Humphrey Llwyd (1527-68)

Humphrey Llwyd (1527-68)

The establishment of English claims to North America in the sixteenth century

The earliest writer unambiguously to mention Madoc as an explorer was the antiquary Humphrey Llwyd (1527-68), who wrote the first history of Wales in English, Cronica Walliae, detailing the lives and deeds of Welsh kings from the seventh-century Cadwaladr to the death of Llywelyn yr Ail in 1282. It is basically a translation of the Welsh Brut y Tywysogion, Chronicle of the Princes (although the story of Madoc is not found in the Brut), with continuations. His work remained unpublished until 2002 but the manuscript was used by Sir George Peckham (c 1530-1608) in A True Reporte of the late discoveries and possessions taken in the right of the Crowne of Englande, of the Newfound Landes; etc., published in 1583. Peckham was a promoter of overseas colonisation as a means of solving the “problem” of the remaining Catholics in England. The story found in his preface states:

…it is very evident that the planting there shall in time right amplie enlarge her Majesties Territories and Dominions (or I might rather say) restore to her Highnesse 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 Madock 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 appeareth in an auncient Welch Chronicle, where he then gave to certaine Llandes, Beastes, and Fowles, sundrie Welch names, as the Lland of Pengwyn, which yet to this day beareth the same.

Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595)

Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595)

Peckham was influenced by the government inquiry in 1582 into the case of David Ingram, who had been put ashore by the privateer Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595) near Tampico in Mexico in 1568 after Hawkins’s third voyage ended in disaster. He claimed to have walked for three thousand miles with Richard Browne and Richard Twide, the only survivors of a group of two dozen men, through North America until being rescued by a French ship. According to Igram’s Relation, he passed through a region of many cities (he names them as Gunda, a Towne a flight shoote in length… Ochala, a great Towne a mile long… Balma, a rich Citie, a mile and a halfe long… Bega, a Countrey, and Towne of that name, three quarters of a mile long… Saguanah, a Towne almost a mile in length… Bariniah, a Citie a mile and a quarter long… Guinda, a small Towne and a River, both of that name… five or eight miles one from the other), with “very many Kings, commonly within a hundreth or a hundreth and twenty miles one from an other, who are at continual warres together”, details which, until recently, seemed fantastical. However, we now now that before the population was ravaged by diseases introduced by the Europeans, there was an urban civilisation in what is now the southern United States of America.

Other elements of Ingram’s account do seem more exaggerated: he reported seeing elephants, red sheep, penguins and golden pillars on his walk, none of which are known to have existed in sixteenth-century North America. However, the word penguin was seized upon as a Welsh word (pen gwyn, ‘white head’ – unfortunately, penguins have black heads and are not found in North America); Ingram claimed that he had heard other Welsh words during his travels. After eleven months, Ingram, Twide and Browne met a group of French traders in coastal Nova Scotia and were able to get passage back to England by helping them with their negotiations. Some years after their return to England, Sir Francis Walsingham (1532-1590), Queen Elizabeth I’s Secretary of State, summoned Ingram to give an account of his travels; by this time Browne and Twide had died. To many, the account was incredible and although some of the details certainly are, the urban civilisation described by Ingram is now a well known feature of the region. Peckham included Igram’s story into his book, using it as confirmation of Llwyd’s story of Madoc ap Owain.

Llwyd’s manuscript history was also used by David Powel (1549×52-1598) for his The History of Cambria, now called Wales, published in 1584. Another version of the story was published by Richard Hakluyt (1552-1616) in The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation in 1589. This is the version of the Madoc legend that was to become the standard version used by those who claimed that the Welsh had discovered North America in the late twelfth century.

The story

As given by Richard Hakluyt, the story runs:

After the death of Owen Guyneth, his sonnes fell at debate who should inherit after him: for the eldest sonne borne in matrimony, Edward or Iorweth Drwydion, was counted vnmeet to gouerne, because of the maime upon his face: and Howell that tooke vpon him all the rule was a base sonne, begotten upon an Irish woman. Therefore Dauid gathered all the power he could, and came against Howel, and fighting with him, slew him; and afterwards inioyed quietly the whole land of Northwales, vntil his brother Iorwerths sonne came to age. Madoc another of Owen Guyneth 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, and leauing the coast of Ireland so farre North, that he came vnto a land vnknowen, where he saw many strange things.

This land must needs be some part of that Countrey of which the Spanyards affirme themselues to be the first finders since Hannos time. Whereupon it is manifest that that countrey was by Britaines discouered, long before Columbus led any Spanyards thither.

Of the voyage and returne of this Madoc there be many fables feined, as the common people doe vse in distance of place and length of time rather to augment then to diminish: but sure it is there he was. And after he had returned home, and declared the pleasant and fruitfull countreys that he had seen without inhabitants, and vpon the contrary part, for what barren and wild ground his brethren and nephews did murther one another, he prepared a number of ships, and got with him such men and women as were desirous to liue in quietness: and taking leaue of his friends, tooke his journey thitherward againe. Therefore it is to be supposed that he and his people inhabited part of those countreys: for it appeareth by Francis Lopez de Gomara, that in Acuzamil and other places the people honored the crosse. Wherby it may be gathered that Christians had bene there before the comming of the Spanyards. But because this people were not many, they followed the maners of the land which they came vnto, and vsed the language they found there.

This Madoc arriuing in that Westerne countrey, vnto the which he came in the yere 1170, left most of his people there, and returning backe for more of his owne nation, acquaintance and friends to inhabit that faire and large countrey, went thither againe with ten sailes, as I find noted by Gutyn Owen. I am of opinion that the land whereunto he came was some part of the West Indies.

The Isle of Lundy

The Isle of Lundy, where Madoc’s ships are said to have mustered

Origins of the story

The outlines of the start of the Madoc legend are certainly rooted in genuine history. On the death of Owain Gwynedd in November 1170, war did indeed break out between four of his numerous sons, both legitimate and illegitimate, Dafydd, Maelgwn, Rhodri and Hywel. This is where the unverifiable part of the story begins. Disillusioned by the family discord, Madoc (and his brother Rhiryd, according to some versions) set sail with two ships, the Gorn Gwynant and the Pedr Sant, from Llandrillo (Rhôs-on-Sea) in search of adventure and in the hope of discovering new lands. They landed in a fertile country and a hundred of their men set up a colony. Madoc and the rest of his crew returned to Gwynedd in one of the ships to find more settlers before setting off again, this time in ten ships that mustered at Lundy in the Bristol Channel, never to return to Britain. This time, they sailed up the great rivers of the land they had discovered, encountering natives who were sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile.

People continue to assert circumstantial details as if they are facts, although verifiable sources are never cited. The following is from the website of Howard Kimberley, a Welsh business consultant:

On arrival in America, they sailed from Mobile Bay up the great river systems, settling initially in the Georgia/Tennessee/Kentucky area where they built stone forts. They warred with the local Indian tribe, the Cherokee. When they decided to return down river in some time after 1186, they built big boats but they were ambushed trying to negotiate the falls on the Ohio River (where Louisville, Kentucky now stands). A fierce battle took place lasting several days. A truce was eventually called and, after an exchange of prisoners, it was agreed that MADOC and his followers would depart the area never to return.

They sailed down river to the Mississippi, which they sailed up until the junction with the Missouri, which they then followed upstream. They settled and integrated with a powerful tribe living on the banks of the Missouri called Mandans.

Howard Kimberley does not say where these details came from: they are certainly not from medieval Welsh or English documents. The question has to be asked: how can anyone in Britain know about the outcome of the second voyage if Madoc (or one of his colonists) never returned?