Some today may glance at a map and suggest Staffordshire’s shape doesn’t make much sense. ‘Just an arbitrary line on a map, surely?’ and ‘Why so long?’ However, turn the map around and look at it from a Trent waterman’s perspective, as the area covered by the headwaters of the River Trent and the goods portage road taking goods to the south-bound river systems around Stourbridge. Then the shape makes much more sense. With Tamworth / Lichfield being the strategic district which sits naturally between the two.
Picture: 1620s map, turned sideways and with some huge text overlay removed for clarity. From a military perspective this must surely have been how the Angles, coming up the Trent from the east and pressing west, understood the territory.
Thus, presumably the strategic nature of Stafford castle, and possibly Æthelflæd’s very nearby Saxon castle before that. “Why so big?” was the puzzled remark of an archaeologist restoring Stafford Castle in the 1980s, in a BBC 2 documentary. The answer to which should presumably have been: “because on the other side there’s 20,000 hairy angry Welshmen, who could link up there with a Viking, Scottish or similar army coming up the Trent from the other direction”.
It rather resembles a tree, when seen turned to one side. I imagine that Tolkien might also have been rather charmed to learn that his beloved Staffordshire was shaped like one of his equally beloved trees, though I know of no evidence he ever spotted this map-turn / Trent tributaries perception of Staffordshire.