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"The history of York is the history of England"
                                              
- George VI

For an in-depth view of York's history, visit the innovative History of York website. This site, initiated by the York Museums Trust, has a wealth of information about York, rich history, presented in an attractive and enjoyable way.

Index to this page
Roman York
Anglo-Saxon York
Viking York
Norman and medieval York
The Age of Decline
The Civil War and the seige of York
Georgian York - social capital of the North
The Railway Age to the present day

 

Tomb of Lucius Diccius Rufinus, Standard Bearer of the Ninth LegionROMAN YORK
Before the Roman invasion of York in AD43, Britain from the Humber to the Firth of Forth was ruled by a confederation of Celtic tribes known as the Brigantes. In AD71, the Roman Govenor of Britain, Quintus Petillius Cerialis invaded "Brigantia" and set up a camp which, after the Ninth Legion had subdued the Brigantes, became a permanent fortress. This was called "Eboracum", and it was on the junction of the Rivers Ouse and Foss - where modern York is now.
At the height of Roman power, the fortress enclosed 50 acres and housed a garrison of 6000 soldiers. A civilian town grew up and "Eboracum" became one of the leading cities of the Roman empire.
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ANGLO-SAXON YORK
Over 300 years of Roman occupation of York ended about AD400 when Roman legions were withdrawn to serve in Gaul. In the 5th century, the Germanic tribes of the Anglo Saxons invaded the country. Despite the legendary recapture of York from the invaders by King Arthur, York became "Eoforwic", the centre of the independent kingdom of Northumbria, ruled by mighty Anglo-Saxon warlords.
One such warlord was Edwin, who reintroduced Christianity to Northumbria. He married a Christian princess from the South, who brought a priest called Paulinus to York. Paulinus babtised Edwin and many of his subjects on Easter Day 627 in a timber church. This was the first cathedral of the present York Minster, and Paulinus later became the first bishop of York.
By the eighth century "Eoforwic" dominated this part of Britain. But Northumbria was in decline, and in 866 was overrun by "Ivar the Boneless" and his hordes of Danish Vikings.

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VIKING YORK
Ivar the Boneless took advantage of Northumbria being in the middle of a civil war and the Vikings captured York on 1st November 866. The Viking King Halfdan shared out the Northumbrian lands from this capital, now renamed "Jorvik". The Viking warriors settled down to a more peaceful farming existence, and "Jorvik" became a major river port, part of the extensive Viking trading routes throughout northern Europe. The city walls were extended and new streets laid out.
The last Viking ruler of York, Eric Bloodaxe, was driven from the city on 954 by King Eadred of Wessex, who united Northumbria with the southern kingdom. In the years 1056-66 York changed hands following local rebellion, Norweigian invasion and finally the defeat of the Norwegian army at Stamford Bridge (about 8 miles from York). The victor at Stamford Bridge, King Harold II of England fell three weeks later before the Norman invasion of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.

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Walmgate Bar, YorkNORMAN AND MEDIEVAL YORK
William came to York in 1069 to subdue Northern rebellion. He built two wooden castles on top of earth mounds. The castles have long since gone, but the mounds can be seen today. The Domesday Book census of 1086 showed that half of York was owned by the King, and the other half by influential Normans. York prospered, and the rebuilding of the Minster was begun.
Over the next 300 years York grew to become the second largest city in the country and was the northern capital of England. The stone walls and gates were built during this time. But York's prosperity was not to last. During the 1400s, the population was declining, and the all-important wool industry was moving elsewhere, and the citizens were soon to take up arms in the Wars of the Roses.

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THE AGE OF DECLINE
Although the Wars of the Roses (1453 - 1487) did not have a great impact on York, their aftermath did. King Edward IV never forgave York for its Lancastrian sympathies, and ruled the city harshly. There were also severe epidemics, the decline of the wool industry and the shift of much trade away from York to London. Worse was yet to come. In 1533, Henry VIII renounced the Church of Rome, made himself the head of the Church of England and, in 1536, began the Dissolution of the Monasteries. York, as a major religious centre, suffered greatly. All the monasteries and friaries were suppressed. Half the houses in York, formerly owned by the churches, were seized by the Crown and sold to royal officials and London merchants. However, Henry did strengthen the old Council in the Northern Parts, basing it in York (at King's Manor) and thus helped York to regain its title as the second city in England.
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THE CIVIL WAR AND THE SEIGE OF YORK
During th 45 year reign of Elizabeth I, the Council of the North was further strengthened and York began to revive. This continued under James I as York increasingly became a social capital for the gentry of the North. The boom continued even while Charles I was King. When Parliament abolished the Northern Council, Charles set up court in the King's Manor, installed the Royal Mint nearby and kept his printing press at St William's College.
By the time that Charles left York in 1642, the Parliamentary opposition had gathered strength. Civil war erupted and in April 1644 a Parliamentary army of 40,000 began the seige of York. This was lifted in June when Charles' nephew, Prince Rupert, arrived with 14,500 troops. The Parliamentarians were chased to Marston Moor, six miles from York, but unfortunately for Rupert, they turned on his army and he was defeated. The seige of York was renewed, and the city surrendered on 15th July 1644. Many buildings were destroyed, but further damage was avoided by the Parliamentarian general Sir Thomas Fairfax (a local man), who prevented his troops from pillaging York's magnificent churches.

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GEORGIAN YORK - SOCIAL CAPITAL OF THE NORTH
After the removal of the Royal Garrison from York in 1688, the city was gradually dominated by the local aristocracy and gentry. Trade and manufacturing were in decline, but York's role as the social and cultural centre for wealthy northerners was on the rise.
Many elegant new town houses were built, along with public buildings such as the Assembly Rooms, Assize Courts and numerous hospitals. A new Racecourse was built, York's first newspaper, The York Mercury was printed in 1719 and the coach service to London was improved. What had been a four day journey was reduced to 20 hours by the 1830s. And then came the railways...

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THE RAILWAY AGE TO THE PRESENT DAY
The railway came to York in 1839, brought by an entrepreneur called George Hudson. Ten years later, when Hudson's dubious dealings had disgraced him, York was a major railway centre, and by the beginning of the 20th century, the railway employed over 5,500 people.
The railway also helped to expand manufacturing industry, and resulted in the expansion of Rowntree's Cocoa Works and Terry's Confectionery Works. In Victorian times, York witnesed a rapid rise in new church construction, as well as the building of numerous banks, offices, schools and colleges.
A major project in more recent years was the building of the new University of York, opened in 1963 and which today has a Science Park, a model which others have followed. Although traditional manufacturing has declined, new industries have sprung up on the City's growing industrial sites. Tourism, of course, is a major income earner for the City and its people.

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