Pontefract Castle

ontefract Castle is located in the town of Pontefract in West Yorkshire to the east of Leeds. It is most famous for being the place that Richard II, the King of England, was murdered in 1400. Originally a Saxon fort, the castle was redeveloped by the Normans after the Conquest. Only the motte and low sections of the walls remain of what once a very large and imposing structure. The most secure part of the castle was the keep located in the south-west corner. Known as the Round Tower it was quatrefoil in shape, having four lobes surrounding a circular interior. More towers were constructed around the curtain walls, including the Piper, Gascoigne, Constable, Queen's and King's Towers. The entrance to the castle was via a large gatehouse on the southern side. This gatehouse was protected by a large barbican forcing any would-be attackers out into the open if they approached. At the western side of the barbican was a large square tower. Within the castle's bailey stood many buildings including a hall and chapel.

Pontefract Castle became the property of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster due to his marriage to Alice de Lacy, the daughter of Henry de Lacy. This was at the time when King Edward II was opposed by the barons because of the his obsession with his favourite Piers Gaveston. In 1312 Gaveston was executed by the barons and Lancaster soon afterwards effectively ruled England. At the Battle of Boroughbridge Lancaster was defeated and captured by Edward's army and taken back to Pontefract Castle and executed outside its walls. In 1362, John of Gaunt the son of King Edward III became the Earl of Lancaster due to his marriage a few years earlier to Blanche of Lancaster and became the owner of Pontefract Castle. In 1400 Pontefract Castle was the prison for King Richard II and is thought to be where he was murdered. In 1536, during the reign of King Henry VIII, the castle became the base for an uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. The rebels were unhappy with the King's religious interference.

The castle's final important moment in history came during English Civil wars when it was captured by Parliamentarian troops and orders were given to destroy it.


Pontefract Castle Key Facts
CountyWest Yorkshire (2 castles)
DirectionsIn the town of Pontefract, Wakefield
CategoriesMotte & Bailey / Stone
RemainsSmall amount survives
Access to siteOnly open at certain times


YearMonthEvent
1311   Lancaster's marriage provides more power
 The marriage of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster to Alice de Lacy, the heiress of the of the powerful Henry de Lacy, gave the Earl even more titles and properties. One of these properties was Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire. 
1321 May 24  Meeting at Pontefract
 Lancester held the first of two meetings to gather support of Barons and the clergy to remove the Despensers from power. The second meeting at Sherborn-in-Elmet near York was held on June 28th.[1] 
1322 Qtr 1  Edward attacks the Marcher Lords
 Edward advanced up the Severn Valley and crossed the river at Shrewsbury. Several of the Marcher Lords surrendered to the King without a fight. Lancaster had moved to his base at Pontefract. The King took time to take control the castles belonging to the Marcher Lords.[1] 
 Mar 16  Battle of Boroughbridge
 Lancaster left his base at Pontract and headed north. At the bridge crossing the river Ure at Boroughbridge he was halted by an army led by Andrew Harcley, the Earl of Carlisle. Harcley held the bridge against Lancaster's attacks and Lancaster was forced to surrender. Lancaster was taken back to Pontefract Castle where Edward had taken control. 
 Mar 22  Lancaster Executed
 Edward finally had his revenge for the death of Gaveston when Thomas, the Earl of Lancaster, was executed outside the walls of Pontefract Castle.[1] 
1399 Aug  Richard is captured
 Richard returned to England landing in Wales. Richard was captured at Conway Castle and was moved to Pontefract Castle where he was imprisoned.[2] 
1400 Feb  Death of Richard II
 Richard II died some time between the 9th and 17th of February 1400 while being imprisoned at Pontefract Castle. The cause of his death is not known. He died at the age of 33.[3] 
1483 Jun 25  Earl Rivers is executed
 Anthony Woodville was executed at Pontefract Castle. 
Early Modern Period (1500-1800)
1536 Oct 21  Pilgrimage of Grace
 Following the earlier Lincoln rebellion, a larger rebellion began further north in Yorkshire. This rebellion again protested against Henry VIII's unpopular policies and advisers. They wanted Henry to put a stop to the dissolution of the monasteries and they wanted the removal of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer and Henry's adviser Thomas Cromwell. The leader of the rebellion was Robert Aske, a lawyer and excellent organiser. Somewhere between 30,000 and 35,000 rebels were involved and they took control of Pontefract Castle which fell to them without any resistance. 
 Dec  Rebels list demands
 At Pontefract the rebel leaders presented a list of demands. The rebels were assured of free pardons. 

Motte and Bailey Castles

Virtual reconstruction

The Norman Conquerors built their castles in locations where they could keep control of the local populations of Saxons or at important locations such as river crossings or on key roads. Many motte and bailey castles were built on the border with Wales to try and keep the Welsh at bay. The advantage of this type of castle was that it was quick to construct. Making a fortification from wood was much easier than making one of stone.

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