Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Drake, Francis (1696-1771)
DRAKE, FRANCIS (1696–1771), author of `Eboracum,' the son of the Rev. Francis Drake, vicar of Pontefract and prebendary of York, by his second wife, Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of John Dickson of Pontefract, was baptised on 22 Jan. 1695-6. He came of an old Yorkshire family of some position. His great-grandfather, Nathan Drake of Godley, Halifax, had borne arms in the service of Charles I, and is known as the author of the manuscript account of the sieges of Pontefract in 1644 and 1645, which was first partly printed in Boothroyd's history of that borough, and since in its integrity by the Surtees Society. As some compensation for the losses he had incurred for his attachment to the royal cause, his son, Dr. Samuel Drake [q. v.], was presented by Charles II to the vicarage of Pontefract, a preferment held by the family during three generations. How or where Francis was educated is not known; in the preface to 'Eboracum' he laments that his share of what he terms 'school-learning' was small, and that he had to make up by painful study for the lack of early training He was apprenticed at an early age to Mr. Christopher Birbeck, a surgeon in large practice at York. In 1713, while still in his articles, he lost his father, who left him the manor of Warthill, near York, and a house at Pontefract. Four years later, in 1717, Birbeck died, and Drake, availing himself of the opening occasioned by his death, commenced practice at York. It was not long before he had gained for himself a reputation as an expert practitioner. In May 1727 the corporation of York appointed him city surgeon, an office of little profit but of considerable local importance.
Drake had not been long in practice when the perusal of a copy of the manuscript history of York, by Sir Thomas Widdrington, formerly recorder of the city, gave him the first impulse to collect materials for the great work of his life. 'From a child,' as he himself tells us (preface to Eboracum), 'history and antiquity were always my chiefest tast.' The earliest intimation we have of his having entered upon the task appears in letters addressed in August and October 1729 to Dr. Richard Richardson of Bierley, and to Thomas Hearne, asking them 'to lend a helping hand to one who, swayed by no thirst of interest or vainglory, undertakes to deliver down to posterity the transactions of this famous city' (Extracts from the Correspondence of R. Richardson, M.D., F.R.S., pp. 299-300, 304; Letters written by Eminent Persons, ii. i. 76-9, 8vo, London, 1813). Despite the neglect of these and other persons to whom he applied for aid, Drake received every encouragement in his undertaking from the corporation of York. When, in April 1731, he represented to that body 'that the work was so far completed that he should be able to put out his proposals in a short time, and he desired liberty to inspect the ancient registers, cartularies, &c., belonging to the city,' they immediately made an order 'giving Drake the liberty to inspect and extract out of the ancient registers, deeds, and writings such things as he should think requisite for completing and illustrating his proposed history.' Again, in September 1735, when Drake was anxious to add to his already numerous illustrations engravings of the two market-crosses, Ouze Bridge, a map of the Ainsty, the front elevation of the mansion house, then recently erected, and an interior view of the state room, the corporation voted him, under certain conditions, a contribution of 50l. As long ago as 1732 he had issued from the London press of William Bowyer his proposals for printing the work by subscription (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ii. 13), but nearly three years passed before he was in a position to announce that his 'History was in the press, and that the many copper plates necessary to the work were under the hands of the best masters in that art' (Gent. Mag. v. 280). The book was at length issued towards the close of 1736 with the title 'Eboracum: or, the History and Antiquities of the City of York, from its original to the present time. Together with the History of the Cathedral Church and the Lives of the Archbishops,' fol. London, printed by William Bowyer, for the author, 1736. The subscription price was five guineas. In a list numbering nearly 540 subscribers the clergy of both city and county are well represented, but the name of the archbishop, Dr. Lancelot Blackburne, is absent. 'He not only refused,' writes Drake, 'upon my repeated application to him to accept the dedication of the church account, but even to subscribe to the book.' At p. 416 of 'Eboracum' will be found Drake's droll attack upon the archbishop, with which compare Pegge's 'Anonymiana,' century xii. No. xxiv. On 26 Nov. of the same year (1736) Drake attended a full meeting of the corporation in the guildhall at York, and in person presented to them six copies of his book, one 'richly bound in blue Turkey leather, gilded and beautifully painted and illuminated, in two large folio volumes on royal paper,' to be kept among the city records. At the same time 'he made a very handsome and elegant speech to the assembled corporation, acknowledging the several orders they had made in his favour,' and explaining that he could not dedicate his book to them, as he was bound in gratitude to dedicate it to the Earl of Burlington. Drake's motives were genuine. In the preface to 'Eboracum' he had alluded somewhat mysteriously to a sojourn in London. The allusion is explained in a letter of the antiquary, Benjamin Forster [q. v.], to Richard Gough, dated 12 Nov. 1766. Happening one day to put up at an inn at Knaresborough, Drake found Sir Harry Slingsby, the member for the borough, negotiating with a farmer for a loan of 600l., and was persuaded 'as a mere matter of form' to put his name to the bond. The baronet, protected by his position as member of parliament, repudiated the debt, and allowed Drake to be arrested and imprisoned for the money. 'He might,' writes Forster, 'have lain in the Fleet to this day had not Lord Burlington interposed, who assured Sir Harry he would use all his interest to prevent his being rechosen for Knaresborough unless he paid the debt and made a compensation to Mr. Drake' (Nichols, Illustr. of Lit. v. 298). The affair probably occurred in the spring or early summer of 1736.
On returning home Drake found that his long enforced absence had seriously interfered with his practice, so that although he accepted the post of honorary surgeon to the York County Hospital on the establishment of that institution in 1741, and held it until 1756, he henceforth devoted himself almost entirely to historical and antiquarian research. A paper from his pen, 'Introduction to the Aspilogia of John Anstis,' having been read before the Society of Antiquaries on 12 Feb. 1735-6, he was elected F.S.A. on the 27th of the same month. Copies of this treatise are preserved in Addit. MS. 6183, ff. 22-6, and in Addit. MS. 11249, ff. 46-51. In the same year (10 June 1736) he became a fellow of the Royal Society, and besides a medical paper in the 'Philosophical Transactions' for 1747-8 (xlv. 121-3), he has a description of the remarkable sculptured stone, now in the museum of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, representing a celebration of Mithraic rites by the Romans at Eburacum, which was found in Micklegate in April 1752 (ib. vol. xlviii. pt. i. pp. 33-41). He had previously sent an account to the Society of Antiquaries, from which the above paper, with 'a brief explication of the inscription,' was drawn up by the author's friend, Professor John Ward. He resigned his fellowship in 1769, having withdrawn from the Society of Antiquaries in November 1755.
In the spring of 1745 Drake, with his friend John Burton, made an excursion to the Yorkshire Wolds, and explored the country about Goodmanham and Londesborough, with the object of 'contributing to settle the long-disputed question as to the site of the Roman station called Delgovitia.' Burton, two years later, sent a paper giving the result of their investigations to the Royal Society, to which Drake added an appendix (Philosophical Transactions, 1747, vol. xliv. pt. ii. pp. 553-6). Some years afterwards (October 1754) the two antiquaries visited Skipwith Common, ten or twelve miles from York, where they opened a number of small barrows called Danes' hills. In the 'Monasticon Eboracense,' which Dr. Burton was then preparing for the press, Drake took a warm interest, and did much to insure its success (Nichols, Illustr. of Lit. iii. 378, 379).
At the close of his preface to 'Eboracum' Drake had disclaimed all desire or expectation of another edition. Yet in a letter to Professor John Ward, dated 'York, Ap. 5, 1755' (Addit. MS. 6181, f. 27), he refers to 'an interleav'd book I keep of my Antiquities of York.' This copy, which contained large manuscript additions by the author, was in the possession of his son, the Rev. William Drake [q. v.], who, says Nichols, would have republished his father's book if the plates could have been recovered, and even had thoughts of getting them engraved anew (Lit. Anecd. ii. 87). Drake, writing to Dr. Zachary Grey 1 Feb. 1747-8, mentions 'a great work which I am upon' (Addit. MS. 6396, f. 9). The 'great work' thus alluded to was the 'Parliamentary History,' the first eight volumes of which were published at London in 1751, 8vo, with the title 'The Parliamentary or Constitutional History of England from the earliest Times to the Restoration of King Charles II, collected from the Records, the Rolls of Parliament, the Journals of both Houses, the Public Libraries, original Manuscripts, scarce Speeches and Tracts, all compared with the several contemporary Writers, and connected throughout with the History of the Times. By several Hands.' In 1753 five volumes, and two years later as many more, were published, making together eighteen volumes. The nineteenth and twentieth volumes did not appear until 1757, and in 1760 the work was completed by the issue of two additional volumes, comprising an appendix and a copious index. A second edition was soon called for, and before the close of 1763 was given to the world in twenty-four handsome octavo volumes. There is little doubt that Cole is right in his assertion that Drake and Cæsar Ward, the bookseller and printer of York, at whose house in Coney Street Drake was lodging at the time, were the sole authors of this 'most excellent illustration of our English history' (Cole MS. xxvi. f. 3b). The original matter introduced by Drake illustrating events at York during the civil war has been used with excellent effect by Guizot in his 'History of the English Revolution of 1640,' ed. Hazlitt, 1845, p. 154.
In 1767 Drake left York to pass the remainder of his life at Beverley, in the house of his eldest son, Dr. Francis Drake, who was vicar of the church of St. Mary in that town. There he died on 16 March 1771, having entered the seventy-sixth year of his age. He was buried in St. Mary's, where a tablet was erected to his memory by his son.
Drake married at York Minster, on 19 April 1720, Mary, third daughter of George Woodyear of Crook Hill, near Doncaster, a gentleman of position, who had at one time acted as secretary to Sir William Temple (Yorkshire Archæological and Topographical Journal, ii. 334). She died 18 May 1728, aged 35, having borne five sons, of whom three survived her, and was buried in the church of St. Michael-le-Belfrey, York (Monumental Inscription in Eboracum, p. 243; Nichols, Lit. Anecd. iv. 179). Two sons, Francis and William [q. v.], survived their father. The elder, Francis, baptised at St. Michael-le-Belfrey 5 June 1721, was admitted Trapp's scholar at Lincoln College, Oxford, 6 Nov. 1739, and graduated B.A. 2 June 1743, M.A. 4 July 1746. In 1746 he was elected fellow of Magdalen, and proceeded B.D. 25 May 1754, D.D. 1 July 1773. He was lecturer of Pontefract and vicar of Womersley, Yorkshire. In 1767 he was instituted to the vicarage of St. Mary, Beverley, and in 1775 to the rectory of Winestead in Holderness, which he retained until his death at Doncaster on 2 Feb. 1795 (Lincoln College Register; Gent. Mag. vol. lxv. pt. i. p. 174; Bloxam, Reg. of Magd. Coll., Oxford, vi. 234, 235, 237, vii. 4, where Francis Drake is confounded with the Drake family of Malpas and Shardeloes, Cheshire).
In person Drake was 'tall and thin.' Although reserved before strangers, insomuch that he 'never did or could ask one subscription for his book,' among friends he was good company (Cole MS. vol. xxvi. ff. 3b, 4b; York Courant, 19 March 1771). A portrait of him painted in 1743 by the Berlin artist, Philip Mercier, which hangs in the mansion house at York, gives a pleasing impression of his appearance. A later portrait was painted by his relative, Nathan Drake, who published an engraving of it in mezzotinto, by Valentine Green. This print, which was not issued until June 1771, a few months after Drake's death, is frequently found inserted in 'Eboracum.' A sturdy Jacobite in politics, he could not always disguise his opinions even in the sober pages of his history. Having persistently refused to take the oaths to government, he was called upon in 1745 to enter into recognisances to keep the peace, and not to travel five miles from home without license. He was moreover superseded in the office of city surgeon, at a meeting held by the corporation on 20 Dec. It was not until July 1746 that he obtained a discharge from his recognisances.
'Eboracum,' though on many questions obsolete and superseded by the works of later and more critical writers, contains much that would otherwise have been forgotten, and is exceedingly valuable upon points of pure topography. A copy, extensively illustrated and inlaid in 6 vols. atlas folio, was sold at Fauntleroy's sale in 1824 for 136l. 10s., when it was purchased by Mr. Hurd. It subsequently fell into the hands of H. G. Bohn, who offered it at the price of 80l. (Guinea Catalogue, 1841, p. 1369). The work having become scarce and dear, the York booksellers 'published an abridgment in 1785 (3 vols. '12mo), and again in 1788 (2 vols. 8vo). Finally, in 1818, William Hargrove professed to give in the compass of two moderate 8vo volumes 'all the most interesting information already published in Drake's "Eboracum," enriched with much entirely new matter from other authentic sources.' The portion relating to York Minster had been pirated during the author's lifetime, fol. London, 1755 (with Dart's 'Canterbury Cathedral,' also abridged), reprinted at York, 2 vols. 12mo, 1768, and afterwards (Gough, British Topography, ii. 423-4). The copy of Sir Thomas Widdrington's manuscript history of York ('Analecta Eboracensia'), which Drake used and believed to be the original manuscript, as appears from his remarks at f. l, is in the British Museum, Egerton MS. 2578.[Davies's Memoir in the Yorkshire Archæological and Topographical Journal, iii. 33-54, see also iv. 42; Stukeley's Diaries and Letters (Surtees Soc.), i. 405, 406, 407-8; Nichols's Lit. Anecd.; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit.; Hargrove's Hist. of York, ii. 412-15; Watson's Hist. of Halifax, p. 250; Chalmers's Biog. Dict. xii. 312; [Gough's] List of Society of Antiquaries, 1717-96, pp. 5, 8, 13; Sloane MS. 4043, ff. 150-60; Birch MSS. 4305 f. 29, 4435 f. 176; Addit. MSS. 6181 ff. 24-8, 6210 ff. 41, 49, 28536 f. 141.]