Earthworks and some stone remains of the medieval castle. Of note is the impressive barbican; the medieval access to the top of the motte. The battlefield geography can be appreciated from the castle motte and a monument further north on Manygates Lanes marks the alleged site of Richard, Duke of York’s death in 1460.
2. William de Warenne, the original builder of Sandal Castle, died in 1138. His son inherited but was disgraced in 1148 when he fled the Battle of Lincoln contributing to King Stephen's defeat.
3. After the Battle of Wakefield the severed head of Richard, Duke of York - along with his son Edmund, Earl of Rutland - were displayed on Micklegate Bar at York.
4. In 1472 Edward IV established the Council of the North, a body designed to improve Royal administration in Northern England. Sheriff Hutton and Sandal Castle were both used to host meetings.
5. Sandal Castle was one of the last Royalist castles to hold out in Yorkshire. After its surrender only Skipton Castle and Bolton Castle remained garrisoned for the King.
Notes: Castle is well sign-posted and has a dedicated (free) car park. The battlefield monument can be found at 22 Manygates Lane, WF2 7DF (opposite the park).
Duke of York Monument
22 Manygates Lane,
Built by the Warenne family, Sandal Castle witnessed a private war between them and Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. It would rise to national prominence when the Battle of Wakefield (1460) was fought under it walls resulting in the death of Richard, Duke of York. Later it was subjected to Parliamentary siege as Royalist fortunes in Yorkshire collapsed.
HISTORY OF SANDAL CASTLE AND THE BATTLE OF WAKEFIELD (1460)
Sandal Castle was one of two motte-and-bailey fortifications built to dominate Wakefield. Situated on the River Calder it was constructed sometime after 1106 when Henry I granted the Manor to William de Warenne. Initially an earth and timber structure, significant rebuilding in stone commenced towards the end of twelfth century.
The castle was besieged and captured by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster in 1317. The then owner of Sandal Castle was John de Warenne who had a personal vendetta with Thomas due to his efforts to bar an attempted divorce between himself and his wife, Joan. Scandalously one of John's squires eloped with Joan to Reigate Castle prompting Thomas, one of the most powerful magnates in the country, to commence a private war. Aside from the capture of Sandal, Thomas also seized Conisbrough and retained both until his execution in March 1322. The properties were returned to the Warenne family in 1326.
In 1347 the legitimate male line of the Warrene family died out and the castle reverted to the Crown. The same year Edward III granted it to his son, Edmund of Langley, later Duke of York. Through him both Sandal Castle and the Dukedom of York passed to his son Edward and then in 1432 to his nephew, Richard.
The Wars of the Roses
In 1399 Henry Bolingbroke had overthrown the unpopular Richard II and taken the crown as Henry IV. Widely supported by the nobility at the time, the usurping of the normal line of succession was sustained through both Henry and his son, Henry of Monmouth (later Henry V), being effective Kings. However by the 1450s the government of Henry's grandson, Henry VI, was deeply unpopular. The periodic mental illness of Henry VI coupled with the dramatic defeats of the English in the Hundred Years War provided the backdrop for the ambitious Richard, Duke of York to make a bid for the Crown. Richard claimed descent from Lionel of Antwerp, Edward III's second son, whereas the three Henrys were from the line of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster who had been the third eldest. Richard, prompted by rivalry at Court, pressed his claim with initial skirmishes dovetailing into the first Battle of St Albans (1455). Although a truce quickly followed, the bitterness with which that battle was fought - resulting in the deaths of several prominent Lancastrian supporters including Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland - set the tone of the Wars.
In 1459 the fragile peace between the Lancaster (Henry VI) and York (Richard, Duke of York) factions had broken. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and a prominent Yorkist supporter, defeated the Lancastrians at the Battle of Northampton (1460) and captured Henry VI. The Yorkists, after having failed to secure backing for an immediate coronation of Richard, settled for the Act of Accord; an agreement instigating Richard as Lord Protector and heir to the King. Faced with the disinheriting of her son Henry's queen, Margaret of Anjou, raised an army in the north to reverse this coup centred on Pontefract Castle. Richard deployed to intercept and on 21 December 1460 was at Sandal Castle. An initial sortie was made towards Pontefract but was repulsed; Richard returned to Sandal to await the arrival of his son, Edward, with reinforcements. The scene was set for the next battle of the Wars.
The Battle of Wakefield
Information of precisely why the battle happened at this time is somewhat elusive. What is certain is that on 30 December 1460, despite Richard being aware that the Lancastrian forces outnumbered his own and whilst he was still awaiting the arrival of his son with additional troops, the Duke of York led his army out of the safety of Sandal Castle to engage the opposition. It has been mooted he was perhaps short of supplies and thought he would have better fortunes in an open conflict than a protracted siege; but with his son Edward in bound with more forces this is unlikely. Alternatively it is possible the Lancastrians tempted him out by marching as portion of their army near the castle. Either way he deployed from Sandal Castle and down the approximate line of modern Manygates Lane. The subsequent battle was more of a significant skirmish than a set piece battle; Richard seems to have initially engaged a Lancastrian unit and then been engulfed by additional forces attacking him from all sides.
The Lancastrian victory at Wakefield saw the same bitter and bloody end as the Battle of St Albans five years earlier. Richard, Duke of York had been mortally wounded during the fighting; his head was severed and sent to York. His son, Edmund, fled the battlefield but was caught and summarily executed as were other prominent Yorkists. The Earl of Salisbury was captured sometime after the battle and, although initially spared and taken as a prisoner to Pontefract Castle, he was lynched by the locals.
Despite the death of main protagonist of the early war, the death of Richard did not end the conflict nor did the Lancastrian victory at the Second Battle of St Albans two months later. Richard's eldest son, Edward, assumed the mantle as Duke of York and whose victories at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross (2 Feburary 1461) and Towton (29 March 1461) saw him take the throne as Edward IV. Sandal Castle, originally a possession of Richard, passed to Edward and with his accession to the throne in 1461 became a Royal castle once more.
Castle After the War
The Wars of the Roses rumbled on intermittently for a further twenty-five years. Despite briefly being overthrown by forces loyal to Henry VI, Edward IV managed to sustain his position as King. His heirs were less successful; Edward V, one of the Princes in the Tower, was cast aside leaving Richard, Duke of Gloucester to take the throne as Richard III in 1483. He was defeated and killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485) but during his short reign he made major upgrades to Sandal Castle. These were the last major additions however; the castle was used as a local prison until the late sixteenth century but its defences were neglected.
The Civil War
By the time the Civil War started in 1642, Sandal Castle was in a state of disrepair. It was garrisoned for the King but, despite Wakefield itself being taken in 1643, saw no action until the tide of the war was turning against the Royalist cause. In early 1645 it was placed under siege by the Parliamentary commander, Sir John Savile. A successful counterattack broke this and a further attempt to besiege the castle in June. But by this time Royalist fortunes were waning; the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Naseby had routed the King's Army whilst locally Pontefract Castle had succumbed to the Parliamentary siege. Manpower and artillery, freed from employment against Pontefract, were directed to Sandal. Under the command of General Poyntz extensive siege works were dug and the castle was bombarded into submission finally giving up on the 1 October 1645.
Surrender and Demolition
Following its participation in the Civil War, Sandal Castle joined the long list of fortifications condemned by Parliament and in 1646 was slighted. The remains were left in ruins and allowed to overgrow until Wakefield Council funded clearance and excavations of the site in 1964.