Pontefract Castle

The name Pontefract originates from the 11th century when William the Conqueror was travelling in Yorkshire to put down rebellions. On his way to York, the frequently used crossing of the river Aire which was situated in modern day Pontefract, had been blockaded by a gang of local insurgents. They had broken the bridge and were in force upon the opposite bank. Historians believe that this event gave the area its name, as in Latin, Pontefract translates as ‘broken bridge’ with ‘pons’ being bridge and ‘fractus’ meaning broken. Although not recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 it was noted in 1090 as Pontefracto.
The area where the castle is situated is believed to be the site of an Anglo- Saxon burial ground. In the middle ages it would have definitely been one of the most imposing, dominating castles in the county. This is quite hard to believe today and needs some imagination to see. Not much of it is still left standing but you can see inner walls, parts of the curtain wall and the ruins of the round keep on the 11th century mound.
The Piper Tower’s postern gate, foundations of a chapel and parts of a 12th century wall are the oldest remains there. You can also go on a tour of the cellars/dungeon which is cut into the bedrock and is a fascinating experience.
Over the centuries Pontefract Castle has seen more than its fair share of bloodshed and is most likely if not certainly the place where the deposed King Richard II was murdered after his crown was usurped by Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV). This was one of the main reasons why the Wars of the Roses happened years later.
It was during these times that many were imprisoned and executed at Pontefract including Earl Rivers Anthony Woodville and his nephew Sir Richard Grey. They had been intercepted by Richard Duke of Gloucester while escorting the young Prince of Wales to London for his coronation as Edward V. Richard had them imprisoned then executed at the castle. He took custody of the future king, locked him up in the Tower of London, and as you are probably aware, later on along with his brother he would disappear never to be seen again. Both Earl Rivers and Sir Richard Grey had been highly trusted men of the late Edward IV, with Earl Rivers being previously appointed as the Governor of the Prince of Wales’ household and therefore the protector of the royal heirs.
Pontefract Castle also saw a lot of action during the English Civil War. As a Royalist stronghold it was besieged three times by Parliamentary forces with Oliver Cromwell noting it as ‘one of the strongest inland garrisons in the kingdom.’ The locals were happy when it was finally demolished in 1649 as they saw the castle as a magnet for bloodshed and trouble!
Even though most of the castle is now destroyed it is still very interesting and well worth a visit.

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