A History of the County of York: the City of York. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1961.
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YORK BEFORE THE NORMAN CONQUEST
Romano-British York, p. 2. Anglian York, p. 3. The School of York, p. 6. Danish and Viking York, p. 9. The Rule of the Earls, p. 13. The Norman Conquest, p. 17. The City in the 11th Century, p. 19.
Roman troops were garrisoned at York for more than 300 years but little is known of the history of the city during that period, partly because systematic and extensive excavation is impossible and partly because the city is so infrequently mentioned in early writings. Two events, however, were of sufficient importance in the history of the empire to earn a mention by Roman writers. Between 208 and 211 the Emperor Severus was at York while he was conducting campaigns against the Caledonians and in the latter year he died there. Accounts of his death make some obscure references to York's topography and mention a temple of Bellona and a domus palatina. (fn. 1) It was from York, moreover, that Severus dated a rescript of 5 May 210 headed Eboraci. (fn. 2) Almost a century later, in 305, Constantius Chlorus died in the city and Constantine was acclaimed there as his successor. (fn. 3) Both Severus and Constantius Chlorus were using York as a base for military expeditions and it was as the strategic centre of Roman Britain that the fortress was most important.
While Severus was in York, however, the city almost attained a metropolitan status for he brought with him not only his two sons but the entire court; and, as the heading of the rescript shows, even routine legal business of the empire was then conducted from the city. (fn. 4) To Severus, too, may be attributed the grant of the status of colonia to the town that had grown up beside the fortress; from the remains of it that have been found it may be assumed that it was a flourishing community with wide trade connexions. In the new arrangements made by Severus for the administration of the country, York became the capital of the province of Britannia Inferior. Finally, by the 4th century, the city had become one of the centres of Romano-British Christianity: the three British bishops who attended the council of Arles in 314 had amongst them Eborius episcopus de civitate Eboracensi. (fn. 5)
York is also mentioned in topographical and other lists compiled in classical times or from classical writings. Ptolemy says that 'Eborakon was in the territory of the Brigantes, a powerful confederation of tribes occupying most of what are now the six northern counties, and he is the first authority to associate York with the Sixth Legion. (fn. 6) In the Antonine Itinerary, four of the fifteen British itinera pass through York. (fn. 7) The name of the city is missing from the Notitia Dignitatum but may confidently be restored; thus amended it shows the city still being used as the headquarters of the Sixth Legion at a time when many of the legions had left their traditional stations. (fn. 8) York is mentioned again in the Ravenna Cosmography. (fn. 9)
In 71 Petillius Cerialis led the Ninth Legion out of Lincoln to conduct a campaign in the north. During this campaign York was garrisoned by that legion. (fn. 10) The first garrison defended itself by an earthwork and a timber palisade; early in the 2nd century these were replaced by a stone wall. The internal buildings of the fortress, too, were rebuilt in stone at about the same time. Soon afterwards, the Sixth Legion, for reasons that are not clear, replaced the Ninth as the garrison. Late in the 2nd century the defences of the fortress were rebuilt, probably because they had been broken down by raiders from the north. This rebuilding was complete by the time the Emperor Severus visited York in 208.
For nearly eighty years the north was at peace. Between 287 and 296, however, when Roman troops had been temporarily withdrawn from Britain, the north was again attacked and, after the invaders had been beaten off, the fortress had again to be rebuilt. Roman troops probably remained at York for another century but there is little evidence to suggest that the structure of the fortress changed during that period. How late the Roman way of life was pursued in York is not known. The town and its community may well have survived after the final withdrawal of Roman troops well into the 5th century. There were certainly Germanic settlements in east Yorkshire about the middle of the 5th century and early Anglian cremation burials have been found on The Mount and at Heworth where the urns were among the earliest of their kind found in this country. But it has been suggested that these settlements 'were not those of hostile invaders, but of Germanic mercenaries employed by the British to fight against their northern enemies in the manner recorded by Gildas'. (fn. 11)
Apart from these slight indications that the Germanic invasions may not at first have been inimical to York, nothing is known of the fate of the city in the 5th and 6th centuries. By the first decade of the 7th century, and perhaps earlier, it lay within but not at the heart of the English kingdom of Deira. The first recorded king of Deira has left little more than the name of Ælle (c. 585–8) but during the reign of Æthelfrith (c. 593– 616) there occurs an indirect testimony to the revival of the city. (fn. 12) When in 601 Gregory the Great sent the pallium to Augustine he planned to divide Britain into two sees, one of which was to have its centre at York. When the time was ripe the Bishop of York, like Augustine in the southern province centred on London, was to ordain twelve bishops and enjoy the rank of metropolitan. (fn. 13)
This apparently sudden reappearance of York in the role of an internationally recognized metropolis has doubtless some connexion with the facts of population and economics. The Roman roads alone would have sufficed by this date to focus Northumbrian communications and commerce in such a degree as to re-create at York the largest urban settlement in the north. But these can scarcely have been the only reasons for the choice of York. Gregory is unlikely to have been ignorant of the traditions of the city deriving from its status in Roman times and, in particular, he may have been reminded by his advisers that the city had been the centre of a bishopric in the 4th century. Though many years were to elapse before his plan took effect, we may regard the northern metropolitan see as the most permanent legacy of Eboracum and so, like the papacy itself, a 'ghost of empire'.
Another imperial tradition seems to have descended upon the court of Northumbria. King Edwin (616–32) had standards carried before him not only in war-time but in peace-time. When he rode about his kingdom with his ministers it was customary for a standard-bearer to go before him; necnon et incidente illo ubilibet per plateas, illud genus vexilli, quod Romani Tufam, Angli vero appellant Tuuf, ante eum ferri solebat. (fn. 14) It seems not unreasonable to detect here the influence of Paulinus, who, having come to England with the mission of 601, was consecrated bishop to accompany the Kentish Christian Princess Æthelberg when she went north to marry Edwin in 625. Despite the pressure of letters from Pope Boniface V, Edwin delayed acceptance of baptism until Easter 627. After those debates which have occasioned the noblest pages of Bede's History, Edwin was christened at York on Easter Sunday, 12 April, in the church of St. Peter the Apostle, which he had hastily constructed of wood while he was being catechized and taught with a view to baptism. After his baptism he built a greater and more majestic church of stone, enclosing in its midst his first wooden oratory. (fn. 15)
Edwin's church seems unlikely to have stood, as often supposed, on the site of the present minster crypt, where nothing of unquestionably Anglian origin has ever been found. In particular, the discovery of a characteristic floor of cement and broken brick might reasonably have been expected, since the Norman builders would presumably have lacked any incentive to undertake the heavy task of its destruction. The church may thus have stood on the site of the present nave, or still farther to the west. (fn. 16) Edwin did not live to complete the work and it was left to his successor, Oswald; but five of Edwin's children were christened in the church and two who died in infancy were buried there. (fn. 17) The great tract of land immediately to the south and west of the city known as Bishop's Fields belonged from time immemorial to the see of York; it is reasonably conjectured to have been part of the primal endowment by King Edwin.
But these events, taken in isolation, may well exaggerate the role of York in the early Northumbrian state. Edwin spent much of his time travelling his kingdom. The discussion which preceded his acceptance of Christianity and the riding of his high priest Coifi to destroy the heathen temple at Goodmanham (E.R.) is unlikely to have taken place so far away from Goodmanham as York; and the murderous assault from which Edwin was saved by the self-sacrifice of his minister Lilla took place juxta amnem Deruventionem ubi tunc erat villa regalis. (fn. 18) This villa regalis on the Derwent may perhaps have been Malton, while Lilla was almost certainly buried in Lilla Howe, eight miles from the later important Anglian settlement of Whitby. (fn. 19) Moreover, the kingdom of Deira had from the earliest times been centred upon the Wolds in the East Riding. York, therefore, although undoubtedly important as a centre of communications, lay near the western frontier of Edwin's Northumbrian kingdom until he succeeded in overthrowing the British kingdom of Elmet to the south and west of the city. Paulinus, too, was chiefly a missionary seeking converts between the Trent and the Cheviots and can have spent little time in his cathedral city. (fn. 20) The highly personal and mobile character of administration in both church and state forbids us to regard early Anglian York in the light of a modern or even a medieval capital.
In the summer of 632 Edwin fell at Hatfield. Northumbria was ravaged by the British King Cadwallon and his pagan Mercian allies under Penda. Paulinus escorted the queen back to Kent and, apart from the presence of his follower James the Deacon in North Yorkshire, left the Northumbrian field clear for Aidan and the Celtic monks, who held it until King Oswiu decided in favour of Roman Christianity at Whitby in 663. (fn. 21) Meanwhile Cadwallon, having occupied York and tormented the Deirans, was defeated and killed by Oswald in the last weeks of 633. (fn. 22) For the next thirty years strangely little is heard of York. An age of royal feuds and remote monastic foundations, of sporadic if exalted missionary enterprise, could contribute little to the emergence of a genuine Northumbrian capital, whether regarded as a political, a mercantile, or an ecclesiastical centre. St. Chad, though called Bishop of York, has virtually no recorded connexion with the place.
Had the fiery and tactless Wilfrid (669–77; 686–91) been permitted to enjoy his see of York unmolested, the story might have developed more speedily, since Wilfrid, despite his quarrels with the great Romanist reorganizer Theodore of Tarsus, stood for the same Roman principles of constructive order and centralization which had marked York's past and were to mark its future. Even so, Wilfrid's relatively short periods of influence in the north show great architectural and artistic achievement at Ripon and Hexham; when he reached York he found the minster roof leaking, the windows unglazed, and birds flying in and out. Doubtless accompanied by his troupe of continental craftsmen, he repaired the church and, according to his magniloquent biographer, richly endowed it with many estates, and thus remedied its poverty. (fn. 23) Two splendidly illuminated gospels, said to be St. Wilfrid's, were still preserved in the minster in the 16th century. (fn. 24)
In Wilfrid's minster, though during his exile, there occurred in 685 the consecration of St. Cuthbert as Bishop of Hexham, a scene of the utmost significance in English history. On the one hand stood the saint, completely Celtic in his haggard ascetism and intellectual simplicity; on the other stood the consecrator Archbishop Theodore, the last known student of the Schools of Athens, the embodiment of Mediterranean culture and the new mission of Rome. At the high altar of York two great movements met in reconciliation even as their characteristics began to blend in a peculiarly English synthesis.
According to 11th-century tradition, Wilfrid's successor, St. John of Beverley (705– 18), often resided in York. (fn. 25) But it was not until 732, with the accession of Egbert, that York began its progress to the status of a leading centre of European civilization. Until this period, Northumbrian Christianity had its centre of gravity farther north—in Hexham, in Jarrow, in Wearmouth, in Lindisfarne itself. Bede perhaps visited York once, perhaps not at all; (fn. 26) yet his literary friendship with Egbert, the outstanding episode of his last years, may well be regarded as symbolizing the transition of cultural leadership to York. (fn. 27) In 733 he spent several days talking about literature with his old pupil who was to be the master of Æthelberht and Alcuin. In 734 he wrote rejoicing in the progress of the Church of York and hoping that his infirmities would not preclude a further meeting with Egbert. In 735 Bede died at Jarrow; about five years earlier Alcuin had been born in York. The golden age of Northumbrian spirituality was over, but that of Christian culture at York was even then coming to birth. This year 735 was also marked by another event of both symbolic and practical importance. By the final victory of the Roman conception of church government Theodore had paved the way for the Gregorian scheme of an archiepiscopal see at York: the pallium and the metropolitan dignity came at last to Egbert in 735. (fn. 28)
Little or nothing is known of domestic or civic life in the Anglian city. There may have been officials like the praefectus at Lincoln mentioned by Bede (fn. 29) or the civitatis praepositus who is known to have held office in Carlisle in the late 7th century. (fn. 30) Such officials are not, of course, survivals from Romano-British town government but the tradition of romanitas cannot have played a negligible part in the re-creation of citizenship. Its influence may be observed in York at a later stage; and it can be vouched for elsewhere in early Anglian times in places where the visible memorials of Rome must have been far less impressive than at York. (fn. 31) There seems, in fact, every reason to believe that 7th-century townsmen were fully conscious of the origins of the Roman monuments around them. (fn. 32) In York the massive walls and columns of the earlier culture—they impressed men long after this date—must have added their visual message to the studies of Anglian priests and kings, and must have inspired even farmer and artisan with some sense of urban community. At least until the coming of the Danes, Rome living and Rome dead are alike inspiration to the reviving city.
The School of York
The period of York's greatest cultural influence, when it became the principal shrine of the second age of Northumbrian culture and even attained a European influence unparalleled in its long history, was also a time of political anarchy in Northumbria. (fn. 33) Our knowledge of events at York during much of the period owes something to the sources used by Bede's principal northern successor. Symeon of Durham undoubtedly embodied in his Historia Regum extensive portions of a very early Northumbrian chronicle covering the period 731 to 802 and there are strong reasons for supposing that this source was compiled at York. (fn. 34) It was used also by the compiler of the northern recension of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and his version of it extended to 806. (fn. 35) Apart from its frequent reference to York events and personalities, its considerable knowledge of Frankish history indicates contact with the circle of Alcuin, one of whose letters is in fact mentioned by the chronicler. (fn. 36) York was now playing a paramount role in the annals of Northumbrian kings and notables.
In 768 Eadberht quondam rex tunc autem clericus died at York and was buried there in the same 'porch' as his brother the archbishop. (fn. 37) The entry of prominent laymen into orders was perhaps not infrequent: the description quondam dux tunc clericus is used of Æthelheard and Alric, two ealdormen who died 'in the city of York' in 794 and 796 respectively. (fn. 38) King Alhred was driven from the city in 774 by his rebellious subjects (fn. 39) and in 790 King Osred was tonsured there, apparently by force, and then expelled from his kingdom in favour of the ruffian Æthelred Moll. (fn. 40) The following year Æthelred lured with false promises the sons of the saintly King Ælfwald from their sanctuary in the minster and drowned them in Wonwaldremere. (fn. 41) In 796 Æthelred met a violent and well-deserved end elsewhere, (fn. 42) and Osbald, patricius, was elected to the throne 'by certain principes of that people'. Nevertheless this new-comer ruled only 27 days before being driven out to Lindisfarne whence he fled to the Picts: he was succeeded by Eardwulf, who was duly consecrated at York 'at the altar of St. Paul in the church of St. Peter'. (fn. 43)
It seems unlikely that these revolutions and counter-revolutions were conducted by regular assemblies of witan: the phraseology of Symeon suggests rather the violent exploits of factions organized by partisan magnates in York. There is no evidence that these struggles exerted catastrophic effects upon the life of the city, and it seems to have suffered much more extensively from two disastrous accidental fires. In that of April 741 the minster was involved, (fn. 44) while in 764 the chronicler groups York with London, Doncaster, and other places, repentino igne vastatae. (fn. 45)
The achievement of 8th-century York has little connexion with these bald records of revolution and disaster, though the work of Archbishop Egbert, founder of the great school and library, cannot have been unconnected with the fact that he was brother to a king. For once in the troubled history of Northumbria, wealth, rank, opportunities, and character combined to permit a constructive and lasting personal achievement. The work of Wilfrid cannot be regarded as more than preparatory; the rise of York as a centre of Christian learning must largely be ascribed to this prince-bishop, who probably studied under Bede and certainly maintained close relations with that great scholar. From the early years of Egbert, York replaced Jarrow as the literary and educational focus of Northumbria. The beginnings of the school lay in the routine instruction given by Egbert to the clerks of his church but a 9th-century life of Alcuin shows that this instruction was extended in Æthelberht's time to the sons of noblemen. (fn. 46) The orderly character of Egbert's instruction is expressed in his Dialogus Ecclesiasticae Institutions, (fn. 47) an epitome of ecclesiastical law in the form of replies to questions by a pupil to a master. His other two works, the Penitential (fn. 48) and the Pontifical, (fn. 49) doubtless represent the subject-matter of the technical training afforded by Egbert to his clerks.
Quite early in the history of the school, the precise location of which is unknown, the archbishop assigned much of the teaching to his kinsman Æthelberht, to whom the formation of the great library was primarily due. Alcuin's Carmen de Pontificibus et Sanctis Ecclesiae Eboracensis (fn. 50) provides a remarkable account of the contents of this library, (fn. 51) but the list of forty specimen-authors has sometimes attracted too serious attention. Alcuin himself remarks that he has been obliged to omit many names which would have imposed an excessive strain upon his poetical powers. The list cannot necessarily be regarded as a representative selection, let alone as a catalogue of the library. Yet whatever the limitations of Alcuin's versified account, we may conclude with confidence that Egbert and Æthelberht accumulated one of the greatest libraries in the west and one without which the European renown of the school of York could not have been gained. Of all the tragedies which befell the north after the Norman Conquest, none was so irreparable as the destruction of this library by the fire arising from the hostilities of 1069. (fn. 52)
It has been customary to present the expansion of the School of York in the form of a biography of Alcuin. But it should be borne in mind not only that others were in fact its founders but that there was at this moment an unparalleled opportunity for the rapid development of an international world of scholarship and the greatness of York lay in the energy with which it grasped it. (fn. 53) Quite apart from his enlightened patronage, Charlemagne's political stabilization of Europe made possible, for the first time since the collapse of Rome, careers like that of Alcuin. Opportunities for travel, correspondence, and peaceful scholarship existed on a scale unknown since the Constantinian age. English prestige, and especially that of Northumbria, had been established by the missions to Germany and Frisia. In the Frankish Church and Empire, Englishmen like St. Willibrord, Alcuin's own kinsman, and St. Boniface, were playing leading roles both before Alcuin's birth and while he was still a child in York. Alongside the international world of clerks existed its counterpart, an international world of merchants. AngloSaxon coins became common in Frisia and Scandinavia, and Frisian merchants certainly stayed in 8th-century York. (fn. 54) From his French abbey Alcuin sent wine to Eanbald and his friends in York, and tin to make their church-bells. (fn. 55) The great religious houses themselves became involved in commerce: the monastery of St. Denis traded extensively in wine and was frequently visited by English merchants. (fn. 56)
Throughout the western Church more settled communications were developing a stronger corporate sense and a consciousness of united spiritual endeavour which are reflected in the international association of clergy for spiritual purposes. This factor appears with some clarity in the correspondence of Alcuin's friends; Boniface asks to be admitted to the spiritual fraternity of Monte Cassino, and Lullus, writing from the Continent, notifies the Archbishop of York of the names of deceased brethren to secure prayers for them. (fn. 57) This unitas fraternae dilectionis et societatis spiritualis was bound to develop its more strictly cultural concomitants. The great opportunity came to York in the form of an expanding Christendom wherein the fruits of Bede's genius could be distributed abroad in a manner impossible during his own lifetime.
At the same time scholars of the Carolingian Renaissance did not become so déraciné as to lose their invigorating national consciousness. Anglo-Saxons on the Continent were anxious to preserve contact with their compatriots and to read recent works from home. Alcuin's poem on the Church of York obtained wide circulation among Englishmen abroad, while his pupils at York sent him new poems on the miracles of St. Ninian of Whithorn. (fn. 58)
When we approach the life and writings of this outstanding figure of the movement, (fn. 59) we observe how little Alcuin the Carolingian courtier obliterated Alcuin the Northumbrian, the native and alumnus of York. (fn. 60) It should be recalled that he was born in the city about 730 and did not go to reside permanently abroad until 782. The directly formative influence upon his scholarship was that of Æthelberht, who, on succeeding Egbert as archbishop in 767, left to his favourite pupil the main teaching responsibilities in the school. When, thirteen years later, Æthelberht in turn resigned the archbishopric to another pupil, Eanbald, Alcuin also assumed the direction of the library. Meanwhile the continental experience and contacts of Alcuin had been steadily broadening. As befitted a kinsman of Willibrord, he enjoyed close relationships with the Frisian church and received Frisian pupils at York including the young Liudger, afterwards first Bishop of Münster, who, having studied under Alcuin at York, returned home to Utrecht about 773, bene instructus, habens secum copiam librorum. (fn. 61)
After his travels abroad and his sojourn at the court of Charlemagne, Alcuin returned to York for a brief visit in 786, and a prolonged one from 790 to 793. In a letter to King Offa written in 796 he remarks that the violence of the pagans and other disorders were preventing him from returning to the north, (fn. 62) and in this same year the emperor gave him the rich abbey of Tours. Throughout his stay abroad he maintained the vital link with his birthplace; at Tours he missed the splendid books of the York library and asked the emperor's permission to send some of his pueri to bring them back. (fn. 63)
Alcuin has often been said to have lacked constructive genius in his work and inspiration in his writings. But to seek primarily for intellectual pioneering and creative originality is to miss the true contribution of the School of York. It represented rather a phase of encyclopaedism and systemization, a humanizing and a dissemination of achievements already won by English piety and learning. Moreover, there are signs that Alcuin contemplated a post-encyclopaedist stage as necessary to cultural development both in York and in Europe. In a letter to Archbishop Eanbald (fn. 64) he advocates the division of the pupils at York into three groups, each with its proper teacher, of readers, singers, and scribes. That he should proffer this advice to Eanbald shows that this initial specialization—clearly thought of as preparing the way for mature professionalism— had not obtained during his own early days at York. (fn. 65)
By the time York trembled before the Viking incursions, its message had been handed on: the 8th century forms the apogee of its history in the annals of European culture. Such a concatenation of opportunities and personalities was never to recur, and by the time of Alcuin's death the contribution of York to the Frankish schools had substantially been made. Nevertheless the international tradition lingered for another halfcentury. Its vitality is attested almost on the eve of the Danish interruption by certain items in the correspondence of Lupus, Abbot of Ferrières, the great classicist of his day. In letters probably dated between 851 and 852 and addressed to Archbishop Wigmund and to Aldsige, abbas or vice-dominus of the Church of York, Lupus expresses a wish for the renewal of friendly intercourse between Ferrières and York. From Aldsige, Lupus solicits the loan of a manuscript of Quintilian, one of the Questions of St. Jerome on the Old and New Testaments, together with a similar work by Bede. (fn. 66)
Danish and Viking York
The delay of nearly 70 years between the first Danish raids (fn. 67) and the fall of York was partly due to the wise policy of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, whose able diplomacy kept the Danes from wholesale expansion. (fn. 68) Whether consciously or otherwise, the Frankish rulers hence repaid part of the debt they owed to the School of York. When the full weight of the onslaught fell at last upon Northumbria, the kingdom was torn by internal strife. King Osberht, after reigning eighteen years, had been rejected by the greater part of his people in favour of the thegn Ælla, yet he still retained a following. The causes of this fatal feud are not certainly known; the story that Ælla's main supporter, Beorn, whose wife had been dishonoured by Osberht, actually called in the Danes is almost certainly a late embellishment. (fn. 69) The great Danish army, headed by Ivar and Halfdan, sons of the viking Ragnar Lothbrok, (fn. 70) came out of East Anglia in 866, occupied York on 1 November (fn. 71) and ravaged the district. Belatedly uniting in the face of common danger, Osberht and Ælla attempted on 21 or 23 March 867 to retake the city. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle relates that 'they attacked the army at the city of York and broke into the city, and some of them got within, and there was an excessive slaughter made of the Northumbrians, some within, some without, and the kings (Osberht and Ælla) were both slain and the remainder made peace with the army'. (fn. 72)
This battle, one of the most momentous of local conflicts, is described by another virtual contemporary, Asser. He records that on the approach of the Northumbrians, the invaders hastily took flight and sought to defend themselves within the fortifications (moenia) of the city. In order to pursue them the besiegers broke down the wall (murum) which, says Asser, they could the more easily do because the city had not at that time stabilitos muros. (fn. 73) Precisely what is meant by these references to the walls is not clear. No record of the maintenance or extension of the Roman defences has been found and these attackers were presumably breaking down some insecure section of the Roman wall, or perhaps some Anglian stockading erected along part of the old enceinte. At the same time, Asser's phrase non enim tunc adhuc illa civitas firmos et stabilitos muros illis temporibus habebat strongly suggests that the Danish victors had subsequently undertaken serious defensive works between 868 and 893, (fn. 74) at which later date Asser was writing. The Danish 'castle' in the city, demolished by Athelstan in the next century, may have been part of these works.
Little is known of the Danish kingdom centred at York during the next half-century. The religious conversion proceeded with such rapidity as to support the assumption that Christianity was imposed by arbitrary fiat from above, as indeed it was by viking rulers in Denmark, Norway, and Russia. The long survival of pronounced pagan elements in the now complex society of York and Yorkshire is nevertheless well attested by the half-pagan, half-Christian, crosses at Middleton near Pickering (N.R.), (fn. 75) or, still later, by the presence of both Thor's hammer and the cross on a York coin of Sihtric (d. 927). Concerning the immediate fate of the see of York, we are told that Archbishop Wulfhere escaped at first to Addingham in Wharfedale. In 872 he fled to Mercia, but was recalled in 873, and, so far as is known, he continued in York until his death in 900. (fn. 76)
After the battle of York the Danes set up a puppet king, Egbert, and then left for the Midlands, but reappeared to sojourn for a year (868–9) in the city. The Northumbrians rose against Egbert in 872 and he and Archbishop Wulfhere took refuge with Burgred of Mercia. It was presumably to deal with this revolt that the Danes came back to Northumbria in 873, retiring to Torksey later in the year. Egbert died in 873 and was succeeded by Ricsige, who reigned until his death in 876. In this year Halfdan, who had taken up a position on the Tyne in 875, apportioned the lands of Northumbria among his followers who 'thenceforth proceeded to plough and to support themselves'. (fn. 77) The place-name evidence proves that Yorkshire was the area affected by this systematic settlement. (fn. 78) Halfdan himself soon afterwards left England and his successors are not certainly known. According to the anecdote first recorded in the anonymous Historia de Sancto Cuthberto, Abbot Eadred of Carlisle received an order from St. Cuthbert in a vision and as a result caused the whole army of Danes to redeem one Guthred, son of Harthacnut, whom the Danes had sold in servitude, and make him king. (fn. 79) Symeon dates these events in 883 and records Guthred's death in 894. (fn. 80) Æthelweard's chronicle, however, mentions the death on 24 August 895 of King Guthfrid and his burial in the minster. (fn. 81) Guthred and Guthfrid are variant forms of the same Old Norse name and there is little doubt that the same person is meant. In any case the rule of Christian Danish kings at York during the last two decades of the 9th century can scarcely be questioned.
The rising power of Wessex began to impinge on Danish Northumbria in the reign of Edward the Elder. The York Danes in 900 accepted as ruler Edward's exiled cousin Æthelwold, who soon afterwards left the kingdom and in 902 died in battle. (fn. 82) In 910 Edward destroyed a Northumbrian Danish army at Tettenhall (Staffs.), and killed no fewer than three of their kings. (fn. 83) The battle of Tettenhall probably weakened the power of the Northumbrian Danes and prevented them from putting up a successful resistance to the Norse invaders from Ireland. These Norsemen were now settling in north-western England, and early in 918 Æthelflæd, Edward the Elder's sister, received the allegiance of the men of York, who were probably led by Danes desiring support against this Norse threat from the west. Yet before she could extend effective protection to the north, Æthelflæd died, and in 919, or very shortly afterwards, (fn. 84) the Norse adventurer Rægnald, who for some years had been operating in northern Northumbria, stormed the city of York and established there a line of Norse kings. During his reign Rægnald gave nominal allegiance to Edward of Wessex and obtained recognition of his new kingdom. After his death Sihtric his successor made overtures to Edward's successor Athelstan and eventually married Athelstan's sister. Once again the settlement proved ephemeral, since in 927 Sihtric died, leaving Olaf, a son by a former wife, to rule at York.
During this period the relation between the York kings and their relatives in Dublin appears to have been maintained by lines of communication through the Norse-occupied areas of north-western England, where relics—both crosses and place-names—of a hybrid Norse-Irish culture have survived to substantiate the picture. (fn. 85) The erection by Edward of burhs at Chester and Runcorn had doubtless been aimed at breaking the main York-Dublin route. Under these circumstances it was natural that Guthfrith, king of the Irish Norsemen, should come over from Dublin to support his nephew Olaf Sihtricson.
Athelstan responded by invading Northumbria in force and driving Olaf to Ireland and Guthfrith to take refuge with the king of Scots. Yet before Guthfrith could be extradited, he escaped, collected a force of foreigners and laid siege to York. The townsmen, most of them Danes and Englishmen, probably combining restiveness under the rule of the pagan Norsemen with a healthy fear of Athelstan's vengeance, could be induced to admit Guthfrith neither by entreaties nor by threats. (fn. 86) After further melodramatic adventures Guthfrith came as a suppliant to the court of Athelstan, who magnanimously sent him back to Ireland. In the meantime Athelstan had levelled a Danish castle (castrum) in the city and divided the very considerable booty he had found there amongst his men. (fn. 87)
These events of 927 are of great significance in the history of York. For the first time since the withdrawal of Roman power, it had fallen under the actual control of a ruler of southern Britain, whose overlordship was recognized by virtually the whole island and who was linked by marriages and alliances with the principal continental states. The links which bound York and Northumbria to the south were the links which bound their new Anglo-Scandinavian society to the Christian civilization of western Europe. While he was at York in 936, for example, Athelstan received a Frankish embassy inviting Louis, son of Charles the Simple, to return as king of the Franks. (fn. 88) As Athelstan holds his court at York—the only northern place at which he is recorded to have held it in time of peace—he symbolizes an even greater movement of unification than those represented in later ages by William of Normandy and by the Tudors. Even the viking world, the profound disunity and political inadequacy of which had brought Athelstan to York, stood for the moment subdued.
The sequel to the battle of 'Brunanburh' (937) demonstrated the somewhat precarious and personal nature of Athelstan's composite state. In 939 or very early in 940, (fn. 89) after the succession of his youthful brother Edmund, a new viking attempt achieved dangerous if short-lived success: the Northumbrians, 'false to their plighted troth' as the chronicle puts it, chose Olaf Guthfrithson from Ireland as their king. (fn. 90)
This formidable intruder, having been freely received at York, proceeded to press south; a sharp campaign in the east Midlands was followed by the treaty of Leicester, which brought the York kingdom to the boundary of Watling Street. (fn. 91) Guthfrithson died in 941 and was succeeded by a weaker leader, Olaf Sihtricson, who had just reappeared from his exile in Ireland to join his cousin at York. By the following year Sihtricson had lost the north Midlands to Edmund; the York Danes, no doubt angered by his failure, then replaced him by Guthfrithson's brother Rægnald. As the two contended for possession of the north, Edmund seized his opportunity. He expelled both of them, possibly killing Rægnald, (fn. 92) and for the remainder of his short reign subjected York to his rule.
While, however, the old-established Danes of the Midlands spontaneously hailed Edmund as a liberator, the new Norse aristocracy of the York area seems to have remained sufficiently influential to render precarious the hold of any southern ruler. During these events and the equally dramatic ones which followed, the townsmen of York seem to have been split among factions. A highly heterogeneous body, many members of which spent their time campaigning, they may indeed have failed to develop the incipient communal sense of Anglian times. The leading roles in York were now played by Archbishop Wulfstan (c. 931–56) and his adherents among the northern magnates. (fn. 93) This strange prelate soon adopted a Northumbrian or even Scandinavian standpoint. Edmund's brother and successor Eadred was at first (947) recognized by Wulfstan and the Northumbrian witan, (fn. 94) but within a year the appearance of yet another adventurer gave the northern kingdom a fresh, though short and insecure, lease of life.
Eric Bloodaxe, the exiled son of Harold Fairhair, had already won a great reputation as a sea-rover when he descended upon Northumbria. The magnates at York at once 'broke both pledge and also oaths' (fn. 95) to acclaim him, and Eadred invaded Yorkshire with a considerable force. After some skirmishing the nerves of Eric's supporters apparently failed and he was abandoned by the Northumbrians. After his expulsion there follow some exceptionally obscure years including, in 948 or 949, the return of Olaf Sihtricson from Dublin to York. About 952 Eric Bloodaxe returned and ruled for another two years in defiance of both the Dublin Norsemen and King Eadred. He was expelled in 954 and his subsequent murder on Stainmore brings to an end the history of the Norse kingdom of York. (fn. 96)
The court society surrounding Eric Bloodaxe in 10th-century viking York has been celebrated in one of the more authentic portions of Icelandic saga-literature. The 13thcentury Saga of Egil Skallagrimsson (fn. 97) is based upon poems of Egil, an Icelander who visited York probably about 948, and composed a poem about the circumstances of his visit, at Eric's court. The saga wrongly places this occasion in Athelstan's reign instead of Eadred's. In another poem, composed at a later date in Iceland, the marshy character of York and its countryside is vividly described in the phrase 'York town, the dank demesne'. (fn. 98)
The other side of viking life is also revealed in this poem. Egil rides south, accompanied by one of Eric's courtiers to renew a former acquaintance with Athelstan. Having arrived, the two 'parted with the greatest loving kindness. Arinbiorn [the courtier] fared home to York, to Eric the king. But Egil's companions and his shipmates had there [i.e. in York] good peace and sold their wares under Arinbiorn's safe keeping. But when the winter wore, they flitted themselves south to England and fared to find Egil.' (fn. 99) Such a passage confirms what we know from so many sources: that alongside the melodramatic entrances and exits of viking adventurers there passed also the viking in his role of trader. Egil's merchant-companions stand within half a century of a writer who will comment on the phenomenal growth and wealth of Anglo-Scandinavian York. (fn. 100) This process must indeed have advanced steadily throughout the unsettled years of the Danish and Norse kings. It is reflected not only in the sagas but in the Norse coinage with its almost reassuring suggestion of economic continuity. (fn. 101)
The achievement of the viking age takes a very different form from that of its predecessor. The glory of Anglian York had lain in ecclesiastical learning and art, a sphere in which the new Scandinavian settlers had little fresh contribution to make. Nevertheless they did not come as empty-handed destroyers. They initiated an intenser phase of economic enterprise which gave York a place on an even larger map than that of Alcuin's world and contributed more than the Church of York to the development of a genuine urban community. (fn. 102) The names of the city streets today are a reminder of how pervasive their culture was. (fn. 103) With the Scandinavian conquest the lay community made its peculiar contribution to the life of the city. Ruler and priest now found in the trader an equal partner. York stood complete in its triple role of court, minster, and market, the role it was to play throughout the centuries of its greatness.
The Rule of the Earls
From the downfall of the last Norse adventurer until the Conquest, effective power over Yorkshire, and frequently over all Northumbria, was wielded by a succession of earls whose government was principally exercised from York. Their status may be regarded as intermediate between that of the old Northumbrian kings and that of the lesser contemporary earls through whom a strong ruler like Cnut maintained contact with the southern and midland shires. (fn. 104)
After the expulsion of Eric Bloodaxe, Northumbria was committed by the king to Earl Oswulf, but by 963 the earldom had been divided and York with the districts dependent on it given to Oslac. (fn. 105) One authority states that this division was made at a council held by King Edgar at York. (fn. 106) Oslac, 'the famous earl', was banished in 975 (fn. 107) and, by 979 at any rate, was succeeded by Thored; (fn. 108) he, in turn, was succeeded by Ælfhelm, who attests charters from 993. (fn. 109) Ælfhelm was murdered and his two sons blinded, apparently by King Ethelred's orders, in 1006. (fn. 110) After his death, the earldom of Yorkshire was again united with that of Northumbria north of the Tyne. In this, Oswulf had been followed by Eadwulf, and Eadwulf by Waltheof, whose only signature occurs in 994. According to a tract known as the De obsessione Dunelmi, (fn. 111) his son Uhtred rescued Durham from an attack by Malcolm of Scotland and this resulted in Ethelred's deposing Waltheof in his son's favour and giving the earldom of York also to Uhtred. This text has much legendary matter in it and there is evidence that Uhtred held the earldom of northern Northumbria a few years before he received that of York. Yet it is true that Uhtred won a victory against the Scots in 1006 (fn. 112) and that he held the whole of Northumbria after Ælfhelm's death. Northern sources agree in saying that he received Ethelred's daughter in marriage.
Further details of Uhtred's career are given in the tract mentioned above and illustrate the irregular customs and social relationships of the period. He had first espoused a daughter of Ealdhun, Bishop of Durham, but, once secure in the king's favour, had returned the lady to her father together with the episcopal lands which had formed her dowry. He next married the daughter of a rich citizen, who relied upon him to dispose of his private enemy, another wealthy (praedives) and noble citizen named Thurbrand the Hold. (fn. 113) This feud, which was to affect four generations, is more likely to relate to citizens of York than of Durham: 'Thurbrand's house' figures later in the century as a prominent and traditional York landmark. Unluckily for himself, Uhtred failed to kill Thurbrand and his second marriage, perhaps on this account, was also rescinded. He then married Ælfgifu, daughter of King Ethelred himself. The second marriage remains the most interesting, as showing the lack of barriers between an earl of ancient family and the wealthy citizen class.
The next political crisis sprang from the great invasion begun in 1013 by King Swein and his son Cnut. (fn. 114) Earl Uhtred, having submitted to Swein sine cunctatione, thought it advisable by 1016 to side with Edmund Ironside against Cnut, yet the choice proved unfortunate. While the allies inadvisedly ravaged Mercia, Cnut marched by the eastern route to York. Uhtred seeing his capital threatened, hastily returned, submitted, and gave hostages. Nevertheless Cnut decided upon his removal. As he came to pay homage at a place called 'Wiheal', his old enemy Thurbrand was allowed to murder him and certain of his companions. (fn. 115) His earldom was then bestowed upon Cnut's brother-inlaw Eric, who had previously governed Norway under Swein. The old feud continued on its dismal course. Ealdred killed his father's murderer Thurbrand, only to be treacherously ambushed and slain 'in a wood called Risewde' by Thurbrand's son Carl, with whom he had been ostensibly reconciled. He was succeeded (c. 1038) by his brother Eadwulf, who is said cryptically by Symeon to have been 'exalted by pride' and to have attacked 'the Britons'. In 1041 Eadwulf was murdered at Harthacnut's court, according to northern authorities by Siward Digera, who then succeeded to his earldom. From this date Siward held the whole of Northumbria. He may already have been in possession of that of York, for Eric last appears in 1023 and the scanty records for this period have no mention of an earl of York between 1023 and 1041.
A man of obscure origins, to which fabulous stories, including descent from a white bear, were soon appended, (fn. 116) Siward, the most august ruler of Anglo-Scandinavian York, had probably come to England with Cnut. He married Ælflæd, daughter of Earl Ealdred and niece of his own former enemy Eadwulf. (fn. 117) Governing all Northumbria and holding the earldoms of Huntingdon and perhaps Northampton, (fn. 118) he became, along with Earl Leofric and Ralph the Staller, the balancing force used by the Confessor against the overmighty house of Godwine. At York Siward is commemorated as founder of the church of St. Olave where, in 1055, he was buried. (fn. 119) The ancient name Earlsburgh, associated with the immediate vicinity of the church, (fn. 120) strongly suggests that the earls had their fortified residence here outside the walls and that Siward's foundation thus lay adjacent to his own house.
Tostig, the younger son of Godwine, was appointed to the Northumbrian earldom on Siward's death in 1055. His unhappy rule culminated in the rising of 1065. Tostig, a West Saxon with no local ties and politically inept, roused the northerners not only by his alien birth and background but by abusing the law to further personal feuds, (fn. 121) by imposing heavy and unjust taxation, (fn. 122) by deserting York for long periods in favour of the king's court, (fn. 123) and, it was said, though perhaps unjustly, by illegal exactions from the Church. (fn. 124) Copsi, a local thegn later notorious for his part in the events of 1066, acted as his deputy with the title of earl. (fn. 125) Version D of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that the rising took place 'on Eoforwicscire and on Nordhymbralande togædere'. At York there gathered a gemot of 200 thegns, who deposed and outlawed Tostig in his absence, passed over Waltheof the son of Siward, and elected Morcar the brother of Edwin, Earl of Mercia. Such a choice was perhaps the only way out of their own mutual jealousies; it may well have been influenced by distaste for another strong ruler in the Siward tradition.
The York gemot and its supporters hastened to wreak vengeance on Tostig. On the first day of the meeting (3 October) two of his Danish house-carls, Amund and Reaven suart, were caught in flight and put to death outside the walls of the city. The following day Tostig's armoury and treasury were plundered and 200 of his followers on the north side of the Humber massacred. (fn. 126) The inhabitants of York no doubt played an active part in these events, which seem to represent spontaneous mob-action rather than the considered plan of the thegns. (fn. 127) The sequel was transacted elsewhere. Morcar marched to Northampton, sending back looted treasure to his base at York. (fn. 128) Earl Harold Godwinson, after repeated attempts to reconcile the parties, restrained the king from civil war, confirmed the acts of the York gemot, and acquiesced in the banishment of his brother Tostig.
King Harold visited York early in his reign (fn. 129) and it was one of the 44 minting-places from which his coinage was issued. (fn. 130) Nevertheless, events were soon to prove the insecurity of his following in these parts. By September 1066 Tostig had reappeared, accompanied this time by Harold Hardrada of Norway, and on the twentieth of the month defeated Earl Morcar and his brother Edwin at Fulford. The citizens of York immediately submitted to Tostig and Hardrada but the city was not occupied. Five days later both men were killed at Stamford Bridge. William of Normandy landed at Pevensey on 28 September and on 13 October Harold of England fought his last battle. It ended an era as decisively for Anglo-Scandinavian York as for those regions which first felt the iron hand of the Conqueror.
The picture of ecclesiastical life and culture at York in the Scandinavian era must be to some extent falsified by the holocaust of books and other written records which took place in 1069. Nevertheless there is no evidence to suggest that York remained an outstanding centre of religion and learning. The ecclesiastical structure had been badly shaken by the Danish invasions, which imperilled the supply of clergy to the northern churches and placed their estates in alien hands, whence neither Alfred nor his successors could wrest them. (fn. 131) When new spiritual impulses came from abroad, they came from Italy and France, not unnaturally finding their earliest response in southern England. For Benedictine monasticism the northern clergy stood as yet unprepared and its triumphs among them were deferred until after the Norman Conquest. The Church and School of York suffered in addition from the non-residence of archbishops, since from the accession of St. Oswald in 972 until 1016, and again for a while in 1040, (fn. 132) the occupants of the see were also permitted to hold that of Worcester. They were frequently active at court and elsewhere on secular business; their very lack of northern biographers seem to tell its own story. (fn. 133)
Historians have denied, and with good reason, the likelihood of any prolonged breach in the continuity of the cathedral school throughout an age which saw no more of political chaos than the age of Alcuin itself. The maintenance of an institution now so clearly enjoined by canon law cannot have been neglected at York during the 10th and earlier 11th centuries. (fn. 134) The only certain survivor of the cathedral library is the manuscript of the Four Gospels. (fn. 135) The volume includes a group of several documents which, though of inestimable value for contemporary northern history, (fn. 136) gives very little in formation about the city of York. The gospel text itself was written shortly before, or shortly after, the year 1000 (fn. 137) in a hand with some English characteristics, but one which might have been penned by any clerk brought up in a Carolingian school. Some Old English additions were almost certainly made in York. The manuscript may thus be an actual York descendant of the Alcuin tradition, showing a strong local continuity or, more probably, York may have at this late date imported from Tours (whither Alcuin had so long ago taken the York style) a manuscript containing the results of the Alcuinian revision of the scriptures. During the Middle Ages, and perhaps even in the 11th century, this was the book upon which the newly elected deans, officers, and canons of the Church of York took their oaths. (fn. 138) A 9th-century manuscript of Alcuin's letters in the British Museum (fn. 139) is usually assigned a York provenance. It is in a continental Carolingian minuscule, but was probably in England by the 11th century, when someone scribbled Old English in it. The York connexion rests solely on the word Ebor' written in a 15th-century hand at the top of the last leaf. Some of the manuscripts containing works of Archbishop Wulfstan may have been produced at York; one includes the only extant text of the 'Laws of the Northumbrian Priests', which may have been drawn up in Wulfstan's archiepiscopate. (fn. 140) There are also good reasons for regarding the northern recension of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as a York production. (fn. 141)
The Norman Conquest
Despite the submission of Edwin and Morcar, the Conqueror exercised little authority north of the Humber during 1067, and in this confused period no organized body of Norman troops is likely to have operated in the north. Between December 1067 and March 1068 while William busied himself in suppressing the west country, the first movement of revolt in the north was coming to a head. That York was the centre of this movement, as indeed of its successors, is made explicit by the chroniclers. The Norman, Ordericus, writes: Eboracensis civitas ardentissime furit, quam sanctitas pontificis sui [i.e. Archbishop Ealdred] sedare nequit, (fn. 142) while William of Malmesbury from his very different viewpoint produces a 'noble panegyric' on the role of York as the refuge of rebellions, whence patriots so frequently defied the tyrant. (fn. 143)
The first rising, which took place in the summer and autumn of 1068, came to nothing: Edwin and Morcar let fall the northern cause and York had no alternative to submission when William marched rapidly north from Nottingham. On hearing of his approach, the citizens sent out an embassy with the keys of the city and with hostages; and these the king accepted. (fn. 144) Before leaving the city he built a castle, (fn. 145) and set 500 picked knights to guard it. (fn. 146)
The subsequent months speedily justified William's distrust of the city. When in January 1069 the men of Durham massacred a force of Normans, those of York followed suit with remarkable alacrity and slew one of the commanders at York with many of his men. (fn. 147) This northern rising initiated a formidable alignment against the Conqueror. Its leaders, Merleswein—an important figure in the Domesday account of York—and Cospatric, had abandoned the compromised earls, and had taken up as their candidate the Wessex prince Edgar Ætheling. Welcomed at York by the rebellious citizens, variously called 'portmen' and 'burhmenn' by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, (fn. 148) Edgar and his supporters began an attack on the castle, whence the sheriff William Malet reported to the king that in default of assistance he would be driven to surrender. With astonishing speed William returned to York and slew, captured, and scattered his adversaries. While the Ætheling fled to Scotland, the king 'harried the burh' and, according to one account, dishonoured the minster, perhaps disregarding its rights of sanctuary. (fn. 149) He now built a second castle (fn. 150) and shortly marched south to keep Easter at Winchester. Very soon after his departure a stubborn body of northern rebels reassembled to attack both the York castles, but were defeated 'in a certain valley' by William FitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford, whom the king had left in charge. (fn. 151)
Meanwhile, a Danish invasion fleet entered the Humber early in September 1069 and was joined by the old leaders, Edgar, Cospatric, Merleswein, and Archil. In addition, Waltheof, the son of Siward, abandoning both his understanding with the Conqueror and his earldom of Northampton, hastened northward to join the movement. It was at this moment (fn. 152) that Archbishop Ealdred died. During these latter years he is said to have striven to maintain the new régime while resisting the oppressions of the sheriff. (fn. 153) Either just before or soon after his death the invading host arrived, apparently on foot, before the city. They were at once acclaimed by a population which had learned nothing from the king's clemency. Faced by the approach of this powerful assembly of forces, the Normans employed their favourite weapon; they fired the houses near the castle to prevent their use as débris for filling the ditches. The flames spread rapidly, consuming a great part of the city and embracing the minster itself. Two days later when, according to Florence of Worcester, (fn. 154) the city was still burning yet not wholly destroyed, the invaders occupied the area and encountered an imprudent sally by the Normans. In after-years northern skalds and English chroniclers recounted the feats of Waltheof, who stood by the gate as the enemy crowded out, decapitating one after another with mighty blows of his battle-axe. (fn. 155) The slaughter ended with the capture of both Norman commanders, together with the sheriff's wife and two children. (fn. 156) The subsequent destruction of both castles has not unreasonably been regarded as an emotional gesture; it indicates that the northern world to which York still clung was making no serious attempt to learn the new modes of warfare.
The king, 'moved by both grief and wrath', (fn. 157) hastened north once more with a force of cavalry and, finding the Danes plundering Lindsey, forced them to re-cross the Humber in confusion. He then returned to consolidate his line of communication in the Midlands. It was presently rumoured that the Danes intended to reassemble and keep Christmas at York, (fn. 158) a fact which, like certain subsequent events, indicates that the city had not undergone the degree of destruction implied by the more lurid phrases of the chroniclers.
Whatever the intention of the Danes, the king determined to forestall them and, though checked at Castleford in his first attempts to cross the Aire, directed his march upon York by some more circuitous route through the Pennine area. (fn. 159) During the delay at Castleford, he may have been negotiating with the Danes, whose speedy withdrawal from the York neighbourhood, of which the king was apprized before reaching his objective, (fn. 160) suggests a prior agreement. Certainly the story that he regained the city after a battle appears the pure fabrication of a late chronicler. (fn. 161) Leaving a force to repair the castles, William mercilessly depopulated a large area of Yorkshire by fire and sword. When he returned to keep Christmas and to wear his crown at York, he had at last broken the Northumbrian spirit of resistance. Five years passed before the Danes again intervened in the affairs of northern England; on this occasion their reception proved very different and their achievement utterly trivial. The armada which then appeared in the Humber consisted of 200 ships and was led by Cnut, son of King Swein, and by an earl named Haakon. There is no evidence that they received local support, though some of them succeeded in reaching York upon a plundering expedition, breaking into the minster and stealing its treasure. 'But', says the chronicle, 'all died that were of that counsel, namely the son of Earl Haakon and many others with him.' (fn. 162) If the York men needed one more proof of the bankruptcy of the old Scandinavian partnership, it was here demonstrated.
The City in the 11th Century
A remarkable testimony to the size and prosperity of York in the age preceding the Conquest appears in a life of St. Oswald supposedly written c. 995–1005 by a monk of Ramsey. He describes the city as the metropolis of the Northumbrians, rejoicing in a population of 30,000 not counting children and youths. Once, he says, presumably referring to the Roman city, erat nobiliter aedificata et firmiter muris constructa quae nunc est dimissa vetustati; now, too, it was a city quae inedicibiliter est repleta et mercatorum gazis locupleta[ta] qui undique adveniunt maxime ex Danorum gente. (fn. 163) The obvious overestimate of population in no way detracts from the significance of this tribute to the size, economic vitality, and ancient traditions of the city.
In many respects, moreover, this account receives support from the Domesday evidence concerning the state of York at the date of Edward the Confessor's death, (fn. 164) even though that evidence raises many problems of interpretation. This applies particularly to any attempt to extract from it a more sober estimate of population than the 30,000 adults of St. Oswald's biographer. Domesday tells us that in King Edward's time there were in the archbishop's 'shire' 189 inhabited mansiones, and in five of the six 'shires' belonging to the king—the sixth being 'wasted in the castles' by 1086–1,418 inhabited mansiones. Assuming the 'shire' wasted by Norman castle-building to have been roughly the same size as the archbishop's, there would thus have been about 1,800 mansiones in York in 1066. A mansio might contain more than one house (fn. 165) and, bearing in mind the economic prosperity of the city and the extensive area of 'suburban' settlement, it seems dangerous in estimating the number of inhabitants to multiply the mansiones by any figure less than 5 or 6. Thus a population of 8,000-9,000 in 1066 seems a reasonable conjecture from the Domesday evidence. (fn. 166)
A second problem of Domesday interpretation arises from the passage which tells us that there are 84 carucates of land 'in the geld of the city', each carucate paying the same geld as a mansio within the city and performing 'the three works of the king'—bridgebuilding, maintaining fortifications, and military service. Perhaps there is implied here the contrast between an extensive civitas and a smaller fortified burh within it, which is paralleled at Nottingham, Colchester, Leicester, and Gloucester. (fn. 167) At the same time the location of these carucates is ambiguously described. Six of them are said to belong to the archbishop, to render their farm to him, and to be cultivated by the citizens in parcels (per loca) and not built upon—a phrase which implies, possibly, fairly close proximity to the city. The remainder, however, seem most likely to be found in the list, which follows closely on this passage, of holdings in some ten villages, most of them in Bulmer Wapentake and very near the city. These village holdings were in the tenure of a variety of lords, and total 78½ carucates—almost exactly the sum required. Presumably this is a passage pointing back to some arrangement for the garrisoning of York and the maintenance of its fortifications of which no other trace remains.
Thirdly, the Domesday 'shires' present complicated problems, and any discussion (fn. 168) of them must take account of two further documents. The first is, apparently, the reply of jurors to an inquest made c. 1080 into the estate, privileges, and sources of income of Archbishop Thomas I; (fn. 169) and the other an elaborate account of the privileges of the archbishop and canons in 1106, preserved in the White Book of Southwell (fn. 170) and closely connected with Henry I's charter to the minster. (fn. 171) These sources show that one of the 'shires' of York was fully the archbishop's: in it he had 'whatever the king had in his shires' and from it he received 'full custom'—i.e. the revenue from pleas and toll and 'husgable'. (fn. 172) Over and above, however, the archbishop had a third of the issues of another 'shire' which embraced Walmgate, Fishergate, and Clementhorpe, and extended north to Layerthorpe and even Monkgate according to the verdict of 1080. It is clear from the inquests of 1080 and 1106 that this area constituted a large shipping and marketing area straggling far outside the fortified town along the Ouse and the Foss, an area characteristic of the Anglo-Danish world of commerce. Here viking ships unloaded white fish from the Hebrides and merchants brought grain from the East Riding. The prominence assumed by tolls among the issues of the city to be divided between king and archbishop is testimony to the busy economic life which sustained the large population of pre-Conquest York.
The purpose of these various documents, including Domesday, was mainly to list claims to revenue and for that reason they stress the fiscal character of the 'shires' of York. But the shires had in all probability more than a fiscal character. The suggestion is that they were each compact and fairly well demarcated areas; they had their counterpart in other 11th-century towns: the 'ferlings' (literally quarters) of Huntingdon (fn. 173) and the custodiae of Cambridge and Stamford. (fn. 174) This last term, with its distinctly military and police connotations, probably denotes divisions approximating in function to the York wards of later times. The apprehension of wrongdoers, the maintenance of watch and ward, and the provision of such 'works of the king' as maintaining the city's defences may well have been among the functions which the division of the city into 'shires' was designed to achieve. More than this neither direct evidence nor analogy will explain.
There remains the problem of the location of the 'shires', a matter upon which there is little evidence. The trading area to the east of the city has already been noticed; possibly the 'Marketshire' of later records (including appropriately Pavement and The Shambles) preserves the outline of another early division; (fn. 175) and Domesday tells us that one shire was 'wasted in the castles'—suggesting, if the plural is used deliberately, a 'shire' which bestrode the Ouse. For the rest of the 'shires' only the location of that of the archbishop can be inferred with any certainty. (fn. 176) There seems no ground for identifying it with Bishophill, for this form of the place-name does not appear until 1361 (the earlier form is Bichehill) (fn. 177) and the later association of the archbishop and the metropolitan church with this area is slight. It is, therefore, very unlikely that such a liberty would vanish after the Conquest without trace. Within the archbishop's shire in 1066, moreover, lay his curia and the houses of the canons, as well as 189 ordinary messuages. This statement makes it certain that the 'shire', or a part of it, lay near the minster; and the likelihood is that it corresponded, though perhaps roughly, with the area which down to the 19th century constituted the nucleus of the liberty of the chapter. It comprised most of Petergate from Bootham Bar, the minster end of Stonegate, the west side of Grape Lane, the old Deanery, the northern half of Goodramgate, and part of Aldwark; on north and west it was bounded by the city wall. In the 18th century this area contained about 190 houses, (fn. 178) which suggests that it was of appropriate size to contain the 189 messuages of Domesday. This identification, furthermore, explains why no archbishop's 'shire' is to be found in the post-Domesday records. It was precisely this area which, by the reforms of Archbishop Thomas towards the end of the 11th century, became the liberty of the chapter.
Finally, among the phenomena characteristic of pre-Conquest York, some mention must be made of the four judices, who enjoyed custom beyond the normal privileges of a burgess and to whom King William in 1086 had 'granted this by his writ as long as they live'. Evidence from other Domesday towns where these officers are recorded shows them to have been the 'lawmen' peculiar to the Danelaw; and at Chester they are called, as at York, judices. The number mentioned in these other towns also suggests that the four left at York after the disasters of the Conquest were the survivors of an original body of twelve. (fn. 179) The evidence as a whole suggests that the 'lawmen' constituted a corporate group of judges possessing sake and soke over their men and houses, a privilege and a source of income described in the York Domesday as 'custom' (consuetudo) conferred on them by King William's writ. The office at York, as in other Danelaw towns, was filled neither by royal appointment nor by election on the part of the citizens. The verdict of 1106 implies its hereditary character, for it mentions Ulvet filium fornonis hereditario jure lagaman civitatis quod latine potest dici legis lator vel judex. (fn. 180) By that time, however, there is no evidence that the lawmen were playing a significant part in the affairs of the city, and thereafter they drop out of the records.
At the same time their presence in the city indicates that a borough court existed at York before the Norman Conquest, though its scope and character in a trading metropolis is unlikely to have been identical with those of a hundred or a wapentake court. There seems, however, every reason to regard York as one of those 'advanced' eastern seaports where the special needs of a group of freemen-traders had given rise to courts and legal customs of a self-conscious and increasingly distinctive character. (fn. 181) Epochmaking as the Norman Conquest was, the economic and to some extent the institutional development of York, both before and after 1066, unfolded within the larger pattern of the Scandinavian world.
If this much light is thrown by Domesday upon pre-Conquest York, it also reflects, despite the fact that it was compiled after more than a decade of peace, the slow rate of recovery of the city after the disasters of 1068-9. (fn. 182) One of its seven 'shires', as has been pointed out, had been 'wasted' in castle-building before 1086. The Foss had been dammed to produce the pool which defended the eastern side of York until recent times, destroying in the process two mills and fully a carucate of arable, meadow and garden land. In the archbishop's 'shire' the 189 inhabited messuages of 1066 had shrunk to 100; and in the king's shires 540 messuages were so uninhabited that they rendered nothing and 400 more were, perhaps partially or periodically, uninhabited so that they rendered a penny a year or less. It is hard to suppose in the light of this evidence that the population of York in 1086 can have amounted to more than a half of what it had been twenty years earlier. The immediate environs were no less affected: about half of the carucates in the adjoining villages which gelded with the city were recorded in 1086 as 'waste'.
At the same time new interests had been established in the city. While nearly all the burgesses mentioned by name bore, as we should expect, Scandinavian names (as did the moneyers of the period from 1066 to 1100), (fn. 183) they had been joined in York by the followers of the Conqueror. Frenchmen (francigenae) in 1086 occupied 145 messuages, and a number of Norman lords had acquired proprietary rights in the city. The Count of Mortain, for example, held 14 messuages, two stalls in The Shambles, and the church of St. Crux; and his tenants were Sonulf the priest, Morulf, Sterre, Esnarre, Gamel, Archil, (fn. 184) Leuing the priest, Turfin, and Ligulf. Others of King William's Normans with similar holdings were Niel Fossard, William Percy, Hugh son of Baldric, Robert Malet, Erneis de Burun, Osbert de Archis, and Richard son of Erfast. (fn. 185)
Despite the troubles which had befallen York, the Conqueror yet increased its burdens, for Domesday tells us that 'in the time of King Edward the city was worth to the king £53; now £100 by weight'; and for over a century the annual farm of York remained fixed at this latter figure. None the less, the Domesday evidence is equally categorical in revealing a once-prosperous community now scarred by war and defence works. This picture, moreover, harmonizes with the tradition set down later by the historians of the Church of York. When Thomas of Bayeux came to York in 1072 to assume control of his diocese he found everything depopulated and wasted, the church itself burnt and destroyed, and only three canons left in the city, the rest being 'either dead or exiled by fear and desolation'. Thomas set to work to repair the damage he found. He gathered together the surviving canons, appointed others, and formed them into an organized community. (fn. 186) In 1086, however, the church had developed little beyond this initial stage: to the Domesday clerks the canons were merely sub-tenants in the archbishop's fee, even though, like a few laymen, they drew certain consuetudines from their properties. Around 1090 (fn. 187) all this was changed, and this date perhaps indicates a real beginning of the city's revival after the devastation which followed the Conquest. About this time the prebendal system was instituted, the chapter was organized as a body to serve and control the church, and the whole constitution of the secular cathedral began to assume the form it retained for the rest of the Middle Ages. (fn. 188) About the same time the archbishop's 'shire' gave place to the liberty of the chapter, the archbishop retaining his rights only in a strip of land bounded by the north-west angle of the city walls and containing his palace. Signs of this change are evident in a writ of William Rufus, issued 1089–95, in which the king gave land 'before the church of St. Peter' not to the archbishop but to the canons, merely notifying the archbishop of the gift in the writ ordering the sheriff to deliver seisin to the canons. (fn. 189) By the time of the inquest of 1106 the dignity of the canons and their enjoyment of 'all ... free honourable customs' in their lands and houses is clear.
Reconstituting the staff of the cathedral church was not the only contribution made by Thomas of Bayeux to the restoration of the city: he repaired and perhaps rebuilt a large part of the minster. (fn. 190) His work, moreover, was accompanied by that of others. The gift of Count Alan of Brittany before 1086 of St. Olave's Church and 4 acres near by to monks driven out of Whitby and Lastingham marks the first beginnings of what was to be the richest and most influential Benedictine house in the north of England, St. Mary's Abbey. Though the abbey fails to find mention in the Domesday survey of York, its site was enlarged in 1088 by William Rufus, who is said to have laid the foundation stone of its church in person in 1089. (fn. 191) He also granted it a charter (fn. 192) which, after enumerating various lands granted to the abbey by the Conqueror and others, concludes by conceding to it a wide range of pleas. If the sheriff and his officers had a complaint against the men of St. Mary's, they were to come to the gate of the abbey at an appointed day and there receive justice; at the same time the men of St. Mary's were exempted from attendance at the courts of counties, wapentakes, and the like—an exemption presumably applying to the ordinary courts of the city. Thus, contemporaneously with the establishment of the liberty of the chapter, there was created a second great judicial enclave which was to play a major part not only in ecclesiastical but in municipal history.
From this same period dates the effective foundation by Ralph Paynell of the alien Benedictine priory of Holy Trinity, which, in its ample precinct on the east side of Micklegate, was to take second place after St. Mary's among the monastic houses of York. Finally, St. Leonard's Hospital (fn. 193) was expanded, like St. Mary's, under royal patronage. The Conqueror himself confirmed its ancient endowments, and Rufus reaffirmed his father's intention. Later accounts allege that the Conqueror also extended the site of the hospital and that Rufus moved it to other royal lands and built its church. Whatever the validity of these 13th-century traditions, there can be little doubt that St. Leonard's had again begun to flourish and become effective by the end of the 11th century.
So far as parish churches are concerned, the decades following 1069 are likely to have formed a very active period of building, though with the possible exception of the Saxon-Norman 'overlap' tower of St. Mary's, Bishophill, Junior, little architecture remains to prove it. (fn. 194) In some respects there is an element of contrast between the picture of 11th-century York emerging from the tale of ecclesiastical foundations and that which is presented by the Domesday record, with its monotonous reiteration of 'waste' and destruction. This contrast, however, may well be more apparent than real. The recovery of York as a major urban centre can justifiably be regarded as inevitable. Its rank as a major market was founded upon geographical location and natural trade routes: the surveys of c. 1080 and 1106, with their emphasis on revenues from tolls, show that it continued to fulfil this role. Again, the Norman kings made no attempt to destroy its importance as a political and administrative centre; and once the dangerous Scandinavian affinities and the spirit of Northumbrian independence had been curbed, York could re-emerge as a military base and seat of government in the north. Rufus in particular, through his presence and his interest, seems to have done a good deal to provide a firm basis for revival. To that extent the surviving records of ecclesiastical patronage are a sure index of civic recovery. On the other hand, the record of Domesday which tells in the opposite direction cannot simply be set aside. In 1086 York was still suffering from extensive physical destruction; it was far more sparsely peopled than it had been twenty years before, and such facts must indicate a reduction of economic activity since King Edward's time. These scars from the disasters of 1068–9 are in the nature of things likely to have taken longer to heal than the damage to the minster or to the administrative importance of York. The best that can be said is that they were beginning to heal even under the first two Norman kings.