York in the 17th Century

The origins of York date to the year 71, when the Romans established a garrison at at the intersection of the Foss and Ouse rivers, and called it Eboracum. The Roman presence lasted over three centuries and fell to the Anglo-Saxons, and as England gradually became a Christian nation, York became an ecclesiastical center. In the centuries that followed, York passed from the Anglo-Saxons, to the Vikings, and then to the Normans after the Battle of Hastings. William the Conqueror made York his northern capital and built up the city’s defenses, including Clifford’s Tower, which stands to this day. Despite the depredations of the Reformation, York remained the most important city in northern England, as it served as the seat of Henry VIII’s Council of the North and the Archbishop of York, second only in power to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Most seventeenth century visitors to York came away impressed. According to William Camden, York was,

the most beautiful city in this region and indeed in the whole of the North...It is pleasant, large, and strongly fortified...crammed with riches and with people, and famous as the seat of an archbishop.

The most remarkable building was, of course, the Minster, described at length in an account written by an officer in the Norwich militia.

The remaining part of the day was chiefly spend in the Cathedral, in viewing the many rarities, riches, and monuments of that sacred building...we took special notice [of] the Sanctum Sanctorum beyond the stately, rich, High Altar, and gilded partition, wherein St. William’s shrine formerly was; his tomb 7 foot long, sometime covered all over with silver...the gorgeous canopy, the rich communion table-cloths, the copes of embroidered velvet, cloth of gold, silver, and tissue of great worth and value. There Mr. Verger showed ups St. Peter’s chair (which we made bold to rest in) wherein all the Archbishops are installed.

The men returned the next and

tired our legs with an ascent of 270 stairs to the top of the Minster...there we took our view of the city and suburbs...It hath a large fair wall with 8 gates and many towers and bulwarks that fence it in; and for the inhabitants 28 churches to serve god in.