez was publishing significantly less, though still admitting to writing all the time. After suffering from lymphatic cancer (but going into remission), a few years later it was announced that he was suffering from dementia. In April 2014 he passed away from pneumonia in Mexico City – and his loss was felt by the entire world. 

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2018 is Not a Leap Year. That Being Said… Get ready for 2020!

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Sometimes, children ask ridiculous questions. I think everyone here has probably rolled their eyes at a bright and inquisitive child at least once, while answering questions like “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why do we have to wear pants?” (The latter of which I am still not sure of a legitimate answer to.) 

But there are a couple basic life questions that a child could ask me… and I would be unable to answer scientifically. Hence this blog. I would like to use this time to answer a question I have had since childhood and never bothered to truly research… until now. 

What is leap year and why on earth (pun intended) does it need to happen? And in that same vein… why did February get jipped at only 28 days (most of the time)? Ahh. All in good time, folks. All in good time. 

Leap year is defined as a calendar year with a single extra day in the mix, making a year of 366 days instead of 365. It is added to keep the calendar year synched up with the astronomical or seasonal year. What does that mean, exactly? Well, one full day on earth is the planet spinning around on its axis once. A year is how long it takes the earth to orbit the sun exactly once. Now the problem lies here – the earth actually orbits the sun 365.25 times – an “astronomical year.” Quite obviously, the .25 years accumulate and voilà! The stars threaten to drift out of sync with our calendar, so every four years we have one extra day laying around. 

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So how did we figure this all out? Ancient Egyptians actually discovered that it was 365.25 days by seeing the Sirius star drift out of sync first. However, much later (in 46 B.C.) Julius Caesar (with the help of an astronomer) discovered the same, and created the Julian Calendar with the leap year added. Today, a revised version of the Julian calendar called the Gregorian calendar (for Pope Gregory) is in use – leap years still hold true. However, every year that is divisible by 100 (1700, 1800 and 1900) will NOT be a leap year, even though they normally should be. Then again, every year divisible by 400 WILL be a leap year, even though it is also divisible by 100. Like the year 2000, which was a leap year, despite being divisible by 100. 

You still with me? (Good, because I almost lost me there for a second.)

So all of this science behind us, we now know WHY we use leap years – so that we stay in sync with the stars! But why February? Well, it actually used to be that August had 28 days! But when Julius Caesar created the Julian calendar, he wanted his name month (Caesar Augustus) to be the full 31 days… so had it switched to February! 

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Now if only we could figure out why we still need to deal with daylight savings… 

(Stay tuned for THAT blog coming to a computer screen near you this November.) 

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OTD in 1577, Sir Francis Drake Sets Sail from England on a Circumnavigation of the World

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On this day exactly 440 years ago, an English nobleman named Francis Drake left on a mission that would take him three years and would win him a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth I of England. (I’m not entirely sure that people “win” those, but you know what I mean.) Now, Sir Francis Drake wasn’t always the historical explorer and hero we know him as today. Before he was chosen for the expedition that would win him his lordship, Drake was a pirate and slave trader. Woah!

Francis Drake was born in 1540 in Tavistock (that is NOT lost on us), Devon, England. He was the eldest of twelve sons, born to a farmer in Devon. Not much is known about his early life, as is pretty expected of someone living at that time. In 1549 the Drake family moved to Kent due to religious persecution, and Edmund Drake apprenticed his eldest son out to a neighbor – a captain of a large sailboat. This was Francis’ first introduction to the sea – and the neighbor was so pleased with Drake’s attitude and abilities that, being without children of his own, he gave the barque (a sailing vessel with three or more masts) to Drake when he died. Drake spent his twenties sailing to and from the Americas with his second cousin John Hawkins – the first known English slave trader.

drake1After a few adventures with his cousin, Drake spent much of the early 1570s living along the “Spanish Main” or the Panama Isthmus, attacking Spanish vessels and small settlements. During this time, fun fact, Drake climbed a tree on the Isthmus of Panama and looked out over the Pacific – being the first Englishman to ever behold the Pacific Ocean. Drake and his men eventually made it back to Plymouth, England, having captured much in Peruvian gold but having been forced to bury it along the way to avoid its recapture by the Spanish.

drake4In 1577, Elizabeth I sent Drake (because of his “success” with the Isthmus raids) on an expedition to sail along the Pacific coast of the Americas. After one false start due to bad weather, the crew set final sail on the 13th of December, 1577. Drake set out with five ships (which soon became 6) and 164 men. The crew made it around Cape Horn, and went alongside the coast of South America pillaging and looting Spanish towns and ships along the way. Drake restocked and rested his ships on the Coast of California for a time, and then continued on to the Molucca islands in what is now known as Indonesia. Eventually Drake rounded the Cape of Good Hope – the southernmost tip in Africa, and made his way back to Plymouth, having circumnavigated the globe and made it around two of the most treacherous sailing spots in the world (both Capes) in just under three years.

Upon Drake’s return to Plymouth, the half share of his pillaged cargo that was to be Queen Elizabeth’s actually exceeded all the other income the crown had that entire year. Hence the knighthood.

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Drake became an active political member of the British aristocracy, being a member of Parliament on three occasions and even mayor of the coastal town of Plymouth from where he set sail. Drake led further attacks against the Spanish under the Queen’s command in the mid-1580s, and in 1588 he was vice-admiral to the English fleet that destroyed the Spanish Armada in a nightly attack. In 1596, on a voyage to capture San Juan (Puerto Rico), Drake failed to take the city, and after suffering terrible blows to his ship and crew, came down with dysentery and passed away onboard. Just goes to show you… doesn’t matter who you are you are still subject to the same perils that the lowest members of your crew are subject to! In any case, Drake is still remembered today for his bravery, amazing sea-faring abilities, and indefatigable hatred of the Spanish.

Just kidding!

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