From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Cliffords Tower

North Yorkshire
53° 57' 20.9" N 1° 4' 47.9" W

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Cliffords Tower is part of York Castle located in the City of York, North Yorkshire. The original castle was built out of wood in 1068 and the existing tower dates back to the 13th century and is all that remains apart from some of the curtain wall.

York Castle was built in 1068 during the Norman Conquest. As William swept up the country he built basic wooden motte and bailey castles to consolidate his position as King of England. The castle at York was built between the river Ouse and the river Foss and William Malet was placed in command. The local population resisted Williams rule and harassed the castle and its men. William built a second castle 1069 at Baile Hill on the west bank of the Ouse. That same year a Danish Viking fleet sailed up the Humber and attacked the Norman castles. A number of locals helped the Danes along with Cospatrick, the Earl of Bernicia. The Normans set fire to the houses around the castles in a desperate attempt to defend themselves. The flames jumped from the houses to the castles and burned them to the ground. As a result of this attack, William the Conqueror ordered all the buildings pulled down and all the livestock slaughtered in Yorkshire, Shropshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and County Durham. It is believed these actions caused over 100,000 deaths.

The castles were again rebuilt in wood and in 1175 King Henry II received homage from King William of Scotland there.

In 1190, Cliffords tower was the last refuge of 150 Jewish residents in York. These people fled to the tower after Richard de Malbis, a Jewish 12th century banker, caused mayhem after a fire broke out in York and used this to incite a riot to attack the house of Benedict, a recently deceased banker, killing his widow and children. Josce of York, the leader of the Jewish community, fearing for the lives of the rest of the Jewish population they took refuge in the tower. The mob surrounded the tower, cutting off any aid to the Jewish people inside. The tower warden was not allowed entry into the tower incase the mob stormed the gates. The warden went to the sheriff who then called out the militia. They laid siege to the tower for several days until the tower caught fire. Many of the Jews perished in the flames, but most took their own lives. Those that surrendered to the militia were killed even though they were promised to be treated with respect. In the aftermath the Kings Lord Chancellor took action, the Sheriff and Constables were dismissed for failing to prevent a massacre and the citizens of York were fined. Richard de Malbis fled with other ring leaders escaping punishment and could not be brought to justice.

Again the tower was rebuilt in wood and by 1194 the motte was raised in height by at least 13ft. King John stayed in 1200. A gale in 1228 destroyed the tower. The tower sat ruined until 1244. The threat of invasion by the Scots caused King Henry III to rebuild it, this time in stone. The bailey was also modified, a stone wall was built with towers and two gateways. The keep became known as the Kings Tower. The second castle was incorporated into the walls of the bailey. All this work took about 20 years to complete.

The castle served as an administrative seat and also a mint of the region. It produced gold and silver coins from 1353 to 1546. By 1358 the keep was subsiding, the southeastern wall had a crack from top to bottom.

The tower played a brief role in the war of the roses. The battle of Towton saw the Lancastrians flee to the city. King Edward IV followed close behind them and set up base at the castle.

The castle was falling down, years of neglect had taken its toll, in 1484, King Richard III ordered the dangerous parts to be demolished and replaced. He died in the battle of Bosworth so his orders were not followed.

The civil war saw the York under siege again. In 1642, the Royalist Henry Clifford, last Earl of Cumberland, took charge of the city and castle. He repaired the castle, strengthened the walls and built cannon emplacements. Baile Hill, the sight of the second castle also became a cannon emplacement. It was on 23rd of April that the anti-royalist forced attacked York. A scottish army came from the south and the roundheads from the east. A few weeks later another force arrived bringing the total number of men to about 30,000. The city resisted all that was thrown at it. Prince Rupert was able to force the besiegers to withdraw some four months later. He fought a pitched battle with the Parliamentary forces the following day at Marston Moor. It was the largest and bloodiest battle of the war but Prince Rupert was defeated. The city surrendered to the Parliamentary forces who allowed them to march out with full honours. The castle was slighted so it could not be used again.

King Charles II rebuilt some of the castle and installed heraldic panels of the Kings arms and those of the Clifford family.

It was on St Georges Day in 1684 that an explosion in the artillery magazine reduced the tower to its exterior walls. It is thought that is was a deliberate act as the garrison had removed all their belongings and anything of value. No one was hurt in the explosion.

In a bizarre act, Thomas Osborne first Duke of Leeds, with his followers seized York Castle in 1688. They declared themselves followers of the Prince of Orange. Sir John Reresby, the governor of York, was taken hostage but soon released.

Cliffords tower is now in the care of English Heritage and opens through out the year.