The Battle of Anglesey Sound

From mainland Wales, you can take the Menai Suspension Bridge to the Isle of Anglesey. Wales, like the rest of Europe, was blistering under a heat wave, and Angesley was field after field of crispy yellow stalks. It’s a lot like Lincolnshire or Norfolk with the cliched gently rolling hills – the very picture of pleasant Jane Austen-esque countryside, except, for the blue mountains of Snowdonia which loomed over the landscape. The story for this week is set several millennia ago and involves the national boundaries of Anglesey.

The Earl was clothed in dark leather. It was stitched and darned, and threaded and stapled against his muscles; so well fitted it was like the hands of the tailor himself was holding it taught against his white skin. As the Earl shifted under the heavy skies, the dark devil-heart clouds handing in the damp air, he longed for nothing else but his tailor’s hands.

The Earl stared into the blue distance of the mountains, observing how their tumbling valleys and mounds resembled the silky bellies of humpback whales: the white granite, like barnacles encrusted on their velvety skin.

‘My Lord, there are ships on the horizon,’ interrupted the Commander. The Earl turned around sharply to face him and stare out across the water.

‘I can’t see anything,’ he replied, irritably.

‘There,’ said the Commander, pointing with a stubby finger. ‘If you follow the rocks west, you can see the ships’ hulls.’

The Earl peered into the misty waters. Undeniably there were ships, and they were fast approaching. He sat down and watched as one ship turned into three, and the three ships turned into four, then six – each time they multiplied a dull cramp gripped at his guts.

The Earl’s army encampment stretched out before him to the west, and to the east were Lord d’Avranches men. Both were new to this Celtic stronghold which was known as Hibernia to the Romans, but was very much, in the Earl’s eyes, now a part of Albion. Their latest victory, however, had felt cold; it had felt like he was walking across slowly cracking ice. He’d got to the other side, but was well aware that the return journey would be twice as perilous. He had felt home and hearth slip away from him with every step West into the setting sun. The red flags flying on the masts spoke of friendship and trade but reeked of blood and death. He didn’t trust their sulking hulls.

‘Lord d’Avranches asks whether you will let the men ashore to trade and take on fresh supplies,’ asked the messenger. Sweat gleamed on his forehead from his mad dash across the sands.

‘No,’ he said sternly.

‘Er…no, m’Lord?’

‘No,’ he replied. The messenger’s eyes grew wide imploringly.

‘Er, begging your pardon, but Lord d’Avranches said that it would be more prudent, as we should not engage in another battle so soon after securing the island from the Welsh. We are still awaiting reinforcements’
‘That,’ he replied, ‘is precisely why I am not letting them ashore.’

‘We may not have a choice, m’Lord, they’re pulling into the deep bay. They’ll soon be within arrows reach of the shore, and it looks like they’re sending out an envoy.’ Even as the Commander spoke, the Earl was tracing the journey of a smaller vessel cutting through the bluff.

The scribe elbowed his way through the ranks. ‘It is Magnus Barefoot, the conqueror,’ he announced ceremoniously ‘The Norwegian,’ he added.
‘Oh for goodness sake, turn them away!’ he cried.

‘They do fly the flag of trade, perhaps we could…’ the scribe started.

‘No. Get rid of them I don’t have the time for this,’ the Earl, usually very predisposed to having the scribe’s company, wanted nothing more than for him to jump into the ocean.

‘Will you deliver the message yourself?’ asked the scribe.

‘Yes, of course,’ said the Earl, irritably. Straightening himself, and swinging his green cloak to one side he exposed his battle-worn armour. With a brief professional sigh, he began to stride up the beach.

‘My helm!’ he shouted to his squire. With his helm he felt safe; with his helm there was just the square of land in front of him and nothing else mattered. He fitted the squat metal box, over his face. His men followed suit. Helms placed upon heads (even if they were a little unsure of its necessity) they walked out towards the small vessel and the enormous envoys.

The afternoon turned into a volley of hand gestures, arguments and broken communications in Latin. Each volley was more confused and angry than the next. And then came the rain. Hammering down on their tin can armour with a melodic tattoo, almost disguising the sombre wings of death.

‘Arrows!’ came the cry. The shadowy cloud circled down on the men, but their hard armour held fast. The clunks of diamond-shaped arrow tips rang out with a clanging force as they slid off their armour. Their power, however, swayed the Earl slightly, like his flask was filled with wine, not water.

‘Return fire!’ He roared, and looking upwards into the melee, watched as one solitary arrow made its way…

And that was the end of the Earl of Shrewsbury, or as much as we can ascertain, being that almost a millennia has passed between 1098 and now. The solitary arrow in question is reported to have been fired by Magnus Barefoot himself, and landed itself right through the only gap in the Earl’s armour – the eye socket. How much is true is hotly debated by historians who point out that such lyrical resolutions were the bread and butter of Norse literary heritage at the time. And we all know how us humans like to tell stories

Never-the-less in some ways a trip to Anglesey throughout the ages may have meant that you were visiting Ireland or indeed Norway, such is the fluidity of identity when subject to the whims of time – if indeed we see the land as the same entity that has withstood the test of time. A hundred years past before the English Kings established a firm foothold in the area under the austere command of Edward I.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: