FERRYBRIDGE HENGE |
AIRE STREET |
ROPEWALK METHODIST CHURCH
A Brief Introduction
archaeological survey has discovered that the earliest occupation of the
castle site was probably back in the late Iron Age and Roman Periods
though the earliest remains that were discovered, date from the Saxon
Period. At that time, the castle area was occupied by a cemetery and
possibly a Church which was later incorporated within the Norman Motte and
William, Duke of Normandy conquered England by defeating King Harold at
the Battle of Hastings. He became William I and rewarded his barons by
giving them each parts of the country.
Ilbert de Lacy was offered a
large area of Yorkshire including the area now known as Pontefract.
A castle was first built around 1070 by Ilbert de Lacy, soon after the Norman
conquest and comprised of a wooden fortification which over the next
century was gradually rebuilt in stone.
death of Henry de Lacy, the last of the great Lords of Pontefract in 1310,
it was Henry's daughter Alice who succeeded him, as both of Henry's sons
had met their death in separate earlier accidents. Alice married Thomas, Earl of Lancaster
in 1311 and their marriage transferred the Lacy
estates to the House of Lancaster. Thomas was a grandson of Henry
III and during his time at Pontefract castle, the fortification was
further strengthened. At the time, England was in
general disorder and after the English, under King Edward II, were routed by the Scottish armies
under Robert I at Bannockburn in 1314, Thomas,
Earl of Lancaster became regarded as the most powerful man in the
country. Thomas opposed his cousin, King Edward II and the
favourites that surrounded him at court. In 1322, Thomas challenged his cousin at the battle of
Boroughbridge but was defeated and brought back to Pontefract where he was
tried for treason and later executed. Thomas's land was restored to
his heirs and became part of the Duchy of Lancaster on its creation in
Pontefract Castle depicted during the 14th century
One of the castles most famous victims was King Richard II. After an era of
royal restrictions and economic hardship following the black death and
legislation passed by parliament limiting wages without regulating
prices, there was a Peasants Revolt in 1381 against the government policies of
John of Gaunt.
John of Gaunt
was of Royal birth, his father being Edward III and his brother, Edward,
The Black Prince. When Henry, Duke of Lancaster died in 1361, his
estates including Pontefract Castle, passed to John of Gaunt who was the
husband of Henry's daughter Blanche. John of Gaunt became guardian to his
nephew Richard II, (the son of the Black Prince) and virtually ran the
country. During the peasants revolt he took refuge within Pontefract
King Richard's unwise generosity towards his
favourites during these times of unrest, led Thomas, Duke of Gloucester and four other
magnates to form the 'Lord's Appellant' who convicted five of Richard's closest advisors for treason. In 1397, Richard arrested three of the
five Lords and sentenced them to death and banished the other two.
One of those exiled was Henry Bolingbroke, the eldest son of John of
Gaunt, who was originally banished for 10 years. On the death of John of Gaunt
in 1399, King Richard II confiscated the vast Lancastrian estates which
were Henry Bollingbroke's inheritance.
Richard travelled to Ireland allowing Henry Bollingbroke to land at
Ravenspur, Yorkshire, in July, to reclaim his confiscated title of Duke of
Lancaster and with it, Lord of Pontefract. Taking advantage of the widespread dissatisfaction with
Richard's rule, Richard was forced to surrender to him on his return from
Ireland and abdicate. He was eventually imprisoned in Pontefract Castle where it is uncertain
whether he died through general neglect or was murdered by the Kings
supporters. Pontefract Castle
thus became a Royal Castle when Henry's claim to the throne was confirmed
by Parliament and he became King Henry IV in October 1399.
Castle itself was further modified and strengthened by the Lancastrian
Kings throughout the 14th and 15th centuries until it became one of the
foremost royal castles in the North of England. Pontefract also
became one of the largest and wealthiest towns in the West Riding.
The castle was used to house important prisoners and during the Wars of
the Roses it was used as a Lancastrian stronghold when in 1460 the
Lancastrian Army came from Pontefract to the Battle of Wakefield.
Pontefract Castle depicted during the 17th century
century saw the castle fall into relative disuse until the start of the
Civil War where it was held for the King and underwent three sieges in
1644, 1645 and 1648. The town suffered great damage before the castle was
finally surrendered in 1649 when it was believed to be the last remaining
Royalist stronghold to fall to Cromwell's armies. Under an Act of
Parliament, put forward by the local townspeople who had suffered greatly
throughout all the fighting, the castle was ordered to be destroyed and it was duly reduced
to the remains we see today.
Castle is open to visitors for most of the year and the WMDC
Wakefield Museums and Arts website gives further details and opening hours.