This article came from Chronicle published October 1980. Page: 11


Sir Francis Drake at Yeovil

Author: Leslie Brooke


Edward Harris and Thomas Clare were churchwardens of St John’s Church in Yeovil in the 26th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First (1583), and in their well-kept accounts they recorded under payments received ‘for Belles’ – ‘of Sir Francis Drake for a Peal with all the Bells xxd’. So far as is known this is the only mention of the famous Devon seaman ever having visited Yeovil.

The question naturally arises as to what Sir Francis was doing here and why he requested the bells to be rung. This was a period of ‘rest’ from his sea-going exploits – he had circumnavigated the world between 1577 and 1580 and had been knighted by the Queen on his return, his voyage to Spain and the Indies was two years in the future (1585-6), and the ‘singeing of his Catholic Majesty’s beard’ at Cadiz, the year before the sailing of the great Spanish Armada in 1588. So it is unlikely that any of the former and certainly none of the latter events were being celebrated, especially at his own expense!

However, his presence in Yeovil might be accounted for by the fact that two years later he married Elizabeth Sydenham, daughter of George Sydenham ‘of Cleve, Somerset’. This supposition might, at first sight, seem to have no connection with Yeovil, until it is recollected that Elizabeth Sydenham’s father had purchased the manor of Sutton Bingham in 1561, later to be inherited by Elizabeth herself. Furthermore, George Sydenham’s brother, Elizabeth’s uncle, was Sir John Sydenham of Brympton. It seems more than likely Sir Francis was well acquainted with the Sydenhams, amid possibly courting his future bride at this time, and if, as seems possible, she was visiting her father’s estate at Sutton, and/or her uncle at Brympton, it might well be that Sir Francis was escorting her. One could even go so far as to speculate whether they might have become engaged here, Sir Francis celebrating the event by expending 1s 8d for a peal on Yeovil’s church bells – it would be nice to think so.

It may be significant that the churchwardens’ accounts also show in this same year under their receipts for the ‘Lone of Vessels’ from the Church House, that six dozen were ‘lent to Brympton at Christmas’ for 2s 6d – an unprecedented number for that manor, and one that was not to be repeated.