My Illlustrated Travel Journal with Essays about Roman and Mediaeval History and some Geology

  Clifford Tower 2 - A Massacre and A Siege

Continuation of this post.

In the 1170ies, a Jewish community was established in York. Not only was there an increasing demand for credit among the lords, gentry, and even the Church, York also offered a castle - still a timber construction - where the Jews could find shelter in times of danger, or so they hoped.

The crusades (one of which started in 1187) inflamed feelings of antisemitism. It came to a riot during Richard Lionheart's coronation in Westminster Abbey in July 1189. Richard let some of the leaders hang and made it clear that the Jews were not to be molested in his realm. But after he went off to join Philippe Auguste on the crusade, new riots broke out in several English towns.

One victim of the West-minster massacre was Benedict of York, member of a deputation to the king. Troubles were not over for his family, though, because in March 1190, a band of men broke into his house in York, killied his widow and children, set the house on fire, and carried away Benedict's money chests and valuables. The riot soon spread and more houses were plundered and destroyed. The Jews, under their leader Josce of York, sought shelter in the castle keep, with an angry mob milling around outside.

Things got worse when the Warden of the Castle was denied admission because the Jews were afraid he might hand them over to their enemies. The warden returned with armed men led by the sheriff Richard de Malebys who happened to be deeply in debt to the Jews and laid siege to the castle. What finally burst the dam was the death of a monk who got hit by a stone from the keep, and the fact the Jews were short on rations. Facing torture and forced baptizm, many committed suicide, while others died in the flames of the wooden tower which the mob had managed to set afire, the few survivors were killed. About 150 Jews died in the inferno.

When the king's Chancellor learned about the incident, he dismissed the sheriff and the warden for failing to prevent the massacre and imposed a heavy fine on York's citizens.

Since the mob had also destroyed the records of debts due to Jews which were kept in the cathedral, Richard, upon his return from the Holy Land and captivity in Germany, introduced a system of duplicate records. It was not gratitude towards the Jews who paid the major share of his ransom, or any feelings of political correctness, but he wanted to ensure the Jews' fortunes were correctly listed so he could tax them.

Another view of Clifford Tower

York Castle also played a role in the Civil War that broke out in 1642. The Royalists under Henry Clifford Earl of Cumberland took possession of castle and city of York and garrisoned them. The castle was repaired and the walls strengthened so they would support cannons. In April 1644, anti-Roaylist forces marched in from three sides: a Scottish army under Alexander Leslie Earl of Leven from the south, Parliamentary troops under Lord Fairfax from the east, and somewhat later, Edward Montagu Earl of Manchester added a third contingent, bringing the forces that besieged York up to 30,000.

(Left: Model of castle and motte with tower)

The city was commanded by William Cavendish Duke of Newcastle, the caste garrison of about 200 men by Sir John Cobb. Despite bombardement, attacks on the gates and undermining (unsuccessfully, it seems), York held out throughout May and June. Then news came that Prince Rupert was on his way to relieve the city. Rupert did indeed manage to lift the siege, but the day after his forces were defeated by the Parliamentary troops in the battle of Marton Moor six miles west of York. It was the largest and most bloody battle of the Civil War.

On July 14, city and castle surrendered after a re-newed siege. The conditions seem to have been rather favourable, since the Royalists were allowed to march out with full honours. The castle was then razed.

Some rebuilding was going on after the restoration of Charles II, but York Castle never regained its former splendour and role in history. One of the heralidic panels over the gate displays the arms of Henry Clifford Earl of Cumberland (last of that line), and it's argued that Clifford Tower was named for him.

Since the Civil War is too late for me to have better information than what I could find online, I'm not sure about Earl Henry's role in the siege; he seems to have been strangely absent, leaving command to Cavendish and Cobb. I also got the impression the name Clifford Tower was in use before the Civil War and thus the theory that it came into being because of Roger's execution still is valid to me until I can find sure proof in favour of one or the other.

Clifford Tower, another inside view

A final little curiosity about the tower: One of the keepers in the 16th century was one Robert Redhead who became famous for having sold some of the stonework. Ten layers were already gone until anyone noticed the battlements were disappearing. Robert was hanged for that.
Interesting aoout the name Clifford's Tower. I'd never heard that it might have been named after the earl of Cumberland in the 17th century - I've only ever read that it was named after Roger Clifford in 1322.
Typo alert! That should be 'about' in the first sentence, obviously. ;) *Reminds self to preview comments before publishing them*
Always liked Rupert - best of the lot.
I thought Clifford's Tower got its name long before the 17th century too. I had an idea it was probably connected with the powerful Cliffords who fought Robert Bruce, and that would fit with Alianore's comment.
Hi all,no one really knows why Cliffords tower is called this.The real name is the kings are correct that one possibility is that its named after Earl Henry Clifford. The other possible reason is that Rodger de Clifford (a traitor) was hanged in chains from the summit of the tower and his body remain there for many many years, and the passing locals would refer to it as his tower.
Alianore and Carla, the source is Wikipedia, that's why I'm so sceptic about it. I still think Roger to be the more likely candidate.

So far I haven't even figured out what happened to Henry Clifford after York was surrendered to the Parliamentary troops - not that I've tried very hard, though. ;)
Love the scale model. Gives me a good idea of what everyone was up against.
Arranging your gnome armies, Constance? :)
"It was not gratitude towards the Jews who paid the major share of his ransom, or any feelings of political correctness, but he wanted to ensure the Jews' fortunes were correctly listed so he could tax them."

LOL - and we still have to keep good records for taxes.
I can just imagine Ivanhoe riding his horse through the gates, and running up all those steps into the tower to rescue Rebecca.
Some things never change, Shelley. ;)

Yes Bill, Mediaeval architecture has a certain romantic feel to it. We tend to forget those castles were cold and had no water flushing toilets. ;)
Lol, hanged for stealing stones! Crime doesn't pay, I guess.

Great pictures, Gabriele! It's reading posts like this that remind me why I was so obsessed with castles when I was little.
Another enjoyable post. Have you looked at my travel website
Would you be interested in submitting something for it? You write so well about these fascinating historical places.
Kirsten, it was the king's stones, so it was a capital offense. :)

I still love castles; in that aspect I've never grown up. :D

Wynn, I don't see myself as travel writer. I just have a blog where I write some fun stuff, lol, so I'm not sure I would really fit a professional travel site. But I'll think about it.
No, arranging my siege engines. *g*
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The Lost Fort is a travel journal and history blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and other places. It includes essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, as well as some geology, illustrated with photos of old castles and churches, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.
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Location: Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who hasn't yet gotten an Instagram account. :-)


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