Northumbrian and Viking period
During its pre-history the area which later became Ripon was under the control of the Brigantes, a Brythonic tribe. Three miles (5 km) north at Hutton Moor there is a large circular earthwork created by them. The Romans did not settle Ripon, but they had a military outpost around five miles (8 km) away at North Stainley. Solid evidence for the origins of Ripon can be traced back to the 7th century, the time of the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria. The first structure built in the area, known at the time as Inhrypum, was a Christian church dedicated to St. Peter, with the settlement originating in the year 658. This was founded by a Northumbrian nobleman known as Wilfrid, who later became Archbishop of York; he was granted the land by King Alhfrith.
The earliest settlers were stonemasons, glaziers and plasterers that Wilfrid brought over to help construct the Ripon monastery, from Lyon in Francia and Rome which was then under Byzantine rule. The years following the death of Wilfrid are obscure in Ripon's history. After the invasion of the Great Heathen Army of Norse Vikings in Northumbria, the Danelaw was established and the Kingdom of Jórvík was founded in the Yorkshire area. In 937 Athelstan, then King of England, granted the privilege of sanctuary to Ripon, for a mile around the church. One of his successors was less well-disposed: after the Northumbrians rebelled against English rule in 948, King Edred had the buildings at Ripon burned. Prosperity was restored by the end of the 10th century, as the body of Saint Cuthbert was moved to Ripon for a while, due to the threat of Danish raids.
Normans and the Middle Ages
After the Norman conquest, much of the north rebelled in 1069, even trying to bring back Danish rule; the suppression that followed was the Harrying of the North, which resulted in the death of approximately one-third of the population of the North of England. Ripon is thought to have shrunk to a small community around the church following the suppression. The lands of the church were transferred to St. Peter's Church at York as the Liberty of Ripon and it was during this time that a grand Collegiate Church was built on top of the ruins of Wilfrid's building. Eventually developed in the Gothic style, the project owed much to the work of Roger de Pont L'Evêque and Walter de Gray, two Archbishops of York during the Plantagenet era. During the 12th century Ripon built up a booming wool trade, attracting Italian trade merchants, especially Florentines, who bought and exported large quantities.
Ripon's proximity to Fountains Abbey, where the Cistercians had a long tradition of sheep farming and owned much grazing land, was a considerable advantage. After English people were forbidden from wearing foreign cloth in 1326, Ripon developed a cloth industry which was third in size in Yorkshire after York and Halifax. Due to conflict with Scotland, political emphasis was on the North during the time of Edward I and Edward II, as Scottish invaders attacked numerous northern English towns. Ripon had a wakeman to make sure the residents were safely home by curfew and law and order was maintained, yet it was forced to pay 1,000 marks to the Scots to prevent them from burning down the town on one occasion.
Reformation and Tudor times
Ripon, which relied heavily on its religious institutions, was badly affected by the English Reformation under the Tudor king Henry VIII. The Abbot of Fountains, William Thirske, was expelled by Henry and replaced; Thirske went on to become one of the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace popular rising. The people of Northern England were quite traditional in their beliefs and were unhappy about Henry's intention to break with Rome; the Pilgrimage of Grace was the manifestation of this sentiment. The revolt failed and Henry followed through with the break from Rome and the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which included Fountains Abbey.
After Mary, Queen of Scots, fled Scotland to Northern England she stayed at Ripon on her journey. The mainly Catholic North supported her, and there was another popular rising known as the Rising of the North; this began six miles (10 km) away at Topcliffe and was led by Thomas Percy, the 7th Earl of Northumberland and Charles Neville, the 6th Earl of Westmorland. The rebels stayed at Ripon on 18 November 1569, but the rising eventually failed resulting in 600 people being executed, 300 of whom were hanged at Gallows Hill in Ripon during January 1570. Plans were drawn up to make Ripon a centre of education, a University of the North, to rival Oxford and Cambridge. Although chief advisers Lord Burghley and Archbishop Sandys supported the idea, Elizabeth I did not follow it through.
Civil War and Restoration
The house where Stuart King James I
stayed in 1617
Ripon replaced its old textiles industry with one for the manufacture of spurs during the 16th century. They were so widely known that they gave rise to the proverb "as true steel as Ripon Rowels". At the time, spurs did not just serve as functional riding accessories, they were also fashionable; an expensive pair was made for King James I when he stayed at Ripon in 1617. It was James who granted Ripon a Royal Charter in 1604 and created the first Mayor of Ripon. After the Bishops' Wars in Scotland, a treaty was signed at Ripon in 1640 to stop the conflict between Charles I and the Scottish Covenanters. Although Ripon was not in the main line of fighting which was to the east, it remained loyal and royalist during the English Civil War. There was an incident in 1643, when parliamentarian forces under Thomas Mauleverer entered Ripon and damaged the Minster, but John Mallory and the royalist forces soon settled the matter after a skirmish in the Market Place. The royalists were eventually defeated in the Civil War and Charles I spent two nights as a prisoner in Ripon. Oliver Cromwell visited the city twice on his way to battle, once on the way to the Preston and also on the way to the Battle of Worcester.
By the time of the English Restoration, several strains of non-conformist Christian practices had appeared, although they were not common in Ripon, the majority of people being Anglicans with a Catholic minority. After the Revolution of 1688 which overthrew James II, there were Jacobite risings in the British Isles; some Riponmen were jailed in February 1746 upon "suspicion of corresponding with Prince Charles Edward Stuart". The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, preached in Ripon and a small community of followers was established. During the Georgian era Ripon, unlike several other cities, was not significantly affected by the Industrial Revolution despite the existence of various guilds. Although more widely known for his activities outside of Ripon, John Aislabie, during his time as Member of Parliament for Ripon, created the Studley Royal Park with its water garden and erected the obelisk (designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor). Newby Hall was also created during this period by Christopher Wren.
Communications were improved with the opening of Ripon railway station in May 1848. During the First World War a large military training camp was built in Ripon, the local community offering hospitality not only to soldiers' wives but to the Flemish refugees who became part of Ripon's community. The racecourse south-east of the city also served as an airfield (RFC Ripon) for the Royal Flying Corps (and latterly, the Royal Air Force). The racecourse was also used as a demobilisation centre for troops returning from France well into 1919.
The town had a similar though smaller role during the Second World War and, in recognition of this, the Royal Engineers were presented with the Freedom of the City in 1947. Since the War, Ripon has gone through some remodelling and has grown in size; it attracts thousands of tourists each year who come to see its famous buildings with their long Christian heritage, nearby Studley Park, Ripon Racecourse, and in recent times the theme park Lightwater Valley.