As a young man, Hugh Weston sails with Francis Drake on the voyage around the world in 1577-80. Upon his return to Plymouth, he is employed as a captain by Matthew Wilson who owns several trading vessels. Matthew, as is the case with many English traders, is seeking to discover the North West Passage around North America, so that he may benefit from trade with the East Indies without the difficulties of challenging Spanish control of central America.

With advice from Martin Frobisher, Hugh is sent on a voyage of discovery but fails to find an ice-free passage. On his return voyage he has his first encounter with Jean Le Compte, a French pirate based on the island of Ushant off the coast of Brittany.

Hugh’s romance with Anne Wilson, daughter of Matthew, blossoms but Anne is captured by Le Compte. Hugh attacks Le Compte’s stronghold and frees Anne.

In a new ship, the Lady Margaret, designed along the lines of those being built by John Hawkins for the new English navy, there is a further encounter with Jean Le Compte. Hugh then becomes involved in Drake’s raid on Cadiz to ‘singe the King of Spain’s beard.’

The Lady Margaret is part of the Fleet to defend England against the Spanish Armada and Hugh is closely involved in the battles along the Channel and off Calais.

Hugh is successful in a final encounter with Jean Le Compte and turns his attention to a search for Le Compte’s treasure.

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ISBN:   978-1-921919-52-7  
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 177
Genre: Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

Author: John Lambert
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2012
Language: English


By the same author 

A Land of Plenty

Beyond All Seas

Lost and Forgotten

Two Tales of the Mountains

Encounter Hall

Arthur King of the Britons

Author Bio  

John Lambert was a teacher of history who began writing historical fiction when he retired. This is his seventh novel to be published. 

All his stories show how the past determines the present and influences the future. 

History is essentially about people and their achievements, about the best, and worst, of human behaviour. In his stories, John places fictional characters in an historical context and develops a tale which is authentic in its own right while being faithful to the context.  

Fiction and historical context combine to make believable and interesting studies of human conflict and achievement.


That Hugh Weston should become a member of the crew of the Pelican for her voyage beginning in November 1577 was, like most such arrangements, a matter of who knew who.

Hugh was well known among the seafaring fraternity of Plymouth. Though he was only fifteen, he had been at sea since he was ten and had sailed on four different ships. All four had been involved in trade with the Low Countries and the Baltic states, especially in the export of English woollens, and the import of naval stores and timber. There were thus four ship’s masters, and countless other sailors, who saw him as a most promising potential captain. The masters could all vouch for his understanding of mathematics and his ability as a navigator. The sailors could vouch for his capacity to use a cutlass and his strong right arm.

He was known, too, from his family’s connection with the Puritan community of Plymouth. His father, John, and his mother, Emily, were strong supporters of one of the many groups that came together under the umbrella of the religious ‘settlement’ arranged by Queen Bess. They were essentially Calvinist in theology, if by that was meant some acceptance of predestination, a strong emphasis upon the Bible, scepticism about the role of bishops, and vehement opposition to Roman Catholicism. They regarded themselves as loyal members of the Church of England, the national church which had broken with the Pope under Elizabeth’s father, Henry. As such they were automatically in opposition, on all matters, to Spain, the leading Catholic nation of Europe.

As most of the seafaring community in Plymouth were of like mind, if you wanted a job on a ship based in Plymouth, it helped if you were known to come from a staunch Protestant family, as long as there was within you also a degree of moderation that made you loyal and reliable as a member of a crew.

In October and November 1577, being a member of the crew of the Pelican was a most sought-after privilege, for the ship’s master on its forthcoming voyage was none other than Francis Drake.

Drake was already a hero to the English and a villain to the Spanish. He had made his first trip to the New World in 1563, in company with his relative, John Hawkins. He went again with Hawkins in 1568 in command of the Judith, one of six ships in the English fleet. On both voyages Hawkins’ ships were involved in the slave trade, taking natives from the west coast of Africa and selling them to plantation owners in the West Indies.

In 1568, the Spanish opposition to English intrusion in the West Indies had hardened; not against slavery, which the Spanish regarded as essential to the operation of their dominions, but against the claims of the English to a right to trade with Spanish settlements in Mexico, South America and the Caribbean. The Spanish regarded the former Aztec and Inca empires, conquered by Spain, as wholly their preserve, a source from which they annually drew millions of ducats in gold and silver to finance the operation of the Spanish realm.

When Hawkins’ fleet was ravaged by storms in September 1568, five of the six ships sought refuge in the Mexican port of San Juan de Ulva. Although Hawkins requested and received from the Spanish an undertaking to a peaceful stay to repair his ships, the Spanish treacherously attacked him and only two English ships escaped: the Minion with Hawkins himself as captain, and the Judith with Drake in command.

Drake determined upon revenge. In 1570 and 1571 he made reconnaissance voyages to the West Indies, and then, in May 1572, set out from Plymouth with 73 men in two ships, the Pascha of 70 tons, and the Swan of 25 tons. In July he reached the Spanish port of Nombre de Dios, which was the eastern end of the route across the isthmus from Panama used by the Spanish treasure mule trains. These conveyed the gold and silver from the Pacific settlements and mines for loading into the galleons to be taken to Seville. Drake captured the port but withdrew, leaving behind most of the treasure that had been taken because he was badly wounded in the leg. Nevertheless he stayed in the isthmus area and his men nursed him back to health. He then tried a different strategy and in 1573 successfully ambushed the mule train. Drake and his men returned to Plymouth, wealthy enough to live in luxury for the rest of their lives, though his restless energy meant Drake himself was unlikely ever to do this.

In 1575 Drake put a proposal to the Queen that he lead an expedition which would traverse the Straits of Magellan and attack the Spanish settlements on the western coast of Peru, including Panama itself. The ships could then sail further north seeking the western end of the North West Passage. The Queen agreed provided that the purpose and destination were kept secret; after all, she could not be seen overtly supporting attacks on Spanish territory. The voyage was publically advertised as sailing to Alexandria in the Mediterranean, but the London and Plymouth investors who subscribed the £4,000 to equip the vessels in Drake’s fleet knew otherwise. Chief among the investors was the Queen herself.

The ships of the fleet were the Pelican of 100 tons with eighteen guns, the Elizabeth of 80 tons with sixteen guns, and the Marigold of 30 tons with sixteen guns. There were two store ships, the Christopher and the Swan. Crews totalled 164, including Drake’s youngest brother, Thomas, and a cousin, John Drake.

The Pelican was a three-masted galleon, square rigged on the main and foremast, and lanteen rigged on the mizzen. She carried mainsails, topsails and topgallants. There were fighting top platforms on both the main and foremast. Her eighteen guns included ten which were culverins firing seventeen-pounder shot. The other eight were demi-culverins firing nine-pounder shot. These latter were more accurate and had a greater range, though obviously they did less damage to their target. The guns were mounted eight per side with two at the rear on the gun-deck level. The ship had an orlop deck, gun deck, main deck, with a great cabin at the stern, and a rear castle of two levels. The lower of these contained the captain’s cabin and other cabins. The upper level was a poop deck. The ship was new, having been built in Plymouth in 1576, and represented the best in British design for a fighting ship. She was vastly superior in speed and fighting capacity to the Marigold and the Elizabeth.

Hugh was to be assistant navigator on the Pelican. Given the distances involved and the fact that the ships would be sailing where no Englishman had yet travelled, Drake wanted at least three independent calculations of the ship’s position each time a reckoning was made. He would make his own judgement; the sailing master, Thomas Cuttill, would make a second, and Hugh would make a third. Charts were very sketchy and calculating longitude was acknowledged as being extremely difficult on long voyages, especially where the co-ordinates, even for known locations, were uncertain. Latitude, distance north or south of the equator, could be calculated using an astrolabe, quadrant or sextant, which related the ship’s position to the sun and, at night, to stars such as the Pole star. Longitude, distance east or west, was largely dependent upon a professional judgement of the speed of the ship in a daily ‘run’. The distance travelled, calculated from this judgement and applied on a chart according to the compass direction followed during the day from the start position, could give an approximate longitude, but error was certain. Seamen who had a knack for judging the speed of a ship were highly sought after, especially if they also had the mathematical skills to do the calculations on a chart. Hugh had all these qualities.

The ships left Plymouth on 15 November 1577 but storms forced the fleet to take refuge in Falmouth and then to return to Plymouth for repairs. They left again on 13 December.

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