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Clifford’s Tower is a major tourist attraction with parapet access offering good views over the whole city. Some segments of the Castle Bailey curtain wall are also visible. At Baile Hill only the heavily overgrown motte is visible. Visits to both can be combined with a walk around the largely complete circuit of York City Defences.

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Castle is managed by English Heritage. Bailes Castle is unmanned.

Baile Hill. The heavily overgrown motte and a few dips in the city wall are all that remain of York’s second castle and accordingly it often gets overlooked. In reality after its construction in 1069 it was of comparable size to the main castle on the other side of the River Ouse.


1. Henry II had actively encouraged Jews to settle in England as Christians were under extreme limitations with regard to money lending. Many settled in major cities such as York but when Henry II died in 1189, his son (Richard I) was less tolerant which prompted anti-Jewish rioting. Seizing the opportunity to clear their own debts, local landowners - led by Richard Malebisse -  whipped up anti-Semitism in York and in March 1190, fearing for their lives, the Jewish community fled to the castle. The subsequent siege resulted in many committing suicide with the survivors lynched by the mob,

2. Clifford's Tower derives its name from the hereditary constables of the castle; the Clifford family. The body of one of their number, Roger de Clifford, was hung from the structure following his 1322 rebellion against Edward II.

3. In July 1537 the body of Robert Aske, leader of the rebellion known as the 'Pilgrimage of Grace' against Henry VIII, was displayed from Clifford's Tower.

York Castle Layout. The first castle was well sited between the Rivers Foss and Ouse. It re-directed the former to flood the moats around both the motte and the baileys for defensive purposes.



Clifford Tower (York Castle)


53.955884N 1.079988W

Baile Hill Castle


53.953926N 1.083121W

Notes:  Clifford Tower is a major tourist attraction within York. Car parking is available immediately adjacent to the castle or throughout city centre. Baile Hill is a short walk over the adjacent bridge onto Bishopgate Street.

England > Yorkshire YORK CASTLES including CLIFFORD’S TOWER and BAILE HILL

York Castle was initially a motte-and-bailey fortification and was augmented by a second structure, Baile Castle, following William I's harrowing of the north. Whilst the latter would be abandoned in the early twelfth century, York Castle evolved into Clifford's Tower which still dominates the skyline to this day.


The Battle of Hastings (1066) had enabled William the Conqueror to establish effective control over the south of England but the north - particularly Northumbria (which stretched from the Humber to the Forth) - was far from conquered. As England's second city, York needed to be controlled and when William visited in 1068 he commenced the building of York Castle. This was an earth and timber motte-and-bailey structure situated to the south of the former Roman Legionary fortress on the strip of land between the convergence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss. The River Foss was diverted to provide a flooded moat around both the bailey and motte of the new castle.

The north soon proved troublesome to William. In Autumn of 1069, supported by a Danish fleet that had arrived in the Humber, York and the north rebelled against the Normans. The Royal garrison there was besieged and, when they took drastic action by burning down huge swathes of the city to deny its use to the attackers, they were overwhelmed and lynched. William deployed a force to stabilise the situation and the subsequent 'Harrying of the North' caused wide scale devastation. A second castle was then constructed on the west side of the River Ouse. Commenced around 1069 this new fortification, Baile Castle, was also an earth and timber motte-and-bailey castle of comparative size to the first. The two fortifications now controlled the elements of the city on both sides of the River Ouse and complete domination of the lines of communication along the River itself.

Despite the city walls being rebuilt both in the late eleventh and mid-twelfth centuries, both castles remained timber constructions. This led to the destruction of the main castle in March 1190 when, in an attempt to escape persecution and potential lynching from the mob, York's Jewish community sought refuge there. The mob, incited by local nobles, brought up siege apparatus and many of the Jews committed suicide with the survivors setting the castle alight to cremate their bodies. The tower was completely destroyed and Richard I ordering its immediate re-construction.

In 1244, following a visit by Henry III, the main castle was rebuilt in stone and the subsequent structure, known today as Clifford's Tower, was heavily influenced by the French castle at Etampes. The walls of the castle bailey were also rebuilt in stone with work completed by 1272. The new castle was sufficiently complete to act as stronghold for the King's treasury in 1298 during the first War of Scottish Independence but in 1315 was severely damaged when flooding softened the motte and caused extensive cracking of the superstructure. Repairs were made but the damage remains visible to this day. By contrast Baile Castle remained a decaying wooden structure as it had effectively gone out of regular use by this time. It was ceded by the Crown to the Archbishop of York on the proviso it would be re-commissioned in times of war. Later, parts of its ramparts and ditch were incorporated into the fourteenth century upgrade to the city walls.

York Castle continued as a centre of Royal administration throughout the latter Middle Ages but saw little military action. Even during the Wars of the Roses - where the decisive Battle of Towton (1461) was fought nearby - the castle was only on the fringe of events with the defeated Henry VI briefly visiting the castle before continuing his flight north. The castle was also neglected by the Tudor monarchs and this lack of oversight led to a Robert Redhead pillaging stone from the structure; he was only stopped after extensive protests were made by the city council.

During the Civil War the castle was garrisoned for the Royalists and hastily repaired. Henry Clifford, Earl of Cumberland and constable of the castle strengthened the tower to support heavily artillery whilst earth banks were erected to protect the medieval masonry of the bailey walls. The old castle at Baile Hill was also re-activated as a Royalist gun emplacement. York became the headquarters of the Royalist forces in the north and was duly besieged by a combined Parliamentary-Scottish army in April 1644. A Royalist force under Prince Rupert relieved the city in June 1644 but, after pursing the Parliamentarians, he was engaged and decisively defeated at the Battle of Marston Moor fought on 2 July 1644. York fell just two weeks later with the castle being occupied by Parliamentary forces until the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

A small Royal garrison returned to York Castle in 1660 but the fortification was out-dated and of little military use. After the Glorious Revolution of 1689 Clifford's Tower passed into private ownership although the bailey, which housed the court and gaol facilities, were retained by the Crown. The prison remained in use until 1929 and Clifford's Tower was returned to State care in 1915.

The motte at Baile Hill - the site of York’s second castle.

The site of the main Castle Bailey .

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