City of York
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City of York

Barley Hall
Bootham Bar
Breezy Knees

Clifford's Tower
Dick Turpin's Grave
Fairfax House
Fishergate Bar
Goddard's Garden
Guy Fawkes Inn
Holy Trinity,

Holy Trinity,

Jorvik Viking Centre
The King's Manor
Mansion House
Adventurers Hall

Micklegate Bar
Norman House
Richard III Experience and Monk Bar
Roman Bath Museum
The Shambles
St. Martin le Grand
St. Olave's Church
St. William's College
Treasurer's House
Walmgate Bar
York Castle Museum
York City Walls
York Guildhall
York Minster
York Museum

Yorkshire Museum

Clifford's Tower

OS grid reference:- SE603514

Clifford's Tower, one of the best known landmarks in York, offers excellent views over the city. The tower is all that now remains of York Castle, once the centre of government for the north of England.

Clifford's TowerClifford's Tower

When he marched north in 1068 to suppress an uprising against him William the Conqueror built a wooden castle on the conical mound. The first castle was burned by a Viking army and rebellious natives in 1069, and a second one was built to replace it, this was reinforced with extensive water defences, including a moat and an artificial lake. That building saw one of the most horrendous episodes in York's history, when in 1190, a mob of citizens rioted against the Jewish population of York, who took their own lives or were massacred within the tower.

Clifford's TowerClifford's Tower, York

The first Plantagenet king, Henry II visited York Castle four times during his reign. The royal chambers at the time were situated inside the keep for security. The present stone tower, which was built on the orders of King Henry III, an avid royal builder, dates to the mid thirteenth century, was probably used as a treasury and later as a prison. During the Scottish wars of Edward I between 1298 and 1338, York Castle was frequently used as the centre of royal administration across England, as well as an important military base of operations.

Clifford's TowerClifford's Tower York

The tower rises to 50 feet (15m) high and measures 200 feet (61m) in diameter. Its design is 'quatrefoil', with four overlapping circles, resembling a four leafed clover. The tower acquired its present name when, in 1322, Roger de Clifford was executed by King Edward II for treason. Clifford was hanged in chains from the walls of the tower, and since then the building has been known as Clifford's Tower. The medieval Chapel in Clifford's Tower is situated above the main gate. With its decorated arcading along the walls, it contains some of the best surviving architecture in the structure.

The Medieval Chapel

Clifford's Tower ChapelClifford's Tower

The tower was occupied by Royalist troops in 1642 and later in the same year by Parliamentarians. Much of the tower that visitors see today dates from the thirteenth century, with some seventeenth century additions, including the Debtor's Prison, Female prison, and Assize Court. Spiral staircases lead to the walls, which provide excellent views of the city.

Model of York Castle and View from the walls

York CastleClifford's Tower

Images courtesy of Paul Johnson

The Massacre of 1190

York Castle witnessed one of the most notorious events in English history, the mass suicide and massacre in March 1190 of York's Jewish population.

Clifford's TowerTensions between Christians and Jews had been increased during the twelfth century in England, the fact that many were in debt to Jewish moneylenders was partly responsible for the antagonism but also much crusading propaganda was directed not only against Muslims but also against Jews. Anti-Jewish riots in several cities followed the coronation of the crusader king Richard the Lionheart in 1189, and an untrue rumour circulated that the new king had ordered a massacre of the Jews.

Tensions broke out into violence the following year in York. Richard de Malbis, who owed money to the influential Jewish merchant Aaron of Lincoln, exploited an accidental house fire to incite a local mob to attack the home and family of a recently deceased Jewish employee of Aaron in York. Josce of York, the leader of the Jewish community, led the local Jewish families into the royal castle, where they took refuge in the wooden keep.

Trust between the royal officials and the Jews broke down. The officials, finding themselves shut out from the tower, summoned reinforcements to retake it. These troops were joined by a large and angry mob, who surrounded the castle, and when the constable left the castle to discuss the situation, the Jews, fearing the entry of the mob or being handed over to the sheriff, refused to allow him re-entry.The constable then appealed to the sheriff, whose men laid siege to the keep. The siege continued until 16 March when the Jews' position became untenable.

Their religious leader, Rabbi Yomtob, proposed an act of collective suicide to avoid being killed by the mob, and the castle was set on fire to prevent their bodies being mutilated after their deaths. Several Jews perished in the flames but the majority took their own lives rather than give themselves up to the mob. A few Jews did surrender, promising to convert to Christianity, but they were killed by the angry crowd. Around 150 Jews died in total in the massacre

Historic Buildings in York

Barley Hall Bishopthorpe Palace Clifford's Tower Fairfax House
Guy Fawkes Inn Jacob's Well Mansion House Merchant
Adventurers Hall
Multiangular Tower Norman House St.Leonard's Hospital St. Mary's Abbey
St. William's College Treasurer's House York City Walls York Guildhall

The city of York

Historic buildings in Yorkshire