Wakefield is home to the historic ruins of Sandal Castle; infamous for the setting of the 1460 Battle of Wakefield during the Wars of the Roses where the Duke of York, Richard, met his untimely death.
Originally constructed by the Warenne family under the instruction of Henry VI in around 1106, Sandal Castle was erected on the River Calder with the aim to rule over Wakefield. It was first built using earth and timber but was later revamped and upgraded to stone during the later end of the twelfth century.
Over time, the prestigious Sandal Castle has seen many a squabble and scrimmage. In 1317, through a dramatic series of events surrounding the titleholder; John de Warenne, his divorce seeking wife; Joan, the Earl of Lancaster; Thomas, a squire, and a few whispers of adultery, a private war began which ended in Sandal Castle being attacked and seized by Thomas. However, Thomas’s claim to Sandal was short lived, and when he was executed in 1322 for treason, the castle was eventually restored to the Warenne family in 1326.
When the last noble-born man of the Warenne family passed away in 1347, Sandal Castle was returned to the Crown, resulting in Edward III handing the estate to his son, Edmond. Edmond of Langley grew up to become the Duke of York which in turn was passed down to his son and eventually to his nephew, Richard, in 1432.
During Richard’s reign over Sandal Castle, he decided to make a claim to the throne as he believed his family ties with Lionel of Antwerp were more legitimate than those of the Henry’s. What with the frequent mental instability of Henry VI and the emotional overthrow of the English in the Hundred Years War, Richard strongly felt he had the right to the Crown and thus, the first Battle of St Albans commenced in 1455.
Despite declaring a ceasefire soon after the battle began, the bad blood between Henry VI and Richard boiled and peace was broken 1459. A year later, Henry was captured by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, a well known York ally who conquered Lancaster followers at the Battle of Northampton. Richard was awarded Lord Protector and heir to the King which immediately caused backlash from Margaret of Anjou, Henry’s wife, who set about planning an attack on Richard to maintain their son, Edward’s, claim to the throne. Richard retaliated by calling upon his son Edmund to bring an army to Sandal Castle preparing for the next bloody Battle of Wakefield; Richard’s final battle.
You may be familiar with the old nursery rhyme; “Oh, the grand old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men, he marched them up to the top of the hill and he marched them down again…” which is believed by many to have derived from Richard and his attempted safeguarding of Sandal Castle. On 30th December 1460, Richard marched from the safety of his castle to his death. The reason as to why he deployed his small army are still unknown yet widely discussed. Some say that undeterred by the fact that his son had yet not arrived with extra soldiers, his lack of supplies forced him to gamble his chances on the open field...but why not wait for reinforcements? Another reason may be that he was fooled into thinking his opposition were much smaller in numbers. But whatever it was that encouraged Richard to march his army to their death, it resulted in a quick and bloody end to the Yorkists. Richard’s decapitated head was sent to Sandal Castle as a stern warning, his son Edmund was hunted down and executed as well as numerous other supporters and allies captured and punished for their crimes against the Crown.
Regardless of Richard’s death, the bitterness and fighting continued. After two more battles, Sandal Castle once again was won back, this time by Edward - Richard’s eldest - who became King Edward IV in 1461. The Wars of Roses continued to haunt Sandal Castle for an outstanding further 25 years, seeing Edward IV being overpowered briefly by Henry VI followers, and later, in 1483 his son Edward V being outcast with Richard, Duke of Gloucester stepping in as King Richard III.
Richard III had big plans for Sandal Castle and during his mini reign he did indeed invest into the upgrading of the magnificent castle. However, his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 saw the castle’s last royal owner. After Richard’s death, Sandal Castle became a prison and the building was left to deteriorate well into the late sixteenth century until the Civil War in 1642.
When Wakefield was overthrown in 1643, the castle was further neglected and witnessed a number of attacks before it was finally conquered in 1645. It wasn’t long before the Parliament declared Sandal indefensible and the castle was left to rot until 1964 when Wakefield Council took the project on.
Today, Sandal Castle is best known for being the backdrop of one of the most goriest attacks in British history and draws tourists worldwide to visit the haunting remains. However, the ruins of the 13th Century stone castle offer exquisite views of the Calder Valley for the whole family, whether you’re looking to step back in History and learn about a crucial landmark of our ancestors or simply stretch your legs and marvel at the beautiful surrounds; Sandal castle has something for everyone.