Along with Corbett and Sugden, this book is the third member of the triumvirate of top class Drake biographies. After Corbett's Drake and the Tudor Navy, many works were published: some poor, such as Eyre Wilbur's Immortal Pirate and some of quality, such as A.E.W. Mason's The Life of Francis Drake (1941). No book transcended the narrative accounts of the voyages. Very few of them acknowledged Drake's invaluable work as a civic leader. He only received a passing mention. Only Bradford (1965) and Mason superficially tried to discover the man behind the myth.
By the 1960s Drake was moving away from solid fact to the sphere of legend. I never really learnt about him at school, since you cannot count reading Drake and the Tudor Navy under the desk during maths. The only thing we knew was that he played bowls on Plymouth Hoe and had a drum. Enter Malcolm Thomson! This author placed Drake where he belonged: a great historical figure and Elizabethan.
The book went into numerous editions and reprints, that included book club and paperback. It made quite a stir in the historical and literary spheres. In its hey-day, it was the standard biography on Drake and was an influential body of work. In my opinion, Thomson has only been eclipsed by Sugden. The book is well written and beautifully crafted. Many of the reviews stated that it was highly readable and was appreciated by the Drakeologist and layperson alike. Thomson makes extensive use of the primary sources, which had not been exploited since Corbett. His deductions are logical and systematic. I learnt a lot about the available primary sources. Consequently, there is an excellent bibliography and clearly delineated notes on sources done chapter by chapter.
Thomson was the first to use contemporary and opposite quotations as chapter headings. This set the fashion for subsequent biographers. I particularly like the two appendices detailing Drake's will and the attempt to locate Port Pheasant. This book ranks third in my collection. Corbett lives on my bedside table, Sugden in my handbag and Thomson on my dressing table. This highly recommended book is still in print!