Pontefract Castle

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Painting in Pontefract Museum of Pontefract Castle in the early 17th century, by Alexander Keirincx Pontefract Castle.jpg
Painting in Pontefract Museum of Pontefract Castle in the early 17th century, by Alexander Keirincx

Coordinates: 53°41′44″N1°18′14″W / 53.69556°N 1.30389°W / 53.69556; -1.30389 Pontefract (or Pomfret) Castle is a castle ruin in the town of Pontefract, in West Yorkshire, England. King Richard II is thought to have died there. It was the site of a series of famous sieges during the 17th-century English Civil War.

Geographic coordinate system Coordinate system

A geographic coordinate system is a coordinate system that enables every location on Earth to be specified by a set of numbers, letters or symbols. The coordinates are often chosen such that one of the numbers represents a vertical position and two or three of the numbers represent a horizontal position; alternatively, a geographic position may be expressed in a combined three-dimensional Cartesian vector. A common choice of coordinates is latitude, longitude and elevation. To specify a location on a plane requires a map projection.

Castle Fortified residential structure of medieval Europe

A castle is a type of fortified structure built during the Middle Ages predominantly by the nobility or royalty and by military orders. Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble. This is distinct from a palace, which is not fortified; from a fortress, which was not always a residence for royalty or nobility; and from a fortified settlement, which was a public defence – though there are many similarities among these types of construction. Usage of the term has varied over time and has been applied to structures as diverse as hill forts and country houses. Over the approximately 900 years that castles were built, they took on a great many forms with many different features, although some, such as curtain walls, arrowslits, and portcullises, were commonplace.

Pontefract market town in West Yorkshire, England

Pontefract is a historic market town in West Yorkshire, England, near the A1 and the M62 motorway. Historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, it is one of the five towns in the metropolitan borough of the City of Wakefield and has a population of 28,250, increasing to 30,881 at the 2011 Census. Pontefract's motto is Post mortem patris pro filio, Latin for "After the death of the father, support the son", a reference to the English Civil War Royalist sympathies.



Model reconstructing Pontefract Castle Reconstruction of Pontefract Castle.jpg
Model reconstructing Pontefract Castle

The castle, on a rock to the east of the town above All Saints' Church, [1] was constructed in approximately 1070 by Ilbert de Lacy. [2] on land which had been granted to him by William the Conqueror as a reward for his support during the Norman Conquest. There is, however, evidence of earlier occupation of the site. Initially the castle was a wooden structure which was replaced with stone over time. [3] The Domesday Survey of 1086 recorded "Ilbert's Castle" which probably referred to Pontefract Castle. [4]

William I, usually known as William the Conqueror and sometimes William the Bastard, was the first Norman King of England, reigning from 1066 until his death in 1087. He was a descendant of Rollo and was Duke of Normandy from 1035 onward. His hold was secure on Normandy by 1060, following a long struggle to establish his throne, and he launched the Norman conquest of England six years later. The rest of his life was marked by struggles to consolidate his hold over England and his continental lands and by difficulties with his eldest son, Robert Curthose.

Robert de Lacy failed to support King Henry I during his power struggle with his brother, and the King confiscated the castle from the family during the 12th century. [3] Roger de Lacy paid King Richard I 3,000  marks for the Honour of Pontefract, but the King retained possession of the castle. His successor, King John gave Lacy the castle in 1199, the year he ascended the throne. Roger died in 1213 and was succeeded by his eldest son, John. However, the King took possession of Castle Donington and Pontefract Castle. [5] The de Lacys lived in the castle until the early 14th century. [3] It was under the tenure of the de Lacys that the magnificent multilobate donjon was built. [2]

de Lacy De Lacy Family

de Lacy is the surname of an old Norman family which originated from Lassy, Calvados. The family took part in the Norman conquest of England and the later Norman invasion of Ireland. The name is first recorded for Hugh de Lacy (1020–1085). His sons, Walter and Ilbert, left Normandy and travelled to England with William the Conqueror. The awards of land by the Conqueror to the de Lacy sons led to two distinct branches of the family: the northern branch, centred on Blackburnshire and west Yorkshire was held by Ilbert's descendants; the southern branch of Marcher Lords, centred on Herefordshire and Shropshire, was held by Walter's descendants.

Henry I of England King of England

Henry I, also known as Henry Beauclerc, was King of England from 1100 to his death in 1135. He was the fourth son of William the Conqueror and was educated in Latin and the liberal arts. On William's death in 1087, Henry's elder brothers Robert Curthose and William Rufus inherited Normandy and England, respectively, but Henry was left landless. He purchased the County of Cotentin in western Normandy from Robert, but his brothers deposed him in 1091. He gradually rebuilt his power base in the Cotentin and allied himself with William against Robert.

Roger de Lacy (1170–1211) English Baron

Roger de Lacy (1170–1211), Baron of Pontefract, Lord of Bowland, Lord of Blackburnshire, Baron of Halton, Constable of Chester, Sheriff of Yorkshire and Cumberland, also known as Roger le Constable, was a notable English soldier, crusader and baron in the late 12th and early 13th centuries.

In 1311 the castle passed by marriage to the estates of the House of Lancaster. Thomas, Earl of Lancaster (1278–1322) was beheaded outside the castle walls six days after his defeat at the Battle of Boroughbridge, a sentence placed on him by King Edward II himself in the great hall. This resulted in the earl becoming a martyr with his tomb at Pontefract Priory becoming a shrine. [3] It next went to Henry, Duke of Lancaster and subsequently to John of Gaunt, third son of King Edward III. He made the castle his personal residence, spending vast amounts of money improving it.

House of Lancaster English noble family

The House of Lancaster was the name of two cadet branches of the royal House of Plantagenet. The first house was created when Henry III of England created the Earldom of Lancaster—from which the house was named—for his second son Edmund Crouchback in 1267. Edmund had already been created Earl of Leicester in 1265 and was granted the lands and privileges of Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, after de Montfort's death and attainder at the end of the Second Barons' War. When Edmund's son Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, inherited his father-in-law's estates and title of Earl of Lincoln he became at a stroke the most powerful nobleman in England, with lands throughout the kingdom and the ability to raise vast private armies to wield power at national and local levels. This brought him—and Henry, his younger brother—into conflict with their cousin Edward II of England, leading to Thomas's execution. Henry inherited Thomas's titles and he and his son, who was also called Henry, gave loyal service to Edward's son—Edward III of England.

Battle of Boroughbridge 1322 battle between Edward II of England and rebellious nobles

The Battle of Boroughbridge was fought on 16 March 1322 in England between a group of rebellious barons and King Edward II, near Boroughbridge, north-west of York. The culmination of a long period of antagonism between the King and Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, his most powerful subject, it resulted in Lancaster's defeat and execution. This allowed Edward to re-establish royal authority, and hold on to power for another five years.

Pontefract Priory was a Cluniac monastery dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, founded about 1090 by Robert de Lacy, 2nd Baron of Pontefract, and located in Yorkshire, England. It existed until the dissolution of the monasteries. The Church and buildings have been completely destroyed, but the site is still indicated by the name of Monk-hill.

Richard II

The ruins of Pontefract Castle's keep Pontefract Castle, 2010 (1).jpg
The ruins of Pontefract Castle's keep

In the closing years of the 14th century, Richard II had banished John of Gaunt’s son Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford from the country and with the death of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster in 1399, much of Bolingbroke's patrimony was being given away by Richard II to his favourites. The castle at Pontefract was among such properties under threat which roused Bolingbroke to return to England to claim his rights to the Duchy of Lancaster and the properties of his father. Act 2, scene 1, of Shakespeare's play Richard II relates Bolingbroke’s homecoming in the words of Northumberland in the speech of the eight tall ships:-

Richard II of England King of England

Richard II, also known as Richard of Bordeaux, was King of England from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. Richard's father, Edward the Black Prince, died in 1376, leaving Richard as heir apparent to King Edward III. Upon the death of his grandfather Edward III, the 10-year-old Richard succeeded to the throne.

<i>Richard II</i> (play) play by Shakespeare

The Life and Death of King Richard the Second, commonly called Richard II, is a history play by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in approximately 1595. It is based on the life of King Richard II of England and is the first part of a tetralogy, referred to by some scholars as the Henriad, followed by three plays concerning Richard's successors: Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2; and Henry V.

Then thus: I have from Port Le Blanc,
A bay in Brittany, receiv’d intelligence,
That Harry Duke of Herford, Rainold Lord Cobham,
Thomas, son and heir to th’ Earl of Arundel,
That late broke from the Duke of Exeter,
His brother, Archbishop late of Canterbury,
Sir Thomas Erpingham, Sir John Ramston,
Sir John Norbery, Sir Robert Waterton, and Francis Quoint—
All these, well furnished by the Duke of Brittany
With eight tall ships, three thousand men of war,
Are making hither with all due expedience,
And shortly mean to touch our northern shore

When he landed at Ravenspur on the Humber he made straight way for his castle at Pontefract. The King, being in Ireland at the time, was in no position to oppose Bolingbroke who deposed Richard and took the crown for himself as Henry IV.

Richard II was captured at Flint on 16 August 1399 and imprisoned. Bolingbroke-richard-flint-castle-harley-ms-1319.png
Richard II was captured at Flint on 16 August 1399 and imprisoned.

Richard II was captured by Henry Bolingbroke's supporters in August 1399 and initially imprisoned in the Tower of London. Sometime before Christmas that year he was moved to Pontefract Castle (via Knaresborough) where he remained under guard until his death, perhaps on 14 February 1400. [6] William Shakespeare's play Richard III mentions this incident:

Tower of London A historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London

The Tower of London, officially Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is a historic castle located on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which is separated from the eastern edge of the square mile of the City of London by the open space known as Tower Hill. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite. The castle was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952, although that was not its primary purpose. A grand palace early in its history, it served as a royal residence. As a whole, the Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. There were several phases of expansion, mainly under kings Richard I, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries. The general layout established by the late 13th century remains despite later activity on the site.

William Shakespeare 16th and 17th-century English playwright and poet

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His extant works, including collaborations, consist of some 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

<i>Richard III</i> (play) Shakespearean history play

Richard III is a historical play by William Shakespeare believed to have been written around 1593. It depicts the Machiavellian rise to power and subsequent short reign of King Richard III of England. The play is grouped among the histories in the First Folio and is most often classified as such. Occasionally, however, as in the quarto edition, it is termed a tragedy. Richard III concludes Shakespeare's first tetralogy.

Pomfret, Pomfret! O thou bloody prison,
Fatal and ominous to noble peers!
Within the guilty closure of thy walls
Richard the second here was hack'd to death;
And, for more slander to thy dismal seat,
We give thee up our guiltless blood to drink.

Various chroniclers suggest that Richard was starved to death by his captors, and others suggest he starved himself. A contemporary French chronicler suggested that Richard II had been hacked to death, but this is, according to the ODNB, "almost certainly fictitious". [6]

Tudor Era

In 1536, the castle's guardian, Thomas Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy de Darcy handed over the castle to the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace, a Catholic rebellion from northern England against the rule of King Henry VIII. Lord Darcy was executed for this alleged "surrender," which the king viewed as an act of treason.

In 1541, during a royal tour of the provinces, it was alleged that King Henry's fifth wife, Queen Catherine Howard, committed her first act of adultery with Sir Thomas Culpeper at Pontefract Castle, a crime for which she was apprehended and executed without trial. Mary, Queen of Scots was lodged at the castle on 28 January 1569, travelling between Wetherby and Rotherham. [7]

Royalist stronghold

The garrison handed over the castle to John Lambert on 24 March 1649. JohnLambert.png
The garrison handed over the castle to John Lambert on 24 March 1649.

Royalists controlled Pontefract Castle at the start of the English Civil War. The first of three sieges began in December 1644 and continued until the following March when Marmaduke Langdale, 1st Baron Langdale of Holme arrived with Royalist reinforcements and the Parliamentarian army retreated. During the siege, mining and artillery caused damage and the Piper Tower collapsed as a result. The second siege began on 21 March 1645, shortly after the end of the first siege, and the garrison surrendered in July after hearing the news of Charles I's defeat at the Battle of Naseby. Parliament garrisoned the castle until June 1648 when Royalists sneaked into the castle and took control. Pontefract Castle was an important base for the Royalists, and raiding parties harried Parliamentarians in the area. [9]

Oliver Cromwell led the final siege of Pontefract Castle in November 1648. Charles I was executed in January, and Pontefract's garrison came to an agreement and Colonel Morrice handed over the castle to Major General John Lambert on 24 March 1649. Following requests from the townspeople, the grand jury at York, and Major General Lambert, on 27 March Parliament gave orders that Pontefract Castle should be "totally demolished & levelled to the ground" and materials from the castle would be sold off. [10] Piecemeal dismantling after the main organised activity of slighting may have further contributed to the castle's ruined state. [11]

It is still possible to visit the castle's 11th-century cellars, which were used to store military equipment during the civil war.


The ruins of St Clement's Chapel within the castle St Clement's Chapel, Pontefract Castle, 2010.jpg
The ruins of St Clement's Chapel within the castle

Little survives of what "must have been one of the most impressive castles in Yorkshire" other than parts of the curtain wall and excavated and tidied inner walls. It had inner and outer baileys. Parts of a 12th-century wall and the Piper Tower's postern gate and the foundations of a chapel are the oldest remains. The ruins of the Round Tower or keep are on the 11th-century mound. The Great Gate flanked by 14th-century semi-circular towers had inner and outer barbicans. Chambers excavated into the rock in the inner bailey possibly indicate the site of the old hall and the North Bailey gate is marked by the remains of a rectangular tower. [1]

The castle has several unusual features. The donjon has a rare Quatrefoil design. Other examples of this type of Keep are Clifford's Tower, York and at the Château d'Étampes in France. Pontefract also has an torre albarrana , a fortification almost unknown outside the Iberian Peninsular. Known as the Swillington Tower, the detached tower was attached to the north wall by a bridge. Its purpose was to increase the defender's range of flanking fire. [12]

Wakefield Council, who own the site, commissioned William Anelay Ltd to begin repairs on the castle in September 2015, but work stopped in November 2016 when Anelay went into administration. The Council then engaged Heritage Building & Conservation (North) Ltd, who began work on the site in March 2017. A new visitor centre and cafe were opened in July 2017; but in April 2018 the council announced that they had terminated the contract with HB&C (North) Ltd, as no work had been done since mid-March, and they had not had any reassurances that the work would restart. [13] On Yorkshire Day 2019, the restoration was completed, and the castle was removed from Historic England's "Heritage At Risk" list. [14]

See also

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  1. 1 2 Pevsner & Radcliffe 1967, p. 394.
  2. 1 2 "The Duchy of Lancaster – Yorkshire". www.duchyoflancaster.co.uk. Archived from the original on 17 April 2013. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "Pontefract Castle Index". www.pontefractus.co.uk. Archived from the original on 16 May 2008. Retrieved 22 July 2008.
  4. Harfield 1991, p. 383.
  5. Brown 1959, p. 255.
  6. 1 2 3 Tuck 2004.
  7. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol.2 (1900), p.612
  8. Rakoczy 2007, p. 223.
  9. Rakoczy 2007, pp. 222–223.
  10. Rakoczy 2007, pp. 223–227.
  11. Rakoczy 2007, p. 221.
  12. "Torre Albarrana". www.castlesofspain.co.uk. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  13. Drysdale, Laura (26 April 2018). "£3.5m Pontefract Castle restoration project grinds to a halt for a second time after scrapping of contractor". The Yorkshire Post . Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  14. "Pontefract Castle No Longer 'At Risk'". Pontefract Castle. Wakefield Museums and Galleries. Retrieved 2 November 2019.