History - An admirable admiral?

7th September 2012 at 01:00
Was Drake a hero or a villain? A role play helps pupils decide

They say history is written by the victors, but acting it out can help children see both sides.

Role play with Year 4 can be a tense affair. Our dramatisation of Tudor punishments, which included beheadings, brandings, amputations and a cardboard pillory, nearly led to a prison-style riot. It was therefore a relief when, after some minor skirmishes over casting, Chloe (Queen Elizabeth I), with sword in hand, elected to knight rather than decapitate Ryan (Francis Drake). In 1581, an English monarch could do just about anything she bloody well wanted, and I could see how the young actress playing her might be tempted to rewrite history.

"Arise, Sir Francis Drake," she commanded, and one of England's foremost naval heroes, pausing only to pick his nose and wipe it on his Tudor waistcoat, did so and bowed graciously before his queen and his audience. Well, some of his audience, for the children had been divided into two groups, the English and the Spanish.

"So, what can you tell me about Sir Francis Drake?" I asked the English supporters.

They had researched their subject well. He was a famous sea captain and explorer ... He was born in Devon between 1540 and 1544 ... First went to sea in the 1550s ... Commanded his first ship in 1567 ... Defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588 ... Between 1577 and 1580 he became the first man to circumcise the globe ...

"I think you mean circumnavigate the globe, Paula. It means he sailed all the way round the world," I explained.

"So what's circumcise mean?" she asked.

Moving swiftly on, I asked the Spaniards what they thought about Sir Francis Drake. That was when the wind changed and a storm began to brew. It wasn't easy to recruit Spaniards until I agreed to let them draw curly moustaches on each other with charcoal sticks. Then they outnumbered the English and were spoiling for a fight.

"He's nowt but a greedy, thieving, rotten pirate," roared Sam (Philip II) in a broad Yorkshire accent. The English were stunned by this accusation. What? Sir Francis Drake, a pirate? How dare you, sir!

The Spaniards, however, pressed home their advantage. We call him "El Draque", which means "The Dragon"... He attacked Spanish ships to steal their treasure... Raided Spanish ports, sinking ships and taking their gold... Destroyed 30 vessels in Cadiz harbour...

Drake felt affronted. "Are they trying to say I'm a pirate?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied. "Isn't that what pirates do? Sail the oceans stealing from other ships?"

There was a moment of tension before he said: "Does that mean I can wear an eye patch?"

Steve Eddison is a KS2 teacher at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

What else?

Virneth has shared 3dhistory's interactive globe, which lets pupils map Drake's voyage. bit.lyT1GLTc

Try kakacik's animated presentation to introduce pupils to the story of Francis Drake's adventure. bit.lyO8CzgI.

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