The first castle in York was built following the Norman Conquest in 1068. However, it was badly damaged following a Viking raid on York the following year and needed extensive renovation.
In 1190, fearing rising anti-Semitic feelings, 150 Jews from the city sought refuge in the castle where they were besieged by the townspeople. Fearing that they would be handed over to the mob by the local sheriff, many committed suicide, whilst others were killed in a fire that broke out in the keep. The few that survived were set upon by the mob and killed.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, the castle was an important military base for wars with Scotland but in the 15th and 16th centuries it’s military usage declined and the castle was used as a prison. It regained its strategic importance and was refortified during the English civil. The commanding officer responsible for the re-fortification was Henry Clifford (the sole remaining part of the castle is named after him) It was held under siege for the Royalists from 1642 to July 1644 when the defeat of the Royalist army at nearby Marston Moor led to the cities surrender.
In 1684 an explosion rocked Clifford’s Tower which was badly damaged. the official explanation was an accident but some strange facts emerged. No one was injured in the explosion and many members of the garrison had removed their belongings from the tower prior to the explosion. This has led many to suggest that it was in fact a premeditated act.
In the 18th century the site, except for Clifford’s Tower, was cleared and a new courthouse and prison complex were erected. These buildings now house the York Castle Museum.