Sir Martin Frobisher - Elizabethan Privateer
Portrayed by: Steven Leon
Born: 1539, near Wakefield, England
Died: 22 Nov 1594, Plymouth, England
Buried: 14 Jan 1595, St. Giles, Cripplegate, England
Father: Bernard FROBISHER
Mother: Margaret YORK
Married 1: Isabel RICHARD 30 May 1559, Snaith, Yorkshire, England
Married 2: Dorothy WENTWORTH ABT 1551 / 1564, Scrooby, Nottingham, England
- by Steven Leon
A famous yet curiously little known English mariner of the Elizabethan Age, Martin Frobisher was born around 1535 in Altofts, Yorkshire and was third and youngest son of Bernard and Margaret Frobisher. Following his fathers death, the seven year old Martin was sent to London to earn a living with his Uncle, Sir John York. (Un) fortunately, young Martin's aptitude for books and numbers was less than inspiring, so his uncle, in an attempt to make this boy into something, assigned Martin to his first voyage abroad to the Guinea coast. Thus his career as a sailor began.
During the next decade or so, Frobisher was to sail to the Guinea coast, be captured by the Portuguese, imprisoned for about a year and then to return home only to become a pirate in English waters. Eventually, his skill leading vessels gradually brought him to privateering for French Huguenots. He was again captured as a pirate by the English government and placed in Fleet prison to await trial. His exploits against French Catholics, however, caught the attention of a few key powerful men of Elizabeth's Court including William Cecil, Lord Burleigh. He was granted clemency and became a pirate hunter for the Crown.
Early in the 1570s, he was selected to lead an expedition to the Northwest in search of a passage way to Cathay (China). This series of ventures is what made Martin Frobisher famous. Upon his return from his first voyage, a piece of black rock he brought back as a souvenir was taken by the expedition's benefactor, Michael Lok, to be gold. Two more expeditions were to follow with the expectation of bring back this ore for refinement. At great expense and commencement, the two following ventures were readied and over 200 tons of this ore was returned to England. Eventually, the ore was found to only contain Pyrite (Fool's Gold), thus reducing Michael Lok to bankruptcy and Frobisher to dishonor.
In 1585, he was selected to accompany Francis Drake on an expedition to the West Indies in order to sack Spanish settlements and attempt to capture the yearly treasure fleet heading back to Spain. The venture succeeded barely but, earned Frobisher a reputation of a steadfast, competent and trustworthy captain, which was a rarity in these times.
In 1588, with war against Spain looming before England, Frobisher was commissioned as Vice-Admiral under Sir Charles Howard Lord Effingham, Lord High Admiral to command the largest of the English navy vessels: the Triumph. Together with Francis Drake and John Hawkins, the English were to repulse Spain's attempt at invasion. Frobisher's help during the great war with Spain earned him a knighthood from the Lord High Admiral in July of that same year.
Following the "ware of 21 Julie", Frobisher was once again employed making sure Spain would not attempt any future enterprises of England. This new found reputation earned him a commission as Admiral in an expedition to oust Spanish forces in the city of Brest located on the Crozon Peninsula. The assault on the Fort, El Leon, unfortunately resulted in Frobisher being made one of the casualties. Following his return to Plymouth, Frobisher died. His entrails were entombed at St. Andrews, Plymouth while his body was interred at St. Giles, Cripplesgate in London.
This brings an end the life of one of England's greatest mariners. He died the same way he lived, violently and precipitately. Though his venture to find a Northwest Passage for England failed, it would be one of his greatest achievements.