No sooner was William the Conqueror, established on the English throne, than he showed that his policy was to root out the ancient nobility, and to degrade the native inhabitants of the humbler classes, to the situation of miserable slaves. In the North, where the spirit of liberty and independence has always been cherished, the tyrant was determined to rivet his chains. For this purpose, Robert, the Norman, was sent down to Durham, with a guard of 700 men, but the inhabitants rose upon the governor, and exterminated both him and his guard. William, once more drew his conquering sword, which he was not soon inclined to sheathe. He marched into York, at the head of a powerful army, and the city with its two castles, were speedily garrisoned with Norman soldiers. The Saxon nobles in this city had manifested a disposition to shake off the Norman yoke, and on the arrival of William, they fled into Scotland, where they were joined by Malcolm, the Scottish King.
Conscious of the detestation in which he was held, William entertained a perpetual jealousy of the English people. In the wantonness of power he obliged them every night to extinguish their fires and candles, at the ring of a bell, called "The Curfew :" he also caused a survey to be made of all the lands in the kingdom, which were unregistered in the Domesday book, many of the estates of the nobles in Yorkshire, as in other parts of the kingdom, he wrested from their rightful owners and bestowed upon his rapacious followers.
For half a century the history of York is almost a blank, but in the reign of Stephen, in the year 1137, it appears once more to have reared its head, when it was again destroyed by an accidental fire, which burnt down the cathedral, the abbey of St. Mary's, with thirty-nine parish churches in the city, and Trinity church in the suburbs. At this awful juncture, David, king of Scotland entered England, at the head of a powerful army, and ravaged and laid waste the country to the very gates of the city of York. Roused into energy by these accumulated disasters, Thurstan, the archbishop, who acted as Stephen's viceroy in the north, summoned the neighbouring barons, and exhorted them to repel the enemy. Enraged to see their country desolated by the invaders, they each of them in their district collected a considerable force, which assembled at Northallerton, and totally defeated the Scotch in the famous Battle of the Standard. ( See Northallerton.)
For seven centuries York had exhibited a series of sanguinary wars, and repeated desolations, from this period it enjoyed for some ages the blessings of peace, and again rose to wealth and importance. In less than fifty years after the terrible conflagration in the reign of Stephen, Henry II. under pretence of raising money for the holy wars, imposed upon his subjects a contribution of one-tenth of their moveables, and demanded from the city of York, one-half of the sum that he required from London. At that period York was eminent for trade, and in the 27th year of the reign of Edward III, the staple trade of wool, which had before been at Bruges, in Flanders, was fixed in this city. Many of the merchants of York were members of "the corporation of the staple," established at Calais, and the woollen manufacture flourished in York so late as the reign of Henry VIII. In that reign an act was passed regarding one branch of the manufacture, the preamble of which sets forth, that "Whereas the city of York being one of the ancientest and greatest cities within the realm of England, before this time hath maynteyned and upholden by divers and sundry handicrafts there used, and most principally by making and weaving coverlets and coverings for beds, and thereby a great number of the inhabitants and people of the said city and suburbs thereof, and other places within the county of York, have been daily set on work in spinning, dying, carding, and weaving of the said coverlets," &c. This trade continued to prevail for some ages afterwards, but in the year 1736, when the author of the Eboracum, published his book, York was no longer a manufacturing city, nor has the staple trade, which has made the West Riding its principal seat, ever returned to this ancient capital.
In the ages following the Norman conquest, York was often visited by the kings of England. Henry II. held the first parliament ever mentioned in history by that name in this city, in the year 1160, in which Malcolm, king of Scotland, appeared and did homage for the territories which he held of the English crown. Eleven years afterwards the same king called another parliament or convention of the bishops and barons at York, to which he summoned William the successor of Malcolm, to do homage for the kingdom of Scotland; on which occasion the Scotch king deposited on the altar of St. Peter, in the cathedral church, his breast plate, spear and saddle in memorial of his subjection.
The marriage of the daughter of Henry III. king of England, to Alexander, the third son of the king of Scotland, took place in the cathedral church of this city amidst very splendid festivities in the year 1230.
In 1298, another parliament sat at York, when the English barons attended, and the king's confirmation of Magna Charta, and also Charta de Forresta, was read to them. During this reign of Edward I. the courts of justice were removed from London to York, where they remained for several months, till the king's return after the famous battle of Falkirk. York then ranked amongst the English ports, but Hull had already begun to rise into fame as a maritime town, and soon absorbed a large share of the commerce which was formerly confined to this city.
In this reign the flame broke out, which for nearly a century involved England and Scotland in that general conflagration, with the events of which every reader of English history is familiar. The Scots marched into England in great force, and having laid the country waste to the gates of York, retired. The archbishop fired with indignation, raised an army of priests, monks, and others to the amount of ten thousand men, with which he pursued the spoilers and overtook them at Myton-upon-Swale, in the neighbourhood of Boroughbridge, where he attacked them with more fury than skill, and where he suffered a signal defeat. (See Myton, Vol. II.)
The reign of Edward III. which shines with so much lustre in the annals of England, constitutes a splendid period in the history of York. In the year 1327, the first year of his reign; that monarch ordered his whole army to rendezvous in this city, in order to oppose Robert Bruce, king of Scotland, who, with an army of twenty thousand horse was ravaging the northern part of the kingdom. While Edward lay at York preparing for this expedition, there came to his aid John Lord Beaumont, of Hainault, one of the bravest knights of the age, accompanied with other gallant knights and gentlemen, who, with his retinue composed a band of five hundred, or according to Knightson, of two thousand men. Most of these foreigners were lodged in the suburbs; but to Lord John himself the king assigned the abbey of White Monks in the city. The king with the queen's mother lodged in the monastery belonging to the Friars Minors, which must have been an extensive and stately building, since each of them kept a separate court, and that of the king was very magnificent. For six weeks, Edward had his court at York, with an army of sixty thousand men, which, notwithstanding its numbers, was well supplied with provisions, of which the citizens felt no lack. The foreigners too had reason to be satisfied with their entertainment, but jealousies arose between them and the English, which were not terminated without bloodshed. On Trinity Sunday, the king gave a magnificent entertainment at the monastery. To his usual retinue of five hundred knights, he added sixty more; and the queen mother had in her suite sixty ladies of the highest rank and greatest beauty in England. At night was given a splendid ball, but while the courtiers were in the midst of their amusement "a strange and hideous noise interrupted them and alarmed the whole court." A contest had arisen between the foreign auxiliaries and a body of English archers, who lodged with them in the suburbs; and hostilities being once begun abettors successively came in on both sides, till near three thousand of the archers were collected. Many of the Hainaulters were slain, and the rest were obliged to retire and fortify themselves in their quarters. During the quarrel, part of the city took fire, and it was with equal difficulty that the king was able to subdue the flames and to restrain the fiery spirits with which he had to contend. The foreigners breathed nothing but vengeance, and on the night following, headed by their officers, they fell upon the Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire archers, and slew about three hundred of them. This rash act induced about six thousand of the English to combine, and to take the desperate resolution to sacrifice every soul of the Hainaulters to the manes of their countrymen. By the firmness and wise precautions of the king, this catastrophe was arrested and the tranquillity of the city was ultimately restored. During these transactions ambassadors arrived in York from Scotland to treat for peace, but after some weeks the negociations broke off, and the king with all his barons marched at the head of his whole army against the Scots, in all the martial pomp of those chivalrous times. It is not the province of this history to follow Edward through his campaigns; suffice it to say, that after a keen pursuit the Scotch army was at last overtaken and cooped up by the English in Stanhope park, from which they were suffered to escape by the treachery of Lord Mortimer, at the moment when they were ready to surrender from the cravings of famine. Edward chagrined at the loss of his prey, when it seemed within his grasp, returned to York and afterwards to London, having, previously dismissed Lord John of Hainault, to the continent, bounteously rewarded for his services. The next year Lord John, returned with his niece Philippa, the most celebrated beauty of the age, and with a great retinue conducted her to York, where the court then was, in order to her marriage with the king in this city. On the Sunday before the eve of St. Paul's conversion in the year 1329, the marriage was publicly solemnized in the cathedral, by the archbishop. Upon these happy nuptials, says Froissart, the whole kingdom teemed with joy, and the court at York expressed these feelings in a more than ordinary manner; for three weeks the feastings were continued without intermission, there were nothing but justs and tournaments in the day time, and maskings, revels, and interludes with songs and dances in the night. The Hainault soldiery, actuated by a licentious and revengeful spirit, took advantage of this carnival to treat the inhabitants with outrage and violence, and to such an excess did they carry their misconduct that they ravished several of the wives, daughters and maid servants of the inhabitants, and set fire to the suburbs of the city, by which a whole parish was nearly destroyed. The citizens scandalized by these proceedings, challenged the Hainaulters to battle, this challenge was accepted, and the battle was fought in a street called Watling gate, with such desperate fury that five hundred and twenty-seven of the foreigners were slain or drowned in the Ouse, and two hundred arid forty-two fell of the English. During the wars in France, in which Edward and his renowned son, the Black Prince, gained the memorable victories of Crecy and Poietiers, and rendered captive the French king, David Bruce, the competitor of John Baliol, king of Scotland, undertook to invade England, which was then left to the sole government of the queen. Bruce penetrated to the gates of York, and burnt part of the suburbs, having laid waste the country through which he passed with fire and sword. Philippa, the queen regent, then at York, having collected a powerful army, repulsed the invaders, and pursued them to Neville's cross, in the county of Durham, where, on the 17th of October, 1347, she gained a signal victory, having slain fifteen thousand of the Scots, and taken Bruce prisoner. The victorious queen having rescued her country from the hands of these cruel invaders returned to York, and subsequently, presented king David, to her husband and sovereign.
The unfortunate reign of Richard II. was extremely favourable to the citizens of York. That monarch visited the city several times, and granted the citizens many charters, immunities, and privileges. On his visit to York, in the year 1339, to adjust a dispute between the archbishop and the dean and chapter, the king took his sword from his side, and gave it to be borne before William de Selby, who was then dignified with the title of Lord Mayor, which is retained to the present day by the first magistrate of this city.
A maximum upon the necessaries of life was fixed in the reign of Edward I. which continued for many years with certain modifications, and in the year 1393, an ordinance for the price of victuals and drink was proclaimed in a full court at York, "by the advice and consent of our lord the king's justices" in manner following:-
s. d. Good wheaten bread 4 loaves per... i Strong beer per gallon............ i Claret wine per gallon............ viii Red wine, the best................ viii A carcase of choice beef.......... xx iv A Scoth cow....................... x A carcase of mutton............... xx of the best veal........ ii vi a lamb............... viii A hog, the best................... iii iv A capon........................... iv A hen............................. i A fat goose....................... iv A fresh salmon, the largest & best ii Oats per bushel................... i
In this reign Edmund Langley, the fifth son of Edward III. was created the first Duke of York. A contagious distemper, of the nature of a plague, raged with great violence throughout England, of which malady there died, in the city of York alone, in the years 1390 and 1391, twelve thousand souls. In the nineteenth year of the king's reign two sheriffs were appointed instead of three bailiffs, and the city of York was created into a county of itself.
The inhabitants of York were not unmindful of these benefactions and royal concessions, and they took the first opportunity to manifest their gratitude to Richard, even after the deposition and murder in Pontefract castle. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, having lost his brother and son in the battle of Shrewsbury, Richard Scroop, Archbishop of York, whose brother the king (Henry IV.) had beheaded, and Thomas Mowbray, Earl Marshal of England, whose father died in exile, united with Lords Falconberge, Bardolf, Hastings, and others, in a conspiracy to depose the occupier of Richard's throne. The Archbishop's impatience precipitated the disclosure of the plot. Scroop framed several articles of impeachment against the king, which he caused to be fixed upon the doors of the churches in his own diocese, and sent them in the form of a circular into other counties in the kingdom, inviting the people to take up arms to reform abuses. To strengthen this call he preached a sermon to three congregations assembling for religious worship in the cathedral, and roused 20,000 men suddenly to arms, who joined his standard at York, on which was painted the five wounds of our Saviour. To subdue this rebellion Henry sent an army of 30,000 men into Yorkshire, under the command of the Earl of Westmoreland and the Prince John. On the arrival of the king's forces at York, they found the Archbishop encamped out of the gates of the city, on the forest of Galtres, so advantageously, that it was not judged advisable to attack them. The wily Earl, affecting to favour the views of the insurgents, solicited an interview with the Archbishop, who took with him the Earl Marshal. Having got them into his toils, and plied them well with wine, he arrested them on the spot for high treason, and their lives paid the forfeit of their precipitancy and misplaced confidence. In 1408 the Earl of Northumberland again appeared in arms, and was defeated and slain on Bramham Moor, by Sir Thomas Rokesby, high-sheriff of Yorkshire. Henry soon after came to York, and completed his revenge by the execution of several of the insurgent citizens, and the confiscation of their estates.
Henry V., the hero of Agincourt, being engaged during the principal part of his reign in his wars with France, made only one visit to York, when he and his queen went to perform their devotions at the venerable shrine of St. John of Beverley.
During the civil wars between the rival houses of York and Lancaster, this city was the rendezvous of armies, and the theatre on which was displayed the memorials of royal vengeance. After the battle of Wakefield, in which Richard Duke of York met his fate, the head of that nobleman was placed upon Micklegate bar, as were also the heads of a number of his followers. The sanguinary battle of Towton changed the fortune of the two roses, and the victorious Edward IV. caused the head of his father and of his adherents to be taken from Mickle-gate bar, and the heads of the Lancasterian nobles, Devon and Kime, to take their places.
When Edward departed this life, his brother Richard was at York, and had a funeral requiem performed in the cathedral of that city, for the repose of his soul. After Richard III. had usurped the sovereign power, and had been crowned in London, he came to York, where the ceremony of his coronation was performed a second time, in the cathedral, by Archbishop Rotherham. Tournaments, masques, and other diversions, together with the most luxurious feasting, followed the coronation, and by their immense costs exhausted the public treasury. (Note: Except the treasury was very scantily supplied it could not have been easily exhausted by purchasing the necessaries of life, for it appears, that about this time wheat sold for 2s. a quarter, barley for 1s. 10d. and oats for 1s. 2d.) Richard distinguished the city of York by various marks of royal munificence; and the citizens showed their gratitude by a steady adherence to his interests.
After the battle of Bosworth Field had placed the crown on the head of Henry VII. the people of Yorkshire and Durham refused to pay a land-tax imposed for the purpose of defraying the expenses of the army. The Earl of Northumberland was the reputed adviser of this measure, which rendered him so unpopular, that the populace assailed his house, and slew the Earl, with many of his servants. The sword being thus drawn, they threw away the scabbard, and chose for their leader Sir John Egremont, a man greatly disaffected to the house of Lancaster, and John a Chambre, a man of humble birth, but possessed of a vast share of popular influence. Thomas Earl of Surrey being sent against the insurgents, he defeated their principal band, and made John a Chambre with several of his followers prisoners. The rest of the malcontents fled to York, and afterwards dispersed, while Sir John Egremont found an asylum in Flanders, under the protection of Margaret Duchess of Burgundy. John a Chambre, less fortunate, was brought to trial, and executed at York, with great solemnity, upon a high gallows, with a number of his adherents suspended around him.