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Yorkshire is a historic county of northern England, and the largest historic county in Great Britain. Although Yorkshire is a historic county, with no current official standing (except as part of the name of the English region of Yorkshire and the Humber), the name is completely familiar and well-understood across the United Kingdom and is in common use.
The emblem of Yorkshire is the White Rose of the House of York. The (unofficial) flag is the White Rose on a pale blue ground. Yorkshire Day is on 1 August. Yorkshire covers just under 6,000 sq. miles (15,000 km²) with a population of around five million.
Yorkshire was an important part of Roman Britain; the city of York(known as Ebor) itself was founded by the Romans, who also erected the famous York city walls to protect it. Constantine the Great himself was proclaimed emperor of all Rome in York, just outside of York Minster during 306.
In early Anglo-Saxon times, Elmet, a British (Celtic) kingdom around modern Leeds/Sheffield, held out against the invading English (Angles) for long enough to ensure that the Anglian kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria on either side developed separately.
Note the use of the word "Angles". "Saxon" is often used as though it is simply an abbreviation for "Anglo Saxon" - but the Saxons settled in southern England, not the Midlands or North. In Yorkshire (or even as far north as southern Scotland, see below) the local Anglo Saxons were Angles. Thus, for instance, pre-Norman churches in Yorkshire cannot correctly be described as "Saxon" .
Elmet eventually succumbed, and all of what is now modern Yorkshire became the Anglian ("English") kingdom of Deira. Later, Deira merged with (also Anglian) Bernicia to form the English Kingdom of Northumbria. At its greatest extent, Northumbria stretched from the Irish Sea to the North Sea and from Edinburgh down to Hallamshire (the district around modern Sheffield).
Vikings / Danes
In Viking times, the Danes (the word "Viking" properly refers to the early coast raiders, rather than the later settlers, who are better referred to as "Danes" or "Anglo-Danes")occupied the southern half of Northumbria (but not Bernicia) to create the Danish city and kingdom of Jorvik (the Danish version of Roman "Eboracum") from which stem the names of York and Yorkshire ("Eurvicscire" in the Domesday Book). The Danes went on to conquer a large area of England which afterwards became known as the Danelaw, but whereas most of the Danelaw was still English land, albeit in submission to Viking overlords, it was in the Kingdom of York that the only truly Danish territory on mainland Britain was established. Even to this day, place names of Danish-Viking origin (eg place names ending in -by -thwaite) exist in far greater numbers in Yorkshire than anywhere else in England, and examples of Old Norse may be found in much of the native dialect. A recent genetic study of Y-chromosome haplogroup frequencies has also found that the people of York are Britain's closest genetic relatives of the modern Danish.
After around 100 years of Dano-Yorkshire independence, the English crown nominally regained sovereignty, and Yorkshire became again part of Northumbria - which was now an almost-independent earldom, rather than a separate kingdom. Even as late as the centralizing Tudors the monarch ruled the former Northumbria at arms length - via the Council of the North based in York.
In the weeks immediately preceding the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest of England, Harold Godwinson, King of the English, was distracted by events in Yorkshire. The hold of the English kings on the part of their realm that lay north of the Humber was insecure. The northern nobility had developed a tradition of separatism and had an empathy with the Scandinavians.
In 1066 AD, Tostig, a disaffected and deposed northern earl and Harold Hardrada of Norway invaded Yorkshire. They disembarked at Riccal on the River Ouse and fought their first battle at Fulford, south of York. On hearing the news of this invasion Harold Godwinson marched his army north and into Yorkshire. He engaged his enemies at Stamford Bridge. Harold Godwinson won the battle. Both Earl Tostig and Harold Hardrada were killed in battle. The King had then immediately to march his army to the south coast where William, Duke of Normandy, had landed his invading forces. King Harold’s army was defeated at the ensuing Battle of Hastings.
After the Battle of Hastings William, Duke of Normandy, became King William I of England. The northern part of his new realm proved to be rebellious and there was no certainty that Yorkshire would remain part of the kingdom. In the spring of 1068 the northern Earls Edwin and Morcar led a revolt which was quelled by William. In the following year another rebellion broke out in the north and William returned to York. In September 1069 the northern rebels emerged from the uplands where they had taken refuge and joined Danish allies to attack York. William put down this rebellion then proceeded to exterminate the rebels and their supporters in a ruthless and horrific campaign, which became known as the harrying of the North. Contemporary writers reported total devastation of all the lands between York and Durham.
In the early years of Norman rule ringwork castles were built. These were circular defensive enclosures formed by the construction of a bank and a ditch. Examples of these in Yorkshire can be found at Kippax, near Leeds and at Castleton on the North York Moors. Yorkshire was frontier country. It was vulnerable to attack from the north by the Scots and from across the North Sea by the Danes. More complex motte and bailey castles were built as the ruthless and ambitious barons appointed by King William to rule Yorkshire gained a hold on their territories. The parcels of land bestowed by William to his followers in Yorkshire were fewer and much larger than in more southern counties. Each was able to support a sizeable garrison in a strong castle. Castles were established at Conisbrough, Tickhill, Pontefract, Richmond, Middleham and Skipsea. At this time also was established the chain of castles across the southern edge of the North York Moors which included Scarborough, Pickering and Helmsley.
In the centuries following the Conquest splendid abbeys and priories were built in Yorkshire. The first of these was Selby Abbey, founded in 1069 and the birthplace of Henry I of England. There followed the abbeys of St Mary’s at York, Rievaulx, Fountains, Whitby, Byland, Jervaulx, Kirkstall, Roche, Meaux and many other smaller establishments.
The Norman landowners were keen to increase their revenues by establishing new towns and planned villages. Among others, the boroughs of Richmond, Pontefract, Sheffield, Doncaster, Helmsley and Scarborough were established in this way. York was the pre-eminent centre of population before the conquest and was one of only four pre existing towns. The others included Bridlington and Pocklington.
The Danish invasions ceased at this time but the Scots continued their invasions throughout the medieval period. The Battle of the Standard was fought against the Scots near North Allerton in 1138.