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|The pre-Conquest borough and effects of the
York of the tenth and early eleventh centuries appears to have been
the second city of the kingdom after London, which far outstripped
all other English cities in terms of its prosperity and population
size, which has been estimated at between 8,000-9,000.
For administrative purposes the city was divided into seven "shires",
best understood as wards, of which six were under the king and the
seventh under the archbishop. This administration may have been
associated with the "lawmen" (boroughs of the
typically having 12) who are mentioned and are thought to have been a
hereditary "class" responsible for administering justice and collecting
associated revenues. The opinion of such men would likely have been sought
and borne weight in the communal assembly that met periodically to address
issues of common concern. The archbishop's ward was essentially the area
covered by the cathedral and monastic precinct, along with 189 properties
occupied by laymen in that area. The archbishop also had a one-third right
in a second ward, which included Layerthorpe and part of the old Anglo-Saxon
settlement around the Foss. Another of the wards was called "Marketshire"
and encompassed the streets known as the Shambles
and the Pavement, both the sites of markets.
The Conquest had a dramatic effect on the city perhaps no other
suffered so badly from the consequences. William I's initial goal
after defeating Harold was to consolidate his hold on the south. This
gave the north a breathing-space in which to organize resistance; from
1068 to 1070 William faced repeated rebellions there. In response to
an uprising in York in 1068, William pursued his general policy of
building a castle there, garrisoned
with 500 of his supporters. Despite this there was a second uprising
in the city, in the following year; the castle was besieged and one
of its commanders was among members of the garrison to be killed.
William hurried north to relieve his forces, defeated the rebels, and
punished the city by tearing down the homes of rebels; he built a
After William's departure the remaining rebel forces again attacked
the castles, unsuccessfully. An alliance of Danes and English resulted
in a further assault on the city later in the year, in response to which
the Norman garrisons fired houses near the castles (to prevent their use
by the rebels); the fire spread throughout the city, destroyed houses
as well as the Minster and the large library associated with its school.
The rebels nonetheless were able to capture city and castles, tearing
down the latter. William again hastened north, re-entered York without
opposition, began rebuilding the castles, and proceeded to break the
spirit of northern resistance by a scorched earth policy.
These devastating events left York with a much reduced population: of
the 1,600 residences recorded by Domesday as having existed before the
Conquest, 540 had been abandoned or destroyed by 1086 and 400 others
were impoverished. Only four of the lawmen were still in evidence.
The damming of the Foss to create a water barrier defending the east
side of one of the castles may well have had a damaging effect on the
fortunes of the Fishergate community. When the first Norman archbishop
of York came to the city in 1072, he found the Minster little more
than a charred shell and only three of its monks had stayed in the
city. Despite all this the king was demanding a higher payment of
the traditional dues than his predecessor had.
It took time for the city to recover. A revival of trade and population
was likely assisted by William Rufus and other Norman lords whose
patronage enabled the foundation or growth of
St. Mary's Abbey,
Holy Trinity Priory and
St. Leonard's Hospital, all of
which provided clients for local or imported goods.
Rebuilding of the
Minster began in the last decade of the eleventh century, and the
religious community was reorganized as a secular (rather than monastic)
canonical chapter; this work continued throughout the twelfth century
in the Norman style, together with the building of an episcopal palace.
Then in the thirteenth century, through to the end of the Middle Ages,
the cathedral was extensively rebuilt on a larger scale, at first in
Gothic style and later Perpendicular. This almost continuous effort
created employment within the city.
A further reflection of the gradual recovery is seen in a charter of
liberties granted by Henry II to the city (itself referring back to
earlier grants, of similar character, by Henry I), giving or confirming
commercial and urban privileges along with exemptions from tolls
elsewhere in England; a charter of Henry I granting liberties to
Beverley models those liberties after York's and reveals that a merchant
gild had been created to direct some of York's affairs. Richard I expanded
the exemption to everywhere within his empire.
Other stimuli to the restoration of prosperity included the establishment
of a Jewish community in York by 1130s; this provided moneylending
services, in which Christians were forbidden to be active. It, however,
came to much the same bad end as in other English towns. Crusade-fever
and resentment on the part of debtors led to persecution of Jews after
the accession of Richard I, when rioting prompted the Jewish community
to take refuge in the castle and to refuse
to allow entry even to the sheriff. He in turn ordered crusaders,
assembled in York to prepare for departure to the Holy Land, to assault
the castle. Most of the Jews died as a result. Although a new Jewish
community grew up, it was not one of great size and there was no Jewish
quarter in the city. Renewed anti-semitism in mid-century, followed by
heavy taxation by the king, contributed to the community's impoverishment
before the expulsion of all Jews from England in 1290.
|Created: December 28, 1999.
Last update: September 21, 2002
Stephen Alsford, 1999-2003