Travellers, traders and invaders all left their mark on Anglesey.
The Bronze Age merged into the Iron Age from about 1500BC. The remains of hut circles like that at Din Lligwy, and fortified settlements such as the hillfort of Caer y Twr, are evocative monuments of this time when the religion of the Iron Age Celts was being developed on Anglesey. Their beliefs had spread through Britain and Europe’s heartland. Tacitus writes of Celtic druids and warriors standing side by side with islanders to face the invading Romans before battle took place on the Menai shore.
In 61AD the Romans, under the leadership of Suetonius Paulinus, set out to invade Anglesey and destroy the natives. A force of around 6,000 men crossed the Menai Strait in flat bottomed boats and on horseback. Disciplined Roman troops swept aside the makeshift opposition, ignoring the curses shrieked at them by priests and the weapons wielded by islanders.They did not succeed in colonising the island but the remains of a small fortress they built at Holyhead can still be seen today in the old walls around the parish church. The Druid religion, however, suffered a fatal blow.
The Age of the Saints
Roman occupation of the island lasted for 400 years, until about AD400, and this was largely a peaceful and prosperous time. During most of the Roman period, between AD 60 to AD 407, Anglesey was ruled from the fort at Segontiwm, which today is Caernarfon. When the Roman empire collapsed in the fifth century AD, western outposts were abandoned and local chieftains squabbled for power amongst themselves. The more successful of them established kingships, some blessed by the emerging influence of Christian missionary saints. Opposition was fierce, but was gradually overcome by the power of the missionaries’ faith and their ability to incorporate aspects of paganism within Christianity. Two main monasteries were founded on Anglesey: St Cybi’s at Caer Gybi (Holyhead), and St Seiriol’s at Penmon.
The Welsh Princes
The dynasty of Gwynedd kings was established in the seventh century by Cadwallon and fostered by his son, Cadwaladr, who died in 644. Their successors held sway over Anglesey through the ninth and tenth centuries when the island suffered greatly from raids by Viking pirates, some of them operating from bases in Ireland.
However, after the end of Viking activity, Anglesey flourished once again and the Gwynedd monarchs were able to increase their influence and become a major impediment to william the Conqueror when he wanted to extend his power into Wales. In 1098 Norman forces managed to fight their way to the Menai Strait but, ironically, were put to flight there by a Viking fleet led by Magnus Barelegs.
Gwynedd was one of the strongest of the independent Welsh kingdoms, and the 12th and 13th centuries saw it emerge as the predominant force in Wales. Politically astute and militarily skilled, the Princes had, by the mid 13th century, gained overlordship over much of today’s mid and north Wales. From their court at Aberffraw the Gwynedd princes held their territory for hundreds of years. However years of internal strife weakened the dynasty and eight centuries of Welsh rule ended in 1282 when Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was killed in a skirmish with English troops. He became known as y Llyw Olaf, ‘Our Last Prince’.
After Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s death there was an uneasy peace. In 1295 Edward 1 of England began work on a powerful castle at Beaumaris to help protect his newly won territories. Engineering work continued over 35 yrs and a fortune was spent on fortifying the castle, now designated as a World Heritage Site.
Years of resistance to English rule continued and culminated in the war of independence, led by Owain Glyndwr who was attempting to overthrow King Henry IV. Beaumaris castle was in Welsh hands from 1403-1405. The unsuccessful uprising proved devastating for the people of Wales and was accompanied by extensive destruction. At least a generation passed before the economy began to recover and the Welsh gentry, many of whom had supported Glyn Dwr, came to the conclusion that their future lay in cooperation with the English authorities.
Anglesey has links to the Tudor royal dynasty which include Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The Tudor family is descended from Ednyfed Fychan, the seneschal of Llywelyn the Great. By the late 14th century, Tudur ap Goronwy, the great great grandson of Ednyfed, was a landowner at Penmynydd in Anglesey. One of his descendants was Owain Tudur, who was born on Anglesey at Plas Penmynydd, near Llangefni. Owain went to London to the court of Henry V and, after the King’s death, under mysterious circumstance, married his widow, Catherine, the daughter of King Charles VI of France. This act gave their grandson, Henry, a claim to the throne. In 1485 Henry and his supporters met King Richard III in battle on Bosworth Field in Leicestershire. The King was killed and Henry was crowned Henry VII. This was the start of the Tudor era and the House of Tudor.
Anglesey’s history reflects that of the rest of Wales after this time, when the island supported the royalist cause through the Civil War, with Beaumaris Castle resisting a lengthy siege by 1,500 Roundheads until it was forced to surrender in 1646.