Pontefract Castle used to be one of the greatest castles in all of England. It started life in 1070 when Ilbert de Lacy built a wooden castle on land that was given to him by William the Conqueror. It was known then as Ilbert’s Castle. Over time the wooden structures were replaced with stone and it remained the family home of the de Lacy’s until the 14th century.
During its life the castle was rebuilt and added to as the castle fulfilled different functions; acting as a fortress, a royal castle, a centre of local administration, a prison and an armoury. One of the most infamous uses of the castle was to imprison Richard II who eventually died of starvation in the castle. To this day no-one knows if Richard II starved himself to death or was left to starve by his enemies. The death of Richard II in Pontefract Castle was immortalised by Shakespeare in his play, Richard III.
At this time the castle was passed into the ownership of the House of Lancaster but it was here that Thomas, Earl of Lancaster was beheaded just after his defeat at the Battle of Boroughbridge.
The castle wasn’t just the scene of gruesome deaths, it also oversaw many scandals including the adultery of Queen Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII whom it is alleged, first courted and slept with Sir Thomas Culpeper at the castle. For this crime she was beheaded without trial.
Pontefract Castle also played a major role in the English Civil War, acting as a Royalist stronghold. It was during this period that the castle suffered ruin and dilapidation until it was finally demolished during the second English Civil War.
Pontefract Castle Today
All that remains of the castle today are the 11th century cellars, and the remains of the Royal Apartments, the Saxon Church, the kitchens, the Keep, the Norman Chapel and the three towers. However some say that the spirits of those who lived and died here, still remain.
The underground cellars are definitely worth a visit; these were used as a magazine or military store through the Civil War and were carved out of the rock itself by Civil War prisoners who left their mark by carving some of their names into the cell walls.
Admission to Pontefract Castle
Admission to the castle and the adjoining Visitor’s Centre is free of charge and the castle is open to visitors 7 days a week with summer hours being 8.30-5pm Mon-Fri and 9.30am-6.15pm Sat-Sun. Winter hours are 8.30am until dusk on Mon-Fri and 9.30am until dusk on Sat and Sun.
Tours of the underground cellars are available from Wed-Sun at 3pm at a cost of £2.10 for adults and £1.05 for children.
Events at Pontefract Castle
Events are held all year round and are great for families! Some annual events include Medieval Games, the Battle of Wakefield Anniversary and various theatre productions. The castle grounds and visitor centre is also available to hire for private functions.