The Anarchy in Yorkshire

The Anarchy in Yorkshire

In 1135, King Henry I died with no male heir. Henry had named his daughter Matlida as heir, but she was an unpopular choice with the English barons. Upon Henry's death, Stephen of Blois, Henry's nephew, rushed to London to secure the throne for himself. Matilda was in France at the time of her father's death, so could not prevent Stephen usurping her throne. Matlida mounted a military campaign to regain power. Stephen's weak leadership caused discontent among the nobility and those who originally supported Stephen switched allegiances.

St. Mary’s Abbey, York. Date: October 1132

The Abbey of St. Mary's was a Benedictine house founded in 1055 and dedicated to St. Olave. In 1088, Alan Rufus (1040-1089) provided land and laid the foundation stone for the Norman abbey. The abbey was rebuilt in the late 13th century, which only exists as ruins today.
In the 12th century, the wealthy abbey was not following the strict Benedictine rules. A small group of monks, including the prior, wished to return to a life of greater austerity. They took their concerns to the abbot, who thought it was intolerable that this group should separate itself. The prior took his concerns to Archbishop Thurstan. When Thurstan arrived, a riot ensued as the monks tried to stop the Archbishop and his official from entering the abbey chapter house. The dissenting monks, the archbishop and his retinue barred themselves into the church. From there the dissenting monks were taken to the archbishop's palace and eventually to the site of their new abbey, called Fountains.


Also known as the Battle of Northallerton, this was one of only two major battles fought during the twelfth-century civil war known as ‘The Anarchy'. King David I of Scotland supported his niece Matilda in her claim to the English throne, and had occupied himself between 1136 and 1138 in seizing control of the border counties while her rival, King Stephen, was occupied with campaigns in the south.

When the Scottish king marched into Yorkshire with his son, Henry, and his English allies, however, he found his way barred by an army raised by Thurstan, Archbishop of York. This local army carried at its head a pole on which were mounted sacred artefacts and symbols, among them a silver pyx containing the Host, together with banners of Peter the apostle, John of Beverley and Wilfred of Ripon. This was the standard that was to give the battle its name.

On 22 August, the fighting commenced in an early morning mist, and probably lasted no longer than two hours. The Scottish attack, spearheaded by the lightly armed Galwegian infantry, met with a storm of English arrows. The Scots fell in great numbers, and even a successful cavalry charge by Prince Henry, which succeeded in punching through the English lines, did not turn the tide of the battle, which turned into a bloody rout. The Scots left behind many dead; the mass burials of horses and men which followed the battle are recalled in the name of a local trackway, Scot Pits Lane.

Malton Castle

Details of the siege laid here by Archbishop Thurstan's army after the Battle of the Standard are scarce; it seems that Eustace Fitzjohn, who held the castle at Malton at that time, had taken the side of Matilda and King David I of Scotland against King Stephen of England during the Anarchy. He reportedly intended to deliver the castle up to David, and had given his men instructions to raid the surrounding villages. A portion of Thurstan's army accordingly besieged the castle on their return from the Battle of the Standard and burned the town. Nothing of Fitzjohn's castle now remains, but a steep earthen bank that falls away towards Castlegate and fragments of later stone walls are still visible. Distinguished visitors to Malton Castle have included Richard the Lionheart (1189), Edward II (1307) and Robert the Bruce (1322). The site is now a garden with pleasant woodland walks.

Sheriff Hutton. Date: 1140s

The motte and bailey castle was built by Bertram de Bulmer, Sheriff of York, around 1140. Soon after, the castle was seized for King Stephen by Alan Rufus, Earl of Brittany and Richmond. Bertram Bulmer, a descendant of the builder, purchased Sheriff Hutton Castle. With the marriage of Bulmer's daughter Emma to Geoffrey de Nevill, the castle passed into the Neville family's possession. In the 14th century, John, Lord Neville began construction on quadrangular castle close by.

Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey was founded in 1132 after thirteen monks left St Mary's Abbey, York, in the aftermath of a dispute and riot there. Archbishop Thurstan provided them with land suitable for the establishment of a monastery, and the community that grew up there was soon admitted to the Cistercian order. The abbey was swept up in the violent factionalism of the Anarchy in 1146, during a dispute over the appointment to the archbishopric of York. King 

Stephen had appointed his nephew, William Fitzherbert, as Archbishop in 1140.

The Yorkshire Cistercians, who had been excluded from the election, opposed Fitzherbert, who was accused of simony and unchaste living. They campaigned to ha

ve him deposed, and were supported by Bernard of Clairvaux and Pope Eugenius III, himself a former Cistercian. Fitzherbert was eventually suspended by the Pope. His supporters directed their rage at Fountains and its abbot, Henry Murdac; an angry mob broke down the abbey's doors and set it alight.

Some accounts of the raid suggest that everything but the abbey church and the buildings immediately adjoining were entirely destroyed. Fitzherbert was eventually deposed, with Murdac taking his place. In the years that followed, an even more glorious abbey grew up at Fountains; Fitzherbert was restored to office on Murdac's death in 1153, but was dead within a month of returning to York (miracles were later attributed to him, and he is remembered as St William of York). Finally, each of the men who conducted the raid on the abbey is supposed to have met a horrible death, dying without absolution for his crime.

Pickering Castle. Date: 1216/1217

Much of the castle's early history is unknown. A wooden castle was founded at Pickering by William the Conqueror during his northern campaigns of 1069-70. The keep was converted to stone sometime in the 1180s. There is some evidence that the castle was under siege during the reign of King Stephen, but it is now thought to be more likely that the siege took place during the First Barons' War of 1215-1217. Across the Pickering Beck, on Beacon Hill, are the remains of a ringwork, believed to be a siegework. From 1216 to 1236, the castle was strengthened, the inner defences updated and the outer shell of the keep rebuilt.

Although the castle was used throughout the 14th and 15th century, it was not maintained through the Tudor and Stuart periods. Sir Richard Cholmley used the castle as a source for building materials for his house at Roxby. Since the castle was never repaired, it played no role in the Civil War.