Clifford’s Tower was the site of the 1190 massacre of the entire Jewish population of York. During this time a wave of pogroms was sweeping across Europe. A group of men in York who owed large amounts of money to wealthy Jewish leaders whipped up a mob against them. When the Jews realized the danger they were in they sought protection in the castle belonging to King Richard I. Even though they were under the direct protection of the king, the warden left them unprotected. When he left the castle they refused to let him back in because of fear that he would betray them to the mob. The warden complained to the sheriff who then gathered a militia against the Jews. A fire broke out and when it became apparent that they could not escape, most chose suicide over facing the mob and being forced to deny their faith. Those who did not commit suicide but tried to surrender to the mob were instead murdered just outside Clifford’s Tower. The ringleader of the mob, Richard Malebisse went to the cathedral to destroy the records of his debts to the Jewish leaders. He then escaped to Scotland where he never answered for his crimes. Even historians of that era were appalled by this massacre in York.
The similarity of this massacre to the massacre at Israel's Masada in 70 AD is astonishing. Both happened in hilltop fortresses and both involved mass suicide in hopeless situations. Today Clifford’s Tower looks like just another castle ruin on top of a grassy hill. I had been to Masada years before and had no idea that another Masada existed in England.