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DV Fic - A Footnote In History

Written for the Drake’s Venture - Alternative Ventures Challenge

Prompt: The early chronicles were right - it really was John Doughtie who was executed.

Title: A Footnote In History


Francis Drake had returned from the great circumnavigation triumphant and very, very rich, but his welcome in England was in no way assured. He waited anxiously aboard his travel weary ship off St Nicholas Island in Plymouth Sound for the summons from his Queen. There was much to explain to Her Majesty, and to others.

The Queen, he thought as he sat at the desk in his opulently appointed cabin, would she be pleased with his daring exploits against the Spanish? He suspected that as the boards of the Golden Hinde fair groaned with Spanish spoils he would be safe on this account. But there was another whose understanding he was more desperate to obtain. When the call finally came to attend the Queen at Richmond Francis Drake set out immediately, but made a stop at a small village in Surrey.

When the door opened to his sturdy knock Francis at first stood silently, his sharp, clear blue eyes searching the face before him.

"Good morrow to thee, Thomas," Francis began in an uncertain and quiet manner which was not at all his usual demeanor.

The man answering the door smiled in greeting and bade him enter. Francis was surprised that the gentleman had attended the door in person. Where were his servants? He entered the cottage, removing his cloak and placing it over a chair. Small and tidy, comfortable and warmly lit, books and pamphlets in neat stacks everywhere, freshly picked flowers on the mantle, the cottage had a welcome, homey feel.

Thomas himself was elegantly but simply dressed. He wore but one ring, the silver Pegasus of the Inner Temple, upon his slender fingers. As Francis looked closely at his friend he glanced at his own refection in the mirror and could not be but struck by the comparison; he looking strong, tanned, robust and proud; his friend thin, pale and melancholy, but still so very beautiful. Francis was taken aback. This was not the gallant soldier he had known in Ireland or the charming, mercurial courtier who turned heads and opened doors for him in Elizabeth’s court with his sharp wit and polished manners.

"Wherefore Thomas be thou here alone in this small cottage?" Francis enquired with concern. "Have thee no servants nor companions? Have thee fallen upon hard times in my long absence?"

Thomas laughed quietly and put his hand upon his friend’s shoulder. "Be not concerned, Francis. My fortune is in tact, but nowadays I seek not the luxuries or excitement of courtly life. I am comfortable here, Francis. I have my books for company and the garden to walk in. The cook from the Hall brings me my meals and keeps all in proper order here; our dear friend Leonard visits when e’er he is passing and provides good conversation. I want for nothing."

Francis nodded and tried to smile in return. He continued awkwardly, "I did not send word of my arrival Thomas, for I feared thee may not wish …."

"Why Francis, how might this be so?" Thomas said before his friend could complete his sentence. "Friends such as us need have no such fears."

"Are we still friends Thomas? I do wish it so, but after all that has passed I dared not hope to find thee so forgiving," replied Francis, still looking carefully at his friend, searching his face for signs of the man he had known.

"Thee were e’er my true and loving friend, and remain so." Thomas replied warmly. "Come Francis, sit here beside me and tell me all. I have heard many a differing tale of thy tribulations. I wish to hear the truth of it from thee."

The two men sat together near the open window; though now well into autumn the weather was unseasonably warm. For over two years Francis Drake had planned and rehearsed what he would say to his friend at this dreaded meeting, but now as he was face to face with Thomas the words would not come as bidden and just tumbled forth in disarray and anguish.

"’Swounds Thomas, I had no choice. He crossed me at every turn; spoke against me to the men; threatened sorcery and dire retribution against any who did not approve him. You must believe me Thomas; I did not wish his death. I threatened him; I pleaded with him; I tried to make him see reason but in the end his antics imperiled all our lives. Then finally, as we approached the great Straits of Magellan, he admitted he was in league with Burghley to thwart my venture. Burghley, Thomas; canst thou believe it? Better to sup with the devil himself than to have consort with that treacherous Lord".

Francis, looking down, shook his head slowly and cleared his throat before continuing. "How two brothers could look so alike and yet be so different in temperament in truth I know not. I wish to God that I had ne’er taken the lad on the voyage or that you at least had accompanied us. I had hoped, forgive me Thomas for I know thou hast no liking for the sea, but I had hoped that after the sad death of thy young wife that thou would have joined me on my venture."

"Ah, Francis, if only it could have been so, then mayhap the end would have been different. But well thou knowest that I was ne’re meant for a life at sea. My last terrible voyage home from Ireland assured me of this."

Thomas’ expression darkened as he remembered the storms he had endured leaving Carrickfergus for England after the bloody massacre at Rathlin. Whilst in Ireland he had faced the swords and arrows of his Queen’s enemies without fear, but on that terrible voyage he thought he felt the wrath of God in those wild tempests and vowed never again to venture forth upon the seas. Thomas cleared his mind of these dark thoughts and looked again at his troubled friend.

"But be not so disturbed, dear Francis, I pray thee. I doubt not that all thou hast related be true. Verily, my brother was from the first a difficult child. I confess that my sisters and I did spoil and indulge him after our parents’ death. My uncle always recommended a stronger hand." Thomas picked up the painted miniature of his brother and ran a finger tenderly across the image.

"Always so headstrong and so very, very impetuous; he was surely destined to find trouble, be it here in England where he had already earned the ire of Leister, or any place else, I believe. It was my hope, good captain, that sailing with thee on thy venture would serve to teach him some discipline. As much as I loved him I fault thee not for thy grim remedy, Francis. Leonard has confirmed thy patient perseverance with my brother’s folly."

"And it shames me to say Francis but I too did learn that he was indeed Burghley’s man. He had made a pact with his lordship, but his betrayal of thee was as much for my sake as for his own. He wished to see my career advanced and so agreed to be Lord Burghley’s agent if I were made his Lordship’s secretary. Believe me Francis; I had no fore knowledge of this pact. Only when the young Captain Wynter returned and milord summoned him to recount the details of the voyage did I see the truth of it in Burghley’s eyes as Wynter told him of my brother’s execution."

Thomas stopped and looked down at his trembling hands, taking a moment to compose himself. The memory of that day in Burghley’s rooms still caused him pain. He had listened in horror as Wynter had told in detailed how Thomas’ beloved younger brother had been tried for treason and mutiny by Thomas’ friend Drake, and sentenced to death.

"But pray tell me," Thomas continued quietly, "‘tis said he died a gentleman’s death. Be it so Francis? Did he truly meet his end with dignity and piety?"

Francis nodded, "Aye Thomas, he did indeed. All were taken by his calm acceptance of his fate. He was given a Christian burial with all honours due a gentleman. Fletcher performed all the necessary rites and he went to his death absolved of his confessed sins. I doubt not his soul now resides in heaven."

Francis looked away from his friend as he said this. It was a lie. He wished it were true, but it was not. Yes, the young man had confessed; he had taken the sacrament; he had dined with the Captain and then gone to the block with dignity; but Drake knew that the whole extraordinary and surreal execution scene was the insufferably arrogant young gentleman’s final act of defiance; his last effort to show Drake who was the better man. It was most certainly not a humble, pious end. The condemned man had summoned Francis to his tent just prior to the execution and in private had told him, in the vilest language Drake had ever heard, just what a low opinion he had of the Captain General. In Drake’s mind that young man’s black soul would now be in hell; that is if the Devil could stand to have him in his presence. But this he had determined keep to himself; it served no one to have this known. Having lost two brothers himself, Francis knew too well the anguish his friend now suffered.


For a time there was silence between the two friends, only the sound of the blackbirds in the garden broke the stillness of the room. Then Thomas continued hesitantly, "Francis, there is something that I would ask of thee."

"Speak Thomas; if it be within my power I will gladly grant it," Drake replied in earnest.

"The Queen has, I am told, already confiscated the logs of Wynter and others from the Elizabeth; no doubt she will soon secrete thine own away as well. Tales of thy daring voyage will be known only by word of mouth."

Francis nodded, "Aye Thomas, I also believe this to be so."

Thomas looked deeply into Francis’ eyes before continuing, "I wish… I wish that my brother be not remembered in history as a traitor and a mutineer. Would’st thou instead let it be known that the gentleman who died at Port San Julian on that sad day in 1578, as a consequence of his pride and arrogance, was of the name Thomas, not John Doughtie?"

"Nay Thomas," Francis exclaimed grabbing his friend’s shoulders holding him at arms length, "then what of thy good name?"

Thomas took both of Francis’ rough, callused hands in his, "Dearest Francis, that thou knowest me to be thy true and loving friend is all I need to be content. My name will be but a footnote in history whilst thine will be forever steeped in glory. Grant me this, Francis, I implore thee. ’Tis little enough I can do for John now. I pray thee; let it be so."

Francis was shocked by his friend’s request, not least because he believed the wretched knave to be unworthy of such a sacrifice by his noble brother but he could see the importance of it in Thomas’ sad, dark eyes and he heard the pleading in Thomas’ voice, so he reluctantly nodded his agreement.

"Aye Thomas, if that truly be thy wish." Then after a moments thought he added, "I think however that I could not bear to name thee as a traitor, my dearest Thomas, but rest assured, I will instead undertake to make no mention of the gentleman’s name in any reminiscences of the voyage I be asked to recount. This much I can promise thee."

Thomas gave his friend a grateful smile. "I thank thee, good Captain," he said as he stood, his countenance now brightened as though a great burden had been lifted from him, "and now I think thee should depart; it be not wise to keep Her Majesty waiting."

Francis rose and embraced his friend. "I will come anon to visit thee, Thomas, e’re I can."

Thomas smiled again and nodded slightly, helped place Drake’s cloak around the mariner’s broad shoulders and kissed his friend upon the cheek. "Farewell, my Captain."


Francis Drake did not return. He became a knight, a landowner, the husband of a fine lady, the mayor of Plymouth and his country’s saviour helping to defeat the Spanish Armada. When a certain reclusive gentleman died in the winter of 1588 there was only the preacher Francis Fletcher and the two gentlemen, Leonard Vicarye and John Cooke, present to mourn the passing of their friend Thomas Doughtie who, as far as most of England knew, had already died some ten years before on a desolate beach on the far side of the world.1



1. Most modern historians would cite the name Thomas Doughtie or Doughty as the English gentleman put to death by his friend during Drake’s great circumnavigation of the globe. The World Encompassed (the account of the voyage written by the famous explorer’s nephew and name sake Sir Francis Drake) makes no mention at all of the gentleman’s name. William Camden, a contemporary historian using the considerable resources of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, to write the history of the reign of Elizabeth I, gives the name of the unfortunate man as John Doughty. This account is however at odds with two other contemporary manuscripts by the preacher Francis Fletcher and the gentleman adventurer John Cooke (both known to have accompanied Drake) each of whom name Thomas as the Doughtie brother put to death.




( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 9th, 2008 08:11 am (UTC)
Oh Thomas, noble to a fault. *sniff* Wonderful story - as usual, your command of the tapestry of history is impressive.
Nov. 10th, 2008 08:14 am (UTC)
Thank you. Thomas always plays the martyr so well.
Nov. 9th, 2008 01:36 pm (UTC)
*sniff* *sniff* Poor wayward John.
Nov. 10th, 2008 08:17 am (UTC)
Yes, poor John. But he insisted on being the evil!doughtie.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )



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