Clifford's Tower
Castle York North Yorkshire

Clifford's Tower, York

Castle In York, North Yorkshire

This castle started as a motte and baily and then rebuilt in the 14th century in a Quatrefoil styled castle. The only one in England.

Wander around the many streets of York City and you may be surprised to turn a corner and see Clifford's Tower.

It sits magnificently on its motte in the city center. Managed by English Heritage it was refurbished in 2022 and is steeped in 1,000's years of history, most of it is a bit macabre. We will have a stab at giving you a brief overview.

The Castle starts with who else than William the Conqueror, introducing the motte and bailey design. At the time it was made of wood.

Then there were a few rough years caused by the 'Harrying of the North' and Danish invaders.

By 1070 a calm modus operandi was in place and lasted a fair few years.

King William had invited Jews from Rouen, France to come and settle in Blighty. Of course there must have been a reason, and of course it was money. Coin to be precise as King Conqueror wanted his dues paid in monies and not goods and services. For further reading look up Edict of Expulsion.

During the 12th century, tensions were rising between Christian and Jewish communities throughout England. Partly due to the Crusades and partly due to Jewish money lenders being owed monies (Probably due to the crusades).

In 1190, 150 Jews in York had taken protective custody in the castle. A mob ensued and the gentry did nothing to help the Jews as they saw it as a way of having their debts absolved.

The Jewish people were killed if they hadn't already committed suicide.

Jewish people did not come back to York as in 1290 Edward I expelled all Jews from England.

Exile lasted until the 17th Century.

In the early 1300's the Knights Templars were imprisoned at the Castle for Heresy which was a falsehood.

The Castle keep is now known as Clifford's Tower. Rebuilt by Henry III as the other two were burnt down.

It is a Quatrefoil shape which is the only one in England.

The name Clifford's Tower comes from Roger de Clifford who was hanged here in 1322 by chains or a gibbet from the tower walls for treason.

Just to note Edward II's wife Isabella also turned against the King with her lover Roger Mortimer.

Edward III took to the throne at the age of 15. Because of the annoying incursions with the Scots, he moved his government to York. The Chancery at the Minister and the Exchequer at the castle. There was also a mint here and other associated departments.

The tower suffered from flood damage due to the moat and being near the rivers, and there was subsidence.

Robert Aske got the same treatment as Roger de Clifford in 1537. Some say a Lawyer, some say a rebel due to The Pilgrimage of Grace against Henry VIII.

The Tower was used as a gaol and there could be 310 prisoners at one time and many died due to conditions.

There was a public scandal around 1596-1597 when rumour had it that the derelict tower stone was being sold off for lime burning by the gaoler Robert Redhead.

1642 saw the last military action at Clifford's tower when Roundheads and Cavaliers took a turn each to billet there until 1684. Thereafter Clifford's Tower was treated as a folly, even a garden. There is an exotic 1828 depiction of what it looked like by John Varrall in York Art Gallery.

During the 18th century, classical buildings were constructed around what had been the Castle courtyard. These buildings were the Debtors Prison, the Assize Courts, and the Female Prison.

On my visit, there was a funfair too.

A grassed area forming a circle in front of the buildings in 1777 was known as the Eye of the Ridings as it was where members of the Parliament of York were elected. It is now known as the Eye of York.

From 1825 Clifford's Tower was used as an extension to the prison and had a new straight stairway up to the Keep doors after the previous spiral one.

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How To Find Clifford's Tower

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53.955894, -1.080014

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Contributed by Rosalind Parker

Thanks for reading through and getting to the end of this post. I enjoy exploring the Fabulous North (Especially as a Southerner residing up North). I like 'snippets' of information, and more so, if they are obscure, amusing or meaningful. The photographs are taken on a mobile phone, without any enhancements.

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Rosalind Parker

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Clifford's Tower was listed in Castle // North Yorkshire // York