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An Introduction To The History of York

Roman | Viking | Medieval | Tudor | Georgian | Victorian

This page highlights a 'brief' background to the history of York. It should only be used as a starting point if you are interested to find out more.

Roman York

Roman Britain - York

York was founded during the reign of the Roman Emperor Vespasian in AD71 and for much of the intervening period has been the principal city of Northern England. York was named Eboracum by the Romans. Eboracum was a major military base on route to Scotland.

York was to become so important in Roman Britain that a royal palace was built and the emperor Septimus Severus stayed here with his imperial court in the years 209-211. By the 4th century Eboracum was the capitol of southern Britannia.

The Emperor Septimius Severus died here in AD211 and was then succeeded by his sons, Caracalla and Geta. Constantius Chlorus, the father of Constantine I, also died here in 306. York is also the city in which Constantine's troops proclaimed him emperor.

Substantial remains of the headquarters building of the Roman legionary fortress were discovered underneath where York Minster stands today. A Roman column which was found now stands on nearby Deangate, where there is also a statue of Constantine.

Other sites of excavated remains include a Roman bath, located under the Roman Bath pub in St. Sampson's Square, a Roman Temple, near the foot of Lendal Bridge, and the site of a Roman bridge over the River Ouse. Some remains of the Roman city walls can be seen between Monk Bar and the Merchant Taylors Hall, and a more substantial section can be seen between Museum Gardens and the Central Library, together with the Roman Multangular Tower. Outside the city walls are the remains of Roman cemeteries near The Mount. A large number of Roman finds are now housed in the Yorkshire Museum in Museum Gardens.

Roman Soldiers in Museum Gardens
Eboracum Roman Festival - Legions in Museum Gardens (above)
Photos Copyright © Angela Bradbury

Where can I find out more about Roman York?

Multangular Tower York
(above) The Roman Multangular Tower in Museum Gardens.


Viking York

Viking in York

York (Jorvik) had been founded as the Roman legionary fortress of Eboracum and revived as the Anglo-Saxon trading port of Eoforwic. It was first captured in November 866 by a large army of Danish Vikings, called the "Great Heathen Army" by Anglo-Saxon chroniclers, which had landed in East Anglia and made their way north, aided by a supply of horses with which King Edmund of East Anglia bought them off and by civil in-fighting between royal candidates in the Anglian Kingdom of Northumbria. Declaring a truce, the rivals for the throne of Northumbria joined forces but failed to retake the city in March 867, and with their deaths the kingdom Deira came under Danish control, and the Northumbrian royal court fled north to refuge in Bernicia. A Viking attempt against Mercia the same season failed and in 869 their efforts against Wessex were fruitless in the face of opposition from Kings Ethelred and Alfred the Great.

Where can I find out more about Viking York?

Viking Sword

The Medieval Guilds of York

Medieval York had over 100 different trades & crafts, but only about 50 - 60 had a Guild organisation. Each guild was concerned with the organisation of a single trade or group of related trades, and with policing its members' activities through training (by apprenticeship), regulating standards of workmanship.

Gild of Freemen of York

The Gild of Freemen of the City of York
Bedern Hall, Bedern

York Guild of Building

The Guild of Building
Previously -

Merchant Taylors

The Company of Merchant Taylor's
Merchant Taylor's Hall, Aldwark, York YO1 2BX

Merchant Adventurers Hall

The Company of Merchant Adventurers
Merchant Adventurers Hall

The Company of Cordwainers

The Guild of Butchers

The Guild of Scriveners

York Castle c1244
© Bright White Ltd

(above) An artists 3d impression of York Castle c1244.
Clifford's Tower still stands today! See York Castle Museum

York Castle – A Brief History
William the Conqueror first built a castle on the site in 1068 to subdue the north. This was a Motte and Bailey style castle and would have been made out of wood. This building stood for just over a century before being burnt down in one of York’s bloodiest and most tragic moments, when in 1190, 150 Jews were massacred on the site.
Between 1190 and 1194, it was repaired at great expense, and the mound was raised to its present height. The second timber structure was destroyed (this time by a gale).
It wasn't until 1244, with the threat of war in Scotland, that the entire Castle was rebuilt in stone. This included the new keep at the top of the mound, which later became known as Clifford’s Tower. The fortifications took around 20 years and £2,450 to complete.

A huge stone wall with basitons and two large gatehouses surrounded the bailey. There were also stone bridges across the moat to the gatehouses.
After being decimated by fire, wind, and even water (the castle sunk into the moat causing the walls to crack in the 1350s) the next challenge came from a very unlikely source - the castle’s jailer, Robert Redhead. In 1596 he began demolishing the tower and selling the stone as building material 'for his own profit'. He was only stopped after prolonged protests by the city council.
The tower's last military role began with the Civil War when, in 1642, it was again occupied by troops - first Royalists, then Parliamentarians. A garrison of soldiers stayed in the tower until it was burnt out in a fire in 1684.
Today, the most impressive remains are of course Clifford’s Tower. But other parts of the castle can be seen including large parts of the wall and the two towers that stood on either side of the southern gatehouse.

Battle of Towton - 1461

The Battle of Towton was the bloodiest ever fought on British soil, with casualties believed to have been in excess of 20,000 men. The battle took place on a snowy 29th March 1461 (Palm Sunday) between the villages of Towton and Saxton about 12 miles southwest of York).

Tudor York

The Tudor dynasty or House of Tudor was an English royal dynasty that lasted 118 years. Starting after the death of King Richard III in 1485, when Henry Tudor (Henry VII) became king. The Tudor period lasted until the death of Elizabeth I (1603). The Tudor Period - wiki

Tudor York

Where can I find out more about Tudor York?

Richard III
(above) King Richard III Museum & Gift Shop. - 360 Movie

Richard III Portrait

Portrait of King Richard III
Unknown artist. Oil on panel. Late 15th century. (638 mm x 470 mm).
The National Portrait Gallery, London.

As brother of King Edward IV, Richard was awarded the title Duke of Gloucester and Governor of the North, rewarded with large estates in northern England, becoming the richest and most powerful noble in England. Later becoming King from 1483-1485, until his death at The Battle of Bosworth.

York Rose

Facial reconstruction of Richard III

King Richard III

A skeleton found under a car park in Leicester has been confirmed by DNA testing as those of King Richard III. Now scientists have used CT scans to reconstruct his face. Find out how they did this here

Guy Fawkes born in York 13 April 1570.
Infamous for the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

Guy Fawkes Inn - Birthplace of Guy Fawkes

Horrible Histories York

Horrible Histories York - by Terry Deary

A Gruesome Guide which takes readers on a gore-tastic tour of the streets of York, exposing all of its most scurriloussecrets. With the frightful full colour map tourists can plot their path to the past - meet at the Minster, amble through the blood-soaked Shambles and then climb to Micklegate - where so many traitors headed off. Deadly diseases, horrendous highwaymen and vicious Vikings, it's a trip no Horrible Histories fan will wantto miss! ISBN: 9781407110790

Georgian York

Victorian York

Victorian York
(above) York Castle Museum.
Kirkgate, a real Victorian Street.

Victorian York
(above) Victorian view of York 1881. ©

Antique Engraving York
(above) 1890 Antique Wood Print Engraving.
View of the iron bridge, built in 1863 "Lendal Bridge". ©

Birds Eye View of York
(above) Mid 19th Century Birds Eye View of York. ©
The railway station was originally inside the city walls.

North Eastern Railway Station York

Victorian Architecture that can be seen in York.

Rowntree Chocolate

Learn about York's Chocolate History


York Themed Crossword

How well do you know our city? Try our new crossword #1

20th Century

York Minster Fire

York Minster Fire
On Monday 9th July 1984, a fire caused by a lightning strike destroyed the roof in the south transept of York Minster. £2.5 million was spent on repairs and restoration work was completed in 1988, including new roof bosses to designs which had won a competition organised by BBC Television's Blue Peter programme.

York Coat of Arms


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