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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History

A traveling researcher engages people and places from Britain's past and present, drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today's reader.

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Prayer of Sir Francis Drake as Known to Brothers of Jane Austen

By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ April 27, 2021

In my recent video “Jane Austen: From Paradise to Portsmouth” Jane takes viewers to the royal Garrison Church in Portsmouth and recounts the central role their faith played in the lives of her two naval brothers.


 Francis, who rose to be Admiral of the Fleet, was known as “the officer who knelt in church,” an uncommon devotion in those days of rather careless religious practice.

 And up to the day of his death there is one entry never absent from Charles’ diary—“Read the Lessons of the Day.” His last such entry was Oct 6, 1852. He died the next day.


So it was with great interest that I learned of the great tradition of the Naval Prayer, attributed to Sir Francis Drake by strong tradition, and the historic role it played in the Royal Navy and later in the Royal Canadian Navy.


Through the miracle of Zoom I recently attended a Jane Austen Society of North America meeting in Vancouver, Canada. The featured speaker was Gordon Laco—a man with outstanding credentials in the area of expertise in Royal Naval matters. Laco served as Technical and historical advisor for the movie “Master and Commander” as well as for more than 60 other projects for movies and the BBC.

Further, he was a commissioned officer in the Royal Canadian Navy, is on the board of Tall Ships of America, and served as captain of an historic ship which sailed the Great Lakes.

Few people could be as well placed to talk about “Life at Sea in the Royal Navy in Jane Austen’s Time.” At the end of his speech Gordon shared with us the centuries-old tradition he followed as a naval officer. “I wore it inside my hat when I was in the Navy—a copy of a prayer written by Sir Francis Drake in the time of Elizabeth I. It was read every Sunday in the navy in Austen’s time."

“I’m not particularly religious myself, but I love the tradition of it and am deeply moved by the charge it gives officers in the navy. Most naval officers wore it in their hat. Austen’s people would have been very proud of it.” Laco said.

He then read:

O Eternal Lord God, who alone spreadest out the heavens and rules the raging of the sea;
Who has compassed the the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end;
Be pleased to receive unto thy almighty and most gracious protection the persons of us thy servants, and the fleet in which we serve.
Preserve us from the dangers of the sea and from the violence of the enemy,
That we may be a safeguard unto our most gracious sovereign lady, Elizabeth and her Dominions, and a security for such as pass on the seas in their lawful occasions, 
That the inhabitants of our commonwealth may in peace and quietness serve thee our God, 
And that we may return in safety to enjoy the blessings of the land with the fruits of our labours. with thankful remembrance of thy mercies, to praise and glorify thy Holy Name.

I, too, was moved by the beauty of the language and the significance of the tradition, so wanted to know more. I thought it would be an easy matter—after all, one can find everything on the web.

How wrong I was. Because I searched for "Drake's Prayer," rather than "The Naval Prayer," I found that the prayers generally attributed to Sir Francis Drake on the internet are quite different from the one Gordon Laco read. Most frequently cited is the one referred to as “Disturb us, O Lord”

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

"Disturb us, Lord" is a lovely prayer, although of perhaps questionable provenance. The “Discerning History” blog gives a thorough discussion of the history of this and another prayer attributed to Drake.

 “O Lord God, when Thou givest to Thy servants to endeavor any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuing of the same unto the end, until it be thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the true glory; through Him who for the finishing of Thy work laid down His life, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.”

This was taken from the 1941 book Daily Prayer, by Eric Milner-White, Dean of York. Milner-White identified the prayer as being “after Francis Drake.”  The prayer was apparently adapted from Drake’s correspondence to Elizabeth I’s secretary of state, Sir Francis Walsingham, saying:

“There must be a begynnyng of any great matter, but the contenewing unto the end untyll it be thoroughly ffynyshed yeldes the trew glory.”

This form of “Drake’s Prayer” was used for England's National Day of Prayer in 1941 and prayed at the funeral of Lord Mountbatten, First Sea Lord, in 1979.


So it was the "Naval Prayer," only anecdotally connected to Drake, as Laco explained to me later, that was awarded the honour of officer’s keeping a folded copy of the prayer in their hats, and being read, in former times, every Sunday in the Royal Navy. 

At the end of the talk I asked, “Would Jane Austen’s brothers have been likely to keep the prayer in their hats?" 

Gordon Laco replied with a definite, “Yes.”

Francis Drake was the first sea captain to circumnavigate the globe. In his review of “In Search of Kingdom,” a just-published book on Drake, (currently #1 bestseller for Maritime history and piracy on Amazon) Allan Massie states in the Wall Street Journal:  To the Spaniards, who called him “El Draque” (The Dragon), he was a pirate and plunderer. To the English, as one might imagine, he was something quite different: a hero. His voyage had been commissioned by Queen Elizabeth, to her great profit. She made him a knight, and, as Sir Francis, he became a member of Parliament. Later he was vice-admiral of the fleet that, with help from the weather, defeated the great Spanish Armada, a victory that was to have the same national significance—history entering into myth—as Nelson’s defeat of Napoleonic France at Trafalgar and the RAF’s Battle of Britain in 1940.

Author of the book Laurence Bergreen draws on the journal of Drake’s chaplain, the Rev. Francis Fletcher, who published his account of the voyage as “The World Encompassed,” the only authentic firsthand record of Drake’s historic voyage. And reviewer Massie says that Drake was a devout, God-fearing Protestant.

In light of that fact, it’s little wonder that Drake should have 3 prayers attributed to him, if only by tradition.

Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

Read More: Regency World

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Reader Comments:

A special Thank you to Michelle Siu and the Vancouver Chapter of JASNA for a great Jane Austen Day--and especially for inviting Gordon Laco to speak.
-Donna, April 27, 2021

Hello Donna... the prayer I read during my presentation is not called 'Drake's Prayer'... it is the traditional 'Naval Prayer'. I have sent JASNA a correct and unabridged copy of the prayer I read. The one here has a few errors and omisions. The connection with Drake is legendary and anecdotal, but not directly germain. The important part of the story is that The Naval Prayer has been used for centuries by the RN, and later the RCN. It is a firmly known tradition. The other prayers and their possible connections to Drake are unrelated to the well known and deeply respected Naval Prayer.
-Gordon Laco, May 1, 2021

Gordon, thank you so much for setting the record straight! I knew you would have it right, I really appreciate your information. I have made some corrections you suggest to my article and when I get a copy of the prayer I will make more.
-Donna, May 1, 2021

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