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The Sir Francis Drake Collection: H. P. Kraus and the Building of the Drake Collection

Overview of the Collection

Sir Francis Drake, English explorer and naval strategist, circumnavigated the earth from 1577-1580. During these travels, Drake visited the Caribbean and the Pacific claiming a portion of California for Queen Elizabeth and waging battles against the Spanish. These voyages also revealed significant new geographical data about the New World and added greatly to Queen Elizabeth's treasury. This collection comprises important primary and secondary source materials accumulated about Drake's voyages throughout the then Spanish territory of the Americas.

Hans Peter Kraus was an avid collector and bibliophile who became one of the most important antiquarian book dealers of the twentieth century. A native of Vienna, Austria, Kraus immigrated to New York in 1939 and lived in the United States until his death in 1988. In 1940 he established the rare book firm H. P. Kraus, Inc., with his wife, Hanni. Mr. Kraus was also chairman of the board of Kraus-Thomson Organization, Ltd, a publisher. He became a trustee of the Yale Library Associates, a member of the Grolier Club, a Life Fellow of the Morgan Library, a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, and an Officer of the Ordre de la Couronee (Belgium).

This collection of Drake items is the second major gift that Mr. and Mrs. Kraus made to the Library. In 1970 they donated 162 manuscripts relating to the history and culture of Spanish America in the colonial period (1492-1819), which contain a wide range of information both about Spanish colonial history and the territories included in the present-day United States. These materials are available for use by scholars in the Library's Manuscript Division.

This Drake collection, assembled in only twelve years, complements the earlier gift with detailed information on important aspects of Spanish colonial history in the Americas. It also sheds new light on the consequences for Spain of Drake's raids on Spanish trade ships and on settlements in the Caribbean and the Pacific. The combination of the other rich Library collections from this period and the resources of the neighboring Folger Shakespeare Library make Washington a preeminent center for the study of the Elizabethan era [1558-1603].

In the 1968 James Ford Bell Lecture, Kraus explained how a chance comment about the enormous profit reaped by Sir Francis Drake and Queen Elizabeth from Drake's around-the-world voyage piqued his interest and led him to study the navigator's life. The more that he learned, the more fascinated he became, and he resolved to put together a collection of contemporary materials related to Drake and his legendary journeys.

"…I had not realized how difficult it would be to build up a Drake collection. I wanted to gather only original and contemporary sources, in printed books, in autographs and manuscripts, in maps, in portraits, or in medals. The motive for my collecting was to learn about Drake in the same way as anyone living in Europe during his lifetime would have done…This was a beautiful conception, but the material seemed to be so scarce that at times I felt inclined to give up the whole idea."

Kraus was thwarted in part by centuries of government secrecy. Spain and England were officially at peace during the period of Drake's famous voyage; his armed intrusions into Spanish territories and his taking of plunder were unable to be acknowledged by the British. Drake's journal of the trip had been given directly to Queen Elizabeth and never again seen. The first written account of Drake's voyage did not appear until 1589 in some copies of Richard Hakluyt's The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation. A first edition of this volume, including the six leaves inserted in 1592 that describe Drake's circumnavigation, is part of the Kraus gift to Library.

The only discussion of Drake's voyage during Elizabethan times appeared in a small book published eight years before the Hakluyt narrative, in January 1581. A copy of the book included in this gift is the only such book known. This account celebrates Drake's return with a "Discourse in commendation of the valiant as virtuous minded Gentleman, Maister Frauncis Drake, with a reioycing of his happy adventures," by the writer Nicholas Breton.

One of the crowning pieces of the Kraus Collection is a letter written by Gerard Mercator to Abraham Ortelius in 1580, in which he speculates on the route that Drake took around the world. The letter reveals how little was known then about the earth, even by the two greatest mapmakers of the time.

One of the greatest cartographic treasures of the Elizabethan era is part of this collection--Nicola van Sype's engraved map of the circumnavigation, entitled "La Herdike Enterprinse Faict par le Signeur Draeck D'Avoir Cirquite Toute la Terre." Believed to date from 1581, this map is derived from the Whitehall map, a large wall-map of the world that previously hung in Whitehall Palace. Presented to Queen Elizabeth probably by Drake, the map has since been lost.

Another early map, "World Map, in Two Hemispheres, Engraved or Struck on Silver and Bearing the Track of Drake's 1577-1580 Circumnavigation on the Earth," shows the route of Drake's circumnavigation with America on one side and Europe and Asia on the other. Two of these silver maps are in the Kraus Collection--one of them provides the date 1589 in a small cartouche and is the only known copy to name Michael Mercator, Gerard's son, as the cartographer and engraver.

The earliest extant American military architectural drawings are also here: two views of the fortress at San Juan de Ulua (Vera Cruz) Mexico, around 1570. Drake and John Hawkins, sailing under Hawkins's command from England in 1567, were caught in the harbor of San Juan de Ulua when a convoy of ships from Spain arrived. Although a truce was worked out to allow the Spaniards safe passage into the harbor and to let the English reprovision and repair their vessels, the Spanish broke the truce once in the harbor and attacked the English. Most of Hawkins's men and ships were lost, although Drake and Hawkins eventually made it back to England separately. It was a lesson that Drake never forgot nor forgave and it was shortly after this battle that Don Cristobal de Eraso proposed the enlargement and enhancement of the fortifications shown in this view and ground plans of San Juan de Ulua.

Other unique manuscript materials shed additional light on internal events in Spain during this crucial period: a 1586 holograph draft of a reply by the Duke of Medina Sidonia directed to Philip II, King of Spain, concerning the defense of Spanish America and a 1587 letter to Medina Sidonia signed by King Philip. The king's letter, written in response to news of Drake's attacks in Cadiz Bay, urges Medina Sidonia to leave Cadiz if Drake attempts to take the city and demonstrates the intimate contact between the duke and the Court. The king added, in an apparently hastily penned postscript in his own hand: "I would be more greatly worried about this situation if you were not in charge; therefore I expect it will have a good outcome." Medina Sidonia was soon after appointed by the king to command the Spanish Armada, which Drake defeated in 1588.

The Kraus Collection includes the finest contemporary portrait of Sir Francis Drake. Unsigned, it is attributed to Jodocus Hondius, the Flemish cartographer, by George Vertue, the British engraver and antiquary. This eighteenth century-portrait apparently was never circulated in Drake's time, as only two contemporary impressions are known, both of them unfinished. Vertue obtained the original copper plate from Drake's descendants and completed it largely by adding shading in the background.

The illustrated catalog entitled Hans P. Kraus, Sir Francis Drake, A Pictorial Biography published in 1970 uses the maps, engravings, and other items in the collection to give an illustrated account of Drake's voyages. The catalog portion of the publication gives a detailed description and provenance of the items.

Global Gateway | The Kraus Collection of Sir Francis Drake >> H. P. Kraus and the Building of the Drake Collection