The castle was the scene of a strange hallucination in 1717. Sir John Reresby saw a piece of paper that was being blown by the wind turn into a monkey and then a bear. Perhaps an early discoverer of Opium.
Originally a Norman Motte and Bailey the tower designed on a quatrefoil plan. The stone tower dates from the 13th century, but was preceded by an earlier wooden one. This timber 11th century tower is associated with one darkest days of England’s history. In March 1190 a Jewish Pogrom with accumulated with the massacre of an estimated 150 Jews taking refuge in the castle tower. It was one of several massacres targeting Jewish communities in England fueled by a religious fevor brought on by preparations for King Richard I’s crusade to retake Jerusalem.
On 16 March 1190, Richard Malbysse of Acaster Malbis, who had previously been referred to by the Jews as “Mala Bestia” or ‘Evil Beast’ used an accidental fire in the city to incite a mob. They invaded the home of Benedict of York, a moneylender who had recently died in Northampton after attending King Richard I’s coronation. The mob killed his widow and children before burning the house.
The Jewish community of York sought refuge in Clifford’s Tower which was subsequently besieged by the mob. They faced death at the hands of the mob or forced conversion to Christianity. Those that surrendered were killed as they left the tower. Rabbi Yom Tov advised that dying by their own hand would be preferable. Each man present then killed his family members present, both women and children. The killing was started by their leader Josce of York, a moneylender. Rabbi Yom Tov then killed each of the men before killing himself. The tower was set alight either by the mob or the trapped Jews.
The King was furious. Troops were sent to the following month and many of those taking part in the massacre were arrested. Richard Malbysse of Acaster Malbis had his estates seized and fined £40.