George Peckham, from A True Report of the Late Discoveries

In 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert led an expedition to Newfoundland, with the hope of establishing an English colony. The scheme proved fruitless, and the voyage, for Gilbert and many others, fatal. Nevertheless, in 1584, George Peckham published his enthusiastic True Report of the Late Discoveries and Possession Taken in the Right of the Crown of England, of the New-Found Lands, by that Valiant and Worthy Gentleman, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Knight. Peckham's book not only reports Gilbert's discoveries and urges further attempts at settlement, but also seeks to provide the ideological basis for English colonial endeavors. In the first passage, excerpted below, Peckham advises future colonists on how to deal with native peoples, and outlines the circumstances under which violence may be resorted to.

In the second excerpt, Peckham justifies Queen Elizabeth's claim to the New World on the basis of the discoveries of Madoc, a legendary Welsh prince of the twelfth century. Curiously, though themselves a conquered people, the Welsh were ideologically and iconographically central to the development of English imperialism. As the most ancient inhabitants of Britain, they were particularly useful when it came to establishing precedents.


[Click on image to enlarge] The Second chapter showeth that it is lawful and necessary to trade and traffic with the savages, and to plant in their countries. . . .

They >> note 1 should first well and strongly fortify themselves, which being done, then by all fair speeches, and every other good means of persuasion, to seek to take away all occasions of offense. As letting them to understand, how they came not to their hurt, but for their good, and to no other end, but to dwell peaceably among them, and to trade with them for their own commodity, >> note 2 without molesting or grieving them any way, which must not be done by words only, but also by deeds. . . .

For albeit as yet the Christians are not so thoroughly furnished with the perfectness of their language, either to express their minds to them, or again to conceive the savages intent; yet for the present opportunity, such policy may be used by friendly signs, and courteous tokens towards them, as the savages may easily perceive (were their senses never so gross >> note 3) an assured friendship to be offered them, and that they are encountered with such a nation, as brings them benefit, commodity, peace, tranquility, and safety. To further this, and to accomplish it in deeds, there must be presented unto them gratis, some kinds of our petty merchandises and trifles: as looking glasses, bells, beads, bracelets, chains, or collars of bugle, >> note 4 crystal, amber, jet, or glass, etc. For such be the things, though to us of small value, yet accounted by them of high price and estimation, and soonest will induce their barbarous natures to a liking and mutual society with us.

Moreover, it shall be requisite, either by speech, if it be possible, either by some other certain means, to signify unto them, that once league of friendship, with all loving conversation, being admitted between the Christians and them, that then the Christians from thenceforth will always be ready with force of arms to assist and defend them in their just quarrels, from all invasions, spoils, and oppressions, offered or to be offered them by any tyrants, adversaries, or their next borderers. >> note 5

For it appeareth . . . that the savages generally for the most part are at continual wars with their next adjoining neighbors, and especially the cannibals, being a cruel kind of people, whose food is man's flesh, and have teeth like dogs, and do pursue them with ravenous minds, to eat their flesh, and devour them. And it is not to be doubted, but that the Christians may in this case justly and lawfully aid the savages against the cannibals. . . .

But if after these good and fair means used, the savages nevertheless will not be herewithal satisfied, but barbarously will go about to practice violence either in repelling the Christians from their ports and safe landings, or in withstanding them afterwards to enjoy the rights for which both painfully and lawfully they have adventured themselves thither: then in such a case I hold it no breach of equity for the Christians to defend themselves, to pursue revenge with force, and to do whatsoever is necessary for the attaining of their safety. . . . Wherein if also they shall not be suffered in reasonable quietness to continue, there is no bar (as I judge) but that in stout assemblies the Christians may issue out, and by strong hand pursue their enemies, subdue them, take possession of their towns, cities, or villages, and (in avoiding murderous tyranny) to use the law of arms, as in like case among all nations at this day is used. And most especially to the end they may with security hold their lawful possession, lest happily >> note 6 after the departure of the Christians, such savages as have been converted, should afterwards through compulsion and enforcement of their wicked rulers, return to their horrible idolatry (as did the children of Israel, after the decease of Joshua) and continue their wicked custom of most unnaturally sacrificing human creatures.


The third chapter doth show the lawful title, which the Queen's most excellent Majesty hath unto those countries, which through the aid of almighty God are meant to be inhabited.

And it is very evident that the planting >> note 7 there shall in time right amply enlarge her Majesty's territories and dominions, or (I might rather say) restore her to her Highness's ancient right and interest in those countries, into which a noble and worthy personage, lineally descended from the blood royal, born in Wales, named Madoc ap Owain Gwynedd, departing from the coast of England, about the year of our Lord God 1170, arrived and planted there himself, and his colonies, and afterward returned himself into England, leaving certain of his people there, as appeareth in an ancient Welsh chronicle, where he then gave certain islands, beasts, and fowls, sundry Welsh names, as the Island of Penguin, which yet to this day beareth the same.

There is likewise a fowl in the said countries, called by the same name at this day, and is as much to say in English, Whitehead, and in truth, the said fowls have white heads. . . . >> note 8 Moreover, there are divers other Welsh words at this day in use . . . all which most strongly argueth the said prince to have inhabited there. And the same in effect is confirmed by Mutuzuma, that mighty Emperor of Mexico, who in an oration unto his subjects, made in the presence of Hernan Cortes, used these speeches following. >> note 9

My kinsmen, friends, and servants . . . you ought to have in remembrance that either you have heard of your fathers, or else our divines have instructed you, that we are not naturally of this country, nor yet our kingdom is durable, for out forefathers came from a far country, and their king and captain who brought them hither, returned again to his natural country, saying that he would send such as would rule and govern us, if by chance he himself returned not, etc.

These be the very words of Mutuzuma, set down in the Spanish chronicles, the which being thoroughly considered, because they have relation to some strange noble person, who long before had possessed those countries, do all sufficiently argue the undoubted title of her Majesty. For as much as no other nation can truly by any chronicles they can find, make prescription of time >> note 10 for themselves, before the time of this Prince Madoc.

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