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Francis Drake: Merchant, Knight and Pilgrim
Francis Drake's return from his circumnavigation in 1580 left surprisingly few marks in the writings of his contemporaries, but an early and generally overlooked religious allegory, the Wandering Knight (1581), contains a dedication to Drake. The dedication assimilates Drake to the questing knight who is the main character of the allegory, but also imagines him as the protagonist of a classical heroic epic and as a Christian pilgrim. However, for the translator of the work and the author of the preface, respectively a merchant and instrument-maker, Drake's spiritual-chivalric quest also becomes an emblem of a social climb. Drake's knighting by the Queen acts as a consecration of the aspirations of a newly emergent social group of merchant-adventurers, and his voyage becomes a symbol for the possibilities for social, economic as well as spiritual transformation offered by the voyages of exploration. The richly significant interdependence of spiritual and socio-economic factors constructed by the dedication anticipates later arguments advanced by the likes of Hakluyt and Purchas. Thus, the Wandering Knight becomes a revealing and important work not only for assessing contemporary popular reception of Drake's achievements, but may be seen as introducing a number of conceptions and images that were to shape England's later experience of exploration and colonization.
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