Notes on the history of York

The succession of peoples in the history of York is also evident in its very name. In Viking times the name used was Jórvík, where the J was pronounced more or less as [y]. Jórvík in turn closely reflected the Anglo-Saxon place name Eoforwic, where the f indicates a [v]. Eoforwic, which means ’boar’s place,’ shows how the Anglo-Saxons attempted to make sense out of a Latin name, Eboracum, which goes back to Roman times and has nothing at all to do with boars! While Eboracum is the name for a town, it probably originally referred to the estate owned by a Celtic lord named Eburos.
Source: Kenneth Cameron, English Place Names. London: B.T. Batsford, 1963.

In 55 and 54, BCE, Julius Caesar organized campaigns against the Britons, who, he claimed, had been aiding their fellow Celts, the Gauls, in resisting Roman conquest. He mentions that the British warriors decorated themselves with woad, a natural vegetative blue dye. It may be that the Picts, from the Latin “pictus,” painted, gained that Roman name from this practice, or it may be a mishearing of a possible name for them, ’Pecht’ or ’Pect’.

In 43 CE, the Emperor Claudius, eager it is said for a military triumph, sent a forty-thousand-man army to invade Britain; it was successful, thanks to Roman discipline and tribal rivalries among the British. Such successes continued for almost twenty years, when Queen Boudicca (Boadicea) led her Brigantes in revolt, destroying Colchester, London, and Saint Albans, and defeating Roman armies sent against her until 61, C.E., when she was defeated and committed suicide.

In 71, the Romans moved north to pacify a number of rebellious tribes, one of the worst of which was the aforementioned Brigantes. They established a typical Roman fortification north of the confluence of the Ouse and Fosse rivers. A large fort, Roman rectangular style, was constructed, at first with earthenwork embankments and wooden palisades, then with a massive stone wall, parts of which can still be seen. In Roman fashion they built a bridge across the Ouse, and established a civilian area outside the fort, largely to the south and west.

Shortly after this time, from CE 77-83/84, the Roman General Agricola was governor of Britain and the father-in-law of Tacitus, who wrote his biography. Agricola sought to conquer the troublesome tribes to the north, in what is now Scotland; the Romans called these tribes the ’Caledones’ or ’Caledonii’ and named their land ’Caledonia’. Agricola carried on, each summer, seven campaigns in order to subdue these tribes; Agricola marched beyond the isthmus formed by the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth into the highlands of Scotland, establishing a series of temporary camps along the way. Meanwhile, the fleet was sent ahead to raid the coast and provide supplies. Probably by the late summer or early fall of AD 83, in the seventh and final campaign season of his governorship, Agricola and Calgacus, leader of the Caledonii and a confederation of northern clans, confronted one another at a place named Mons Graupius.

However, in 85 CE, Domitian was required to remove a legion in Britain in order to defend Roman Dacia (roughly, modern-day Romania), so Agricola’s outposts were abandoned.

During this time, the Romans were building their customary system of superb roads, many of which are still the most straight roads in England. While they promoted south-north and east-west commerce, using London as a hub, they primarily served to enable Roman armies to move quickly towards feisty enemies: the British in the West, in what is now Wales, and the British and Picts in the North. They included Ermine Street, to Lincoln; Watling Street, to Wroxeter and then to Chester, all the way in the northwest on the Welsh frontier; and the Fosse Way, from Exeter to Lincoln, the first frontier of the province of Britain.

Beginning about 116 CE, Hadrian’s Wall was constructed, called the largest single undertaking in the Roman Empire; it crossed some 70 miles, from Newcastle on the east to the Irish sea on the west, with mile towers and a number of Roman encampments.

Roman Camp

At the centre of the fortress was the principia, the headquarters where the administration of the legion and religious ceremonies took place. A range of buildings was built on each side of a courtyard, including a great aisled hall, or basilica, which stood where the Minster is today. The principia was a square 78m wide, while the basilica was 68m long and 32m wide and could have been 23m in height, only a little lower than the nave of York Minster today.

The commanding officer would have addressed his troops from the tribunal, or podium, at one end of the basilica. Behind it, a row of rooms served as offices except the central one known as the aedes, the legionary shrine. This was the spiritual heart of the fortress.

Other buildings included:
1) the commanding officer’s house (praetorium), similar to a splendid town house, used for domestic and business purposes. The south-west corner of a building uncovered under the Minster was probably part of the praetorium
2) granaries
3) workshops
4) a hospital
5) barracks
6) a bath house

York’s bath house took up the southern corner of the fortress. Roman baths were not just for washing, but a social centre. The Eboracum bath house occupied about 9,100 square metres and must have required a great deal of both heat and water. A a hypocaust system saw hot air circulated below the floor, raised on pillars, warming up the occupants of the caldarium. Part of it can be seen under the Roman Bath pub in St Sampson’s Square.

Reconstructed fort in South Yorkshire:


With the gradual removal of Roman troops and Roman administration beginning at the end of the fourth century, accounts of the state of York vanish, and there is some debate whether the city was abandoned altogether or not. I believe, given the substantial remaining structures, that some still inhabited the site, but left hardly anything of the traditional objects, pottery, metals, that archeologists require. Those remaining were British or Romano-British, still speaking their Celtic languages, but they differed from their pre-Roman ancestors in two important respects: they were now Christian, and the memory of Rome was preserved in their literature: the Roman General Magnus Maximus (d. 388), who in 383 was proclaimed emperor by his troops in Britain, became in Welsh “Macsen Wledig (the Imperator),” having married a Welsh princess and begun the process of Welsh liberation and legitimacy through his status as Roman emperor.

Germanic Various Germanic peoples, traditionally identified as Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, began attacking Britain in the fourth and fifth centuries, and eventually conquered the eastern and southern parts of the island, driving the British to the west; the term “welsh” means “slave” or “conquered people.” These peoples follwed Germanic gods, Tiw (Tyr), Odin/Woden, Thor, Freyja, and as in Germany our days of the week are named after them. Burial sites in the York area show that Germans were there by the late fifth century, though there is no mention of an organized community until the 600’s, as part of the kingdom of Northumbria. By then, it was called “Eoforwic,” which suggests, through the suffix “wic,” a trading center; by the end of the eighth century, the Minister of Education for Charlemagne, the scholar Alcuin of York, had described the city as major place of commerce; it was also reported to have a number of foreign merchants in residence. Since trade was paramount, the center of the city probably moved southeast, between 700 and 850, to the junction of the Ouse and Foss, in the area called “Fishergate”; nearby, there has been some activity at what is now called “Coppergate”: “Cup-makers’ street.” Over the course of time, as the Germanic peoples settled in the island, they have become collectively known as “Anglos-Saxon,” or simply “Angles,” which became “English.” Unfortunately, this hides the Germanic roots of these peoples, whose language and customs were interchangeably understood by the Germanic peoples on the continent up through the Middle Ages (to the fifteen century).

Following Roman precedent, the Bishop of Rome, Gregory the Great, in 598 sent a group of monks up to England specifically to convert the English; they were to establish bishops, the religious leaders in an area called a “diocese,” in the two main Roman cities, London and York. Because the King of Kent became friendly to Augustine, so the primary bishop in England was established in the King’s center, Canterbury. And a bishopric in York was also established, though with some discontinuity; eventually, by the seventh century, all the English were Christian, and a bishop’s church, called a cathedral because the bishop’s chair (Latin “cathedra”) was placed there. The original church, built in wood, was probably situated near the Roman principia. It would have been small by modern standards.

Viking With the Viking raids and conquest beginning in 798, the Germanic kingdoms, with the exception of Wessex, succumbed one by one. In 870 the kingdom of East Anglia fell to the Vikings and Mercia followed in 874. In the following years the Vikings secured the land around York, settling and farming it. York itself was now effectively the capital of a new Viking kingdom, called “the Danelaw,” since by treaty the whole of north east England was under Viking jurisdiction. Extensive Viking remains have been found in Coppergate, where the Jorvick Experience is located. Many Vikings became Christians, and though in their early raiding they had plundered monasteries in England, Ireland, Germany and France, most maintained a peaceable relationship with Christians in the area.

In English reconquest beginning in the early tenth century, an English king, Athelstan, took control of York in 927 and was the accepted ruler of most of the country until his death in 940. For the next 15 years, York was again ruled by a succession of Viking kings. The last of these was the famous Eric Bloodaxe who was defeated in 954. From then on, York and Northumbria were always part of a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom. But Scandinavians remained, and exerted a considerable influence on the life and culture of Yorkshire.


The time between the demise of Eric Bloodaxe in 954 and the arrival of the Normans in 1068 was in a period of relative peace. Eric’s conqueror, the English king Eadred, died only a year later in 955 and was eventually succeeded by his nephew Edgar. Edgar was to rule England from 959-975, a time free from foreign attack so he became known as ’the Peaceable’.

This was a time when the famous walls of York begin to be developed, though the process will continue into the twentieth century. The Roman walls around the fortress remained intact, and earthen ramparts constructed in the newer parts of the city, towards the southeast and southwest. Gradually, through the Middle Ages, ramparts were extended and then leveled to accommodate the growth of the city. Some of the stone walls date from the 13th century, and some all the way up through the Victorian period: the “Robin Hood Tower,” to the North and West of Minster Green, was built in the nineteenth century according to what the Victorians believed a medieval structure should be: it also gave a fine view of the Green.


In 1068, two years after landing at Pevsney and defeating the English at Hastings, King William I (the “Conqueror,” the “Bastard”) moved north to place it in his domain. When he arrived at York, the wealthy oligarchs of York surrendered to him, and gave him possession of the city, which by then was the largest and most prosperous in the entire northern half of England.

In 1069 William returned to build two wooden fortifications guarding the Ouse: a northern motte-and-bailey, York Castle, now called Clifford’s Tower, and a southern one, now just a tree-covered mound, called “Baille Hill.” A chain could be strung between the two fortifications, to control traffic on the Ouse.

The Normans also dammed the Fosse, and the resultant large pond became a fish farm; it also would have deterred attackers, which is why the city wall breaks there, at a brick tower, more like a blockhouse.

The Norman conquerors were not popular, because of Norman taxes, and in particular because William had destroyed a good portion of the city to build York Castle; and in August of 1069, with the help of the Danes, the people of York rebelled, burned the castle, and massacred its inhabitants. The English cathedral itself was badly damaged by the rebels. William quickly attacked the rebellious northerners, wasting the entire area. This process amounted to a destructive policy that impoverished the north, though the extent of that destruction has been debated; one form of evidence can be found in William’s great survey of his territory of 1087, the Domesday Book, called this because its thorough census of lands and value seemed to be another Doomsday. The book recorded that half of York’s 1,400 houses were then, twenty years later, still in ruins. William bribed the Danes to retire, and then, according to some, viciously allowed vast numbers to be lose their lands or starve or die at the hands of his men. And there is a story that William in time regretted his revenge, for at his deathbed he is supposed to have said, that he punished “the native inhabitants of the kingdom with unreasonable severity, cruelly oppressed high and low, unjustly disinherited many, and caused the death of thousands by starvation and war, especially in Yorkshire.” But from then on, and throughout the Middle Ages, with the exceptions of Wales, Scotland, and the occasional unrest, all of Britain was under the control of a single monarch, complete with an efficient bureaucracy and extensive military resources.

The Normans in part made amends, and in part demonstrated their control by building a new, stone cathedral near the former English church; it was by the standards of the time huge, and its massive round piers can still be seen in the undercroft (underground) sections of the current York cathedral, called a “minster” probably because it was served by monks (German “Münster,” monasterium, “monastery”), though the term is generally applied to many large medieval churches. The Normans also established many local churches in York, usually in stone, which served a district called a parish: these structures offered room for meeting-places and other secular activities. There were at one time forty churches in the city, the number reduced to twenty-five in the reign of Elizabeth; there are now nineteen. A good number of these churches still serve the faithful, though some have been closed, or converted to other uses: at least one is now a restaurant/bar. Thanks to the relative isolation of the North and the loyalty of the citizens of York, many of these churches retain their original stained glass, and together with all the stained glass in York Minster, it is now true that half the remaining medieval glass in England can be found in the city of York.

The Normans also established many monasteries and institutions organized like monasteries, that is, separate groups of men and women taking vows to live a communal life and follow a religious rule. The most important of these was Saint Mary’s Abbey (=headed by an Abbot, from Hebrew “abba,” father) to the south and west of the Minster. Through donations of land and other gifts, it became the most wealthy and influential monastery in the north of England. Abandoned and destroyed in the sixteenth-century Reformation, its ruins are still spectacular, and the York City museum holds an extensive collection of its architecture and statuary.

The Middle Ages

In the early Middle Ages, the city was governed by the king’s representative, the Sheriff of York, who maintained his offices in York Castle. The rich merchants of York bridled under this control, and like other prosperous cities throughout medieval Europe gradually wrested power away from the local ruler, whether sheriff, count, or even bishop. They did this cleverly (though revolts did occur), by offering penurious kings like King John money in exchange for privileges, privileges to hold markets, to build bridges, to establish professional associations and unions, called “guilds,” and to elect a mayor. Dante, when he wished to enter Florentine politics, needed to join a guild, and even today, the Lord Mayor of London must be a member of a guild. In 1212 King John permitted the merchants to take over tax-collecting, a profitable enterprise, to maintain courts, and to choose a mayor. By 1256 the Sheriff had no power within the city whatsoever. In 1396, thanks to King Richard II, the Sheriff was replaced by two sheriffs, still with jurisdiction over all of Yorkshire, elected by the citizens of York.

So important were the guilds that the Guildhall, destroyed in WWII but now restored, off Saint Helen’s Square, for centuries served as York’s city hall. And one of the most significant guilds was that of the merchants dealing with international trade, originally called the mercers, and later the merchant adventurers; their hall, built in 1357, still exists and whose members, after 650 years, still maintain it. It is one of the best preserved examples in England.

Over the centuries the city developed local as well as international commerce:

The first register, in 1272, reveals the occupations of 452 men, as follows:

Later, wool and cloth become the dominant industries, and the Merchant Tailor’s Hall still exists.

In the thirteenth century, the apogee of York’s importance to England, the population of the city might have been about 20,000-30,000. Following the climatological problems of the early fourteenth century, and the visitation of the Bubonic Plague starting in March of 1349, the population in 1379 was about 15,000; while the mortality could have been anywhere between 50% and 25%, it’s hard to really estimate, given the thirty years’ difference. It couldn’t be true that further visitations of the plague were responsible for a population of 10,000 in 1485: the year ended the War of the Roses, with York on the losing side.

At its height, in the thirteenth century, York was the second-largest city in England (London’s population was about 40,000), and even in the late fifteenth into the sixteenth centuries, it dominated the entire North. As a sign of its prosperity, York Minster, constructed and re-constructed over three hundred years, is the largest Gothic church in England.

One aspect of great pride for York has been the four great entrances into the old city, called “bars” because, originally, a bar was placed across the opening in order to monitor goods imported into the city, and collect tolls. The four, Monks Bar, Bootham Bar, Micklegate Bar, and Walmgate Bar, were meant, through their imposing edifice, to impress merchants, pilgrims and locals from Yorkshire. They had portcullis, and barbicans, though today only Walmgate retains its barbican. When royalty have entered and today enter the city, there are extravagant ceremonies and extensive festivity and decoration at the bar, and the Lord Mayor is on hand to welcome that royalty, and to allow him or her to enter the city; legally, even the king or queen cannot do so without permission.

York and Kings

English Kings, from William on, for two centuries preferred the realms of southern England and their possessions in northern and western France, though the North was still important to them in terms of income. This changed with Edward I, “Longshanks,” (1239-1307, ruling from 1272), who decided to punish the Scots for their raids on the North; the natural staging city was York, and, contrary to “Braveheart,” the Scots never got within sixty miles of the city. This warring on the Scots continued through the reign of Edward II (ruled 1307-1327) and Edward III (1327-1377), so York became a military and government center for those kings.

The Nobility

The two great, intertwined families of the North of England were and are the Percys and the Nevilles. They owed their wealth and power to the vast lands that they held, as Ralph Percy, the present 12th Duke of Northumberland and still owner of Alnwick Castle, demonstrates.

The Percy Family traces their ancestry to a noble warrior in the service of William the Conqueror, William de Percy. When Henry de Percy purchased the estate of Alnwick in 1309, the Percy family was already one of the most powerful families in England. His son, Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland (1342-1408) helped Henry IV overthrow Richard II. He was rewarded by being made Constable of England, but both he and his son Henry (“Harry Hotspur”) were even more ambitious. In 1403, Harry Hotspur and his uncle Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester, began a revolt against Henry IV, as recorded in Shakespeare’s’play “Henry IV, part 1.” The Percies erected Warkworth Castle as well, near Alnwick, starting in the early thirteenth century.

The Neville family was one of the two most powerful families in northern England in the fourteenth century, and Ralph Neville represented the high-water mark of the family’s influence and success. He could trace his ancestry to John de Burgo, also having accompanied William the Conqueror;

The builders of Raby Castle in the 12th century and one of the most powerful families in the North.

The First Nevill of Raby

It is with the great house of Nevill that Raby is most associated, which came about in this way: in 1131 the Manor of Raby was granted to Dolfin, son of Uchtred (and descendant of Malcolm II, King of Scots), by the Prior of Durham. This Dolfin married Adelicia, niece of Bishop Flambard, who built Durham Cathedral; their son, Maldred was the father of Robert Fitzmaldred who married Isabel Nevill, a great Norman heiress, who eventually inherited the Manors of Sheriff Hutton near York and Brancepeth, together with lesser lands and manors. Their son, Geoffrey Nevill, taking his mother’s name, was the first Nevill owner of Raby, and it continued in the possession of this family, at one time the most powerful in England, until 1569. Ralph, the Black Douglas & the Battle of the Neville’s Cross

The next owner of Raby, Robert Nevill, d. 1282, was Castellan, during Henry II’s war with the Barons, of Bamburgh, Scarborough and Newcastle. He was succeeded by his grandson, Ranulf, 1st Lord Nevill, whose father, Robert, had married Mary, daughter of Robert FitzRanulf. This Ranulf, who died in 1331, was in turn succeeded by his second son, Ralph, whose brother Robert Nevill, known as the Peacock of the North, was slain at Berwick in 1319 by the Black Douglas. Ralph, 2nd Baron Nevill, was also captured by the Black Douglas in the same fray, but was ransomed and fought in further campaigns against the Scots, and was the victor of the Battle of Neville’s Cross at which he took prisoner, David II, King of Scotland. He was a great benefactor of the Church, and when he died in 1367, was the first layman to be buried in Durham Cathedral.

John, Governor of Aquitaine

Ralph was succeeded by his eldest son, John, 3rd Baron Nevill, KG, who completed the building of the present castle, having obtained a licence to crenellate in 1378, although this probably meant adding fortifications to an existing building. He was a great captain, being appointed Governor of Aquitaine, 1378-81, Lord Warden of the Marches and Joint Commissioner for treating for peace with Scotland. He died in 1388 and was buried in the Nevill Chantry in Durham Cathedral, where his tomb was much mutilated by Scottish prisoners during the Civil War in 1650.

Ralph, Earl of Richmond and Cicely, the “Rose of Raby”

John, Lord Nevill, was succeeded by his son, Ralph, mentioned by Shakespeare in Henry V, who was created Earl of Westmoreland in 1397, the first to hold this title, by Richard II, but he afterwards joined the Lancastrians and was instrumental in placing his brother-in-law, Henry IV, on the throne. In return the King created him Earl of Richmond, a Knight of the Garter and Earl Marshal of England. His first wife was Lady Margaret Stafford, by whom he had seven children, and his second Lady Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt, by whom he had a further fourteen children.

Their youngest daughter, Cicely, the “Rose of Raby”, married Richard, Duke of York, and was the mother of Edward IV and Richard III. Through her granddaughter Elizabeth of York, Queen of Henry VII, she is an ancestress of the Royal family. The Earl’s youngest son, Edward, was created Baron Bergavenny and his descendant, the Marquess of Abergavenny, is the present head of the Nevill family. The Earl was a great church builder, and his alabaster tomb in Staindrop Church, where his effigy lies between that of his two wives, is regarded as being among the finest monuments in the North. He died in 1425.

The 2nd and 3rd Earls

His successor, his grandson, Ralph, 2nd Earl of Westmorland, who died in 1484, engaged in inconclusive private warfare with his uncles of the Earl’s second marriage over the Middleham Estates, which had been left to them through the influence of their mother, until both sides were commanded by Henry VI to keep the peace.

He was succeeded by his nephew, Ralph, 3rd Earl, whose father was killed fighting for the Red Rose (Lancastrians) at the Battle of Towton, 1461. The 3rd Earl, who fought in Scotland against Perkin Warbeck, died in 1523, and again was succeeded by a grandson, also Ralph, another energetic warrior against the Scots. He was present at the Field of the Cloth Gold, and was a signatory to the letter of Pope Clement asking for the divorce of Queen Catherine of Aragon.

The Rising of the North

Before his death in 1549, the Earl was created a Knight of the Garter. His successor, Henry, 5th Earl, as a boy took part in the Pilgrimage of Grace. He was a staunch supporter of Queen Mary Tudor and under her held high office.

The family adhered firmly to the Old Faith, and his son Charles, 6th and last Nevill Earl of Westmorland, was leader, with Thomas Percy, of the ill-fated rebellion, the ’Rising of the North’, in support of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1569. He fled to Holland where he died in poverty in 1601.

Thus ended the Nevill ownership of Raby, which had lasted for nearly four hundred years. The Castle was held by the Crown until 1626 when it was purchased by Sir Henry Vane the Elder.

The “family seat” in those days was Raby Castle, the family fortunes rising with the 3rd Baron Neville, who married Maud Percy (born 1335 Warkworth Castle, Alnwick, Northumberland, England, died 18 Febriuary 1378, buried Durham Cathedral, Durham, England), daughter of Sir Henry Percy, 2nd Lord Percy (born 6 February 1301 Alnwick, Northumbria, England, died: 25 February 1352, Alnwick, Northumbia, England) married (Yorkshire, England)so when Ralph’s father died, Ralph became at 24 the sixth Baron Neville of Raby. Ralph and his first wife, Margaret Stafford, had two sons and seven daughters. After Margaret died, Ralph remarried to Joan Beaufort. This marriage and the later marriages of Ralph and Joan’s children eventually made the Nevilles into one of the most powerful families in England in the 1400’s.

Much of the reason is that Joan was the granddaughter of King Edward III and the daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Through her, Ralph became tied even more closely to the royal court. For his military triumphs on behalf of King Richard II, Ralph was made the first Earl of Westmoreland in 1397. ( The name of the county had come from the Old or Middle English for “West Moor- land” because it was west of the Yorkshire moors.)

Joan’s family ties ended up as the undoing of King Richard, though. Richard had the bad judgment to drive Joan’s brother Henry Bolingbroke from England when their father, the Duke of Lancaster, died. Being denied his rightful title and lands, Henry landed again on English shores in July 1399, and with the military aid of Ralph and Ralph’s first cousin, the Earl of Northumberland, King Richard II was overthrown. Henry became King Henry IV, and at 35, Ralph was made marshal of England to serve on the Privy Council. In Shakespeare, Ralph shows up as the king’s trusted advisor.

Joan and Ralph had fourteen children, many of whom acquired distinguished titles - Richard, Earl of Salisbury; William, Earl of Kent; George, Baron Latimer; Robert, bishop of Salisbury and Durham; Edward, Baron Bergavenny; Catherine, wife of the Duke of Norfolk; Anne, Duchess of Buckingham; Eleanor, Duchess of Northumberland; and Cicely, Duchess of York and mother of King Edward IV.

But the two families also owed their status to the fact that they were marcher lords, nobility defending an insecure border, in this case with the Scots. Both Alnwick and Warkworth were, in fact, taken by the Scots at various times during the Middle Ages. A great revolt of the Percys took place in 1536-37, in protest against Henry VIII’s economic policies (he promoted expensive and ineffective wars against France) and his religious ones, in his break with the Roman church. The commoners of York supported the revolt, but the city council saw the danger in opposing the king, and when a royal pardon undermined the pilgrimage, Thomas Percy, brother to the Earl of Northumberland. There was a second major revolt, Northern Rising against Queen Elizabeth in 1569, in which, thanks to a delaying siege of Barnard Castle, the rebels under Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland and Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland, were badly defeated; Thomas Percy was beheaded at Tyburn, 2 Jun, 1537, and Charles Neville escaped to live the rest of his life in exile. But even so many Dukes of Northumberland and Earls of Westmoreland retained their Roman Catholic faith. Even when they didn’t, they might be imprisoned, as the 9th Duke of Northumberland, Henry Percy, spent sixteen years in the Tower simple because of suspicion.

Marcher lords and their territories, often called the Marches, obtained wide independence from the king, living more independently than any of the other nobility. There were similar march lords on the Welsh border. The significance of their role is shown in the names of states, like Denmark and Ostmark (Austria), as well as the Marches (“Marche”) in Italy, from which we have the noble title “marchese” or the French “marquis.”

Interestingly, even though their independence and power made them threats to the kings, and they led, throughout the Middle Ages, almost as many rebellions against the English monarchy as campaigns against the Scots, these families always regained their status, though often at the cost of finding a distant relative to inherit the title, after the rebellious lords had been executed and their sons barred from succession. These families supplied Dukes of York, including the father of King Richard III, and many bishops, including William Neville, Archbishop of York in the late fifteenth century. Richard Nevill,., held Barnard Castle through his wife, Ann Beauchamps, by whom he became Earl of Warwick; Nevill is known to history and from Shakespeare as ’The Kingmaker’ in the Wars of the Roses.