Knaresborough Castle, Knaresborough

Standing on a hill overlooking the River Nidd, Knaresborough Castle was a favourite residence of early English kings.

Built following the Norman Conquest, the castle has been in royal control or held directly by the Crown throughout its history. King John took a particular interest in Knaresborough, and often stayed in the castle while hunting in the Forest of Knaresborough. He is reputed to have spent more money on the castles at Knaresborough and Scarborough than on any others in the country.

Edward II granted the honor and castle of Knaresborough to Piers Gaveston, one of his favourites. Gaveston was extremely unpopular among the barons who disliked his influence over the King. In 1311, under pressure from the barons, he was banished but was later readmitted to the country. The following year Gaveston was besieged at Scarborough Castle; Edward II stayed at Knaresborough Castle to be close at hand.

In 1331, Edward III’s wife, Queen Philippa received the Honor and castle of Knaresborough as part of her marriage settlement. While in her possession the castle became firmly established as a royal residence. Queen Philippa spent many summers in the castle with her young family, including her son, John of Gaunt.

In 1372 the Honor and castle of Knaresborough and the Honor of Tickhill were part of a settlement granted to John of Gaunt by his father, King Edward III, in exchange for the Earldom of Richmond.  From that time onwards the castle has belonged to the Duchy of Lancaster.

After the accession of Henry IV the castle no longer played an important role in national affairs, but it continued to play a part in regional administration through the manor courts held there.

Knaresborough Castle was held for the Royalists at the beginning of the Civil War, but in 1644 it was besieged and taken by the Parliamentarians. In 1646 Parliament ordered the castle to be rendered unusable and demolition commenced. Only the King’s Tower and the courthouse survived.
The ruins, mostly dating from the fourteenth century, are open to the public. For further information and opening times see www.castlexplorer.co.uk.

Pickering Castle, North Yorkshire

Pickering Castle is a well-preserved ruin dating back to the Norman Conquest.

An early motte and bailey castle, it was constructed for William the Conqueror in 1069-70 while he was in the north of England repressing uprisings against his rule. The castle proved popular with later kings, who used it as a base for hunting in the surrounding forest.

In 1267 it became part of the early estates which later formed the Duchy of Lancaster, when Henry III granted his younger son, Edmund, the Earldom of Lancaster, together with substantial land holdings including the manor, castle and forest of Pickering.

Surveys in the 1530s reported that the castle was falling into decay. By 1651 the chapel was the only building still with a roof.

Located in the centre of Pickering, the castle has many of its original walls and towers. Today it is under the guardianship of English Heritage and is open to visitors from April to October. For further information and opening times see www.english-heritage.org.uk

Pontefract Castle, West 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.