[ NEWS ] Cutting-edge craftsmanship for Plymouth’s Sir Francis Drake

A great deal of Plymouth’s prestigious history is sadly hidden away from the public gaze under lock and key. One of these treasures can be found in a glass cabinet at HMS Drake inside Devonport Naval Base.

Unbeknown to many, Sir Francis Drake’s sword takes pride of place in the officer’s mess of the Royal Navy site. There are several replicas of the sword – one of which is used by Plymouth City Council during ceremonial occasions in the Council House.

But an American historian believes Sir Francis Drake’s sword, kept under lock and key in Plymouth, is a “complete fake”. Oregon-based history buff Garry Gitzen made the claim after reading a piece on the historic item which appeared in The Herald on Saturday.

He said the article "wrongly identifies" the sword displayed in the officer’s mess hall of the Royal Navy’s HMS Drake base as Sir Francis Drake’s sword. "In my expert opinion, it is a complete fake just as the ‘Plate of Brass’ was exposed in the 1977 and 1979 Bancroft Library reports," Mr Gitzen said.

The actual original though is based at the aptly-named HMS Drake.

The popular belief is that it was given to him by Queen Elizabeth I in the late 1500s. He was reportedly knighted by Queen Elizabeth I on April 1st, 1581. Experts – both sword makers and historians – reportedly agree that the shape of the sword is typical of the 16th century, and that it was undoubtedly a ‘fighting’ weapon.

Weighing 2.75lbs, the sword has been in the Williams family since the 1890s. Lieutenant Godfrey Williams, who served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) in World War One, presented the sword to the Royal Naval Barracks in Portsmouth on permanent loan. It was transferred to HMS Drake in July, 1934, by the present owner – Major Idris Williams – who has given permission for the item to stay in Plymouth.

In a document detailing the sword and other items based at HMS Drake, it states of the sword: “The engravings on the blade are, on one side, a Royal Crown, a Tudor Rose, and an astrolabe (symbolising the circumnavigation of the world) which is held by the Divine Hand of Providence.

"There is also a visored helmet depicting the rank of knighthood. One the other side of the sword the Tudor Rose is replaced with a shield with decorative floral design and lions in the quarterings. On the other side to the Crown is the Royal Cypher ‘E.R.’. The engraving was once filled with gold although only traces remain. The document adds that the sword’s handle is made up of wire tightly wound around spiralled wood, and formed into a Turks head at each end. The guards and pommel are decorated with silver in the form of oak leaves and acorns," he adds.

In 1967 HRH The Queen, reportedly used the sword to knight Francis Chichester in a ceremony at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London. Sir Francis Drake’s presence is felt all around the officer’s mess of HMS Drake. A wooden bust of Drake stands proudly in a lounge.

A replica of Drake’s drum also sits in the entrance to the building. A copy of Drake’s ‘Plate of Brass’ – a plate which Drake wrote on to commemorate his claim to ‘Drake’s Bay’ as it became known near the present day San Francisco – is proudly fixed to the wall.

The Coconut Cup – said to have been brought to England by Drake is also kept in the officer’s mess as well as a silver model of the Golden Hind and various painted portraits and other trinkets.

Source: Copyright © 2014 Local World