He lyeth in his teeth

Patrick O’Brian

  • Francis Drake: The Lives of a Hero by John Cummins
    Weidenfeld, 348 pp, £20.00, September 1995, ISBN 0 297 81566 0

One of this book’s chief virtues is candour. If John Cummins first saw Drake as the knightly figure sans peur et sans reproche who had been held up for admiration to so many generations, it must have grieved him to find how far upwards the feet of clay could reach. But he states the facts with a fine impartiality. This account will have nothing to do with myths such as Drake’s drum (a 19th-century invention, it appears) or the game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe or Drake as the conquering hero in the battle against the Armada; yet even so it is by no means that dreary thing, a debunking book.

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