Pontefract Castle

Pontefract Castle

Pontefract Castle, also known locally as Pontefract Castle Museum and Art Gallery, is a restored medieval castle in the town of Pontefract. The castle is one of the finest examples of a Norman fortress in England. It was originally constructed by William the Conqueror in 1067 to protect against rebellion within the kingdom, as well as Scotland.

Explore this fascinating and exciting medieval ruin of England’s West Yorkshire borough for free! This article will tell you all about this interesting place.

Pontefract Castle

As its name suggests, Pontefract Castle has been credited with guarding against rebellion for centuries. It stands in the town of Pontefract, in West Yorkshire, England. Originally built by William the Conqueror in 1067 to protect against rebellion within the kingdom, as well as Scotland.

The castle is a good example of a Norman fortress, and although it initially appears to be very small, it contains many features that were built for defence – including a secret tunnel and escape-route. Pontefract Castle was used extensively during the War of the Roses (1455 – 1485), when it was held by the Yorkist family.

Origins of Pontefract Castle

The origins of the castle are thought to date back much earlier than its official construction in 1067. Some believe that the site was used for a wooden fortification as early as 300 BC.

The first stone castle was built by William the Conqueror when he invaded England in 1066. It is believed that it stood on the site of an old Roman fort. There is much speculation that William gave permission for a monastery to be built there, and this may be why it was named Pontefract (literally, broken bridge) by the locals.

Rebellion and war

The castle has had a history of rebellion, war and destruction since its inception. In 1265, Simon de Montfort (a nobleman and politician) took control of Pontefract Castle after King Henry III failed to support him during the Second Barons’ War. The castle was besieged for a year, but the rebels eventually surrendered due to lack of supplies.


After its capture, de Montfort’s heirs were required to pay an annual fee to the king. But when King Edward II was forced out of his kingdom in 1326, Edward III handed over control of one-third of all English castles to Roger Mortimer, one of his most trusted allies. Pontefract Castle then became the primary residence for Mortimer and his wife Isabella after they were exiled by Edward II.

Mortimer was executed by Edward III in 1330, and the castle was returned to the crown. However, the castle was rapidly lost again – this time to Richard of York after King Henry VI regained the throne.

After Richard of York’s death in battle, Pontefract Castle was taken over by Richard III – who maintained control over it until his own death at Bosworth Field in 1485. Pontefract Castle then passed into the hands of Henry VII, before being passed down through successive monarchs.

The War of the Roses

In 1461, Pontefract Castle was used as a prison by Richard Neville, who had recently taken the castle from the Lancastrians. It was in this year that popular belief has it that the famous “Yorkshire Rose” badge of Edward IV (the Yorkist king) was popularised.

Edward, while holding Pontefract Castle under siege from Lancastrians, is said to have ordered his men to paint a white rose on their helmets; a sign of good luck and meaning that they were claiming victory for Edward and his house (once known as the House of York).

When the Lancastrian army surrendered, however, Edward was forced to let them go free – and he showed them mercy, painting his rose a red colour. He also is said to have given them a white rose each to show that they had fought bravely.

Destruction and rebirth

In 1489, Pontefract Castle was besieged by Henry VII (who had become king after Richard III was killed, in battle). It was subsequently destroyed by cannon fire and fell into disrepair. By the 16th century, it was so dilapidated that it was used as a source of stone to be used at nearby Fountains Abbey.

Pontefract Castle Museum and Art Gallery

Pontefract Castle Museum and Art Gallery is now located at the site of the castle, but only two walls remain from the original structure. The museum still contains various exhibits displaying the history of Pontefract Castle and life during medieval times – including authentic swords, armour, tapestries and costumes.

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Amy Green

Hi, my name is Amy and I am a UK based teacher and blogger. I spent most of my childhood summers exploring castles of England and Wales, and most of my adulthood teaching humanities in Secondary schools. I love visiting and learning about Norman and Medieval Castles.

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