Archive for the ‘Medieval History’ Category

York 2018: Barley Hall

Posted: October 31, 2018 in History, Medieval History, UK, York
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Barley Hall is situated in the centre of York. Parts of the house date from around 1360, when it served as a lodging for priests and monks from Nostell priory visiting the Cathedral. In 1430 it was rebuilt and in 1466 was leased to William Snawshall, a goldsmith, who would become an Alderman and later Lord Mayor of York. In 1489 William moved away from York and a series of different tenants held the Hall. Following the dissolution of the Monasteries, it became the property of the crown and continued to be let to tenants. At some point in the 16th or 17th centuries, it was sub-dived into different dwellings and by the early 20th century had become used for workshops and storage. By the mid 20th century it was in a very poor condition and in 1984 it was bought by the York Archaeological Trust. In the 1990s following extensive excavations, the Trust took the decision to restore the Hall to its Medieval state. It was named Barley Hall after the founder of the YAT. they tried to preserve as much of the original building as possible but centuries of poor maintenance meant that some timbers etc was too far gone to be saved and had to be replaced.

As you walk around the hall today, it is set up exactly as it was when William Snawshall, Lord Mayor of York lived there.

As with many Cathedrals, the roof of York Minster sores upwards creating a sense of immense space. There was a lot of maintenance work going on including the restoration of the organ and so the centre of the Cathedral was full of scaffolding which rather obscured and spoilt the impression on this occasion though. Still, this work has to be done and I imagine it is one big headache trying to keep an 800-year-old building in tip-top condition.

There is some fantastic stained glass on display in the Cathedral.

York 2018: York Minster

Posted: October 29, 2018 in History, Medieval History, UK, York
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The first church on this site was built around 627 AD by the Kings of Northumbria and 100 years later the first Archbishop of York was recorded. The Saxon Church, which had been rebuilt in the 8th century following a fire, was seriously damaged by William the Conqueror’s forces in 1069 during the ‘Harrying of the North’. William appointed a new Archbishop who set about building a new Cathedral on the site. The present building was built between 1220 and 1472 in the Gothic style.

York 2018: Medieval Streets

Posted: October 26, 2018 in History, Medieval History, UK, York


It is just a delight to wander down the Medieval streets of York city centre and see the wonderfully preserved Medieval buildings.

York City Walls

Posted: September 12, 2018 in History, Medieval History, UK, York
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I think one of the most attractive things about York as a city is the city walls. These are almost complete except for one section to the north of the city and you are able to walk around the city upon them. It merely gives you an idea of what a medieval walled city might have been like.



One of the fascinating aspects of the city walls is that they have been refurbished and rebuilt over a number of years and as a result show a number of different styles of defensive wall building.



York Minster

The first recorded church on the site was in 627 in a record of the baptism of a King of Northumbria. This church was rebuilt and extended over the years but was finally destroyed by Danish raid in 1075. it was rebuilt in 1080 in the Norman style. The current Gothic cathedral was begun in 1220. Building continued over the next 250 years and it was eventually completed and consecrated in 1472.





Statue of Roman Emperor Constantine, who was proclaimed Emperor by the Army at York whilst he was commanding them in 306. The statue stands outside the Minster as a reminder that Constantine, as well as being proclaimed in York, was the Emperor who made Christianity an official religion in the Roman Empire.


The Abbey of St Mary’s in York is built on the north side of the river Ouse about half a mile from York Minster. It dates back to 1055, but its prominence begins in 1088 when it was refounded as a Benedictine community on the permission of William the Conqueror. It quickly grew into one of the pre-eminent monastic houses in the North of England and also quickly developed a reputation or its rather lax and lavish lifestyle. In 1132 Prior Richard, together with 13 monks, left St Mary’s to join the Cistercians at Fountains Abbey as they felt that the lifestyle at St Mary’s did not fit their monastic vows. In the 12th century, the now wealthy order built a large extension to the monastery, including a new church and a crenellated enclosure wall.

Part of the Abbey's enclosure wall along the banks of the river

Part of the Abbey’s enclosure wall along the banks of the river

Remains of the Church

Remains of the Church

Remains of the Church

Remains of the Church

It may be that this new wall was partly built as a response to the tensions and troubles that have broken out between the monastery and the town over rights and privileges and these problems seemed to dog St Mary’s during its entire history so that when in 1539 it was dissolved by Henry VIII, it is said that there was no public outcry at its dissolution.
Initially, the buildings were used as a royal palace when the king visited in 1540, but they soon fell into disuse and disrepair.
Today the remains of this once enormously powerful abbey are found in the gardens of the Yorkshire Museum.

The Hospitium - originally either a guest house or barn in the Abbey.

The Hospitium – originally either a guest house or barn in the Abbey.



Perhaps the most famous memorial in the Cathedral is to William Shakespeare, who performed many of his plays at the Globe Theatre, a few hundred yards from the Cathedral.

The Shakespeare memorial and window which contains characters from his plays

The organ, the font and some roof bosses from the 15th-century wooden roof

In the SW corner are a fragment of the original Norman church and the memorial to the Marchioness Tragedy in 1989, which happened on the river not far from the Cathedral

Medieval tombs in the Cathedral


Last night Sue and I did an evening tour of Southwark Cathedral.


Southwark Cathedral sits at the south end of London Bridge. Its pre-Norman origins are mostly legends with very little historical proof. It has been claimed that its foundation as a church was in 606, but this seems highly unlikely. Another story claims there was a nunnery here in pre-Norman times and also a college of priests founded by a noble lady called Swithene. Some historians have actually suggested that a more likely founder was actually Bishop Swithern of Winchester, who held office from 852 to 863. Certainly, there must’ve been an established church here as the Domesday book (1086) records the ‘Minster at Southwark’, controlled by Bishop Odo of the Bayeaux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror. However, it was the Bishop of Winchester who founded a Priory dedicated to the Virgin Mary on this site, close to his London Palace, in 1106. Its actual dedication is to St Mary Overie (St Mary over the water) to distinguish itself from the churches of St Mary in the city of London on the other side of London Bridge.

The Priory was damaged by fire in 1212 and 1390 and in 1496 the stone ceiling of the nave collapsed and was replaced by a wooden one. However, despite all of these calamities, repairs were carried out and in 1520 Bishop Fox installed a new altar screen, which is still present today, at the west end. The Priory closed in 1540, as part of the dissolution of the monasteries, and the church was first leased to, and later granted to, the people of Southwark for use as a parish church. It seems however that the cost of upkeep was beyond the parish and by the 19th century, much of the church was in a bad state with only the west end in use. A major effort was made to restore the church to its former glory and much effort to ensure that the Victorian rebuilding was done in the style of the Medieval original. Thus today when you look at it, there is a continuity between the 13th-century elements and those added by the Victorian rebuilders. In 1905, with the expansion of population south of the river, a new diocese in the Church of England was created and the church was redesignated as The Cathedral Church of St Mary Overie and St Saviour.

Eustace the Monk

Posted: August 24, 2018 in History, Medieval History

Today is the 801st anniversary of the Battle of Sandwich, fought off the coast of Kent between the English and French navies. It also marks the day the English finally captured and killed one of their biggest characters of his age, Eustace the monk.

Eustace had been born around 1170, somewhere near Boulogne any in France. He trained as a knight, but through his extensive travels also learnt the skills of seamanship. But his life was to take an unexpected turn when he turned his back on the military life and entered a Benedictine monastery. Records do not recall any reason for this sudden about-face in Eustace’s life, but it is clear that it had little to do with the reformation of his character. Many un-monastic acts are attributed to him: encouraging his brothers to eat when they should have been fasting, cursing during the services and urging them to “fart in the cloister”. Eustace left the monastery, but the short stay earned him the epitaph by which he would be known for the rest of his life. He next took up a job in the court of the Count of Boulogne, but was soon accused of financial misdeeds and fled into the countryside where he set himself up as a bandit. He and his men pursued a life of thievery and violence. In 1206, seeing a unique opportunity, he allied himself English King, John, who was involved in a struggle with the French about control of the Duchy of Normandy. Eustace was given command of a flotilla in the channel and set about wreaking havoc in French shipping. The pirates seized the island of Sark and used this as a base to launch their raids. But Eustace soon started attacking ships of other nations including those of his ally, the King of England. In1214 King John ordered a raid on Sark and although many of Eustace’s men were captured, Eustace himself escaped. By 1215  Eustace appeared again, this time at the French court. King Philip Augustus recognised the value of Eustace’s experience and his knowledge of the English. He was appointed as the French Admiral and played a major part in the French invasion of England in 1216.

A medieval manuscript showing Eustace in a sea battle ( Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

When this invasion faltered, the following spring,  it was Eustace who broke through the English blockade to rescue Prince Louis, the king’s son, who was trapped in the town of Rye. Eustace was able to reunite the prince with the remainder of his army. The campaign continued to go badly for the French and by May, the Prince found himself trapped once again, this time in London. Reinforcements and much-needed supplies were gathered in France and Eustace set sail for England. However, on the 24th August, this large French fleet was intercepted by the English navy off of Sandwich and heavily defeated. It is recorded that Eustace died on the deck of his ship fighting the English.

Eustace the monk would be well remembered but not for his holy monastic life!