After the Norman Conquest Pontefract was the centre of an honour of 162 manors. This vast area of land was given to Ilbert de Lacy in 1076. The early, wooden motte-and-bailey castle he constructed grew over the decades into one of the most formidable strongholds in England. “Who ever holds Pontefract, holds the key to the North”.
The castle witnessed many foul deeds over the centuries and welcomed many a royal visit. During one such visit, Catherine Howard Henry VIII’s fifth wife committed adultery which led to a fateful meeting with the King’s Executioner.
Pontefract was the last stronghold to hold out for King Charles I and the first to declare his son as king after Charles I was beheaded on 30th January 1649. The town’s coat of arms celebrates this event; post mortem patris pro filio. The castle was besieged three times in all, finally surrendering on 24th March 1649 Three days after the surrender, parliament ordered its demolition.
Since its demolition the castle has had many uses from the cultivation of liquorice to a Victorian pleasure garden. Today, though the efforts of volunteers and societies such as the Pontefract Heritage Group, visitors are able to relive some of its splendour and explore its gruesome past.