English admiral,the most renowned seaman of the Elizabethan Age. Son of a tenant farmer,he went to sea at 13 to escape his family's poverty. He gained a reputation as an outstanding seaman and became wealthy through raids against Spanish colonies. In 1577 he was commissioned by Elizabeth I to lead an expedition to South America and beyond. He set sail with five ships,but ultimately only his flagship,the Golden Hind,made its way through the Strait of Magellan into the Pacific and up the coast of South and North America; he then turned south to anchor off modern San Francisco,claiming the area for Elizabeth. He sailed westward to the Philippines and around the Cape of Good Hope,and returned to Plymouth in 1580 laden with treasure,the first captain ever to sail his own ship around the world and the first Englishman to sail the Pacific,the Indian Ocean,and the South Atlantic. In 1581 he was knighted and made mayor of Plymouth. Appointed vice admiral (1588),he played a crucial role in defeating the Spanish Armada and became England's hero,achieving a popularity unequaled until Horatio Nelson's. On his last voyage,to the West Indies,he succumbed to fever and was buried at sea.