Madoc and the Welsh Indians : Origins

For centuries, reports of Prince Madoc’s Welsh Indians surfaced across North America. They appeared in Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, and North Dakota. Archeological remains attributed to the Welsh are scattered across Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana.

“Experts” placed the Welsh Indians in New England, Newfoundland, Alabama, Florida, Mexico, Panama, and Brazil. The Welsh were everywhere. One tradition even had the them founding the Aztec empire.

Plaque erected at Fort Morgan, AL celebrating Madoc’s arrival to Mobile Bay in 1170

Supposedly, the Welsh arrived in the Americas in 1170 – over 300 years BEFORE Christopher Columbus. Their leader was Prince Madoc ap Owain Gwynedd, from the Kingdom of Gwynedd in north Wales. The Madocians established a colony and their influence spread across the continents. Some accounts have the Welsh commingling with the Indians and eventually “devolving” to their level. Other accounts claimed the Welsh stayed pure and white, and while pockets of them lived like Indians, they spoke perfect and pure medieval Welsh. They built fortifications, waged battles, and founded empires.

The common myth in the United States is that the Madocians planted a colony near Mobile, AL. From there they migrated using river systems as natural highways into Tennessee, Georgia, and Kentucky. Near Louisville, KY, the Welsh fought and lost a huge battle against Native Americans. In response to the loss, the Welsh migrated south down the Ohio, north up the Mississippi, and then west up the Missouri River. They finally settled in North Dakota and became known at the Mandan Indian tribe.

But there is a problem with these claims – they aren’t true. The Welsh did not arrive in America prior to Columbus. They did not establish colonies and found empires. They did not migrate from the Gulf Coast to the Upper South, to the Midwest, and finally to the Upper Great Plains. There were no Welsh speaking Indians.

This post discusses the origin of the Madoc myth and how it spread in the sixteenth century. In a future post, I will explore how the legend grew in later centuries.

Origin of Madoc

Welsh Dragon

The seeds of the Madoc story lie in a lost thirteenth-century romance by Willem of Ghent. Willem, in part, received his source material from the exchange between Flemings living in Wales and Flemings living in the Low Countries. Following the Norman conquest of Wales in the 12th century, Flemish bureaucrats, artisans, and artists moved en-masse at the invitation of Henry I (r. 1100-1135) to southern Wales and created a region known as “Little England Beyond Wales.” From this area, Welsh folklore flowed to continental Europe via Flemish contacts and into the mainstream of European literature. One of the stories in this exchange was a tale about Madoc, which in part, was probably based on events surrounding Welsh-half Vikings on the Irish Sea in the tenth century. Madoc often was attached to references about the sea or loving the sea. However, from surviving quotes and contextual clues, there is no mention of Madoc finding new lands.[1]

When Elizabeth I took the throne in 1558, she was the head of a weak nation embroiled in international conflict. These intrigues centered around the wider European Protestant/Catholic divide, competition between rival monarchies including the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons, and old-fashioned economic rivalry. England found itself at war in Ireland and the Netherlands, as well as an undeclared sea war against Spain. These armed conflicts were not just in Europe and often carried over into North America, South America, Africa, and Asia.

Half Groat of Henry VII (r. 1485-1509)

At the same time, the self-image of the Welsh started to improve. Elizabeth came from a Welsh family. Her grandfather, Henry VII, descended from the Tudors of Penmynydd, a noble family from Anglesey who purported to be descended from Cadwaladr, the last British King. Anglesey was also historically part of the Kingdom of Gwynedd, the homeland of Prince Madoc. Upon defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, Henry carried the Welsh red dragon of Cadwaladr side-by-side with the English cross of St. George in a victory procession. Once on the throne, Henry named his first son Arthur after the legendary Welsh King Arthur. Welsh prophesy held that Cadwaladr and Arthur would return (along with Conan Meriadoc) to free the British people. Men of Welsh extraction walked amongst the circles of power including Richard Hakluyt and William Cecil. It was rumored that Elizabeth spoke Welsh with some of her closest confidants. The colonized started to find themselves on equal footing with their colonizers.

Around 1580, John Dee, a cosmopolitan Londoner of Welsh extraction, tapped into the religious, imperial, and rising Welsh spirit of the period. He transformed the literary Welsh Madoc from a Flemish poem into a “real” historic figure. By doing so, Dee made Madoc’s actions in the twelfth century justify the colonizing efforts of Elizabeth I in the sixteenth. Furthermore, the Madoc story delegitimized the Spanish claims to the Americas guaranteed to them by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494.

Who was John Dee?

John Dee was a Renaissance geographer, astrologer, alchemist, and occultist. He ran in circles with monarchs, nobles, intelligence agents, cartographers, merchants, and sailors. Queen Elizabeth I called him “hyr philosopher.”[2] He is best remembered for two things: coining the term the “British Empire,” and his public fall from grace due to his infatuation with the occult.

Image of John Dee from Meric Casaubon’s A True & Faithful Relation of What passed for many Yeers Between Dr. John Dee (London: D. Maxwell, 1659)

In addition to neologisms and scrying, Dee made important contributions to the early-modern Atlantic world.  Dee influenced the political theory undergirding the emerging British and later American empires, he contributed to the geographic knowledge of the period, and he helped plan multiple colonization attempts in North America. Furthermore, he worked with the sophisticated intelligence apparatus of Elizabethan England, and contributed to the shadowy Rosicrucianian movement.

Dee worked within a worldview that saw science and religion, astronomy and astrology, mathematics and numerology, and medicine and magic as interconnected. Each subject was a component of a larger, unified whole. The universe operated within three spheres. The first was the elemental world which was understood through medicine, philosophy, and physics; the second was the celestial realm which was approached through astrology and mathematics; and the third was super-celestial which was interpreted through religious ceremony and numerology.[3]

Dee used all of these components in his work, and believed that the colonizing ventures headed by Elizabeth I were predestined and ordained by God.

Also as a good Welshman, Dee looked out for the best interests of his Welsh queen by examining Welsh history to justify expanding England’s (and therefore Wales) influence overseas. He found that justification in several figures, with the two principal ones being the Welshmen King Arthur and Prince Madoc.

Self-portrait by John Dee from his Genealogical roll of the descent of John Dee…showing his kinship with the Sovereigns of the House of Tudor. British Library Cotton. Ch. XIV.1. Note the Monas Hieroglyphica to the left of Dee

Why Lie about Madoc?

Did Dee know he was lying? It is impossible to say because he never left a confession stating he made everything up, or admit to making inferences and drawing conclusions from thin evidence. Furthermore, Dee’s worldview justified many of his actions. Dee believed divine beings spoke to him which further strengthened his belief that God wanted to establish Protestantism in Europe and America, and wanted England and Elizabeth to execute God’s will on earth through the pre-nascent British Empire.

A great parte of the sea Coastes from Florida Northerly, the Tytle Royall and supreme government is due

John Dee, Title Royal

However, with little to no evidence, Dee and his supporters did tell an untruth. This untruth, or lie, created the legal justification for Elizabeth I’s claim to North America and parts of northern Europe. The Madoc story placed the Welsh via Madoc in the Americas prior to the arrival of Columbus. Since Elizabeth I (allegedly) descended from the same line as Madoc, she was entitled to the land that Madoc colonized – land claimed by Spain. Therefore, any colony England planted in North America was not illegal, rather, they were planted on land that Elizabeth was legally “recovering.”

Moreover, a key interest that Dee’s argument protected was the potential claim to both the Northwest and Northeast Passages. The land claimed in Limites included the territory surrounding the supposed passages – North America (present-day Canada and USA) for the Northwest passage, and Norway and Russia for the Northeast passage. Finding and controlling the passage(s) would launch England from being a second rate European power to the preeminent world power, not to mention that both Dee and Elizabeth held financial stakes in the ventures looking for the passages headed by Humphrey Gilbert, Martin Frobisher and the Muscovy Company.

Making the Claim for Madoc:

Dee presented his argument directly to Elizabeth about her alleged claims to northern and westerly lands sometime in either 1576, 1578, or 1580 (depending on which historian you read). The confusion centers on a group of four documents that were copied and bound together in 1593. The manuscripts are collectively known as Brytannici Imperii Limites or Limites.[4]

The third and fourth documents should be read as a two-part compendium to other works that Dee wrote that have since been lost.[5] They are written in English (while the first two documents are written in Latin) and are generally known as the Title Royal and The Brief Remembrance.[6] Contextual clues suggest that Elizabeth ordered Dee to quickly produce a document about her claims to the north and west, and he fired off Title Royal first and followed up with Remembrances. One might equate this to a modern-day white paper to the President.

Title Royal/Remembrances argues that Elizabeth I held the legal title to North America and northerly portions of Europe including Iceland, Greenland, Norway, and Russia. Her ownership of this territory creates the necessary legal and economic foundation to build a large, wealthy British state centered on trade with overseas colonies.

“…a great parte of the sea Coastes of Atlantis (otherwise called America) next vnto vs, and of all the Iles nere vnto the same, from Florida Northerly, and Chieflie of all the Ilands Septentrionall, great and small, the Tytle Royall and supreme government is due, and appropriate vnto yor most gratious Matie and that partlie Iure Gentium, partlie Iure Civilis, and partlie Iure Divino, No other Prince or Potentate els, in the whole world being able to alledge therto any Clayme the like.”[7]

Dee claimed Elizabeth held the title to North America and some northern European territories (Iceland, Greenland, and Norway) through international law, civil law, and divine right. Her birthright to these lands must be recovered and reclaimed for both God and country. Dee cites the voyages of King Arthur, King Malgo, St. Brendan, Prince Madoc, “A Frier of Oxford,” John and Sebastian Cabot, Stephen Borough, and Martin Frobisher to support his arguments.

European Claims:

Dee does not list the accomplishments of all the “historical” figures he mentions in Limites. It is assumed the queen and her advisors were familiar with the stories and more than likely discussed the claims with Dee in person between 1576-1580. A description of each figure’s accomplishments supported with documents appears in Hakluyt’s Principall navigations. It is assumed that the claims presented in Hakluyt in 1589 were roughly the same claims presented by Dee nine years earlier because Dee and Hakluyt had a decades-long working relationship.

Lancelot-Grail (The Prose Vulgate Cycle), “King Arthur kills a Giant,” British Library Add MS 10292 205v (1316)
  • King Arthur
    • According to Hakluyt: Welsh king who subjugated Ireland, Iceland, Gotland, Orkney, Norway, and Denmark in 517 CE. The subjugated kingdoms sent 120,000 foot soldiers to support Arthur. Later Arthur conquered Semeland, Windland, Curland, Roe, Wireland, Flanders, Cherilland, Lapland, and Russia.
  • King Malgo
    • According to Hakluyt: Welsh king Maelgwn Gwynedd of the northern Welsh kingdom of Gywnedd. In 580 CE, he recovered the six islands of the ocean sea that had been tributaries under King Arthur – Ireland, Iceland, Gotland, Orkney, Norway, and Denmark.
  • Friar of Oxford
    • According to Hakluyt: Franciscan Friar from Oxford went to the north pole and saw the inland drawing sea predicted by geographers.
    • According to Dee: The friar was Nicholas de Linna who traveled from England to the northern parts and back five times starting in 1360.
    • According to Gerald Mercator: The friar found a a Norwegian priest who was descended from the King Arthur in 1364 thereby strengthening the English claim to Norway.
    • Important claim because this would give England the right to the Northeast Passage.
  • Stephen Borough
    • According to Hakluyt: Discovered the Kara Straits, believed to be part of the soon-to-be discovered Northeast Passage.

American Claims

  • St. Brendan
    • Irish monk (484-577 CE) who allegedly sailed to America. His voyage was recorded 300 hundred years after it supposedly happened. While historians read the text of the voyage as a religious allegory, some people have interpreted it as Brendan sailing to America.
  • Prince Madoc
  • John and Sebastian Cabot
    • Father and son duo who served Henry VII in 1497 and 1508. Their explorations provided some legal justification to claim North America from North Carolina to Labrador for England.
  • Martin Frobisher
    • Made three voyages to Labrador and Nunavut in the 1570s looking for the Northwest Passage, and attempted to establish a mining colony.

Proving the Lie: Prince Madoc and his Welsh Indians

For North America, Dee’s argument of “finders keepers” rested on Prince Madoc. The Madoc legend was supported by various authors connected to Dee, strongly suggesting that Dee played a central role in both the “discovery” of the story and its dissemination. The Madoc story rested on medieval chronicles and eyewitness testimony from people who traveled to North America.

The following is a chronological list of the evidence supporting the Madoc claim.

1580 – David Ingram

On November 1, 1580, John Dee noted in his diary “The same day cam Mr. Clement the seasmaster and Mr. Ingram from Sir George Peckham.”[8] “Mr. Ingram” was probably David Ingram based on him being sent by George Peckham (see below for Peckham’s involvement).

David Ingram was a sailor and part of the notorious slaver John Hawkin’s privateering ventures in Africa and Mexico. In October 1568 while facing structural problems with his ships due to a defeat at the hands of the Spanish, Hawkins stranded 100 of his sailors on the Mexican coast because his ships could not carry all of them home. Ingram claimed to be one of the stranded sailors and that he and two other companions walked north from Mexico. They traveled by foot roughly 2,000 miles to arrive at Cape Breton, Canada 11 months later. Ingram then hitched a ride to England on a French ship. He first told his story sometime around 1580 (maybe when he met Dee)[9], and later to Sir Francis Walsingham in 1582.[10] Conveniently, the two companions who could corroborate Ingram’s story were already dead when Ingram relayed his tale.

The account given to Walsingham is no longer extant, however, Richard Hakluyt including a portion of it in Principall navigations in 1589. The account contains an important component to the Madoc story – the existence of Welsh speaking Indians in North America.

“There is also another kinde of Foule in that Countrey which hunteth the Riuers neere vnto the Ilands: They are of the shape and bignesse of a Goose but their wings are couered with small pelowe feathers, and cannot flie: You may drive them before you like sheepe: They are exceeding fatte and very delicate meate, they haue white heads, and therefore the Countrey men call them Penguins (which seemeth to be a Welsh name.) And they haue also in vse diuers other Welsh words, a matter worthy of noting”[11].

During the following year in 1583, a no longer extant book entitled A true discourse of the adventures & travailes of David Ingram being sett on shore with 100 more of his fellowes by Captaine Hawkins in the heathen countries was published.[12] While it is impossible to know what the book reported, once can speculate it strongly echoes what Hakluyt published six years later.

The Relation of David Ingram from Richard Hakluyt, Principall Navigations (London: George Bishop & Ralph Newberie, 557-562.

1583 – George Peckham

Also in 1583, George Peckham (the same Peckham mentioned alongside Ingram in Dee’s November 1580 diary entry), published A true reporte of the late discoveries which discussed the failed North American colonizing venture headed by Humphry Gilbert.  This is the first surviving account of the Madoc legend designed for an audience other than the Queen’s circle.

The third chapter of the book echoes some of Dee’s claims, particularly, Elizabeth’s “lawfull tytle, which the Quenes most excellent Majestie hath unto those Countries.” These claims are based on the Madoc legend and later explorations done under the authority of Elizabeth’s grandfather, Henry VII.

Peckham introduces several components to the Madoc story:

  1. According to an ancient Welsh chronicle, Madoc planted a colony in America 1170
  2. Indians spoke Welsh
  3. Peckham infers the Aztecs descended from the Madocians
  4. English claims are legitimate because of Madoc and the Cabots

“And it is very evident that the planting there shall in time right amplie enlarge her Majesties Territories and Dominions (or I might have rather say) restore her to her Hignesses auncient right and interest in those Countries, into the which a noble and woorthy personage, lyneally descended from the blood royall, borne in Wales, named Madocke ap Owen Gwyneth, departing from the coast of England, about the yeere of our Lord God. 1170. arrived and there planted himselfe, and his Colonies, and afterward returned himselfe into England, leaving certaine of his people there, as appeareth in an auncient Welch Chronicle, where he then gave to certaine Ilandes, Beastes, and Fowles, sundrie Welch names, as the Iland of Pengwyn, which yet to this day beareth the same.

“There is lykewise a Fowle in the sayde Countries, called by the same name at his daye, and is as much to saye in Englishe, as Whiteheadde, and in trueth, the sayde Fowles have white heads.

“There is also in those Countries a fruite called Gwynethes which is likewise a welch word. Moreover, there are divers other welch wordes at this dite in use, as David Ingram aforesaide reporteth in his relations. All which most strongly argueth, the saide Prince with his people to have inhabited there. And the same in effect is confirmed by Mutuzuma that mightie Emperor of Mexico, who in an Oration unto his subjects, for the better pacifying of them, made in the presence of Hernando Curtese, used these speeches following.

“My kinsemen, freends, and seruants, you do well know that eigteene yeeres I have been your King, as my Fathers and Grandfathers were, and alwaies I have been unto your a loving Prince, and you unto me good and obedient subjects, and so I hope you will remaine unto me all the daies of my life. You ought to have in remembraunce, that eyther you have heard of your Fathers, or else our divines have instructed you that we are not naturallie of this Countrie, not yet our Kingdome is durable, because our Forefathers came from a farre countrie, and their King and Captaine who brought them hither, returned agains tot his natural countrie, saying, that he would send such as should rule and governe us, if by chaunce he himselfe returned not, etc.

“These be the verie words of Mutuzuma, set downe in the Spanish Chronicles, the which being throughlie considered, because they have relation to some straunge noble person, who long before had possessed those Countries, doo all sufficientlie argue, the undoubted title of her Majestie: For as much as no other Nation can truelie by any Chronicles they can finde, make prescription of time for themselves, before the time of this Prince Madocke. Besides all this, for further proofe of her highnes title sithence the arrivall of this noble Britton into those partes (that is to say) in the time of the Queenes Majesties Grandfather, of worthy memorie, King Henry the seventh, Letters pattents were by his Majestie graunted to John Gabota an Italian, to Lewes, Sebastian, and Sansius, his three sonnes, to discover remoate, Barbarous and Heathen Countries, which discovery, was afterwards executed to the use of the crown of England, in the sayd Kings time, by Sebastian and Sansius his sonnes, who were borne heere in Englande: In true testimony whereof, there is a fayre Have in Newfounde Land, knowne and called until this day, by the name of Sansius Haven, which prooveth that they firste discovered upon the Coast, from the heyght of 63. unto the Cape of Florida, as appeareth in the Decades.

“And this may stande for another title to her Majestie, but any of the foresayde titles is as much, or more then any other Christian Prince can pretende to the Indies befure suche time as they had actuall possession thereof, obteyned by the discovery of Christopher Columnus, and the conquest of Vasques Numes de Balboa, Hernando Cortese, Francisco Pysare, and others, And therefore I thinke it needeles to write any more touching the lawfulnes of her Majesties title.”[13]

1584 – David Powel

David Powel, The historie of Cambria now called Wales (London: Rafe Newberrie and Henrie Denham, 1584).

The “ancient chronicle” containing the Madoc account mentioned by George Peckham was published the following year in 1584 by Welshman David Powel as the Historie of Cambria. Powel was given access to to documents to enrich his source material by fellow Welshmen John Dee and Francis Walsingham.[15]

Powel starts the book by discussing the source material and curiously leaves out Dee’s contributions. Powel’s omission was most likely purposeful to create the illusion that the Madoc story was grounded in “real” history. 

According to Powel, the heart of the work was originally put together and written in Welsh (described as the “Brytish language on the title page) by Caradoc of Llancarfan (fl. 1150), who based his work on Latin chronicles kept at various abbeys across Wales. In 1559 Humphrey Llwyd translated Caradoc’s work into English, and augmented the text with material from Matthew of Paris and Nicholas Trivet. However, Llwyd died before he could publish the translation.  In September 1583, Henry Sidney, in possession of the Llwyd manuscript, asked David Powel to edit the manuscript for print. Powel did so by comparing Llwyd’s manuscript against two of Caradoc’s Welsh manuscripts (probably the Brut y Tywysogio) from which he made minor corrections, and then he added material from at least 15 other sources.[16]

One of those sources was Guytn Owen, a  Welsh historian hired by Henry VII to research the pedigree of Owain Tudor. Owen allegedly kept one of the chronicles consulted by Caradoc of Llancarvan and routinely updated it with new historic events. The additions included an elaboration of the Madoc story.[17]

  1. Madoc escaped Wales by sea to avoid a civil war being fought between his brothers over their father’s throne.
  2. Landed in New Spain/Mexico or Florida
  3. Returned to Wales to gather colonists and returned to America a second time and planted a colony
  4. Spanish reports of Indians honoring the cross verifies their exposure to pre-Columbian Welsh Christianity
  5. Indians speak Welsh
  6. Recounts the Montezuma episode from Peckham

“After the death of Owen, his sonnes fell at debate who would inherite after him, for the eldest sonne borne in matrimonie, Edward, or Iorweth Drwyndwn, was counted unmeete to gouerne, bicause of the maime vpon his face. And Howel who tooke vpon him all the rule was a base sonne, begotten vpon an Irish woman. Therefore Dauid gathered all the power he could, and came againt Howel, and fighting with him slew him, and afterward enioied quietlie the whole land of Northwales, vntill his brother, Iorwerth son came to age, as shall hereafter appeare. Madoc another of Owen Gwyneth his sonnes left the land in contention betwixt his brethren, and prepared certaine ships with men and munition, and sought aduentures by seas, sailing West, & leauing the coast of Ireland so far north, that he came to a land vnknowen, where he saw manie strange things. This land must needs be some part of that countrie of which the Spaniardes affirme themselues to be the first finders sith Hannos time; for by reason & order of Cosmographie, this land, to the which Madoc came, must beeds be some part of Noua Hispania or Florida. Wherevpon it is manifest, that that countrie was long before by Brytaines discouered, afore either Columbus or Americus Vspatius lead anie Spaniardes thither. Of the viage and returne of this Madoc there be manie fables fained, as the common people do vse in distance of place and length of time rather to augment than to diminish: but sure it is, that there he was. And after he had returned home and declared the pleasant & fruitfull countries that he had seene without inhabitants; and vpon the contrarie part, for what barren and wild ground his brethren and nephues did murther one another: he prepared a number of ships, and got with him such men and women as were desirious to liue in quietness, and taking leaue of his freends tooke his iournie thitherward againe. Therefore it is to be presupposed that he and his people inhabited part of those countries, for it appeareth by Francis Loues, that in Acusanus and other places, the people honored the crosse: whereby it may be gathered that Christians had beene there, before the coming of the Spaniards. But bicause this people were not manie, they folowed the maners of the land, they came vnto, and vsed the lauguage they found there.

“*This Madoc arriuing in that Westerne countrie, vnto the which he came, in the yeare 1170. left most of his people there: and returning backe for more of his owne nation, acquaintance and freends, to inhabite that faire and large countrie, went thither again with ten sailes, as I find noted by Gutyn Owen. I am of opinion that the land, where vnto he came, was some part of Mexico: the causes which make me to think so be these.

“1. The common report of the inhabttants of that countrie, which affirme, that their rulers descended from a strange nation, that came thither from a farre countrie: which thing is confessed by Mutezuma king of that countrie, in his oration made for quieting his people, at his submission to the king of Castile, Hernando Curteis being then present, which is laid downe in the Spanish Chronicles of the conquest of the West Indies.

“2. The Brytish words and names of places, vsed in that countrie euen to this daie, doo argue the same: as when they talke together, they vse this word Gwrando, which is Hearken or listen. Also they haue a certeine bird with a white head, which they call Pengwin, that is, white head. But the Iland of Corroeso, the cape of Bryton, the riuver of Gwyndor, and the white rocke of Pengwyn, which be all Brytish or Welsh words, doo manifestlie shew that it was a that countrie which Madoc and his people inhabited.”[18]

Honoring the Cross Story

Title page of Francisco López de Gómara, The pleasant historie of the conquest of the VVeast India, now called New Spayne trans. Thomas Nicholas (London: Henry Bynneman, 1578).

The story about Indians honoring the cross and therefore already being exposed to Christianity prior to the arrival of the Spanish has its origins in Francisco López de Gómara’s book Primera y segunda parte de la historia general de las Indias (Saragossa, 1553). The English translation was published in English in 1578 by Thomas Nicholas.

“At the foote of this Temple was a plotte like a Churchyard, well walled and garnished with proper pinnacles, in the middest whereof stoode a Crosse of ten foote long, the which they adored for God of the rayne, for at all times whē they wanted rayne, they would goe thither on Procession deuoutely, and offered to the Crosse Quayles sacrificed, for to appease the wrath that the God séemed to haue agaynste them: and none was so acceptable a sacrifice, as the bloud of that little birde. They vsed to burne certaine swéete gūme, to perfume that God withall, and to besprinckle it with water, and this done, they beléeued assuredly to haue rayne. Suche is the Religiō of those Indians of Acusamil. They could neuer know the original how that God of Crosse came amōgst them, for in all those parties of India, there is no memorie of anye Preaching of the Gospell that had bin at any time, as shall be shewed in another place.”[14]

1589 – Richard Hakluyt

In 1589, Richard Hakluyt published the Madoc story in his landmark The Principall Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoueries of the English Nation. Principall Navigations was a collection of travel narratives and historic documents that also included the David Ingram account (see above) about Welsh speaking Indians and crystal palaces. The account touches on all the highlights that Powel described, in part because it directly comes from the Powel account.

Title page, Richard Hakluyt, The Principall Navigations (London: George Bishop and Ralph Newberrie, 1589).

“The voyage of Madoc the sonne of Owen Gwyneth Prince of Northwales, to the West Indies, in the yeere 1170: taken out of historie of Wales, lately published by M. David Powel Doctor of Diuinitie.

“After the death of Owen Gwyneth, his sonnes fell at debate who should inherit after him: for the eldest sonne borne in matrimony, Edward or Iorwerth Drwydion, was counted vnmeet to gouerne, because of the maine vpon his face: and Howell that tooke vpon him all the rule was a base sonne, begotten vpon an Irish woman. Therefore Dauid gathered all the power he could, and came against Howell, and fighting with him slew him & afterwards mioyed quietly the whole land of northwales untill his brother Iorwerths sonne came to age. Madoc another of Owen Gwyneth his sonnes left the land in contention betwixt his brethern, & prepared certaine ships, with men and munition, and sought aduentures by seas, sailing West, and leauing the coast of Ireland so farre North, that he came to a land vnknowen, where he saw many strange things.

“This land must needs be some part of that countrey of which the Spanyards affirme themselves to be the first finders since Hannoes time. For by reason, and order of Cosmographie, this land to which Madoc came, must needs be some part of Noua Hispania or Florida. Wherevpon it is manifest that that that country was long before by Britaines discouered afore either Columbus or Americus Vesputius led any Spanyards thither. Of the voyage and returne of this Madoc there be many fables fained, as the common people do vse in distance of place & length of time rather to augment then to diminish, but sure it is that there he was. And after he had returned home, and declared the pleasant and fruitfull countryes that he had seen without inhabitants, and vpon the contrary part, for what barren & wilde ground his brethren and nephues did murther one another, he prepared a number of shippes, & got with him such men and women as were desirous to liue in quietnesse, and taking leaue of his friends, took his iourney thitherward arraine. Therfore it is to be presupposed, that he & his people inhabited part of those countryes: for it appeareth by Francis Lopez de Gomara, that in Acuzamil and other places the people honored the crosse. Whereby it may be gathered that Christians had beene there before the comming of the Spanyards. But because this people were not many, they followed the manners of the land they came vnto, and vsed the language they found there.

“This Madoc arriuing in that Westerne countrey, vnto the which he came in the yeere 1170, left most of his people there, and returning backe for more of his owne nation, acquaintance and friends, to inhabit that fayre and large countrey, went thither againe with ten sailes, as I finde noted by Gutyn Owen. I am of opinion that the land wherunto he came, was some part of Mexico. The causes which make me thinke to be these.

“1. The common report of the inhabitants of that countrey, which affirme that theyr ruler descended from a strange nation that came thither from a farre countrey. Which thing is confessed by Mutezuma king of that country, in an oration made for quieting of his people, at his submission to the king of Castile, Hernando Cortes being then present, which is laid downe in the Spanish chronicles of the conquest of the West Indies.

“2. The British wordes, and names of places vsed in that countrey, euen to this day, doe argue the same, as when they talke together, they vse this word Gwrando which is, Hearken or Listen, but the Iland of Corroeso, the riuer of Guyndor, and the white roche of Penguyn, which be all British or Welsh words, do manifestly shew that it was that countrey which Madoc and his people inhabited.

Madoc’s Legacy:

The Madoc story created an important component in the literature of justification for England’s claim to North America. Madoc allowed the English to argue “finders keepers.”

Furthermore, the legend of Madoc set an expectation for the existence of Welsh Indians. Europeans in America expected to find Welsh-speaking Indians because experts like Dee, Peckham, Powel, and Hakluyt said they existed. Moreover, these authors supported their claims with medieval chronicles and contemporary eye-witness accounts.

In a future post, I will discuss the growth of the Madoc story in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and how the story intersected with racism. Archaeological remains found in the interior of North America were considered too advanced by Europeans to have been made by Indians. Another people must behind these advanced examples of engineering – a white people. Soon theories circulated suggesting that either the Phoenicians, Romans, Irish, Norse, or the Welsh built these ancient ruins centuries before the arrival of Columbus.

The combination of Dee’s claims and racist attitudes toward Native Americans strengthened the belief in Madoc’s arrival in North America in 1170 and the planting of a Welsh colony.


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[1] Gwyn Williams, Madoc. The Making of a Myth (London: Eyre Methuen, 1979), and Gwyn A. Williams, “Welsh Wizard and British Empire: Dr. John Dee and a Welsh Identity,” The Welsh in their History (London: Croom Helm, 1995), 13-30.
[2] Gwyn A. Williams, The Welsh in their History (London: Croom Helm, 1995), 13.
[3] Williams, The Welsh in their History, 21.
[4] BL Ms 59681 c. 1593.
[5] Ken MacMillan, “John Dee’s ‘Brytanici Imperii Limites,’” Huntington Library Quarterly vol. 64, no. 1/2, 2001, 151-159.
[6] The titles come from the following lines in the text: “Vnto youer Ma:tis tytle Royall to these forene Regions, & Ilands do appertane .4. poyntes,” and the prefatory heading, “A briefe Rememberuance of Sondrye foreyne Regions, discovered, inhabited, and partlie Conquered by the Subiects of this Brytish Moarchie: And so your lawful Tytle…for the dewe Clayme, and iust recovery of the same disclosed. In John Dee, Brytanici Imperii Limites in William H. Sherman, John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995), 184-185.
[7] John Dee in Sherman, 185.
[8] James Orchard Halliwell ed, The Private Diary of Dr. John Dee (London: Camden Society, 1842), 17. Edward Fenton identifies “Mr. Ingram” as either the keeper of the Petty Passage at Rye, or the shipping agent Anthony Ingram, see fn. 20 in John Dee, Diaries of John Dee ed. Edward Fenton (Oxfordshire: Day Books, 1998), 49. I disagree with this conclusion and believe the link between “Mr. Ingram” and George Peckham, and David Ingram’s appearance in the Calendar of State papers strongly suggests that they are the same person.
[9] “Fragment of report of certain persons who ‘travelled the aforesaid countries’ [of America],” Calendar of State Papers, Colonia Series, 1574-1660 vol. 1, W. Noël Sainsbury ed. (London: Longman, Green, Longman & Roberts, Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1860), 1-2. The fragment contains mentions “the examination of David Ingram.”
[10] David Beers Quinn, England and the Discovery of America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974), 217.
[11] Richard Hakluyt, Relation of David Ingramin The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English nation (London: George Bishop and Ralph Newberie, 1589), 560.
[12] Nathan Probasco, Researching North America: Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s 1583 Expedition and a Reexamination of Early Modern English Colonization in the North Atlantic World (Dissertation, University of Nebraska- Lincoln, 2013), 127.
[13] George Peckham, A true reporte of the late discoveries, and possession, taken in the right of the Crowne of Englande, of the Newfound Landes: By that valiaunt and worthye Gentleman, Sir Humfrey Gilbert Knight (London: J.C. for John Hinde, 1583) in David Beers Quinn, The Voyages and Colonising Enterprises of Sir Humphrey Gilbert vol. 2 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1940), 459-460.
[14] Francisco López de Gómara, The pleasant historie of the conquest of the VVeast India, now called New Spayne atchieued by the vvorthy prince Hernando Cortes (London: Henry Bynneman, 1578), 41.
[15] Ronald H. Fritze, “Powel, David,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
[16] David Powel, The historie of Cambria, now called Wales (London: Rafe Newberrie and Henrie Denham, 1584), v-xii.
[17] Edward Owen, “The Story of Prince Madoc’s Discovery of America,” 546-560 in The Red Dragon: The National Magazine of Wales vol 8, 1885.
[18] David Powel, The historie of Cambria, now called Wales (London: Rafe Newberrie and Henrie Denham, 1584), 227-229.


  1. You’re article is absolutely pathetic. Wannabe armchair historian best discribes your passion for history. You obviously haven’t looked into what’s tucked away in the Smithsonian archives. You need to do some more in-depth research into what was found inside the mounds of Newark, Chillicothe, and Cinci before claiming the Madoc tradition is based upon myth. And, I assure you many men who were more qualified than yourself KNEW that either Madoc, or his brother Rhyrid made it to the interior of America. You, sir, like many others, are completely wrong by denying the evidence and making such a closed-minded claim

  2. You are right, Prince Madoc never sailed to America in 1170.
    In fact it was much earlier than that. Around 560ad…. one of his brothers was King Arthur.
    Who was also welsh.
    Sadly Welsh history has been used or suppressed many times to suit other monarchys. This article is all of the wrong.

  3. I will go back on what on said in terms of this article is all wrong. Credit where credit is due, it is a well written article and the arguments against Madoc being in America in 1180 are well researched.
    I would be interested with what you could have come up with had you know the language of Coelbren and the information that Madoc sailed around 560.
    I speak and read both Welsh and Coelbren and what we have on the stone in bat creek is relating to madoc and is Coelbren without a doubt.

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