York Civic Trust plaques

Plaque commemorating the Siege of York in 1644.

Location of plaque: Micklegate Bar

DURING the English Civil War, which broke out in 1642, York declared in favour of the King Charles I against Parliament.

That was no surprise. Charles had spent time in the city, regarding it as his northern capital in the wars against the Scots. And when he left an increasingly hostile London in early 1642, it was to York he came, briefly making the city the national capital.

In April 1642, Charles led an armed sortie from York to try to capture Hull, but was beaten back. He then left York in August, determined to retake London, and officially declared war on Parliament on August 22, 1642, while in Nottingham.

The royalist authorities in York began preparing the city's defences - repairing the city walls, building forts on the Mount and Bishopthorpe Road, strengthening Clifford's Tower and ensuring the city was well stocked with food.

Two great Yorkshire families took opposite sides in the war. William Cavendish, the Marquess of Newcastle, commanded the Royalist armies in the north. Opposed to him were Parliamentarian forces under Lord Ferdinando Fairfax and his son, Sir Thomas.

The fortunes of the two sides ebbed and flowed, but by October 1643 the Royalists had retreated to York. A combined Scottish and Parliamentarian army then besieged the city in 1644.

On June 5 that year, the Fairfaxes established a battery of cannon on Lamel Hill, near where The Retreat now is. From here, they battered Clifford's Tower. The besiegers set up another battery in St Lawrence's churchyard, then attacked Walmgate Bar, driving mining trenches beneath it. Sir Thomas Glenham, the governor of York, foiled the attack by pouring water over the beseigers then building a new earth wall across Walmgate.

The Royalist defenders set fire to their own suburbs to stop the attackers using buildings as shelter. But the Parliamentarians doused the fires near Bootham Bar and got close to the city walls. They mined beneath the tower of St Mary's church, making it collapse, but were still unable to break through.

Nevertheless, the Marquess of Newcastle, the Royalist commander in the north, realised the city could not hold out. He begged for help from Prince Rupert, the king's nephew. Rupert led an army to confront the Parliamentarians at the Battle of Marston Moor on July 2, 1644, but was defeated. The Parliamentary soldiers drove the beaten Royalists back to York, where there was a crush of Royalist soldiers at Micklegate Bar all trying desperately to get into the city.

Prince Rupert, who was forced to hide in a bean field, fled with 5,000 men, leaving York once again at the mercy of the Parliamentarians. The city surrendered on July 16. The Parliamentary commanders, the Fairfaxes, gave orders that the city's churches, including the Minster, should not be damaged. A memorial tablet in the Minster's chapter house commemorates how grateful the city should be to them.