The castle you see in the photos is all that remains of York’s once much larger castle. The current structure, known as Clifford’s Tower, was built in the 13th century and served as the heart of government in York and was also used to house the royal treasury. That is not to say that there was not a castle on the site prior to the construction of Clifford’s Tower. A wood and earth Norman tower was built on this site in the 11th century and suffered much damage and rebuilding during these tumultuous times, but it probably survived largely intact until the 12th century. The castle was then the setting for one of the most infamous incidents in York’s history. In 1190 tensions between the York Jewish community and the largely Christian population came to a head and roughly 150 Jews were given protective custody in the wooden castle that stood on the current site of Clifford’s Tower. Something went terribly wrong though and the royal officials found themselves shut out of the castle. They summoned reinforcements to retake the castle and these reinforcements joined with a local mob. The mob and the reinforcements were soon out of control and the Jews in the castle were besieged. On the 16th of March the Jews inside realized there was no way out and they committed suicide and set the tower alight rather than face the wrath of the mob. According to some accounts some Jews did survive and came out under an amnesty to then be massacred by the mob.
The tower burnt down but it was rebuilt, in wood and stone, but it wasn’t until the mid 13th century that the tower you see today was constructed. Henry III ordered a new stone tower to be built in roughly 1245 to help deal with the threat of the Scots. The tower was finished by the end of the 13th century and would have likely stood surrounded by a moat of some description and an outer bailey and walls were added in the 14th century. Over the years the tower and castle acted largely as an administrative centre rather than a royal residence. The first recorded use of the name “Clifford’s Tower’ dates to the mid 16th century but it is possible that the name comes from the rebel Roger de Clifford who was executed in 1322 and whose body was displayed on a gibbet at the castle.
Site visit 2012
The photos are all mine.