English history, as written in York

York is as good a place to study English history as we will find on this trip, we think. It experienced a full range of invasions and conquests, and so much of historical note took place here that we are reeling from the sheer volume of it all.

Being at the confluence of two rivers, York’s location was always considered desirable. So thought Bronze Age tribes, the Romans, the Angles, the Vikings and the Normans. Every group left their mark, but the Roman remains are still quite spectacular. This is the most intact walled city in England, and it is still possible to walk around on the walls, and to see the evidence of their towers.

The Emperors Hadrian, Septimius Severus and Constantius I all held court in York during their various campaigns. Constantius I died in AD 306 during his stay in York, and his son Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor by the troops based in the fortress. He was extremely tolerant of Christians before he himself converted, and today he seems to be very open to political refugees.

In medieval times, the Roman walls were often used as the base for new fortifications, as in the turret above. The gates into the city were enhanced, and still remain. One such gate was where the town crier would sing out the news, including the announcement of the death of Richard III, the last king of the House of York, marking the end of the Plantagenet dynasty.

And then there are all the royal connections. York was equidistant from the pesky Scots in Edinburgh and the often unruly folk in London. Some rulers found it more pleasant to spend time here. The King’s Manor still stands, and at times it housed Henry VIII, Charles I and James I, as it was where the important Council of the North met. The building is now the home of the university’s medieval studies department today, fittingly.

There is evidence of a Christian presence here since the second century, and there was a church on the site of the present cathedral one thousand years ago. But what we see today in the stunning church of York Minster represents the glory of the Gothic style of the mid 12th century. There still remains much medieval stained glass, including the Tudor Rose window. The cathedral was declared complete and consecrated in 1472.


There are many glorious things to see here, as good luck and good planning saved it from Cromwell’s ravages and other desecrations. It’s a glorious church and its Chapter House is spectacular. Treasures like the York Gospels (pictured at the top) and just a few of the things preserved in their Treasury.

Just being in the city is quite special. There are medieval buildings aplenty, but different from other cities we have seen. They say there are a lot of ghosts here. Very easy to believe.

4 thoughts on “English history, as written in York

  1. Two of my daughter’s went to University in York, not a bad place to spend three years! Concur with your comments. When are you back? You must be cutting that 6 month window a bit close?!

    1. We were permitted to spend six months in France, which we left with two weeks to spare. Will be home a week from today. Odd to think about what that will be like.

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