York's military role

Clifford's Tower, the keep of York Castle.
Clifford's Tower, the keep of York Castle.
© Patrick Gibbs

Associated institutions

North-South Competition
Royal Residence
Building Activity
Wars of the Roses


As well as sending men to fight for Richard III, York was a military site in its own right. Proximity to the Scottish border made the city an ideal base from which to stage campaigns northwards, including that led by Richard as duke of Gloucester in July 1482.

Bloody conflict had also come close during the Wars of the Roses, with the royal party under Henry VI staying in the city and Edward IV's forces arriving there after the battle of Towton on 29 March 1461. The dominant military feature of the city was the castle, originally established by William the Conqueror in the eleventh century and rebuilt by Henry III two centuries later. The castle was used as a royal residence and also housed the city gaol.

As a recognition of this important role and the city's strategic position Edward IV declared his intention to repair the castle shortly after visiting the city in September 1478. This work did not commence, however Richard III did take up the plight of the castle and agreed a programme of rebuilding in 1484, commissioned on 23 July. This time work did begin, but only comprised demolition in preparation for reconstruction.

The king's death just a year later put an end to these plans, meaning that although a strengthened castle may have been intended by Richard III, ultimately he only oversaw its partial destruction. Despite the pleas of the city council to his successor, Henry VII, the castle was to fall into further disrepair in the decades after Richard's reign.


Edward IV's intention to rebuild York Castle, 18 November 1478

"'Appointment for life of Robert Ryther, knight, as constable of the castle of York and a tower situated by it, both of which the king intends shortly to repair'"

Calendar of Patent Rolls, AD 1476-1485 (London, 1901) p. 127

Commission of works at York Castle, 23 July 1484

"'A Commissione directed unto Maistere Robert Bothe deane of York Sir Richard Ratclyff Thomas Wrangwashe & frere William Bewik to take alle maner werkemen for the hasty expedicione of the kinges werkes within the Castelle of York and alle maner stuff that shalbe thoughte requisite for the said werke'"

British Library Harley MS 433 f. 183v, printed in R. Horrox and P.W. Hammond (eds.) British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (Upminster, 1979-82) vol 2 p. 152.

Commission for the collection of materials for work at York Castle, 14 September 1484

"Authority given to Booth, Ratcliffe and Bewik 'to take up and pourvey for us and in oure nameā€¦ as many masons Carpenters Smythes Tilers Emplasterers othre artificers and laborers to doo us service for the furtherance and accomplisshement of oure said werkes as also suche quantite of Tymbre to be had in any oure wodes or of othre oure subgettes Stones plastur Cooles and alle maner othre stuf with botes and Cartes for the conveyance and cariage of the same to our said Castel at price reasonable as theire discrecions shalle seem in every behalve behovefulle and expedient'"

British Library Harley MS 433 f. 187, printed in R. Horrox and P.W. Hammond (eds.) British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (Upminster, 1979-82) vol 2 p. 160.

City council's request to Henry VII for help in rebuilding castle defences, 23 April 1487

"'youre said citie is soo gretely decayed aswell by falling downe of the walles of the same and by taking downe of your castell ther by King Richard and as yit not reedified as othre in diverse wise that without the same bee more largely manned may ne cannot wel be kept ayenst youre ennymes and rebelles, if they shuld as God defend approche and move werre ayenst the same'"

York House Books, vol 2 p. 549

Grants of payment to officials at York Castle, 1483-85

"20 December 1483 'Grant, during pleasure, to the king's servant Henry Hixe of the office of porter of the castle of York, receiving fees of 2d daily at the hands of the receiver of the king's lordship of Sherefhoton, co. York' 8 January 1484 'Grant, during pleasure, to Robert Nightyngale of the office of keeper of the gaol of the castle of York with the accustomed fees' 5 April 1485 'Grant, during pleasure, to John Laberok of the office of porter of the castle of York with the custody of the gaol there, receiving 2d daily for the office of porter from the issues of the castle and lordship of Sherefeton, co. York, and the accustomed fees for the custody of the gaol, with all other profits' "

Calendar of Patent Rolls, AD 1476-1485 (London, 1901) pp. 412, 418, 532