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The advent of Christianity brought an age oflearning to York, In the 8th century, the great scholar Alcuin was Master of the School of St Peter which received students from all over Europe. By the time he left Britain to become Master of Emperor Charlemagne’s Palace School at Aachen, York was the most important centre of learning in this part of Britain.
The Kingdom of Northumbria was in the midst of civil war when the Vikings raided and captured York in 866.
Ten years later the Danish King Halfdan shared out the lands of Northumbria from his capital, Jorvik, and the former warriors settled down to a peaceful existence.
Jorvik became a major river port, part of the extensive Viking trading routes throughout northern Europe. The last Danish ruler of Jorvik, Eric Bloodaxe, was driven from the town in the year 965 by King Eadred of Wessex who succeeded in uniting Northumbria with the southern kingdom. But for another hundred years, the north was largely ruled by earls of both Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian blood.
During 1065-66, following rebellion of the local earls, there came invasion by the Norwegians and the defeat of their army at Stamford Bridge. But a few weeks later, the victor, King Harold II of England was himself defeated and killed at the Battle of Hastings by the Normans when William the Conqueror invaded the country.
William the Conqueror came to York in 1069 to subdue rebellion in the north. He ruthlessly pursued a policy of scorched earth, causing great destruction. The Domesday Book, William’s census of 1086, records that ‘there was not a blade of grass between the Rivers Trent and Tweed’.
In time, however, York began to prosper. The Minster was rebuilt, and soon there were over forty parish churches, an abbey, priories, friaries and religious hospitals. York was once again becoming a profitable port and centre of trade, particularly in wool.
King Henry I granted the merchants and craftsmen the city’s first Charter, confirming their trading rights both in England and in Europe.
By the Middle Ages, over a hundred crafts were being practised, each with its own Gild (the original spelling). The wealthiest and most powerful of these was the Company of Merchant Adventurers, the gild of overseas trading. Several gilds were still in existence, or have been refounded. These include the Merchant Adventurers, Merchant Taylors, Butchers, Cordwainers, Freemen, Surveyors, Building, Staple and the Royal Society of St George.
Medieval York was the second largest and most important city in England. The existing stone walls which surround it, and the Bars (medieval gateways), were built during this time. Kings and Queens were frequent visitors and the Dukedom of York began to be conferred on the sovereign’s second son (as it still is today).
Henry III’s sister and daughter were both married in the Minster to Kings of Scotland, and in 1328 King Edward III married Philippa.
Richard II gave the city its first Sword of State, honoured its citizen number one with the title of Lord Mayor and created York a county in its own right. In 1397 the city staged a Royal Performance of the York Mystery Plays for the King – these religious plays were given by the Guilds and have since been revived with performances in modern York every four years during the York Festival.
Edward IV did not favour York because of its Lancastrian sympathies at certain stages during the Wars of the Roses. However, his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, had a great affection for the city and was a frequent visitors. It was at York in 1483 that his young son Edward was created Prince of Wales with much pomp and ceremony.