When William the Conqueror claimed the throne of England in 1066, the north of England rose in rebellion. William's response was the horrific 'Harrying of the North'; William's troops cut a swath of destruction across the north country, burning crops and destroying villages in a successful attempt to squash any semblance of resistance to Norman rule. As a result of the Harrying of the North, the north of England remained depressed and underpopulated for centuries.

When Richard III came to the throne of England he set about rectifying the situation in the north. Richard set up a new administrative body called the Council of the North, which had as its main tasks the extension of government control in the north and the improvement of the northern economy. In various forms, the Council of the North lasted until 1641. The Council originally sat at both Sheriff Hutton, North Yorkshire, and Sandal Castle, near Wakefield.

Henry VIII reorganized the Council, named his illegitimate son the Duke of Richmond as its head, and moved its seat to the city of York, in the building now known as King's Manor.

The list of presidents of the Council of the North makes for interesting reading. Most were drawn from among the most powerful northern families, like the Howards and Percy's, but there were also several influential church officials, including several Bishops of Durham.

The Council was disbanded by Parliament in 1641, due to its suspected Catholic and Anglican sympathies.