Pontefract Castle – Yorkshire

During the Middle Ages Pontefract was an important town and Pontefract Castle one of the greatest fortresses in England.

The castle, originally built in the late eleventh century by Illbert de Lacy, was inherited by Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, in 1311 on the death of his father-in-law Henry Lacy. Thomas launched an opposition to Edward II; he was eventually put on trial at Pontefract Castle, found guilty of treason and executed there in 1322.

In 1399 Pontefract Castle became a royal castle when Henry Bolingbroke took the throne as Henry IV. As the principle royal castle in the north of England it was used to hold important prisoners. The deposed Richard II was held captive in the castle dying there in suspicious circumstances. In his play “Richard II”, Shakespeare refers to the castle as “Bloody Pomfret”.

Other prisoners of note who were held in the castle were James I of Scotland and Charles, Duc d’Orleans, who was captured during the battle of Agincourt in 1415.

In later years, Richard III, while Duke of Gloucester, kept Pontefract Castle as one of his official residences. In 1483 he had three of his political opponents put to death at the castle.

During the period of the Civil War Pontefract Castle was a place of great importance. Cromwell described it as “one of the strongest inland garrisons in the kingdom”. It endured three sieges between 1644 and 1649, eventually falling to the Parliamentarians in 1649. Parliament decided that the castle should be demolished, preventing it from being used against them in the future. Many of the buildings in the local area are made from stones recycled from the castle.

Today the remains of the castle and the underground magazine chamber are open to visitors. The underground magazine is particularly interesting as it was used for storing liquorice root, gunpowder and prisoners during the Civil War. The ruins are under the guardianship of the City Council of Wakefield.