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This is page 12 of a 13 page article. Go to previous page. Go to Introduction.

III. Thomas Doughtie: the Motion Picture – Hero of Romance and Tragedy Edit

The Drake-Doughtie romance genre seems to bloom at the end of the nineteenth century. Several other works, most notably Rennell Rodd’s Ballads of the Fleet (1897) and Alfred Noyes’ Drake: an English Epic (1906) fixate on Drake’s mental anguish upon learning of Doughtie’s betrayal, and his grief over the inevitable denouement. Rodd is most certainly a Drake partisan, proudly declaring, in his introduction, his friendship with Julian Corbett. For the most part, the drama plays out exactly as one expects; Doughtie is an unrepentant schemer, but in the end a gentleman who knows how to lose with grace. Drake is a stern judge of what he believes to be treason against the queen, mentioning the friendship at the trial, but not stressing it unduly.

But at the last, events take a turn for the bizarre. In Rodd’s death scene, again the pair step to the side to whisper in confidence, “Then the long quarrel reconciled each kissed the other’s cheek/ And held his hand for a little space, but no man heard them speak,” (109). Cook’s account mentions that just before his execution, Doughtie embraces Drake; Johnson says offhandedly that Drake “caressed” Doughtie, a statement which, in context, seems a simple metaphor for Drake’s confidence in him. Rodd’s account embellishes this detail. But social kissing is commonly practiced, and even though hand-holding seems a little effusive, it is easily argued that a 21st century reading of a sexual subtext may well be inappropriate in nineteenth century lyrical poetry. But then what to make of this puzzling scene after Doughtie is beheaded, indeed by Drake’s own hand?

He spread his cloak around the corse, and raised the severed head
The shuddering crews drew slowly back and left him with the dead:
And long he gazed in that pale face he shielded from the rain,
Thereafter saith the Chronicle, Drake seldom smiled again. (110-111)

The bizarre image of the grief-stricken Drake, staring at the severed head, is reminiscent of Wilde’s Salome. And even more bizarrely this image is repeated again in Noyes’ poem, in which the sexual elements are even more stressed. His version of Doughtie, curiously, the secretary of Leicester even thought the agent of Burghley, is described as a villainous snake, totally unworthy of Drake,. And yet, Drake falls in love with him anyway – “there seemed one heart between them and one soul,” (36) or so it seems in this passage:

Especially did Thomas Doughty toil
With soft and flowery tongue to win his way
And Drake, whose rich imagination craved
For something more than simple seaman’s talk,
Was marvelously drawn to this new friend,
Who with the scholar’s mind, the courtier’s gloss,
The lawyer’s wit, the adventurer’s romance,
Gold honey from the blooms of Euphues,
Rare flashes from the Mermaid and sweet smiles
Copied from Sidney’s self, even to the glance
Of sudden, liquid sympathy, gave Drake
That banquet of the soul he ne’er had known
Nor needed till he knew, but needed now.
So to the light of Doughty’s answering eyes
He poured his inmost thoughts out, hour by hour;
And Doughty coiled up in the heart of Drake. (39-40)

This is clearly the language of seduction. Drake confesses his life story to Doughtie’s “half-ironic smiling lips,” including his love for Elizabeth Sydenham – again, poor Mary Drake seems not to exist. Noyes departs from the historical script by inventing an early betrayal by Doughtie in Africa – he cannot find supplies on the Mayo excursion even though honest Tom Moon does so easily. Noyes treats the incident on the Mary at length – of course, the perfidious Doughtie has slandered Thomas Drake, and has indeed stolen from the cargo, but Drake, after a period of agonized soul-searching, forgives his beloved friend. But the evidence against Doughtie grows, and Drake does what any reasonable man would under the circumstances: he runs mad.

He plunged with bursting heart and burning brow;
And once again, like madness, the black shapes
Of doubt swung through his brain and chattered and laughed
Till he upstretched his arms in agony…
The madness of distrustful friendship gleamed
From his fierce eyes: “Oh villain, damned villain,
God’s murrain on his heart!” (102)

Fortunately, Drake has both a religious epiphany, feeling "his unity with all/ The vast composure of the universe," (106) and a vision of a more practical sort – looking out to sea he notes that one of the ships is missing and that Doughtie had stolen it! But although Drake captures, imprisons and brings him to trial, his speech after Doughtie’s conviction still reveals his passionate attachment, affirming his love for Doughtie and comparing him to Jonathan - the subject of the most overtly homoerotic incident in the King James Bible, whose love “was wonderful, passing the love of women” (2 Sam) and whom David loved “as he loved his own soul” (repeatedly in 1 Sam). Indeed, it is interesting how often these famous phrases concerning David and Jonathan are echoed in the Drake-Doughtie discourse. Noyes’ Drake leaves Doughtie’s fate in the hands of his jury, but adds silently, “Yet oh, my friends, I would not have him die!” (123).

Nevertheless, the historical script must be followed. As they reconcile and dine, the verse includes an oddly prolix depiction (7 lines of iambic pentameter) of Doughtie’s apparel. This is significant because the historical narratives, in their description of Doughtie, focus on his intellectual gifts and spiritual proclivities. But as the story becomes more romantic, Doughtie shifts to becoming a more traditional object of desire whose physical characteristics are emphasized. Again, Drake sits a lone wake with the severed head while the poet regales us with a long elegy to betrayed love. In the dawn, a pagan Patagonian ritual takes place, “so near that by their light Drake saw/ The blood upon the dead man’s long black hair/ Clotting corruption,” (130). The next section can only be described as “Drake Agonistes,” “His burning spirit wandered through the wastes/ Wandered through hells behind the apparent hell,” (132) and, just so that we don’t miss the reason for Drake’s emotive despair, “the green grass that clothed the fields/ Of England (shallow, shallow, fairy dream!)/ What was it but the hair of dead men’s graves...” (133). During his period of brooding, Drake questions the righteousness of his cause, and, tellingly, if there is such a thing as faithful love.

But the drama does not end here. When Drake’s men return to him after dawn, he urges them on with his famous speech proclaiming the equality of the gentlemen and the sailors, and vows his wrath upon any further hint of mutiny – but the reason is far, far different than the histories have it. Because he sacrificed the man he loved for the voyage, in his name the journey must go onward, for if they were to turn back now, Doughtie’s death would be for naught. “...I swear/ over this butchered body if any swerve/ Hereafter from the straight and perilous way/ He shall not die alone,” (139). And significantly, it is only after Doughtie, the improper love object, is dead, that we see Bess Sydenham, the proper love object, pining away for Drake at home.

We see much the same relationship at the opening of L. Lamprey’s short story “The Fleece of Gold,” (1923): “The air was thick with rumors of war with Spain when Drake arrived in London years later, in the company of a new friend, Thomas Doughty,—courtier, soldier, scholar, familiar with every shifting undercurrent of European court life. Never at a loss for a phrase, ready of wit and quick of understanding, Doughty could put into words what the frank-hearted young sea-captain had thought and felt and dreamed” (223). Again, the emphasis is on their particular intimacy, “And on board the little flagship Doughty and Drake talked together as those do whose minds answer one another like voices in a roundelay,” (225). Lamprey is the first author who attempts to adequately address the question of class between Drake and Doughty, and she does so adroitly through the use of dialogue:

"'Tis the strangest thing in life, that whatever we are most averse to, that we are fated to do."
"Eh?" said Drake with a laugh, looking up from Eden's translation of Pigafetts. "Accordin' to that you can't even trust yourself. D'you look to see me set up an image to be worshiped?" Then he added in a lower tone, "That's foolish, Tom. God don't shape us to be puppets."
"That sounds like old Saavedra," was Doughty's idle comment. "He had great store of antiquated sentiments—like those in the chronicles of the paladins. I knew his nephew well—a witty fellow, but visionary. He laughed at the old cavalero, but he was fond of him, and our affections rule us and ruin us. A man should have no loves nor hates if he would get on at court." (225-226)

The Italianate gentleman ends the conversation with an Italian quote: “Doughty stroked his beard with a light complacent hand. ‘Seriously, it is not a kindness to expect of men without traditions more than they are capable of doing. E meglio cade dalle fenestre che tetto.’”

Despite what soon reveals itself as irreconcilable class differences, Drake still moons over his companion, who is the last thought on his mind as he goes to bed. “What was there about the man that made his arguments so plausible when one heard them, so false when his engaging presence was withdrawn? And yet how devoted, how sympathetic, how witty and companionable he could be! Drake found himself excusing his friend as if he were a woman,—laughed, sighed, and went to sleep,” (228). Once again we see the motif of Doughtie as substitute female.

And again, in the tragic denouement, Drake’s grief is manifest and eternal: “In that black hour the boyish laughter went forever from the eyes of the Admiral, and the careless mirth from his voice,” (230). Drake mournfully shoulders the guilt, and yet attributes the problem to some intrinsic flaw in the gentleman’s nature: “’He couldn't help being as he was,—I reckon. If I'd known he was like that I could ha' stopped him, but I never knew—till too late’” (230).

William McFee’s “The Sun Was Over the Foreyard,” (1933) is quite restrained in comparison to the previous tales, neither mentioning Drake’s great love nor his grief over the death of Doughtie. The emphasis in the story is far more on the political intrigue and witchcraft perpetrated by Doughtie, and also on an increasing sense of class consciousness. It is interesting that this theme is barely emphasized in pre-twentieth century Drake-Doughtie literature and then comes to the fore. However, the emphasis on Doughtie’s physical qualities over his intellectual ones continues: the author makes mention several times of Doughtie’s handsomeness, as if this is a factor in his beguiling of Drake.

McFee also mentions Doughtie’s “nicely tended beard.” It is peculiar to note the emphasis throughout this body of literature on Doughtie’s hair or beard. Although the historical Doughtie’s hair color is never noted, and no portraits of him seem to exist, in every account and every illustration Doughtie’s hair is consistently dark, perhaps in contrast with the ginger-blond Drake (although often no physical description of Drake is offered) or perhaps to indicate Doughtie’s morally ambiguous nature in the text. Perhaps the most effusive account of this is a peripheral mention of Doughtie from 1833 in a sentimentalized “memoir” by Mary Howitt:

I was reading that evening in a folio volume, the voyages of Sir Francis Drake; I had come to that incident which has left a blot on his memory – the murder of Mr. Thomas Doughty on the coast of Brazil. I was much struck with the enormity of the act; and the relation being accompanied by a large print, showing that calm, gentlemanly person, Mr. Thomas Doughty, with his hands tied behind him, and his fine head covered with a profusion of rich hair, standing in the midst of his determined and cruel enemies, so wrought upon my imagination that the tears streamed from my eyes.

Later in the same passage, the narrator speaks of his absent father, “I do not recollect that I ever had a description of his person, but he lived in my mind as Mr. Thomas Doughty – the same gentlemanly figure, in the prime of life, and with such flowing locks as painters give to our first parent, descending gracefully upon his shoulders.” The emphasis again upon Doughtie’s physical beauty is remarkable, but perhaps more so the fact that he appears as a romanticized, tragic figure, a symbol in his own right outside of the Drake narrative. Divorced from Drake, he is no longer a villain, but carries the positive signification of a man unjustly subject to tyranny.

Francis Drake; a Tragedy of the Sea is unusual for its focus on Doughtie’s point of view, indeed is far more a play about Doughtie than about Drake. S. Weir Mitchell compares him in his foreword to Iago, and if that was not enough to give the reader a fair taste of things to come, he makes a point of saying, “It is worthy of note that there is no woman in this tragic story,” (vii). Doughtie is a moody antagonist, lacking in understanding of his own motivations, and a tragic hero in the classic sense: at the beginning Wynter laments how he has fallen from the man he once knew, dutiful, tranquil, learned. Doughtie hints that his change of temperament may be due to his occult practices, but again, this matter is inserted peremptorily and then dropped.

It is not long before the quasi-romantic elements of the drama become apparent. Wynter describes Drake as a man who “on the greens/Sat half the night a-talking poesy.” He criticizes Doughtie for judging “men by their love, as maidens do,” (5). To this, Doughtie responds, of Drake, “The admiral in his less distracted times/Hath some rare flavor of the woman in him.” Again there is the motif of the substitute female; this curious exchange seems key to understanding the dynamic between Doughtie and Drake.

Unlike the narratives which paint Doughtie as melodramatic villain, in a Doughtie-centered fiction, his spirituality is soon evident – indeed, he is somewhat of a mystic and poet:

Mark how the southward splendor of the cross
Shines peace upon us. When the nights are calm
I joy to climb the topmast’s utmost peak
And, hanging breathless in the unpeopled void,
Note how the still deep answers star for star (8).

If there is any doubt that Mitchell intends to give us Francis Drake in the style of Shakespeare, Leonard Vicarye appears on the scene as a tragic jester straight out of King Lear, replete with poignantly cryptic utterances. And of course, a villain is necessary, taking, improbably, the form of the chaplain, Francis Fletcher. Doughtie confesses his alliance with Lord Burghley to the scheming cleric, but then argues that his aim is to save : “I am no man’s man; I am the Queen’s/ I shall serve best my God in serving her,” (16). This romanticized Doughtie’s motivations are worthwhile, if misguided.

Drake attempts to speak to Doughtie, to warn him that his path will lead to his downfall. The exchange between them is long and emotional, and it does not take much effort to read sublimated homoerotic content into their discussion. At the climax of his speech, Drake says, “Let him that loves you whisper to your soul/ The thing he would not say,” (19). When Doughtie departs, Drake pleads with Vicarye to look after him, and both men agree that Doughtie is both self-destructive and childlike, requiring their protection.

Doughtie’s sedition grows worse; he stokes discontent, even inadvertently, by singing a song of England which makes the men homesick. “I think you would breed mutiny in heaven,” Wynter laments (35). Poignancy wrestles with overworked Shakespearian allusions; Vicarye, who complains that he shall “never laugh again,” wanders the shores of St. Julian, philosophizing over the skull of Don Carthegene like some Patagonian Hamlet. But this Vicarye is capable of a few stirring lines, such as when he attempts to convince Drake not to hang Doughtie: “...many a year that rope will throttle me/ Who am no traitor...” (44). Drake finally offers Doughtie the threefold choice of fates given in The World Encompassed.

But having pushed the homoerotic subtext so far, Mitchell loses his nerve. Although he has stated that there is no woman in this story, he inserts one, a waiting lover who Doughtie would be ashamed to face should he return to England. He chooses an honorable death for her sake. Mitchell returns to the historical text as Doughtie faces death cheerfully, mystically, and to the dismay of the others around him, especially Vicarye, who is near to tears. Doughtie asks if he will be reunited with Drake in the afterlife; Drake assures him that he believes so. Again, there is a scene where Drake and Doughtie confer silently – it is most curious how every one of the Drake-Doughtie authors avoids filling this historical space with an attempt to solve the mystery of what passed between the two men. The last lines of the drama are a curious final exchange between the pair; Doughtie says “Take my love. Still let me live a friendly memory – Come with me.” Drake responds, “No, I cannot, cannot come,” (59). As a memory, Doughtie might go with them, but for Drake to come with Doughtie, suicide must be implied. Surely Doughtie is not serious, or is this conversation pendant to what they discussed in secret? Furthermore, the phraseology of Drake’s denial implies not unwillingness, but adherence to duty.

Mitchell would have Doughtie as Iago, and like Iago’s relationship to Othello, the odd behavior of the pair is explained if an underlying homoerotic tension is supposed. During his first conference with Fletcher, Doughtie confesses, “I am like a wine thick with confusing lees/ To-day they settle and tomorrow morn/ Another shakes me, and I’m thick again,” (15). It is clear that through much of the play, he himself does not understand the motivation for his own actions.

Another example is Robert E. Howard’s 1962 poem “The One Black Stain.” The focus of the narrative is the author’s own fully-developed character, Solomon Kane, who is outraged at the execution of Doughtie. The reader is invited to share in Kane’s initial rebellion and subsequently revised judgment about the incident. But Doughtie, mysteriously smiling at the moment of his death, and Drake, tyrannical in public, grieving in private, are the caricatures we have come to expect.

In the later part of the 20th and early 21st centuries, depictions of the Doughtie affair return to historical realism. The interest in Doughtie and Drake as people – and as characters in a romantic narrative – is subsumed by their importance as political allegories. Edward W. Lull’s poem “The Thomas Doughty Affair” sticks reasonably close to the facts (except for setting the date of the dispute on the Mary as April of 1578 off the coast of Brazil, far too late for this occurrence.) But the final stanza returns to the familiar Drake as hero, Doughtie as villain formulation, and its conclusion, “I saw another side of Francis Drake: /intensely loyal to his friends and kin, /respected, caring leader of his men; /an angry, brooding foe of anyone /disloyal or a threat to his command,” seems unsupported in the earlier stanzas: when Drake gives command of the Mary to his brother, it seems to be a question of Doughtie’s competence, not his loyalty: “Tom Doughty had his chance to lead and failed.”

The Doughtie affair is also mentioned in several poems by Sheenagh Pugh, most notably “Lost on Voyage,” which is narrated by a Doughtie partisan on the circumnavigation. The poem questions whether Drake’s means (the false charge against Doughtie, as well as the other lost lives on the voyage) justify the ends (protecting his mission). In the end, the narrator’s loyalty to Doughtie is balanced against his financial profit on the voyage and the grand scope of Drake’s achievement. Another poem, “The Truth,” alludes to the incident as an example of the inherent ambiguity of history: “Did the admiral never, in his cups, /speak out of turn to some captured Spaniard /who kept journals: would a gentleman-adventurer /show up on some deep statesman's payroll?” Pugh is unique in that her treatment of the Doughtie affair places it in a broader context, questioning the metatext, and she ultimately downplays the strictly personal aspects of Drake and Doughtie’s interactions.

George Robert Minkoff’s novel, The Dragons of the Storm, retells Drake’s story in the context of an epic about the founding of the Americas. Typical of its era, it de-romanticizes the friendship between Drake and Doughtie, turning it into a father-son relationship and focusing on the class differences between the two men. The novel is mystical in tone, beautiful in language, and yet misses the mark in its treatment of Drake and Doughtie. Doughtie is again villainous, pathetic in his pride and ambition, which makes Drake’s fascination with him as a substitute son all the more puzzling. The story emphasizes the legends of Drake’s dealings with the devil and de-emphasizes Doughtie’s conjury as a casual boast. It is rich in certain historical details (the amounts of money contributed by each investor), repeats certain inaccuracies (Doughtie’s will being written on September 11th), and fictionalizes incidents to portray Doughtie as even more detestable than the exaggerated fictive histories can make him. He is portrayed as cold and pragmatic at Rathlin (whereas Drake is sickened by the poignantly described carnage). He urges Drake to abandon the venture to go slaving in Africa, which morally outrages Drake (a further irony of Minkoff’s distortion is that there is considerable historical evidence that Drake engaged in the slave trade with Hawkins). Minkoff also inserts his true protagonist, Jonas Profit, as Drake’s confidant and master of the Pelican. This has the effect of destroying all of the ambiguity of the narrative, for Profit is constant witness to Doughtie’s treasonous behavior. The incident where Drake strikes Doughtie and has him bound to the mast is provoked by quite different words than those recorded by John Cooke: “I will not take orders, nor be denied command by those I have made great and who in their souls are still wedded to common dirt” (Minkoff 62 – it is difficult to imagine the man who, in his will, urges his brother to deal fairly with his tenants as saying anything like this). Doughtie is even deprived of his beautiful death: “Sometimes he would walk abroad, under escort, showing himself to be at ease, dignified before death, playing his part of the doomed gentleman. It gave comfort to no one but himself, the posture having more weight to his mind than the moment.” (72) This is not a Doughtie who jokes with the executioner, but makes instead an odd pseudo-mystical speech upon the block. In short: Minkoff’s work has much to recommend it, but he doesn’t care a fig about Doughtie, and has reduced him to a type, a pathetic, posturing scoundrel. Perhaps the greatest failing here is that Drake’s blind attachment to the obviously shallow and ambitious Doughtie, despite the prophetic warnings of Jonas Profit, make him seem like an idiot and undermine Minkoff’s attempt to turn Drake into an epic-mystical hero.

Perhaps the most thoughtful and profound of the Drake-Doughtie political allegories is 2005 play Drake’s Drum, by Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller. The story is complex, witty and provocative, and the authors have done their research – they are the only ones, literary or historical, to notice that Doughtie had a deceased wife. The one gross inaccuracy is the improper reference to Doughtie as “Sir Thomas,” by which we can guess which way our authors will slant the deck. The play is cerebral and a bit contrived: Marcie, a female protagonist in her mid-50s, is listening to a history of Sir Francis Drake while on a road trip. She apparently hallucinates the scene of Drake and Doughtie’s final meal replete with surrealistic details – Drake offers Doughtie French fries, which he describes as “a native delicacy.” As much as the Victorian Drake-Doughtie narratives seek to justify imperialism by canonizing Drake, this play punctures imperialism by valorizing Doughtie. Drake boasts of teaching the “blackamoors” the art of buying and selling; Doughtie ironically reminiscences over “our days of friendship, slaughtering Irish.” Drake is arrogant, self-assured, certain of his destiny and his cause. Doughtie is witty and self-deprecating: when Drake wonders why he abandoned his successful career as a soldier, Doughtie replies, “There was so much killing yet to do, I despaired of it. The Irish are so fertile and I so barren.” Doughtie becomes an allegory of doubt, continually questioning the motivations that Drake cannot question if he is to succeed – which is the truthful reason Doughtie must be executed. Drake’s assertion that he acts for Queen and country is, in a certain respect, true: doubt must be sacrificed if empire is to survive.

In case the audience is uncertain of its judgment of the protagonists, Marcie helpfully comments on the action: “I hate this guy,” she says of Drake. But the interjection of Marcie, and the occasional comments of Queen Elizabeth, watching from afar, have a deeper purpose: to interject the feminine element which Weir-Mitchell noted was absent from the story. “And the news, the news, the news is the same shit we’ve heard for the last four hundred years! Just print the same newspaper, every day same headline, THE BOYS ARE AT IT AGAIN!” Marcie screams in frustration. Elizabeth laments her inability to be both Queen and woman, and dreams of a world where this is not the case. The play also echoes contemporary political concerns: Drake’s combination of piety and patriotism as key to success were underlying themes of the Bush administration. Doughtie’s magic is a kind of prophecy in which he forsees the future in which Marcie lives, “One day we shall achieve the capacity to inflict death from afar, death from the sky, merely by wishing it, merely by speaking the word.” His observations are both witty (“You would save the world from the Antichrist, to fix it between the jaws of your investors”) and chilling (“The ultimate Dark Art is military discipline - one will bending a dozen, a hundred, a hundred thousand souls out of their wives’ embrace and onto the enemy’s pikes.”) Drake is blind to the wider implications of what he does, continually falling back on simple virtues like faith and courage.

Yet Drake, for his failings, is not entirely villainous. His constant wish is for Doughtie’s salvation – a salvation which he does not recognize as hollow, nor a rationalization of atrocities. But Doughtie accepts the salvation on one condition – that Drake keep the drum that is played at Doughtie’s execution as a reminder of him. It is this legendary drum that calls up the spirit of Drake in times of trouble – and it also calls the spirit of Doughtie: “We are the same man. What your will has wrought, I despise, and yet it fills me. I no more oppose you than a tree’s shadow opposes the tree whose shape defines it. I merely glove your fist in words. We are twins, though one be stillborn.” But it is Marcie who ends the play, commanding the drumming to stop: “We’re finished with that. We don’t need that. Wind it back.” Doughtie, Elizabeth, Drake, all eventually fade into the figure of the heathen goddess Pachamama, the mother, the earth. In an odd twist, both Drake and Doughtie, allegories of the masculine, political world, are subsumed by a feminine world where life and death are continuous, and the blood poured in offering is of birth and renewal.

It is notable that the Drake-Doughtie story, for all its lingering fascination, has spawned a number of unsatisfactory, curiously flat works of literature. The problem in all of them is exactly the same: Drake and Doughtie are not real people, but symbols. There is far more of an attempt to explain events – enormous amounts of detail are pulled from the historical narratives – than to develop character. There is a curious reluctance to follow them into the mysterious conversation of Cooke’s “halfe a quarter of an howre.” Surely, if the authors were interested in the interior lives of the characters rather than a rationalization of historical events, this shadowy moment would be the ideal place to delve into an independent exploration. This never happens: if Drake and Doughtie are developed beyond the simple hero and villain needed to fit the imperialist (or anti-imperialist) narrative, Drake is distorted into a tragic lover who chooses an inappropriate love-object at the beginning of the tale, but his unhealthy attachment to Doughtie is replaced at the end of the narrative by a more benign union with Elizabeth Sydenham. Indeed, if these stories covertly explore homoerotic attraction, then the message is ultimately one of heterosexual propaganda. For these purposes, it is necessary for Doughtie only to play the role of seducer, silver-tongued and physically beautiful.

Attempts to put the Drake-Doughtie story on film avoid such excesses, incorporating the details of the historical narrative to radically varying results. An episode of the 1961 television show Sir Francis Drake called “The Doughty Plot” unintentionally satirizes the textbook reading of the Doughtie affair by trying to cram all of the relevant details into one half hour. Drake (played by Terence Morgan) plans his secret raid with the encouragement of Queen Elizabeth (Jean Kent). Yet Drake still takes along the useless gentleman adventurers who believe they go to Alexandria. When the truth is revealed, Drake rationalizes that the adventurers should be happy despite such a long, arduous and risky detour because they will get a good return on their investment. Doughtie, sounding very much like an egomaniacal CEO, argues more-or-less that the stockholders should be directing the company. He then bribes many of the crew into rebelling; shortsightedly, no one thinks about the fact that Drake is the only navigator they have. Finally, as Doughtie is condemned, Drake makes a grand speech proclaiming that from henceforth, the captain is the master of the ship, and it applies everywhere, forever, because he said so. Other guilty pleasures of this fiasco include a swashbuckling Leonard Vicarye who saves Drake’s life during the mutiny. It is perhaps notable that, contrary to the romantic narratives, the actor who plays Doughtie in this drama, Frederick Jaeger, is both far older than Drake and balding.

The 1980 movie Drake’s Venture suffers from none of these flaws – indeed, Paul Darrow, the actor who plays Doughtie, has the requisite thick dark hair and well-trimmed beard. The scriptwriter, John Nelson Burton, attempts to be scrupulously fair to the principles, inserting into the narrative almost every complaint made against Doughtie: sedition, challenging the plan of the voyage, sorcery, classism. At the same time, the portrayal of Drake by actor John Thaw is sublimely nuanced; Drake is both admirable and deeply flawed, courageous and paranoid, determined and inflexible.

But whatever has gone before is completely eclipsed by the drama which unfolds at San Julian. This film makes manifest the problematic nature of the Doughtie affair, the reason the incident haunts students of history to this day. In his magnificent and poignant death-scene, Doughtie at last eclipses Drake. The upstaging of the lead is so total that the end of the film, depicting the success of Drake’s expedition, is rushed and feels incidental. The climax is the beheading of Doughtie; by this point the identification with the passion of the martyred Doughtie is so complete that the viewer’s reaction is one of shock and trauma. The disturbing nature of the incident is echoed in the film’s final scene, the knighting of Sir Francis Drake, where the queen jokes that the King of Spain has asked for Drake’s head. “Here in England we approve our heroes, not cut them down,” the Queen quips at the accolade, to the disturbed reaction shots of the other characters, who clearly remember another time and place where heroes are beheaded.

Ironically, the availability of these two media productions is inversely proportional to their quality. Sir Francis Drake has been released as a boxed set of dvds. Drake’s Venture, on the other hand, never received a commercial release. Perhaps it was its disturbing nature that caused the admirable film to sink into obscurity, shown only once in England and once in the United States (Masterpiece Theatre in March of 1983). Nevertheless, the film has a cult following, with worn copies of home-recorded videotapes circulating from hand to hand, and has spawned a considerable body of fanfiction, most of which makes both overt and explicit some of the underlying motifs hinted at in the published Drake-Doughtie oeuvre.

It is peculiar that the genre most sympathetic to Doughtie is children’s literature. Works such as Under Drake’s Flag (1883), and The Boy’s Drake (1910) at the least question the incident, if not show outright sympathy to Doughtie. When reduced to the level of simplicity needed for a child’s understanding, Drake’s actions become entirely obscure. Adult rationalizations, such as Drake followed his duty, or that sternness of discipline was required, become hollow. In the words of Henty, “ certainly seems extraordinary that on such a voyage as this Captain Doughty could not have been deprived of his command and reduced to the rank of a simple adventurer, in which he could, one would think, have done no harm whatsoever to the expedition,” (271). Even He Went with Drake (1955), an adventure novel with a young John Brewer as its protagonist (!) has the boy agonizing over his testimony against Doughtie, repulsed at the execution, questioning Drake’s cruelty. Like Minkoff’s more sophisticated adult version, Dawlish destroys the suspense and ambiguity by having young Brewer and John Drake witness Doughtie’s meeting with Lord Burghley from the beginning. There is never any doubt as to the guilt of the shallow and ambitious Doughtie although Dawlish’s Drake is a little more clever than Minkoff’s. One amusing aspect of the book is that it incorporates the physical aspects of the Doughtie-as-seducer trope despite the obvious lack of a romantic theme: Doughtie is graceful, full-lipped, dark-eyed. The book is illustrated, and during the trial scene, there is an image with the caption, “Doughty was brought forward, slim and dark, before his accuser” (119).

The approach taken by the recent You Wouldn’t Want to Explore with Sir Francis Drake avoids questioning Drake's lack of compassion by being entirely satirical. The story is told from the perspective of the hapless Francis Fletcher, and, to illustrate the premise of the book, David Antram’s cartoon illustration of the beheading of Doughtie is on the title page. Drake is a kind of slapstick hero-villain whose cruelty is depicted as inevitable as the tide, as cartoonish as Captain Hook. There is no troubling friendship to betray.

The young adult novel Dead Reckoning takes this trend to extremes, producing an effective piece of pro-Doughtie propaganda. The novel’s version of Drake is wholly unlikable: a pirate, a bully, a murderer. On the other hand, a suitably Italianate Doughtie, replete with black velvet cape, plumed feather hat and a single gold earring, befriends the novel’s protagonist (Drake’s nephew, whose name is peculiarly changed from John to Emmet) from their first meeting. Interceding when Emmet is tormented by bullies, encouraging his drawing, having friendly discussions about astrology and Latin, Doughtie functions as a kindly substitute father for the orphaned Emmet on the first part of the voyage. It is made plain to its young readership that being an intellectual, a conjuror and a gentleman is a Very Good Thing, and being a pirate a Very Bad Thing. Doughtie’s trial is portrayed much as it is in Cooke’s narrative (indeed, John Cooke is represented as the court recorder!) Through Emmet’s eyes, the trial is seen to be unfair and illegal, and he perceives Doughtie as being betrayed by the men, who out of fear or greed refuse to help him. When Doughtie’s demise arrives, “Emmet stared numbly at the lifeless body of Captain Doughty, the only honorable officer in the fleet,” (87) and it is clear that in Lawlor’s eyes, this is why he had to die.

Perhaps the most subtle and beautiful of all the treatments of the Doughtie incident is found in Kipling’s “Simple Simon.” With consummate skill, Kipling embeds an adult story within a children’s tale, and by skirting the issue somehow manages to treat it more poignantly than any other author. Here, context is everything. The story begins with the protagonists watching a man of their acquaintance, Cattiwow, beat his horse to force it to free itself from a dangerous rut. The boys marvel that the man would be so cruel to a beloved animal, but Cattiwow replies, “I'd ha' laid my own brother open at that pinch.” There follows an oblique conversation between Puck and Simon where it is clear that the tale somehow relates to the actions of “Frankie,” but Puck swiftly changes the subject to an amusing story about Simon’s voyage with Drake.

The tale of Drake is told through Simon’s eyes, amusing and adventuresome, but there is always the sense of lurking tragedy at the borders. At the outset of their adventures, Simon’s aunt, a woman gifted with prophecy, tells Drake’s fortune. Like Puck, she tries to skirt the real issue, telling Drake of his marriages and his gold, but Drake pushes to know his fate. It is not knighthood or defeat of the Armada that the woman sees, but rather, “You'll do a many things, and eating and drinking with a dead man beyond the world's end will be the least of them. For you'll open a road from the East unto the West, and back again, and you'll bury your heart with your best friend by that road-side, and the road you open none shall shut so long as you're let lie quiet in your grave.”

At the time, Simon is baffled by the enigmatic prophecy, but, from the distance of years, he gains perspective: “Curious how close she foretelled it! The world in his hand like an apple, an' he burying his best friend, Mus' Doughty -” But Puck silences him immediately: “Never mind for Mus' Doughty…Tell us where you met Sir Francis next.” The narrative is dropped as soon as it is taken up, leaving the child reader in the dark as to what transpired.

Most of the tale concerns Simon’s recollections, and it ends on a note of triumph, as he recounts his later meeting with Drake, who forgot neither him, nor his Aunt, nor the prophecy. But Drake’s concern is the coming Armada, despite the fact that he admits he “buried his heart by the side of the road.” At this point the narrative thread is interrupted by Cattiwow, who is ready again to move his logs, which move along the road, “exactly like a stately ship upon the high seas.”

The story is framed by poetry, the end poem being the rollicking, “Frankie’s Trade.” But easy to overlook is the beginning poem, Kipling’s famous, “The Thousandth Man.” The poem is usually read as an unambiguous paean to friendship, but it needs to be analyzed in its original context. For example:

You can use his purse with no more shame

Than he uses yours for his spendings;

And laugh and mention it just the same

As though there had been no lendings.

Nine hundred and ninety-nine of 'em call

For silver and gold in their dealings;

But the Thousandth Man he's worth 'em all,

Because you can show him your feelings!

Kipling is obviously familiar with the elements of his subtext – this passage is a clear description of the idealized friendship Drake and Doughtie supposedly shared before the circumnavigation! And so the ending, “But the Thousandth Man will stand by your side/ To the gallows-foot - and after!” becomes deeply ironic. The poem cannot really be read as a critique of Doughtie as the question of Doughtie’s guilt is never raised by the narrative. The clear comparison is between Doughtie and the work horse, an innocent beast who needed to be pushed to save itself in adversity, and the implication is that Drake destroyed Doughtie just as Cattiwow would have destroyed the horse – or his brother – if the situation called for it. The story is really questioning what it takes to be man, and to be a hero: individual loves and loyalties must be sacrificed for a greater cause. But in this light, the poem condemns Drake, who has “buried his heart by the side of the road.” He has sacrificed the idealized friendship of the poem in order to achieve his ends – and it is clear that he has paid a tragic price. Doughtie’s guilt doesn’t matter, for it is Drake’s guilt that is called into question. Yet Kipling does not vilify Drake; on the contrary, Frankie is portrayed as amenable and considerate, a man of the people. Ironically, Kipling manages to capture all the subtleties of the narrative by eliding the story! Or perhaps that is an intrinsic part of why this story stands head and shoulders above so many others: Kipling is not afraid of the ambiguity of the Drake-Doughtie narrative. He does not try to stack the deck deterministically by making one of the primaries a stereotypical villain, nor by planting a character to discover the “truth” of the story. To him, the real truth lies in Drake’s actions, and while presenting a pleasing narrative for a child, he leaves enough open questions so that the young reader will puzzle over them, perhaps returning into the story with a fuller understanding in adulthood. Kipling wants the reader to question what it means to be a hero, and perhaps by implication, the price that Britain paid for its imperialist policies. He does not leave us with easy, satisfying answers.


For some 430 years, Thomas Doughtie has been held captive in Drake’s imperialist narrative. What little we know of him from primary sources reveals a man, both admirable and flawed, neither saint nor villain. Accounts of history and fiction have equally distorted the man’s character. The argument has been made (by Vaux, for one, xxxix-xl) and disproved that no objection was made to Doughtie’s fate at the time. Indeed, the contemporary accounts of Fletcher and Cooke belie this, as well as the futile and self-destructive behavior of John Doughtie upon his return to England. Quinn believes that the Doughtie affair was still controversial as of 1589 (42) and argues that a possible reason for the suppression of Hakluyt’s original narrative of the “Famous Voyage” was that Walsingham objected to a pro-Drake version of the Doughtie story (40). It would be more truthful to say that there was no great defense of Drake’s behavior, for Cliffe and da Silva treat the incident with measured distance, and Drake’s new and powerful friends tactfully elide all mention of it in their discourse. Hatton, Burghley, Dee, Doughtie’s friends at the Inner Temple – faced with the rising tide of Drake’s public acclaim, none leave any record of Thomas Doughtie and his life. If a great injustice was done to Thomas Doughtie on the “Island of Blood,” perhaps a greater injustice is the vast, and perhaps deliberate, silence of his peers, a silence that virtually eradicates his life save for the part he plays in the story of the man who killed him. It is hoped that this article, by exposing both the facts and the distortions, will in some sense finally rescue the life of Thomas Doughtie from the hands of his adversary.

Acknowledgments and References
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