In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Medieval York

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Archaeology and Material Culture
  • Post-Roman and Anglian York
  • Anglo-Scandinavian York
  • Social, Economic, and Political History of Medieval York
  • Cultural History
  • Jews in Medieval York

Medieval Studies Medieval York
Stefania Merlo Perring
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0267


The medieval period in York spans from the end of the Roman rule in Britain in 410 CE to the early 16th century, when the Reformation had a dramatic impact on religious and secular institutions and urban space. The Roman fortress of Eboracum was founded in c. 71 CE in a strategic location at the confluence of two rivers. The annexed civil settlement in the late 2nd century became a provincial capital. Roman emperors resided in Eboracum to control the northern border; Constantine was proclaimed emperor there in 313 CE and Christianity was established by 314 CE. After the Roman period, archaeological sources suggest that there was human activity on the site; however, there is no clear evidence for continuity of urban life. From 627 CE written sources indicate that a wooden church dedicated to Saint Peter was founded within the walls of the Roman fortress by bishop Paulinus, a Gregorian missionary sent to convert the local pagan population. Archaeological evidence shows, however, that the Anglian settlement of Eoforvic was located by the rivers outside of the Roman walls. By 866 CE, at the time of the Viking conquest, York must have been a prosperous town, with commercial and cultural exchanges with the Carolingian world. Under Viking and Anglian rulers, the Anglo-Scandinavian town of Jorvik flourished. Churches, cemeteries, and possibly centers of secular power were located within the Roman walls, while densely populated residential and commercial areas were developed along the rivers. Trade and cultural exchange were established with Northern Europe and the wider Viking network. In 1066 the Norman Conquest had a great impact on York’s urban environment and institutions. Changes that occurred in the 11th century shaped the form and life of the city and influenced its development for centuries to come. The cathedral, the Minster, was re-founded and rebuilt; two castles were built in Norman style to control the rivers; Roman gates and defenses were enhanced; and parish churches, monasteries, royal mansions, houses, and bridges were built in stone within the city walls. By the 13th century York had grown in economic importance; in 1212 the city communality obtained a royal charter and a civic government was developed. In the 14th century York was a center of wool trade and the wealthiest city in Northern England; private and public buildings were extensively rebuilt and a rich civic culture was flourishing. Despite the 15th century economic crisis, York remained the regional capital of Northern England until the end of the medieval period.

General Overviews

Because of the nature of the primary sources, the study of medieval York requires a multidisciplinary approach and no single work can reliably cover the whole period. Between 314 CE and 627 CE the written sources are completely absent, and from 627 CE until 1066 they are scarce and consist of texts such as chronicles, poetry, and epigraphy. After the Norman Conquest and for the remaining centuries of the medieval period, there is an increasing abundance of archival sources of legal and administrative nature. By contrast, the archaeology of York is plentiful from the early medieval period, and in the past forty years it has been studied with state-of-the-art research in urban archaeology. Therefore, the chapters of Addyman 2015, Volume 5 in the The British Historic Towns Atlas series covering the early medieval and medieval periods, written by a team of archaeologists and historians, are the most reliable general introduction to the whole period of medieval York. The starting point for the study of medieval York’s political and social history is Miller 1961, a part of the the Victoria County History project. Recently two monographs on medieval York have been published by two distinguished scholars. Rees Jones 2013 focuses on the period between the Norman Conquest in the 11th century to the Black Death in the 14th century, presenting new arguments from the author’s primary research. Palliser 2014 includes an overview narrative of a thousand years of the history of York, based on existing literature. Works considering the early medieval town include a volume on Anglian York (Addyman 1999) and one on the Anglo Scandinavian town (Hall, et al. 2004). Another group of works is made of topographical and architectural surveys. Raine 1955 discusses the available written and material evidence for the medieval city, street by street. The four volumes of the Royal Commission for Historic Monuments for England are the principal and authoritative source for the study of York’s medieval built environment. They offer a thorough overview, a comprehensive and detailed architectural survey of historic buildings in York, and references to documentary sources for the history of the built environment. Finally, Drake 1736 is the first published history of the city, considering both documentary evidence and the material record.

  • Addyman, P. V., ed. Anglian York: A Survey of the Evidence. The Archaeology of York 7.2. York, UK: Council for British Archaeology, 1999.

    A series of essays reviewing all of the available evidence for the development of the Anglian city. The book remains a starting point and introduction for the study of the urban settlement from the end of the Roman rule in Britain.

  • Addyman, P. V., ed. York. The British Historic Towns Atlas: V. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2015.

    A volume part of the European Historic Towns Atlas project. It is the work of an interdisciplinary team of scholars to illustrate the development of the city through the centuries. A gazetteer of buildings and sites reference the mapped information and a series of four chapters provide a history of the city during the medieval period. A rich collection of pictorial sources and historic cartography complete the work.

  • Dean, G. Medieval York. Stroud, UK: Tempus, 2008.

    The book presents the medieval town in way accessible to a non-specialist readership, using secondary sources from historical and archaeological research to narrate medieval York in a thematic way, with a focus on everyday life.

  • Drake, F. Eboracum; or the History and Antiquities of the City of York. London: Printed by W. Bowyer, 1736.

    This is the first history of York in the antiquarian tradition, assembling several sources to create a narrative from the Roman period to the 18th century. It uses literary sources, documentary sources, and descriptions of building and antiquities that Drake himself saw in York. This makes Eboracum valuable, not only for the historiography of antiquarianism, but also because it is a primary source to study lost buildings and antiquities.

  • Hall, R. A., D. W. Rollason, M. Blackburn, et al. Aspects of Anglo-Scandinavian York. The Archaeology of York, Vol. 8.4. York, UK: Council for British Archaeology, 2004.

    A collection of essays discusses the historiography of York, Jorvik, after the Viking conquest, and presents some of the main themes that emerged from two decades of archaeological research. The book remains to date an authoritative starting point for the study of the Anglo-Scandinavian settlement.

  • Miller, E. “Medieval York.” In The Victoria History of the County of Yorkshire: The City of York. Edited by P. M. Tillott, 25–116. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961.

    The Victoria County History is a research project on British local history. The volume is the result of intensive archival research, and consists of a factual account in chronologic and thematic order. The section on early medieval York was written in the 1950s when the archaeology was no yet developed and therefore information is incomplete. Available through British History Online.

  • Palliser, D. M. Medieval York, 600–1540. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199255849.001.0001

    This monograph provides an easy to read overview of the city in its wider historical and geographical contexts, using secondary sources from historical and archaeological research. It covers the whole medieval period, however, the author’s expertise is in documentary history of the late medieval period. Therefore, for scholarly arguments in archaeology, it is advisable to consult and to cite archaeological primary research in the Palliser’s bibliography.

  • Raine, A. Medieval York: A Topographical Survey Based on Original Sources. London: John Murray, 1955.

    Continuing the antiquarian tradition, Raine’s topographical survey is conducted street by street, using direct observation, archival, and other more anecdotal information. His interpretations of the medieval built environment, however, need to be checked against more recent works on the archaeology and architectural analysis of buildings.

  • RCHME. Royal Commission on Historical Monuments for England: An Inventory of the Historic Monuments in the City of York. Vol. 2, The Defences. London: HMSO, 1972.

    The volume is a detailed building analysis and architectural history of the medieval city walls and of the monumental city gates. Available at British History Online.

  • RCHME. Royal Commission on Historical Monuments for England: An Inventory of the Historic Monuments in the City of York. Vol. 3, South-west of the Ouse. London: HMSO, 1972.

    An architectural survey of the part of the city within the medieval walls and suburbs on the south bank of the river Ouse. Available at British History Online

  • RCHME. Royal Commission on Historical Monuments for England: An Inventory of the Historic Monuments in the City of York. Vol. 4, Outside the City Walls East of the Ouse. London: HMSO, 1975.

    An architectural survey of the area on the east bank of the river Ouse outside the city walls. Available at British History Online.

  • RCHME. Royal Commission on Historical Monuments for England: An Inventory of the Historic Monuments in the City of York. Vol. 5, The Central Area. London: HMSO, 1981.

    An architectural survey of the central area of York, on the east bank of the river Ouse within the medieval walls. Available at British History Online.

  • Rees Jones, S. York: The Making of a City, 1068–1350. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198201946.001.0001

    The work explains the formation of the city of York from the Norman Conquest in the 11th century to the period of full cultural and economic development of the city in the mid-14th century. Innovative and based on the author’s primary research, the book is theoretically informed, offering also a historiography of medieval York and a discussion on the sources and on research methodology.

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