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The Drake Exploration Society

The Plymouth Black Book

transcribed and interpreted by Susan Jackson

Drake's Plymouth

Drake's Plymouth

Susan Jackson with The Plymouth Black Book

Susan Jackson with The Plymouth Black Book

This miscellaneous collection of documents, gathered and bound in a wooden cover overlaid with black leather, is aptly known as The Plymouth Black Book. Principally, it contains entries made by the mayors of Plymouth concerning the important events of their respective annual sessions of duty. However, the book is not complete. It also contains details of property transactions in which the corporation were either directly concerned or, acted as mediators in lawsuits. The book is housed at the Plymouth Record Office at Coxside and can be viewed by prior appointment, or at their discretion on production of £2. It is one of the most fascinating documents that a historian can read. To work from this source, has been an instructive and fulfilling experience.

For the purpose of The Drake Broadside I have only included those entries that directly or indirectly refer to Drake. For example, I have included building projects such as the new quay and the stairs at Southside because of Drake's financial contribution. I have mentioned the arrival of Dom Antonio because he was entertained at Buckland Abbey. Two property transactions are included. One concerns Drake and the other his Uncle John.

I have retained the Elizabethan form of English spelling and the Devonian variations. They attest to the fact that, Sir Francis and his fellow mayors spoke with a rich West Country drawl. If you read the words aloud, the words are easy to comprehend! Members should also note that, The Black Book dates it's years from Lady Day in April, rather than from 1 January.

1572 John Blythman: Mo thatt this yere the kaye on the southesyde whereof the southe ende adjoneth to the Barbygan vnderneth the Castell was Builded by the towne vnder full sea marcke and Contayneth in lengethe one hundred and Thurtie Foot and in Bredethe fourtie and fower foot.

As a merchant, by law, Drake would have made a contribution to such public works.

The New Quay

The remains of the New Quay at Sutton Pool

Mooring posts

Elizabethan mooring posts at Southside Street

The south west tower of the castle

The south west tower of the castle

1580 John Blitheman:At Mighelmasse this yeare came Mr Fraunces Drake home to Plymouthe from the Southe Seay and mollocus and wassa round about the world and was lacke towe yeares & thre quarters and brought home great stoore of golde and sylver in blockes And was afterward in the same yere for his good seruice in thatt behalfe done kneighted - In this yere also the southe west tower of the Castell was newlie repeired and covered wth leade.

This was paid for by contributions from Plymouth citizens, one of whom, was probably Drake.

1581 Sr Fraunces Drake knyghte: The newe compasse made vpon the Hawe.

Drake was instrumental in having the compass built on the Hoe. It was his idea that counsellors wore scarlet cloaks.

1582 Thomas Edmonds gent: The order for wearinge scarlet gownes put in execucon. The sluce made wthhin the newe kaies.

1584 Christoofer Brokyng: in this yeare the stares were bilte to goe into a bote at lowwater at the cawse of southside.

All men in England whose income was above a certain level, paid a rate that funded public projects. Drake was the richest man in Plymouth and would have definitely contributed.

The kinge of Portingall arived at Plymouth the 7th Daye of September verye poor & was Driven from his Cuntry by the kinge of Spaine ii yeares before, & was relleved by the Quenes matie & was sent for by her matie to the Corte where he was condocted wth 50 horses or more.

This was Dom Pedro who was entertained by Drake at Buckland Abbey and may have been living in one of Drake's properties when he died.

Sr Fraunces Drake knight depted from plymouthe the 14 of September for the west Indies whom the lord pserue and all his companie wth 24 shipes & barks & 20 pinases wherein he Caried wth hym thre thowsand men or more.

1586 Georgius Maynard gent: In this yeare Sr Fraunces Drake knight gen'rall of iiior of her mats shippes, xii saile of m'chaunte shippes & of other smalle Barkes and pinnaces went here-hence to the seas the thirde daie of Aprill. He arriuede at Cales (Cadiz) where he did greatloe annoye the king of Spaines fleete & sett manye of fire, beinge laden with victualls prepared for England, and in that viadge tooke a greate Carricke of the Buthen of 1000 Tonnes or vppwardes belonging to the said kinge laden wth spices and other commodities & brought the same into England to the Great comforte of her matie & her subjects.

1587 Willmo Hawkins ar: In this yere the honourable lord Charells howard lord heigh Admiral of england accompanyed wth sundrye nobles men and others, amongest the wch was Sr Fraunces Drake kneight and John Hawkins esquiar havinge vnder his charge diuers of the quenes shippes, sett fourth to impeache the kinge of Spaines flet, wch wer expected to come to invade this lande, arrived here in this harbourough wth other m'chaunts shippes in number all 120 and here remayned vntill intelligence was giuen that the enemeys were vpon or coast, and then they putt fourth. This beinge the 21st of July the soundaie after the enemyes came in open seight of or harborough and or shippes geiving theym chasse and so putt all to the eastward and had many feightes together. But godd be p'sed, the enyme hadd never power to land somoche as one manne vppon any territorie of ors. in this seruice mr John Hawkins & others were knighted.

1588 Humfridus Fones mercat: This yere there ar 6 of her mates shippes and ii pynases wth 18 sailes of m'chaunt shippes wch arein warlike manner gone to the coast of Spaine under the commaunde and direction of Sr John Norrs kneight and Sr Fraunces Drake kneight lords gen'alles. they touke diurs places of Forces in Spaine, butt hauing a greate sicknes happeninge amongest theire men, they rato'ned wthowte entringe into the Cytie of lisborne, to which place theire cheife bent was. yett entred they the subbarbes and touke it and came to the gat of the cytie, where it is, and the right honorable the lord of Essex knocked wth suche instrument as he hadd in his hande.

1589 Johannes Blitheman mercat: This yere the northewest tower of the Castell was covered wth leade, and 7 brass peics were planted vppon the iiior castells. this yere likewise were the platteformes at hawe (hoe) tymbred, the gate a cocksyde wch is to be shutte euerye neight was newe made and the greatte platte forme by the gate att Iland, (Drake's Island) and the wall neare the same contayninge 257 fote was nowe newly made.

Mor bought two demy-colverines and two hole colverines of Iron and mounted them at the barbigan and bulwerkes.

This was partly paid for by town funds, to which Drake would have contributed. Drake and the council successfully petitioned the Crown for additional government funds.

Also this yere the composytyon was made betweene the towne and Sr Frances Drake for the bringinge of the River of Mew to the towne, for wch the town, haue paied hym iicli; and more cli; for wch he is to compounde with the Iis'. (owners) of the land ouer wch it commethe.

This is the leat. Drake bore responsibility for the legal aspects and was chairman of the committee that steered the bill of permission through parliament.

Leat Map

Leat Map

1590 Walterus Pepperel mercat: This yere on the *1 daye of December Sr Fraunces Drake kneight, beganne the Ryur*2 to bringe the Ryur Meue to the towne of Plymmouthe wch greate care and diligence effected pfrmed *3 and brought the Riur into the towne the xxiiijth day of Aprill the next after psentlie after he sett in hand to Build sixe greast (grist or corn) milles, two at wythy in Eckbuckland pish, (Eggbuckland Parish) thother 4 by the towne the two att wythy and the two next to the towne he fullie fynisshed befor michelmas next after and grounde corne wth theym Also in this yere diuers conveyaunces were made wt>hin the said towne for convayeng the forsaid Ryur elong-

1591 John Sparke: In September the Earle of Cumberlande tooke a greate carricke of 16 or 17 c. tonnes richelye laden and broughte her into Dartmouthe

This was the carrack the Madre de Dios (Mother of God). Drake was one of the prize commissioners appointed by the government to compile inventories and to oversee the unloading and distribution of ships' cargoes.

1592 John Gayer: This yere the towne builted some of the Conduytts.

1593 John Phillips: This yere the two judges of the circuytt came hither to see the Towne and were honorablie entertayned.

As a senior J.P. and Deputy Lord Lieutenant Drake would have acted as host to the judges. They would have probably stayed with him either, at his Plymouth house or at the Abbey.

1594 George Baron: This yere were fyve new belles cast at the Townes only charge Sr Fraunces Drake and Sr John Hawkyns went to the West Indias with xxxvj sayles of shippes and pynnaces and both dyed in the Jurney and Sr Nicholas Clyfford slayne.

Drake and the Hawkins brothers made a contribution.


The following two leases seem to have been produced at one of Thomas Drake's numerous lawsuits. Possibly the mayor and corporation were acting as arbitrators.

1601 or 1603: Lease of Land of John Drake in the Øld Town.

The Plymouth Black Book does not include the content of this lease.

The following lease was on three lives - or a term of threescore years in reversion on the death of the Gilmans. The rental was 10 shillings a year, payable at the four principle and most usual feasts: Michaelmas, Christmas, Lady Day and Easter. Antony Plott seems to have been responsible for all repairs. I am quite excited about this Gilman lease that locates some Looe Street property. It may be part of Drake's inheritance from his grandmother Dame Margery.

1603 or 1604: This Indenture made the thirtenthe daye of Aprill in the thirtethe yere of the reigne of or Sou'eigne ladye Elizabeth Betwene the righte worp" Sr Frances Drake knight of thone ptye (of the one party) And Anthony Plott of Plym in the countye of Devon gent of the other ptye, where the said Sr Francs Drake by his deed bearinge date the firste daye of Marche in the nyne & twentithe yere of the reigne of or seid sour eigne Ladye Quene Eliz. Did Demyse lease graunte confirme & to farme lett vnto Florence Gilman nowe wyfe vnto the said anthonye And to Edward Gylman All that one messuage or tente (property and tenency) wth a Courtalage & garden their vnto adjioynenge scituate (site or situation) lyeing & beinge wthin the Boroughe of Plymouth in the northe pte of a streete there called Loostreete in the south pte of the lands of the heirs of Burgeys (plots or areas) in the Easte pte of the lands of John Coad Esquyer and in the waste pte of one garden there being the inheritance of the seid Sr Francs Drake, sometyme in the tenure of John Weeks And also all that the said Garden [to weete] the Corn Gardensometyme in the tenure of the said Jon Weeks lyenge directly to the Eastward of the saide messuage or tenemt wch seid messuage or Tente Courteleadge & gardyn there were inthe tenure or occupacon of the said Florence & Edward To have & to holde the seid messuage or tente Courtedge & garden theirvnto belonginge, as also the saide laste recyted garden before by these pnts dymysed & granted. Theise indenturs nowe wytnes that the said Sr Frances Drake aswell in consyderacon of the great charge wch the said A.P. hath bestowed in buildinge vpon the p'myses (promises) as for dyu'se other speciall respects and consideracons hym movinge hath demysed and &graunted and by these pnts dothe demyse & graunte vnto the said A.P. all & singular the p'myses demysed to the said F and E.G.

It is probable that Anthony Plott and Edward Gilman were officers on one of Drake's voyages and this lease, at a moderate rental, was a way of rewarding loyalty. This property was also inherited by Drake. Hence, I do wonder if it was a legacy from Dame Margery, who was a Hawkins and also Drake's grandmother. She would have been a woman of financial means and a property owner. It is possible that, Drake lived here when he returned to Plymouth from Kent and where he began married life. It was the contemporary custom for the wife to live initially with the husband's family. This would have made sense, since Mary was only about sixteen. She would have appreciated female family company during her husband's periods of absence. Dame Margery was certainly living in 1572.

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