Drake’s enslaving history plays only a minor role in Bergreen’s epic of adventure and empire, which looks in far, far greater detail at the mariner’s circumnavigation of the globe, his defeat of the Armada, and, as the subtitle suggests, how his relentless plundering on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I helped fuel Britain’s rise ... Despite Bergreen’s best efforts, Drake remains a rather remote, often contradictory figure. Drake’s ultimate renunciation of slavery receives little attention ... Occasionally, Bergreen minimizes Drake’s excesses ... Bergreen aptly captures the times Drake lived in, as well as the perils and wonders of the circumnavigation ... One disappointment from a local perspective is that the book never addresses the questions of where (or even whether) Drake landed in California ... Bergreen’s book is unlikely to change the opinions of those who have already made up their minds about Drake, whether they regard him as a hero or an oppressor. But for anyone open to a comprehensive look at Drake, in all his contradictions, In Search of Kingdom is a lively and compelling history of a man whose blend of audacity, piety and cruelty changed the world.
The Elizabeth-Drake combination is fascinating, but perhaps unavoidably it results in a patchy telling. Events at sea and court unfold separately, with few actual interactions between queen and captain ... There are oddities, too. The Golden Hind was named after the whole of a female red deer, not its rear legs. Galicia is not due south of London. Flurries of repetitions and recapitulations trip up the narrative. After being sent back once more into the thick of an apparently concluded story line, for this reader it felt like déjà vu all over again ... This is a shame, as Drake’s story is both dramatic and timely.
The narrative jumps back and forth between accounts of Drake’s career and discoveries and the background of his and Elizabeth’s lives. Far from being jarring, this juxtaposition highlights motive and context for their actions and creates a cliffhanger-style pace that keeps the reader turning the page. Still, there are few new revelations about Elizabeth I that haven’t already been covered in other biographies, and readers can find a more complete examination of her court politics and intelligence services in the work of Stephen Alford. The great pleasure of In Search of a Kingdom is the revelation of Drake as a man of apparent contradictions that helped rather than hindered his ambitions. Readers in search of a story of how a clergyman’s son gained the support of a queen and helped found the British Empire will not be disappointed.