Medieval Yorkshire (Part 2)

We last left our epic saga of Yorkshire’s history in 954 AD, when King Eric of Norway was slain by King Edred of England at the battle of Stainmore – thus marking the end of Viking rule in the Yorkshire area. However, the Scandinavians were to return for one last at crack at a British invasion, in the famous events leading up to the Norman Invasion of 1066.

Eleventh century

The English King Edward the Confessor died at the beginning of this year, sparking a contested succession which would lead to war. Norwegian Harold Hardrada, Anglo Saxon Harold Godwinson and the French King, William of Normandy all claimed the English throne.

At the battle of Stamford Bridge, in modern-day Yorkshire, Harold Godwinson’s troops defeated Hardrada’s army of Northmen – marking the very last time Britain would be seriously threatened by Nordic Invaders. Unfortunately for Godwinson, he and his forces had been in London awaiting an incursion from Norman troops when they heard the news of the Scandinavian’s arrival. The long march from London to Yorkshire and back, plus the exertions of a pitched battle, put Godwinson’s troops on the back-foot and they were easily defeated by William the Conqueror’s forces at the Battle of Hastings – making the Norman the New King of Britain.

William the Conqueror cemented his foothold on Northern Britain (and particularly Yorkshire) in what would become known as the ‘Harrying of the North’. In revenge for the Yorkshire kings who defied his rule, William’s troops burned, pillaged and wrecked villages, farms and towns across the North of England. They even salted the land after they left, so nothing would grow there furthermore. By all accounts, at least several thousand common people were killed or starved to death as a result.

During this time William also built dozens of castles and hill forts across the Yorkshire area, including Pontefract and Richmond Castles. The Normans also encouraged the return of monasteries and abbeys to the area, after many of them had been sacked and ravaged during Viking rule. Famous monasteries such as those at Whitby and York were rebuilt, and new ones founded in Byland and Roche amongst others.

William the Conqueror died in 1081, but his legacy remained strong across the county and country at large.

End of medieval period

A long period of relative peace followed the Norman Conquest and consolidation of Yorkshire. During this time towns such as Doncaster, Sheffield, Northallerton and Masham developed into bigger urban centres and became a focus for burgeoning cloth and metal industries. Sheffield in particular, with surrounding hills containing useful ores and plenty of streams for water powered mills, benefited during this time and expanded considerably.

Things were not always so prosperous though, and by 1349 the dual threat of raiding Scottish armies and the new Black Death decimated the local population. During this time the English had been on-and-off fighting the Hundred Years War against the French, and many sons of Yorkshire left to fight and die across the English Channel. This weakened the Plantagenet Royal House and led to the events of the Wars of the Roses, of which many battles were fought in Yorkshire.