Emperors of the great Roman empire also visited it; Severus died here; his body was burned in York, and the ashes carried to Rome in a porphyry urn. The cremation was, it is believed, performed on one of the three little hills a mile and a half to the west of the city, which are still called Severus's hills.
When the empire, nearly a century afterwards, was divided between Galerius and Constantius Chlorus, Britain fell to the share of the latter, who made York the seat of his empire; here also he died in 306. His body was cremated and his ashes taken to Rome.
Constantine, his son, was proclaimed emperor by the soldiers in York, - probably they were the conquering Sixth Legion, who were long quartered in the city. He left immediately after for Gaul, and no Roman emperor again appeared in York - Constantine became THE GREAT, and was the first Christian emperor, as every one knows. His mother, the Empress Helena, was supposed to be a British lady, but there are doubts on the subject.
The Romans abandoned Britain; it was conquered by the Saxons, and Edwin, the Saxon king of Northumbria, had to flee from his inheritance for his life when a child, and to take refuge in East Anglia, casting himself on the hospitality of its king, Redwald. But even here he was in danger, and one night, - the legend says, - he went outside the palace, where he was threatened with treachery, and sat mournfully down on a stone in the moonlight, reflecting that he had no friends, or refuge; because Redwald had been terrified by the threats of Ethelfrith (who had usurped Edwin's crown), and had promised to yield the young prince up to him - and death.
Whilst he sat and reflected mournfully on his evil fortune, a tall person in a long black robe stood suddenly before him, and inquired "why he sat there when every one else was asleep?" Edwin answered, that it could be no concern of his whether he watched or slept. The stranger said, "But I know the cause; be of good cheer; Redwald will not betray you. You shall recover your father's throne and be the greatest of the Anglo Saxon princes, and when you are powerful and prosperous will you promise to receive instruction from one who can do you good?"
"I will," promised the king.
"Remember your promise when this sign shall be repeated," said the stranger solemnly, and he laid his hand on Edwin's head.
Then he disappeared. His prophecy came true. Redwald of East Anglia was saved from guilt and infamy by the brave counsel of his wife. He bade defiance to Ethelfrith, marched against him before he had collected all his forces, gave him battle on the banks of the river Idel, in Nottinghamshire, defeated and slew him, though with the loss of his own son. Edwin was thus restored to his kingdom; in fact, he thus obtained all Northumbria, and Redwald became Bretwalda or head of the Heptarchy.
Restored to his enlarged dominions, Edwin sought in marriage a Princess of Kent, Edilburga, daughter of Ethelbert, and sister of Eadbald. Eadbald, who was then reigning, objected to give her to a heathen; but at length yielded his assent on condition that Edilburga should be allowed the free exercise of her religion for herself and her household. Edwin willingly consented, and said that he would examine this new faith, and if he thought it good would adopt it; and the queen departed to the kingdom of her intended husband, taking with her Paulinus (one of the last missionaries that Gregory the Great had sent to help Augustine), whom the king of Kent hoped might prove an Apostle to the Northumbrians. Paulinus acted with great prudence. He did not immediately begin the attempt to convert Edwin; he suffered the fair young wife to show, by her gentle example, the power and beauty of Christianity, and thus nearly a year went by, when an assassin was sent by the King of Wessex to murder the Northumbrian king. The attempt was defeated by Lilla, one of Edwin's thanes, throwing himself before his master and receiving the poisoned short sword in his own breast That same night a daughter was born to Edwin, who thanked the gods aloud for his wife's safety. Paulinus told him that he did not owe his safety or his child to his gods, but to the one Almighty - Alfather - to whom Christians prayed. The king's heart was softened; his wife implored him to let Paulinus baptize her child, and he gave assent; with the babe, twelve of the royal household were also baptized, but the little princess Eanfleda was the first Christian baptized in Northumbria. The king promised that if the Christian's God would give him the victory over the King of Wessex (for whose late attempt he was going to war with him), he would be baptized also.
He defeated and slew his enemy, and returned victorious. From that day he never again worshipped idols, but he still hesitated to accept the new faith. About this time the Pope addressed a letter to him and to the queen calculated to make a deep impression on him. One day when Edwin was alone reflecting on these, to him, strange mysteries of which the Pope had written, Paulinus entered the room, and laying his hand upon the king's head, asked him "if he remembered the token." The king fell at his feet.
"Behold," said the missionary, raising him up, "thou hast escaped from all thine enemies. By God's favour thou hast recovered thy kingdom. Remember now thine own promise and observe it; that He who hath elevated thee to a temporal kingdom may deliver thee also from eternal misery, and take thee to live and reign with Him eternally in Heaven." Edwin hesitated no longer, he assembled his chiefs, and required them each to deliver his opinion as to the new religion preached to them by Paulinus.
Coifi, the chief priest of Northumbria, spoke at once - "As for what the religion is, which is now propounded to us, O king, see thou to it. I For my part, I will assert what I certainly know that that which we have hitherto held is good for nothing. For among all thy people, there is no one who hath given himself more diligently to the worship of our gods than I; and yet many have received greater benefits and obtained higher dignities, and prospered better in whatever they undertook. But if the gods had possessed any power, they rather would have assisted me, who have endeavoured carefully to serve them. If, therefore, after due examination you have perceived that these new things, of which we are told, are better, and more efficacious, let us without delay hasten to adopt them."
Another chief spoke in a very different manner to that of the selfish old priest.
"O king, the present life of man, when considered in relation to that which is to come, may be likened to a sparrow flying through the hall wherein you and your chiefs and servants are seated at supper in winter time, the hearth blazing in the centre and the viands smoking, while without is the storm, and rain, or snow; the bird flies through, entering at one door and passing out at the other; he feels not the weather during the little minute that he is within; but after that minute he returns again to winter, as from winter he came, and is seen no more. Such is the life of man; and what follows it, or of what has preceded it, we are altogether ignorant. Wherefore if this new doctrine should bring anything more certain, it well deserves to be followed."
Paulinus was then summoned, and he explained to them the principles of Christianity. The change of religion was decided on at once. The chief priest then offered to throw down the idols and altars. Taking a lance in his hand and mounting a horse, he rode up to the sacred enclosure and threw his lance into it. Then the temple was set on fire. From that day the king and his chiefs gave up idolatry; and on Easter-day, 627, Edwin the king was baptized. A wooden oratory being erected in York for the king's baptism, the king's example was followed by the people, and Paulinus is said to have been employed for six and thirty days, from morning till evening, in baptizing the multitudes who flocked to him at Yevering. The ceremony was performed in the river Glen, in Bernicia, and in the Swale, in Deira; for there were no churches or oratories for them to be baptized in as yet.
A church of stone was immediately begun upon the same spot on which the king had been christened, enclosing the wooden oratory, and thus York Minster was first founded, to be replaced, by-and-by, by a temple more meet for the worship of God. Paulinus was first Archbishop of York.
Archbishop Egbert, a little more than a hundred years afterwards, founded the school and library which became so celebrated that students came from every part of England, and even from the Continent, to be instructed by the archbishop. The school of York in the time of Egbert's successor became even more renowned, as Achbishop Albert placed it under the care of the famous poet and scholar Alcuin, who was afterwards the teacher and guide of Charlemagne.
York submitted to the Normans in 1068 after a slight resistance, but the next year the Saxons and Danes united to drive out the invaders, and, retaking the city, put the Norman garrison to death.
William the Conqueror took a terrible vengeance for this revolt. He carried fire and sword into the north, and almost entirely depopulated the country between York and Durham, reducing it to a desert. It is said that 100,000 human beings 1 perished by the sword or famine at this time. What a period of misery those ages must have been!
In 1137 the Scots laid waste the country as far as the Gates of York, but the Archbishop was a gallant warrior, as well as a wise priest; he placed himself at the head of the northern chivalry, and defeated the Scots at the famous Battle of the Standard, at Caton Moor, near Northallerton.
In the reign of Richard I. a frightful massacre of the Jews took place at York. It began by a body of armed men attacking the house of a Jew, named Benet, the wealthiest of the Jewish community; they plundered it and murdered his wife and child. About five hundred Jews fled to York Castle, taking their gold with them; and they were admitted on the plea that they brought the king's gold.
They refused to admit the Castellan when he returned from a journey, and he and the sheriff, enraged at their having seized a royal castle, gave the people leave to attack the fortress. The Jews were starving; they had no provisions in the fortress, and perceiving that they were lost, an old Rabbi advised them to hide the wealth they could not destroy, and to set fire to the castle. A Jew, Jocen, then killed his wife and children; and the rest followed his example, except a few who came out of the burning building and offered to become Christians, but they were all massacred as well as those left outside the castle. Those within perished in the flames. The people then went to the Minster, where the register of loans from Jews was kept, and burnt it in the nave of the Minster.
Richard was not then in England; he had departed to the Crusades; he afterwards ordered the matter to be inquired into, but no more severe punishments than fines were inflicted for this great and disgraceful crime.
John was frequently at York, and Isaac, the Jew, is an historical character. Edward III. married, in York Minster, the beautiful and heroic Philippa of Hainault.
Many parliaments have been held here, and Richard II., when at York, conferred the title of Lord Mayor on the Mayor; ever since then the Mayor of York has shared the title with the Lord Mayor of London.
Two fatal battles were fought near York; that of Towton, when the Lancastrians were defeated, and Margaret and Henry VI., who were in the city at the time, had to fly to Scotland; and Marston Moor (the moor can be seen from the walls), in which Royalists were conquered by the Parliamentarians.
The walls of York are objects of great interest. Portions of them are built upon the foundations of the old Roman walls, on an angle of which is the Multangular Tower, a remainder of the old Roman fortifications still in excellent preservation. The lower part is built of small ashlar stones, with a row of large Roman tiles five inches deep inserted between them. Above this part of the tower a good deal has been added with battlements and arrowslits.
Edwards I. and III., during their Scottish wars, rebuilt the walls and strongly fortified the city, that it might be defended against incursions of the Scots.
The civil wars greatly injured them, and though they were repaired after the Restoration, they are of no use now for hostile purposes, nor, indeed, are such (happily) required. On the western side of the rive, the wall is perfect, and forms a delightful walk, affording good prospects of the Minster; in fact, the walk on them may be continued all round by means of crossing the bridges. The walk itself runs generally Ott the ridge of the high rampart, and the views from it are most picturesque and beautiful, with the Minster, the gardens, the red roofs and churches lying around us. The Clifford Tower, built by William the Conqueror and within the castle enclosure, is seen from the walls. On the front are the arms of England and France, quarterly; and there are stone figures on the battlements in the attitude of hurling stones.
Walmgate Bar has still its barbican, probably because it was restored in 1648, and is consequently not nearly as old as the others. It is the entrance to the south, from Beverley and Hull. The original Bar was of the time of Edward 1. The old Barbican was built by Edward III., but was nearly destroyed by the Parliamentary army when besieging York. The arms on the front of the Bar are those of Henry V. Inside the building is a piece of the Roman wail.
The wall breaks off at Layerthrope, but by crossing the bridge we can take the outer wall, and continue till we reach the Red Tower.
Fishergate Bar was walled up till 1827, when it was opened to admit the traffic to the cattle markets.
Gates here are called Bars, and the streets leading to them gates, the Anglo-Saxon Geat being the translation of our word "road."
There are four principal Bars and two smaller ones; of these, Micklegate Bar is the most interesting. It forms a very striking approach to the city from the south, and consists of a Norman Arch, flanked on either side with turrets or bartizans, pierced with crossed loopholes, and surmounted by battlements, on which are stone figures of men-at-arms. Above the arch rises a square tower, with embattled turrets at the angles. The barbican was removed in 1826, and the portcullis later. One of our engravings represents Micklegate Bar during the civil war. Two side arches have been built since, to accommodate the increasing traffic. On each side are steps leading up to the walls. The engraving is of the inside of the Bar; the royal arms are here, over the archway; the arms of France and England are outside, with those of the City of York.
The date of the erection of Micklegate Bar is unknown, but the arch is Norman. It was on the top of this gate that the head of Richard, Duke of York, with the mockery of a paper crown on it, was placed by Queen Margaret during the war of the Roses. Shakspeare makes her say:-
"Off with his head, and set it or York Gate, So York may overlook the town of York."
But when the White Rose became successful, and Edward IV. entered the city after the battle of Towton, and beheld his father's head on the Bar, he was so indignant, that he ordered the Earls of Devon and Wiltshire, and some other prisoners to be decapitated, in order that their heads might take the place of the duke's.
Bootham Bar is the north western entrance to the city. The main arch is thought to be Norman, the superstructure of the time of Edward I. The Bar lost its barbican in 1831. Here the wall follows for a little way the two sides of the Roman city.
Monk Bar bore the name of Goodram Gate till the restoration of Charles II., when it was called Monk Bar after the general who had been the means of re-establishing the monarchy. This gate is supposed to have been erected in the fourteenth century, and is a really fine structure. The circular archway is probably Norman; the superstructure is of the Decorated period. It has flanking turrets; and a pointed arch, above the lower and open one, supports a gallery between the turrets. The portcullis, with the chamber for its machinery, remains.
On a piece of land between the Ouse and the Foss rivers stands the Castle, the keep of which was, and is, Clifford's Tower. There were two moats round the Castle; one round the outer fortifications, another round Clifford's Tower. They could he filled from the river Foss. Clifford's Tower, we have already said, is the last remnant of the old Castle, built by the Conqueror and given to the Cliffords to keep for the Crown; the old Castle was the scene of the dreadful Jewish self-immolation we have already mentioned in 1190. It is now used as the County Jail.
Clifford's Tower is entered by a portal, built by the Clifford who was Earl of Cumberland in Charles I.'s reign, and who put the fortress into a state of defence.
In the Museum Gardens of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society are the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey, founded in 1078 by a Monk of Whitbay. Here also stands the Multangular Tower and the small hospital of St Leonards, said to have been founded by Athelstane.
The abbey was one of the richest in the county; and its abbot, one of the two mitred abbots of the north, was called to Parliament. From this monastery issued the monks who founded Fountains Abbey; they wished to adopt a stricter rule than that of Benedict - the Cistercian, and left their original monastery to establish another.
These ruins are extremely picturesque, and the foliage growing about them and twining up the shafts adds a singular beauty to them.
The Society have a Natural History Museum in the centre of the gardens.
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1. Odericus Vitalis.