Exhibit Downplaying Drake’s Role in the Armada’s Defeat Stirs Anger
LONDON (AP) _ A proposed museum exhibit that credits bad weather rather than Sir Francis Drake for defeating the Spanish Armada has created a stir in Plymouth, where Drake is a native son and one of England’s greatest heroes.
A Plymouth official and the British press say the state-funded exhibit downgrades Drake’s role to avoid offending Spain, which will help mount the show at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich in southeast London.
The show next year will mark the 400th anniversary of Armada’s defeat in 1588. Drake accepted the Spanish surrender aboard his flagship Revenge.
Spain’s Roman Catholic King Philip II dispatched the Armada in a bid to conquer England and overthrow Protestant Queen Elizabeth. Drake was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1581 and died at sea in 1596.
The Armada Group, which is organizing the exhibit, includes the Spanish Ambassador, Don Jose J. Puig De La Bellacasa.
The exhibit’s brochure, distributed at a news conference Wednesday, makes no mention of Drake or even of the English victory. The show opens April 20.
The brochure talks of ″the (Spanish) Duke of Parma’s expert preparations″ and the ″somewhat chaotic English plans for defense.″
″It’s sheer damned ignorance,″ Reg Scott, a member of Plymouth City Council and former Lord Mayor of the city, said of the exhibit and brochure.
″The National Maritime Museum are being much too prissy about this, as though they did not want to offend the Spanish now that they are in Europe (the European Economic Community),″ he said.
″Drake’s role in the campaign was extremely significant. He was the best known Englishman to the Spaniards at the time. ... Somebody will be rewriting the history of the Second World War next without mentioning (the British leader Winston) Churchill,″ he said.
Plymouth has refused to lend Drake’s drum to the museum for the exhibition and is planning an important series of commemorative events of its own next summer to mark the anniversary.
The drum is kept at Buckland Abbey, Drake’s former home near Plymouth.
″In Plymouth, Drake is a great historical figure. Wherever I go in the world and mention ‘Armada,’ people immediately say ‘Drake,’ ″ said Janet Poynter, coordinator of Armada 400, a panel running the Plymouth commemoration.
Tradition has it that Drake, who was mayor of Plymouth in 1582, and the other English captains were playing bowls at Plymouth when news came that the Armada had been sighted in the English Channel.
Drake is said to have gone on playing, remarking: ″There’s time for that and to beat the Spaniards after,″ and to have ended the game before setting sail to lead England to victory.
Stephen Deuchar, overall organizer of the exhibition, said: ″We are not interested in the heroes and villains aspect. Most people think Drake was in charge of the English fleet; he was not.
″He has been turned into a hero because he suits the English archetype of the swashbuckling, laid-back, super-efficient hero. But before the Armada he was a privateer who would go off raiding Spanish treasure ships. He was private enterprise personified.″
Deuchar said the story about Drake playing bowls was historically suspect.
He said that contrary to tradition, which says the English were vastly outnumbered, they had 90 ships at Plymouth and 30 more at Dover against Spain’s total of 151.
Three London newspapers - The Times of London, The Daily Telegraph, and The Daily Mail, also accused the exhibit’s organizers for distorting history to avoid offending Spain.
The Times of London said in an editorial today that plans for the museum’s exhibition ″have ... aroused deep anger in many patriotic breasts.″
″The complaint is that the ... exhibition will make virtually no reference to Sir Francis Drake and ... will pay no tribute to the received English view that this great battle was a signal victory for the cause of England, Protestantism and liberty.
″Could it be ... that the organizers ... have been concerned not so much with historical accuracy as with diplomatic politeness?
″A member of the Armada Group has said that it would not be diplomatic to say: ’Rah, rah, we gave them a thrashing,‴ The Times wrote.