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York’s Literary History

Sterne's Tristram Shandy was first published in York

York was already a centre of learning in the eighth century, when Alcuin, the great Anglo-Saxon scholar and poet, was the head of York Minster’s school, and was invited by the Emperor Charlemagne to teach at his court.

Viking poets are known to have visited York in the tenth century, and the city’s most famous work of medieval literature was created by unknown authors in the fourteenth century -- the Corpus Christi cycle of Mystery Plays, first performed by the craft guilds in the Middle Ages and still acted in the city today.

York’s greatest medieval work of art, its gothic Minster, owes the preservation of its treasury of stained glass to the Civil War commander Sir Thomas Fairfax who won the city from the Royalists in 1644, and Fairfax's integrity was celebrated by the poet Andrew Marvell in Upon Appleton House.

Laurence Sterne’s eighteenth-century comic masterpiece, Tristram Shandy, was first published in York, and Daniel Defoe's hero Robinson Crusoe was born here, as was the great twentieth-century poet W. H. Auden.

Students have the opportunity to explore both the city's literary heritage, on a range of walking tours and workshops, and its rich scholarly resources, which include the Borthwick Institute for Archives, the beautiful and stimulating Minster Library, and lots of good bookshops.