York in the 17th Century, Continued
During the seventeenth century, even other English cities grew rapidly, York’s population hovered around 12,000. And while Hull became the port of choice for Yorkshire’s international trade, York remained hub regional trade and continued as a regional capitol, and the seat of England’s largest archdiocese. More importantly, over the course of the century, York became a social center for Yorkshire gentry, many of whom abandoned their country estates to live in York for part or all of the year. (For a larger version of the map, click on the image to the right.)
Thanks to the city’s role as a center of trade and government, York became one of the most prosperous in England; in 1662, only 20% of the city’s residents were poor enough to be exempt from taxation. Despite this general prosperity, a wide gap between rich and poor endured. The average home in the tony parish of St. Martin Coneystreet had nearly six hearths, while typical home in St. Mary Bishophill had only two. Bridget’s home had six hearths, nearly twice the average of her home parish of St. Helen Stonegate.
Because of its role as a regional capital, and its strategic location between northern and southern England, York played an important role in the civil wars between King and Parliament that ravaged England starting in 1642. In March of that year, following his flight from London, King Charles I moved his court to York, and for six months it served as the de facto seat of royal government. During his stay, the city’s defenses were reinforced, and the city militia became more active. As in many parts of England, York’s leaders did their level best to remain neutral in the conflict, praying in public not for victory by either of the warring parties, but for a peaceful settlement. But it was not to be.