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Our 2,744 members have registered
2,396 study surnames with us
and a further 6,089 variant names.

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About the study

If you are interested in family history and your name is DRAKE (or you are descended from a family with the DRAKE name) I shall be pleased to hear from you and to share our findings.

Many of us with Drake ancestry believe we are related to Sir Francis Drake (the assertion often passed down orally or in correspondence through many generations). Related is an important word here, as there was no issue from Sir Francis' two marriages. Sir Francis had numerous brothers, and was related to the prominent Devonshire family known as Drake of Ashe. We have trees for families descended from the Drakes of Ashe and for families with tenuous links to brothers of Sir Francis.  We also have many Yorkshire Drake trees.

The photograph is of Harry Drake b 1897, son of John Drake and Charlotte of Staines, who died 4 Sep 1918. This line may descend from a brother of Sir Francis Drake.

Variant names

The DRAKES surname is being researched by Chris Drakes, a fellow Guild member, and you can find him on the Guild website by inputting DRAKES.  The DRAKES surname has a different northern England origin and we do not consider it to be a DRAKE variant, hence the two studies.

Name origin

Medieval spellings of the name include Drake, Drak, Drach and Drac.  Also Dragun and Dragon are regarded as early forms of the name.

The Drake name probably derives from a nickname, possibly from dragon or the male duck.

The name was quite widespread from the twelfth century with significant concentrations in Devon, Dorset, Norfolk and the West Riding of Yorkshire by the sixteenth century.

The name was not noted before middle of the 16th century in London and Middlesex, suggesting they came from elsewhere.

Historical occurrences of the name

Leuing Drache is recorded in Winchester Domesday Book (Liber Winton) in 1150 - this is the earliest record of the name.

There was a prominent Drake family in Essex from the 12th century first in Halstead and later in Great Waltham. 

The 1237-38 Assize Roll shows Reginald le Drake holding land in Tiverton, Devon.

William Drake of Shibden, Halifax, Yorkshire is mentioned in 1275 in the reign of Edward I.  There is documentary evidence that a Drake line (father to son) occupied Horley Green, Northowram in Halifax parish from 1306 to 1642, and  Drakes continued to occupy Horley Green until the 19th century.

Ralf, John and Richard Drake are the first of the Tavistock, Devon family to be mentioned in the reign of Edward III.

The Drakes of Ashe are a Devon family traced to the 14th century.  The arms borne by the Drakes of Ashe were a red winged dragon on a silver ground.  Sir Bernard Drake (1537-1586) was the eldest son of John Drake of Ashe and succeeded his father in 1558. He was a sea captain, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I at Greenwich in 1586 on account of huge profits gained from action against the Spanish in a North American venture. He did not enjoy the knighthood for long. During his return to England in 1585, Bernard captured a large Portuguese ship off the coast of Brittany. The Portuguese crew were imprisoned for months in Exeter before they appeared before the Assize Court in Exeter in 1586, where they were the cause of "a great stench". The Chief Justice reprimanded those involved in their imprisonment, and particularly Sir Bernard, for the serious malnutrition and their illness (which was typhus). Within three weeks the Judge, Sir Bernard Drake, eleven of the jurors and several Court officials had died of typhus, Bernard dying at Crediton on his way home on 10 Apr 1586, and he is buried at Crediton.

John Drake, prosperous in the reign of Henry VIII, was a successful and respected Horley Green yeoman.  His 1544 will states he was to be buried in the "middest alley" of Halifax church, and the tomb was placed near the font.  The arms of Drake of Ashe were on the middle gable of the manor house at Horley Green (restored in the 1700s by Francis Drake, the York antiquary). It is interesting that The Visitation of Yorkshire in 1665 records a pedigree of five generations of Drake headed by a Drake of Halley Green, Yorkshire.  They claimed the arms of Drake of Ashe in Devon, but it seems were unable to substantiate it, as the Heralds noted 'respite given for proofe of these Armes, but no proofe made'.

Sir Francis Drake (c1540-1596) - the famous explorer, circumnavigator and Admiral was born in Devon and was a kinsman of the Drakes of Ashe.  As a young man he lived in Kent and learnt his seamanship aboard coastal trading ships.  He was famously knighted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1581 aboard his ship at Deptford.  Susequently, he lived at Buckland Abbey, Devon. After his death Buckland Abbey was occupied by Sir Francis' brother and his descendants. Buckland Abbey is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.

A prominent Drake family (Tyrwhitt-Drake from the 19th century) has been in Buckinghamshire since 1603. This line stems from the Drake of Ashe family in Devon, and a male line can be traced back to the 15th century.

Captain Nathan Drake of Godley, Halifax - a Royalist in the Civil Wars kept a diary of the siege of Pontefract (1645).

Samuel Drake - Vicar of Pontefract, a Royalist who served the King at the Siege of Newark (1646).

Francis Drake (1696-1771) was a surgeon, antiquarian and author of 'Eboracum' (1736), which has the following eminent Drakes among the 540 subscribers. Sir Francis Henry Drake Bart, William Drake Esq of Shardeloes, Bucks, William Drake Esq of Barnoldswick Cotes, Rev John Drake, Vicar of Smeeton, Vicar of Pontefract and Prebendary of York, Rev Samuel Drake, Rector of Treeton and of Holme on Spalding Moor, Rev Thomas Drake, Rector of Norham, Northumberland, Rev Nathan Drake, Minor Canon of Lincoln, Rev Samuel Drake, Minor Canon of Lincoln, Rev Joseph Drake, Rector of Burleigh, Rev Francis Drake of East Hardwick, Rev William Drake of Hatfield, Captain William Drake and Thomas Drake of Halifax.

This Francis Drake, who owned the property at Horley Green, Northowram, for a period, also produced a Drake pedigree which can be seen in 'The History & Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax' (published 1775) by John Watson, who adds 'The above pedigree is such as, for antiquity and authenticity, will not often, in private families, be exceeded; it begins before surnames were in use, and it is extracted from ancient deeds, and other evidences, which are still preserved, and collected together.'

Roger Drake (d 1765) - Governor of Calcutta during the Black Hole incident in 1756

Francis Drake (1764–1821) - of Yardbury, Devon, and Wells, Somerset, the son of Francis Drake, Vicar of Seaton and Beer, was a British diplomat, holding positions at Genoa and Munich during the Napoleonic Wars.

Nathan Drake (1766-1836) - author of 'Shakespeare and his Times' (1817) and 'Memorials of Shakespeare' (1828)

Samuel Gardner Drake (1798-1875) - American antiquarian, historian and author born Pittsfield, New Hampshire, and died Boston. In 1847 he was one of the founders of the New England Historic Genealogy Society, Boston, and later became its President. For many years he edited the Society's quarterly Register.

Ashday Hall, Southowram, Yorkshire, long in the possession of the Holdsworth family, came into the possession of William Drake through his wife Phoebe (nee Holdsworth) in 1792. Ashday Hall remained in Drake possession until the late 1800s, and was then owned by Sir Gillery Piggott, and in her widowhood by Lady Piggott (nee Frances Drake).

Edwin Laurentine Drake (1819-1880) - American oil driller (also known as Colonel Drake) credited with the invention of the oil well in the United States.

Francis Marion Drake (1830-1903) - Governor of Iowa 1896-1898, and after whom the Drake University at Des Moines, Iowa, was named.

James Drake DIGBY (1837-99) - a descendant of the Drakes of Ashe and a Cambridge journalist, he was instrumental in founding the National Skating Association (now the National Ice Skating Association).

Elizabeth Beatrice Fuller Eliott Drake of Buckland Abbey (1862-1937) - author of the two-volume 'The Family and Heirs of Sir Francis Drake' (1911)

Alfred George Drake (1894-1915) - a Corporal in the Rifle Brigade - was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.  An extract from The London Gazette 21 Jan 1916 records 'For most conspicuous bravery on the night of 23 Nov 1915 near La Brique, France. He was one of a patrol of four which was reconnoitring towards the German lines. The patrol was discovered when close to the enemy who opened heavy fire with rifles and a machine gun, wounding the Officer and one man. The latter was carried back by the last remaining man. Corporal Drake remained with his Officer and was last seen kneeling beside him and bandaging his wounds regardless of the enemy's fire. Later a rescue party crawling near the German lines found the Officer and Corporal, the former unconcious but alive and bandaged, Corporal Drake beside him dead and riddled with bullets. He had given his own life and saved his Officer.'

Sir John Henry Eugen Vanderstegen Millington-Drake KCVO (1889-1933) - was British Ambassador in Montevideo in World War II, when his false intelligence trail was key to the eventual scuttling of the German raider 'Graf Spee' in the River Plate. Contact Paul Millington of the Millington ONS for more information on this family.

Arthur Eric Courtney Drake (Sir Eric Drake) (1910-1996) - Chairman of British Petroleum 1969-1975 and knighted in 1970.

Bryan Ernest Hare Drake (Bryan Drake) (1925-2001) – a New Zealand born opera singer (baritone), who had a long career in England, first with the Covent Garden Opera, then the Welsh National Opera, followed by membership of Britten’s English Opera Group. Benjamin Britten held Drake in particular esteem, and he is remembered for many roles in Britten operas. From 1987 he was voice consultant at the Britten-Pears School at Aldeburgh, and his last singing performance was in 1999 when he played the Voice of God in Britten’s Noye’s Fludd at Aldeburgh Parish Church.

Michael Drake (1946-2011) - a British born planetary scientist who moved to the United States and did important work following many NASA space missions. Latterly he fought for the expedition to collect asteroid samples, which was announced in May 2011 and planned to launch in 2016.

Gabrielle Drake (b 1944) - actress and sister of Nick Drake below.

Nicholas Rodney Drake (1948-1974) - musician and songwriter, and sister of Gabrielle Drake above.

Distribution of the name

In the nineteenth century Drakes were most abundant in the West Riding of Yorkshire, mainly in the Northowram area of Halifax, but also in Thornton, near Bradford, as well as in Huddersfield, Leeds, and Sheffield. In other parts of England, the main accumulations were in Devon (predominant areas being Plymouth and Newton Abbot), Dorset (Dorchester and Blandford), East Anglia (Norwich and Ipswich) and many were in London (especially the East End) and Essex.


I have the General Registration BMD entries for the Drake name from 1837 to 1960 (with family lines identified and with marriage certificates for many). I have extracted Drakes from the 1841-1911 UK Census. Prior to the start of General Registration in 1837, I have many lines back to the 1600s and 1700s.


Although my collection of data is mainly English, I have many contacts throughout the world who have shared their data with me, and can put you in contact with them as appropriate.