English folklore is crammed with variations on the ‘king in the mountain’ story. In these tales, legendary heroes sleep away the centuries in some remote or hidden place.
There’s a version of the Arthurian legends that claims Arthur and his court lie suspended in time beneath Sewingshields Castle.
But all of the stories agree that the heroes slumber until they’re needed, often by some kind of national peril. Given the somewhat precarious nature of world affairs since Friday, I thought it was apt to investigate the legend of Drake’s Drum, a variation on these stories.
But who was Sir Francis Drake?
An explorer, navigator, and privateer! Born in 1540, he died in 1596. He was knighted in 1581, and was second-in-command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada.
He was playing a game of bowls as the Spanish approached, and Drake’s response was to tell his friends not to worry, “there’s plenty of time to win this game and thrash the Spanish, too!”
Well, the British consider him a hero, but the Spanish nicknamed him El Draque, or The Dragon. They considered him to be a pirate!
And what exactly is Drake’s Drum?
Basically, it’s a snare drum. Drake took it with him when he circumnavigated the globe.
Before he died, he instructed that the drum should be taken to Buckland Abbey, near Yelverton in Devon. If England were ever in danger, someone was to beat the drum and he’d return to defend the nation.
It’s believed that its beat is heard around the world because Drake took it everywhere with him.
Has Drake’s Drum beaten of its own accord?
According to John Mount (2000), it has. In 1918, officers heard a drum beating below decks on their battleship.
An excerpt from The Outlook, dated April 26 1919, describes how the drumming was first heard after the offiers on board the Royal Oak saw the approaching German fleet. The officers were convinced the Germans would attack, and the drumming continued while the British fleet closed around the German ships. No one could find the mysterious drummer, but the drumming stopped when the ship dropped anchor.
It has also apparently beat when the Mayflower left for America in 1620, when Napoleon was captured and brought into Plymouth, when the First World War broke out, and during the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940.
And if that wasn’t enough!
An ancient legend accompanies the drum, that it should remain in its rightful home or the city will fall. Well, Buckland Abbey was partially destroyed by fire in 1938 and the drum moved to Buckfast Abbey. Plymouth was later devastated in the air raids of World War II. The drum was returned, and no more danger befell the city.
Has anyone ever tried beating Drake’s Drum?
I can’t find any mention of anyone actually trying that, but I can’t help wondering if anyone gave it a go last Friday when the result was announced!
Have you heard about Drake’s Drum? Let me know in the comments!
Ghosts & goddesses
Would you like more folklore and weird tales? Add your email to get them once a month, and receive this free copy of my short story collection too!