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History of Selby

The town is believed to have been founded by the marauding Danes who sailed up the River Ouse and pillaged and burnt riverside settlements, but there are no written records of the town before the coming of the Normans. The town itself retains much of its old character. For nearly a thousand years the Abbey has watched over Selby's development. The Monk Benedict founded the Abbey in 1069, but the second Abbott, Hugh De Lacy, commenced the actual building work. The town prospered under the power and influence of the Abbey but declined after the dissolution of the monasteries. 1461 The 'Battle of Towton' is the bloodiest battle ever to taken place on British soil. Here is a little summary of the battle:

Battle of Towton

Began on the 29 th March 1461 between the Yorkies army under Edward IV vs. Lancastrian's forces led by the Duke of Somerset on behalf of Henry VI and Queen Margaret. It took place in Towton, which is in Yorkshire.

The Battle started because the Houses of York and Lancaster fought for power.

Edward sent a detachment under Lord Fitzwalter to seize the bridge at Ferrybridge. They found the bridge broken down, but unguarded, and spent the day repairing it. Fitzwalter's men were caught completely unaware by a dawn attack led by Lord Clifford and the Yorkists were forced back across the river.

Edward immediately sent another force upstream to cross the river at Castleford and cut off Clifford's retreat. This fresh force caught Clifford's men and killed most of them within sight of their lines. Somerset, for reasons known only to himself, sent no troops to help the unfortunate Clifford, but instead waited for the advance of the main Yorkist army.

Now the snow whipped up, driving full into the face of the Lancastrians. This made their attempts to return arrow fire laughable, and Edward's archers inflicted great damage. Perhaps because of this, Somerset ordered his men to advance first.

In a terrible hand-to-hand fight that lasted all day the Lancastrians pushed their foe back, yard by bloody yard. The bodies piled high in the freezing cold, and fresh troops had to climb over corpses to reach the front lines. Edward's cause looked almost lost, when reinforcements arrived in the shape of men under the command of the Duke of Norfolk.

Norfolk's men changed the course of the battle, and now it was the Lancastrians who were pushed back, across the field we now know as Bloody Meadow. Finally they could take no more, and Somerset's men broke and ran. At least as many perished in the panic that followed, and the death toll may have reached 28,000 men or more. Towton was by far the bloodiest battle of the Wars of the Roses.

The Lancastrian cause suffered an immense blow at Towton; many of their leaders were killed or captured, and King Henry and Queen Margaret were forced to flee north towards Scotland. Yet despite the slaughter (more men died at Towton than in any other battle on British soil), nothing was settled.

Toll Bridge

Over the river Ouse the original structure of the Toll Bridge was erected in 1791, but in 1969/70 the bridge that is stood there to this day replaced it.

In September 1991 the bridge became 'toll free', due to Selby District Council and North Yorkshire County Council buying it with contributions from local business.

Selby Abbey

William the Conqueror granted the Abbey its founding charter; this Abbey has connections with France, Germany and the USA. Its reputed to be the birthplace in September 1068 of King Henry I of England and the son of King William I and Queen Mathilda.

Its very hard to visualise the Abbey these days as a Benedictine monastery which was complete with, cloisters, stables, brew house, kitchen, workshop, dormitory, cellars, barns, and an infirmary which are all surrounded by high walls and a huge gateway.

Building the Abbey began just after the Norman conquest, but its foundations is said to originate with Germaine and French noblemen and solider who was born in AD 378.

Swans are the symbols of Selby and are used on the 'Abbey's Coat of Arms'. After Benidict had a vision in Auxerre Abbey and was told to go to Selby and build the Abbey. When he got there three swans alighted on the river and he recognised them from his vision and he knew he was here.

The Earlier Solid Norman Pillars and arches gave way to more complx elegant designs of the Early English Period.

The Abbeys income came from wealthy benefactors in form of land and property. Tolls paid to Abbey to operate a ferry across the river Ouse, and rent from the houses in town. Land often water-logged until drained by the monks, provided grain for its animals.

Wool Trade flourished and Selby developed as an important inland port, while the towns markets and fair attracted visitors from all parts of the county.

Royal Selby - King Henry I

Following the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror gradually moved northwards to impose his iron rule on the people of England. In 1068 he placed his wife, Mathilda under the safe keeping of the monks at Selby Abbey.

While at Selby Abbey, Mathilda gave birth to her fourth son - Henry.

Henry was a bright child and superior scholar, eventually earning the nickname Beauclerc. He was also ruthless in his pursuit of power.

Just before William died in 1087, he divided up his Anglo-Norman estate among his three remaining sons (Richard had already died): Robert (who received Normandy), William Rufus (who succeeded William as King of England), and Henry (who received 5,000 pounds in silver).

While Robert was at the crusades in 1100, William Rufus and Henry were hunting in the New Forest when William was mysteriously killed by an arrow. Henry immediately seized the crown to become Henry I. When Robert invaded England in 1101, Henry cleverly paid him off with a pension of 3,000 marks.

Henry then set about re-introducing the popular laws of Edward the Confessor and introduced a system of treasury, bureaucracy, and administrators that stripped the troublesome barons of their power and stabilised Norman rule in England.

Aware of the probability of ongoing war with Scotland, Henry also united the Normans and Saxons by marrying Princess Maud, daughter of Malcolm, King of Scotland, and niece of Edgar Atheling. They had two sons, William and Richard, and one daughter Matilda.

Maud died in 1118, and in 1120 both sons were drowned in the English Channel. In 1121 Henry married Adelais of Alice but had no further children.

Matilda eventually married Emperor Henry V of Germany, then upon his death in 1125 was forced by Henry to marry the 16 year-old Geoffrey Count of Anjou. Neither marriage produced an heir to the throne and Henry and the Count went to war in the summer of 1135 after the Count was refused custody of several key Norman Castles.

In December 1135, while still at war with Geoffrey, Henry died, allegedly from eating too many Lampreys (a kind of greasy parasitic fish). He was taken to England and buried in the incomplete foundation of Reading Abbey

The English Barons refused to accept Matilda as Queen and instead supported Henry's nephew Stephen, who reigned until 1154.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall... but who was Humpty?

Humpty Dumpty was in fact, Cardinal Thomans Wolsey, whose fall from favour with King Henry VIII led to his arrest in November 1530 at Cawood Castle near Selby. Wolsey never reached London, dying en route at Leicester Abbey.

This delightful and surprising example of Selby's deel and influential past is typical of the area. You can still visit Cawood Castle today, along with a host of fascinating historical sites.

arrow Contact Details
Contact NameEileen Scothern
JobPrincipal Economic Development Officer
Telephone01757 292148
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  Selby District Council, Civic Centre, Doncaster Road, Selby, North Yorkshire, YO8 9FT Email: info@selby.gov.uk Tel: 01757 705101