In 1086, twenty years after his historic arrival in England, William the Conqueror had a large mound put up (also known as a motte) on the banks of the River Ouse (pronounced "ooze") in York, England. Clifford's Tower is the name of the still-standing keep of the medieval castle built on top of and around it. It earned its name when Roger de Clifford was hanged by chains from its walls in 1322 for opposing King Edward II.

It is better known, however, for an act of violence that predates its sinister christening by 236 years.

On March 16, 1190, during the feast of Shabbat ha-Gadol, the Tower became the site of one of the most notorious acts of anti-semitism in Britain. Pursued to the Tower by rioting townspeople, the Jewish community of York was given temporary refuge there. The people, it seems, had run up quite a bit of debt to the Jews, who were the only ones permitted to participate in money-lending. The apparently insolvent villagers came to the conclusion that it was time to wipe out the debt record, once and for all.

In short order, the Tower, still made of wood at that time, was set ablaze. Many of the Jews chose to take their own lives rather than die at the hands of the marauders; still others burned to death. Those that did surrender were summarily executed, and the Tower burned to the ground.

One legend that surfaced about the location refers to a reddish vein running through the brickwork on the outside of the tower--it was dyed with the blood of the Jews.

The structure that can still be visited today was ordered built by Henry III in 1245. It is a quatrefoil tower that from above resembles a four-leaf clover. Finished in 1313, the Tower cracked from top to bottom fifty years later.

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