Castle is certainly something that Cromwell's soldiers knocked about
a bit. During the English Civil War it was held by the Royalists
throughout three sieges and was the last royal castle to fall to
the Parliamentarians. Today, although a scheduled ancient monument
in the care of Wakefield Council, it is still the property of Her
Majesty The Queen as part of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Keep of Pontefract castle as it is today
history of Pontefract Castle begins with the Norman Conquest as
an earth and timber fortress built by Ilbert de Lacy in the 1080s.
Ilbert had come over from Normandy with William and fought at Hastings.
He was rewarded with more than 100 estates in the West Riding alone
and it was only natural he would want a prominent castle from which
to control his estates. When a revolt against the Normans broke
out in Yorkshire Ilbert was happy to "lay waste" large
areas in the Conqueror's name.
castle was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century and other buildings
were added as time went on. A painting in Pontefract Museum (above)
shows how imposing the castle still looked in the 17th century before
the Civil War. Only the cellars now remain of the Great Hall which
was once the heart of the castle.
the castle was strengthened so was the power of the de Lacy family.
Following very successful marriages they became Earls of Lincoln
and eventually estates their were transferred to the powerful House
Jacobi as Richard II from the BBC Television Shakespeare, 1978
life as a foot soldier or peasant in the Middle Ages might be brutish
and short, even the rich and powerful had to be careful about how
they chose their friends. Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, was tried for
treason at Pontefract Castle and executed on the hill adjacent to
nearby St John's Priory. There were other important prisoners -
James I of Scotland and Charles Duc D'Orleans (captured at the battle
of Agincourt in 1415) but the most famous incarceration in Pontefract
Castle has to be that of Richard II, immortalised in Shakespeare's
1399 Richard was forced to abdicate by a group of barons led by
Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster. Henry imprisoned the deposed
king in his fortress at Pontefract but risings in Richard's support
proved something of an embarrassment and it appears that by the
end of February 1400 Richard was dead, probably killed by starvation
on Henry's orders. It is likely he was held in Gasgoigne Tower,
also known coincidentally as the "red" tower.
Greathed carved his name on the wall of the castle magazine
in 1648 while he was a prisoner there.
most immediate link the castle has with the past is the underground
magazine. Originally the cellars of the Great Hall (part of today's
magazine date from the 11th century) this area was used as a military
store and during the Civil War as a prison. The Royalists held the
castle though three sieges and prisoners carved their names into
the magazine's walls. Although one prisoner, unsure of his fate,
even carved gallows therel, they were eventually returned to their
written records tell us a bit more about some of these men. Robert
Greathed, a captain, pretending to be his brother and a private
soldier, bought himself out while Robert Brear asked if he could
take a couple of days to sort out some private affairs. Castle custodian,
Steve Coulson, says Brear is the only person ever known to "escape"
from Pontefract Castle. Perhaps their fellow prisoners were less
defeated the King's supporters Cromwell was determined that castles
- far too handy for anyone planning a rising - should, where possible,
be reduced to rubble. But the history of Pontefract Castle did not
stop there. It was used for growing liquorice and in Victorian times
was a pleasure garden and a municipal park. More recently the castle
has been excavated, some of the medieval stonework restored and
a Visitor Centre opened. Thanks to continual conservation work the
remains of the castle stand as a reminder of the glory that was