Sunday, 4 December 2016

The grand old Duke of York

City walls of York
The walls of York began as an earthen and wooden stockade surrounding Eboracum (the Roman name for York.) Stone sections were added during the Roman occupation of Britain and a few of these remnants are still visible. During the centuries of Anglo-Saxon and Viking York (Eoferwic and Jorvik) it is likely that the walls were patched up in places but generally left to the weather’s ravages as the city focused on Christianity and Trading. During medieval times, though, when York became the York we know today, the walls were enlarged and reinforced and it is mostly these walls that have been renovated enough to walk on when you visit the city in 2016.

Barley Hall

York has a formidable distinction of being a thriving contemporary city (with its forward-thinking EU Remain-voting populace.) It is also a place that exploits its past for the tourist pound, but in a mostly respectful (and academic) fashion. Barley Hall is a prime example of the potential for forging new economic possibilities from a building that was about to be demolished – until the archaeologists realised how much of the original medieval structure was still intact under the layers of additions and alterations. In a recent visit I enjoyed a vivid display of the costumes from the BBC’s adaptation of Hilary Mantell’s Wolf Hall. Even without the headline-displays Barley Hall is evocative of a distant past that, in some ways, reveals itself to be unnervingly similar to today, even though swans and peacocks rarely feature on 21st century dining tables.

O tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide!

I’ve always loved York since learning at a young age that the castle nearest my childhood home in Wakefield, Sandal Castle, was the site of the nursery rhyme
Oh, the grand old Duke of York!
He had 10,000 men.
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again….
Tragically, of course, the grand old Duke of York also had the blood of his son, Edmund, smeared over his face by Margaret of Anjou, the wife of Henry VI and effectively the commander of the Lancastrian army at Sandal Castle during the Wars of the Roses. To add further humiliation Margaret placed a mock paper crown on the Duke of York’s head before slaughtering him and removing his head to be hoisted on a pike above Micklegate Bar in the city of York. Is all that true? It’s not in the nursery rhyme, that’s for sure, but Shakespeare has it covered in Henry VI Part Three. Ah, the good old days….
Margaret of Anjou kills the Duke of York (in Shakespeare's version) at Sandal Castle, Wakefield