Prince Madoc and the European discovery of North America

Madoc ap Owain, imagined as "The first white American"

Madoc ap Owain, imagined as “The first White American

In 1580, Dr John Dee (1527-1608×9), the well known scientist, charlatan and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I, presented the Queen with a document, Title Royal, in which he claimed that “the Lord Madoc, sonne of Owen Gwynedd, Prince of Northwales, led a Colonie and inhabited in Terra Florida or thereabouts”. It was based on his earlier conjecture in the unpublished Brytannici Imperii Limites of 1576, where he stated that “The Lord Madoc, sonne of Owen Gwyndd prince of NorthWales, leaving his brothers in contention, and warre for their inheritance sought, by sea (westerlie from Irland), for some forein Region to plant hymselfe in with soveranity: wch Region when he had found, he returned to Wales againe and hym selfe wth Shipps, vituals, and men and women sufficient for the coloniy, wth spedely he leed into the peninsula; then named Farquara; but of late Florida or into some of the Provinces, and territories neere therabouts: and in Apalchen, Mocosa, or Norombera: then of these 4 beinge notable portions of the ancient Atlantis, no longer, nowe named America” (British Library Additional MS 59681, p 14). He repeated the claim in General and Rare Memorials Pertayning to the perfect Arte of Navigation, published in 1577 as the first of a projected four volume series, in which he used the story of Madoc to justify claims of English ownership of much of North America as part of his proposed British Empire. It is apparent that these claims did not impress Elizabeth I, who remained unenthusiastic about colonising of North America.

Nevertheless, this was a story that caught the popular imagination in England and, later, Wales and the North American colonies. Attempts were made to find the descendants of Madoc’s settlers and to find how they had influenced indigenous cultures. Although the story is not now widely believed in England or Wales, where it was first recorded, it continues to receive strong support in North America and, especially, the USA, where there are groups who claim descent from the Madogwys, the followers of Madoc. There have also been claims by fringe archaeologists and historians that there is newly revealed evidence to back up the claims of a twelfth-century Welsh settlement of North America. How likely are these claims to be true?