Richard Drake was established in Esher by 1583. He was a cousin of Sir Francis Drake and in 1588, following the defeat of the Spanish Armada, on 10 August 1588, he was sent by Queen Elizabeth to the fleet on a fact-finding mission, as she clearly doubted Sir Francis’ wisdom in having Don Pedro on board his ship, the Revenge, for what now amounted to ten days. Richard Drake subsequently reported the following to his cousin, Sir Francis: “The Queen’s Majesty would have Pedro de Valdéz that was the captain of the galleon distressed, to be sent safe into England; and such other Spaniards as have been taken and are now kept on seaboard; for that she thinketh [it] very inconvenient to have any such kept upon any English ship, where either they may practise some mischief, or else come to understanding of the secrets of the services intended.”
As a consequence, Sir Francis arranged for three Spanish Admirals (Don Pedro de Valdez, Alonso de Zayas of Laja and Vasco de Mendoza de Silva of Jerez de los Caballeros) and their attendants to be placed in Richard Drake’s custody at Esher, rather than be imprisoned in the Tower of London, as the Queen had felt more appropriate. They remained interned at Esher for four and a half years.Don Pedro described his capture in a letter he wrote to the King of Spain, whilst under house arrest at Esher:
“… finding myself in so bad case, void of all hope to be relieved, out of sight of our fleet, and beset with the enemy, and Sir Francis Drake, admiral of the enemy’s fleet, bearing toward me with his ship (the Revenge), from whom there came a message that I should yield myself upon assurance of good usage, I went aboard him, upon his word to treat of the conditions of our yielding, wherein the best conclusion that could be taken was the safety of our lives and courteous entertainment, for performance whereof he gave us his hand and word of a gentleman … and the Queen at his (Sir Francis’) request sent us four leagues off, to a gentleman’s house called Richard Drake, that is his kinsman, where we receive the best usage and entertainment that may be.”
During Don Pedro’s internment he helped Mr Richard Percyvall with his composition of the first Spanish–English dictionary (Bibliotheca Hispanica, published in 1591), which also incorporated Latin translations and Spanish grammar. When it was necessary for Drake to be absent, Mr Lyfield, a local Justice of the Peace, had to take charge of the premises. Life for the prisoners appears to have been relatively civilised. By all accounts they lived well and received a constant supply of “canary and clarett wine.” They went hunting and Don Pedro had at least one trip to London, for Simon Wood subsequently testified in 1605, that:
“as the late Queen’s Majesty walked in St James Park and talking with the said Sir Francis and seeing the said Don Pedro in the Park, her said late Majesty did say unto the said Sir Francis … “Drake, God give thee joy of this prisoner …”
In August 1591, Don Pedro was implicated in a conspiracy, threatened with being moved to the Tower of London and was perhaps transferred there briefly. However, Francis Drake intervened on his behalf and he continued his internment at Esher. Whilst the prisoners did not complain of dullness or hard treatment, they must have become tired of being continually shown to visitors. Besides the nobility and gentry who flocked to the house containing such interesting prisoners, the country people for miles around came to Esher on the chance of catching sight of the Spaniards. Extra money was supplied on occasion and:
“Sir Francis Drake hath often times sent wine, oils, capers and all other such provision as was sent for, for the said Don Pedro. And the said Richard Drake was likewise at great charge in giving entertainment to a great many that came to see him the said Don Pedro, as of noblemen, courtiers, citizens, and strangers that did sojourn within the land, and the country people dwelling thereabouts … Don Antonio, who was named the King of Portugal, his son, and divers others in his company did lie at his house, and Sir Horatio Palavicino and divers other strangers. And General Norris, Sir Francis Drake, with divers other commanders in the wars and many others of higher and lower degree, had great entertainment in that house by the occasion of the said Don Pedro his being there. And he willing to give them content and no offence to the Spaniards did often cause one to play upon a tabor and pipe in his hall and to set them to dancing and so brought in the Spaniards to see them dance whereby they might have some sight of the same Spaniards … and there was much beer drunk and much victuals spent in the said house at those times …”
Some interesting wall paintings on the first floor of the Tower are said to have been the work of the Spaniards and are still visible today.The designs emulate carved paneling which create a perspective illusion. If studied for a sufficient length of time, they seem to turn inside out, changing from either a recessed opening to a lozenge shape or vice versa. This illusion of space and dimension also lends an element of grandeur to the room’s appearance. During the 1992 restoration works, glimpses of Elizabethan wall paintings were revealed throughout the gatehouse, which suggests that it was a favoured interior decoration. Also, the phrase “pray continually” is inscribed into the wall of the south-east room on the top floor.