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Aberlleiniog: The Ultimate Hidden Gem

A crucial castle, 200 years before Beaumaris

England's Edward I, builder of the "Iron Ring" of stone castles in North Wales, wasn't the first invader to try to subdue the Welsh. Two hundred years earlier, just after William the Conqueror seized England, he set up fellow Norman Hugh D'Avranches as Earl of Chester, and then ordered him to keep the Welsh at bay.

Twenty years later, in 1088, Earl Hugh ordered henchman Robert of Rhuddlan to take advantage of a power vacuum in North Wales and land a force on Anglesey. So here, on a hilltop overlooking the strategic eastern entrance to the Menai Strait, Robert built his lord's fortification.

Aberlleiniog in the 11th century; © Menter MonMotte and Bailey

Using the technology of the time, Robert gathered a group of men (probably locals) and commanded them (probably by force) to dig a deep ditch around the hill and to use that earth to build the hill even higher. Then atop the mound ("motte") they built a strong keep, plus a larger fenced area ("bailey") below it, for livestock and workshops. It was one of Wales's first motte-and-bailey castles, in the classic Norman style.  Generally, these structures proved valuable strategically; they were useful as lookouts and difficult to conquer.

Gruffudd wins the Battle of Aberlleiniog

But then came Gruffudd ap Cynan. Grandson of a previous king of Gwynedd, he had been raised in exile in Dublin by his Viking/Irish mother, while the kingdom (which always included Anglesey) was ruled by cousins from competing Welsh kingdoms.© Fabrizio Argonauta |

Intent on claiming his inheritance, Gruffudd had first gathered soldiers and landed on Anglesey in 1075; he then wrestled power from Trahaern ap Caradog, only to lose it again in the same year. But Gruffudd returned in 1081, finally killing Trahaearn and grasping the throne for the second time.

That's when the Normans invited Gruffudd to a meeting. He thought the two earls would offer an alliance, but they captured Gruffudd instead and imprisoned him in Chester. 

At some point, Gruffudd escaped from Chester and finally in 1094 he mounted a campaign to oust the Normans from North Wales. According to a medieval biography of Gruffudd, he stormed Aberlleiniog with 120 men and 14 youths, plundering and burning the castle.

Battle of Aberlleiniog; © Isle of Anglesey County CouncilFleeing the island, the Normans encountered Viking King Magnus the Barefoot at the Battle of Anglesey Sound. Was it coincidence - or had Gruffydd, who had Viking connections via his mother's family, called for backup? 

It's said that it was Magnus himself who killed the Norman Earl Hugh of Shrewsbury - with an arrow to the eye.

It was a watershed moment in Welsh history, contends Dave Wyatt, lecturer at Cardiff University. "Had the Normans managed to establish themselves in the North then an independent and vibrant native Welsh kingdom of Gwynedd could never have flourished," writes Wyatt. "Welsh history, language and culture would undoubtedly have been very different without the Vikings of the Irish Sea."

Aberlleiniog owner Thomas Cheadle: Pirate, rebel, and poisoner?

Historians don't know quite who built the stone structure at Aberlleiniog, the remains of
Sealed Knot Civil War reenactor; © GwynAngell Joneswhich still grace the motte's top. Some say it was erected by Sir Thomas Cheadle, secretary to the Bulkeleys, Anglesey's chief landowning family, during the Civil War.

Cheadle, whose father had also served the Bulkeleys, studied at the local grammar school - and then promptly ran away to become a sea pirate.

According to research by the Anglesey Antiquarian Society, Cheadle later confessed to piracy and was pardoned by the King. He went back to work for the Bulkeleys, and was later appointed sheriff of the island and owner of Aberlleiniog.

During the Civil War, some believe that Cheadle ran guns for the Royalists but then switched allegiances to back the Parliamentarians. He may have built the stone battlements at Aberlleiniog in order to protect troops camped there, intent on storming nearby Beaumaris Castle.

© Klara Viskova | Dreamstime.comLater in life, Cheadle began an affair with Lady Anne, wife of Sir Richard Bulkeley the Fourth. When Bulkeley died mysteriously in 1631, the couple were tried for murder by poisoning. Eventually exonerated, Cheadle and Anne later married but fought with her children over Richard's inheritance. 

A writer of the time, William Williams wrote: "Bulkeley dyed of a sad and somewhat wonderful sickness, not without great p'sumption of being poisoned by the sayd Cheadle and Lady, who longed to enjoy one another with greater freedome."

Cheating wives, murder, pirates, Vikings - all connected to one place. This old hill has more stories than a year of "Eastenders"!

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