History of York

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York is a city in Yorkshire, in the North East of England. The city was founded in AD 71, and has a rich Roman and Viking history. York is renowned for its history, which is preserved in its architecture.

Every year, thousands of tourists flock to see the surviving medieval buildings, interspersed with Roman and Viking remains. The City Council has 34 Conservation Areas, 2,084 Listed buildings and 22 Scheduled Ancient Monuments in its care.

Etymology of 'York'

The place where the city now is was originally named by the Celts as Eborakon, which may mean "place of yew trees". The name of the Yew is Efrawg in Brythonic, Efwr in Welsh, Iobhar in Irish Gaelic, Iorc in Scottish Gaelic, Evor in Breton . The Gaulic equivalent Eburos is the basis for toponyms as far as Eburobrittium (Évora) among the Lusitani, or Ebura in Hispania Baetica, for the Celtiberian gens of the Eburanci or peoples like the Eburones or Eburovices in Gaul. As York was a town in Roman times, its Celtic name is recorded in Roman sources, as Eboracum and Eburacum, with the ending -acum Latinized instead of -acon in celtic.

After 400 AD Anglo-Saxons took over the area and adapted the name by folk etymology to Old English Eoforwīc, which means "wild-boar town". The Proto-Germanic form of Old English eofor is *eburaz. York became Northumbria's centre of power later on. The Vikings, who took over the area later, in turn adapted the name by folk etymology to Norse Jórvík meaning "horse bay", like a town in Bohuslän at the time. This was reduced to York in the centuries after the Norman Conquest.

Roman York

The city was founded during the reign of Roman Emperor Vespasian in AD 71, and for much of the intervening period has been the principal city of Northern England. For the Romans, York, or Eboracum, was a major military base and, following the third century division of the province of Britannia, the capital of northern Britain, Britannia Inferior. When Britannia was further divided in 296, York remained the administrative centre of Britannia Secunda. Emperor Septimius Severus died there in AD 211 and was succeeded by his sons, Caracalla and Geta. Constantius Chlorus, the father of Constantine I, also died there in 306, and York is where Constantine's troops proclaimed him emperor.

Substantial remains of the headquarters building of the Roman legionary fortress were discovered under the Minster, and they are open to the public. A re-erected Roman column now stands on nearby Deangate, where there is also a recent 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 late Roman Multangular Tower. Outside the city walls are the remains of substantial Roman cemeteries. A large number of Roman finds are now housed in the Yorkshire Museum.

Post-Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Viking York

With the break-up of Roman Britain, York became the capital of the British kingdom of Ebrauc in around 470. Subsequently, Anglian York was first capital of Deira and then of the united kingdom and later earldom of Northumbria. Paulinus of York brought Christianity to the region in the early 7th century with the conversion of King Edwin of Northumbria and the first Minster is believed to have been built in 627, although the location of the early Minster is a matter of dispute. York became a centre of learning, its most famous scholar being Alcuin.

A "great Viking army" captured York in AD 866, and in 876 the Vikings settled permanently in parts of the Yorkshire countryside. Viking kings ruled this area, known to historians as "The Viking Kingdom of Jorvik", for almost a century. In 954 the last Viking king, Eric Bloodaxe, was expelled and his kingdom was incorporated in the newly consolidated Anglo-Saxon state. Another renowned scholar of this era was Wulfstan II, Archbishop of York.

Medieval York

Following the Norman Conquest of 1066, York was substantially damaged by the punitive harrying of the north (1069) launched by William the Conqueror in response to regional revolt. Two castles were erected in the city on either side of the River Ouse. In time York became an important urban centre as the administrative centre of the county of Yorkshire, as the seat of an archbishop, and at times in the later 13th and 14th century as an alternative seat of royal government. It was an important trading centre. Several religious houses were founded following the Conquest, including St Mary's Abbey and Holy Trinity Priory. The city as a possession of the crown also came to house a substantial Jewish community under the protection of the sheriff.

On March 16, 1190 a mob of townsfolk forced the Jews in York to flee into Clifford's Tower, which was under the control of the sheriff. The castle was set on fire and the Jews were massacred. It is likely that various local magnates who were indebted to the Jews helped instigate this massacre or, at least, did nothing to prevent it. It came during a time of widespread attacks against Jews in Britain. Commemoration of the York massacre passed into the Jewish liturgy and until 1990 Orthodox Judaism forbade Jews from living within the city.

York prospered during much of the later medieval era and this is reflected in the built environment. Twenty medieval parish churches survive in whole or in part, though only eight of these are regularly used for worship. The medieval city walls, with their entrance gates, known as bars, encompassed virtually the entire city and survive to this day. The city was also designated as a county corporate, giving it effective county status.

"The Shambles," a street in York.
"The Shambles," a street in York.

The later years of the 14th and the earlier years of the 15th centuries were characterised by particular prosperity. It is in this period that the regular cycle of religious pageants (or plays) associated with the Corpus Christi cycle and performed by the various craft guilds grew up. Among the more important personages associated with this period was Nicholas Blackburn senior, Lord Mayor in 1412 and a leading merchant. He is depicted in glass in the (now) east window of All Saints' Church in North Street. The period from the later 15th century seems to have witnessed economic contraction and a dwindling in York's regional importance. The construction of the city's new Guildhall around the middle of the century can be seen as an attempt to project civic confidence in the face of growing uncertainty.

Dating from the later medieval era, and now a popular tourist attraction, is the Shambles, a street of timber-framed shops originally occupied by butchers. Some retain the outdoor shelves and the hooks on which meat was displayed. They have overhanging upper floors and are now largely souvenir shops.

Early modern York

Few buildings of significance were put up in the century after the completion of the Minster in 1472, the exceptions being the completion of the King's Manor (which from 1537 to 1641 housed the Council of the North) and the rebuilding of the church of St. Michael le Belfrey, where Guy Fawkes was baptised in 1570. In 1547, fifteen parish churches were closed, reducing their number from forty to twenty-five - a reflection of the decline in the city's population.

17th-century York

Following his break with Parliament, King Charles I established his Court in York in 1642 for six months. Subsequently, during the English Civil War, the city was regarded as a Royalist stronghold and was besieged and eventually captured by Parliamentary forces under Lord Fairfax in 1644. After the war, York slowly regained its former pre-eminence in the North, and by 1660 was the third-largest city in England after London and Norwich.

18th-century York

York elected two members to the Unreformed House of Commons.

On 22 March 1739, the highwayman Dick Turpin was convicted at the York Grand Jury House of horse-stealing, and was hanged at the Knavesmire on 7 April 1739. Turpin is buried in the churchyard of St George's Church, where his tombstone also shows his alias, John Palmer.

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