York is a city rich in celebrities and notable personalities. From the ancient times of Roman emperor Constantine the Great (272-337) and Viking chieftain Ivar the Boneless (794-872) to the recent swashbuckling times of James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan, who made his professional debut in York, the city has been home to great achievers and giants among men.
Following is a list of some of the leading personalities who have been associated with York.
1. Constantine the Great
Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus, better known as Constantine the Great, Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was the first Christian emperor of Rome. He was proclaimed as emperor in York in 306 AD, immediately after his father, senior emperor Constantius, died in the city. His empire included Britain, Gaul, the Germanic provinces and Spain. Constantine also led one of Rome’s largest armies, based on the Rhine frontier. Constantine (as well as his mother, Helena) is listed as a saint under the Byzantine liturgical calendar. However, he is not listed as a saint under the Latin Church, but was recognized as “Constantine the Great” for his contributions to Christianity.
2.Ivar the Boneless
Ivar Ragnarsson or Ivar the Boneless is the Danish Viking chieftain and berserker who led the Great Heathen Army when they invaded and conquered England’s East Anglian region in 1865 A.D. The next year, Ivar spearheaded the invasion and subsequent conquest of York, which was at that time occupied by the Northumbrians who were fighting their own civil war. Ivar the Boneless was commemorated in the 1958 movie, “The Vikings,” where he was portrayed by Kirk Douglas. Ivar was also featured in the 1989 movie “Erik the Viking,” where actor John Gordon Sinclair portrayed him as a cowardly warrior with a high-pitched voice.
3. Francis Mason
The American missionary, Francis Mason, was born in York in April 1799. He came from a religious family — his father was a shoemaker and Baptist lay preacher while his grandfather and namesake founded the Baptist Society in York. Mason became a licensed Baptist preacher in Massachusetts in 1827. He conducted missions to Burma, bringing religion to the native Karens. Part of his work included translating the Bible into two principal Karen dialects. He later published a book on the flora and fauna of Burma, which he followed up with two improved editions. Mason died in Rangoon in 1874.
4. King Richard III of England
Born in October 1452, Richard III was the last King of England who came from the House of York. He ruled England from 1483 to 1485. He seized the throne when his brother, King Edward IV, died and he threw Edward’s two sons into a tower. His ascent to power was greeted almost immediately by a large-scale rebellion, led by Edward IV’s enemies and Henry Stafford, the second Duke of Buckingham, whom Richard had executed after the rebellion collapsed. Unfortunately, another huge rebellion, led by Henry Tudor (later to become King Henry VII), succeeded in overthrowing Richard in 1485. That year, Richard died in the Battle of Bosworth Field.
5. John Nevison
John Nevison was one of the most notorious highwaymen in the annals of British history. Born in 1639, this gentleman-rogue worked the stretch of the Great North Road that ran from York to Huntingdon. He was dubbed by King Charles II as Swift Nick for his famous dash from authorities from Kent to York. Nevison was renowned for his style and charisma. he developed a well-earned reputation for never resorting to violence when committing his crimes. Eventually, Nevison was convicted of theft and sent to Tangier in 1676. Five years later, he was back on the highways, committing robberies. In 1684, he was found guilty of the murder of constable Darcy Fletcher and hanged at York Castle.
6. Judi Dench
Judith Olivia Dench, often referred to as Dame Judi Dench, is one of the most acclaimed actresses in the history of British cinema, particularly during the post-war period. She has won virtually all the major acting awards available — an Academy Award, a Golden Globe award, a Tony award and three BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) awards. She has also won the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award six times. Born in Yorkshire in December 1934, Dench studied at The Mount School in York where, as an amateur actress, she performed in three productions of the York Mystery Plays in the fifties. She would soon make her mark in theatre and gained critical acclaim in films. The role that catapulted her to worldwide fame was playing “M” in the James Bond movie franchise, starting in 1995. Dench has been named as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. She is currently president of the Questors Theatre and president of the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London.
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