On this day….940 years ago, the army of Svein Estrithson, King of Denmark, with the support of English rebels against William the Conqueror, took the city of York. William had won his famous victory at Hastings just three years before, and his hold on the crown was less than secure.
Now he also faced rebellions in Dorset, Somerset, Staffordshire and Cheshire. Having crushed the rising in the West Country, he turned north. At Nottingham, he learned about the occupation of York, and began his advance on the city, devastating the countryside as he went, leaving no house standing and sparing no man his cavalry could outrun.
Just before Christmas, he reached York and burned it to the ground. Then he paid the Danes to go home and embarked on what became known as the Harrying of the North –the systematic destruction of a huge part of his new realm. The damage was still apparent when the Domesday Book was compiled 17 years later, with scores of villages left uninhabited.
Even some Normans were disturbed, with one monk complaining it amounted to “wholesale massacre” with William destroying “both the bad and the good in one common ruin.” For more details, see A Disastrous History of Britain.