A crucial castle, 200 years before
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
Motte 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.
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
Fleeing 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
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
Aberlleiniog owner Thomas Cheadle: Pirate, rebel, and
Historians don't know quite who built the stone structure at
Aberlleiniog, the remains of
which 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
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.
Later 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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