Sandal Castle

Sandal Castle is located on the outkirts of Wakefield in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The Castle was held by Richard 3rd Duke of York. It was to Sandal that the Duke travelled in December 1460 as he attempted to address the military threat posed by Lancastrians opposing the Act of Accord. It was outside Sandal Castle that the Battle of Wakefield was fought, in which the Duke was killed, with his son Edmund Earl of Rutland being killed in the rout and the Earl of Salisbury captured and then executed by the victorious Lancastrians. 

History of Sandal Castle

Sandal Castle was first built in the early twelfth century on lands held by William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey. The original construction was a wooden Motte and Bailey. This castle was then replaced by a stone construction by the 5th Earl of Surrey, Hamelin de Warenne. Sandal Magna was chosen as a site for a castle because it had better defensive qualities than an earlier Norman Castle that had been built in Wakefield: the remains of which have not been fully explored or dated as of yet. Sandal Castle remained in the hands of the Warenne family until 1347. Then, it passed to Edward III upon the death of the 7th Earl, who had been predeceased by his sons.

1317: Sandal Castle attacked?

In 1317 there was a dispute that led to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, seizing properties held by the Warenne family. This included the mighty Conisborough Castle along with Sandal Castle. The circumstances in which the castle was taken are unclear with sources offering no definitive narrative. This has led some modern accounts to say that it was attacked [see here, or here], with others saying it was taken possibly without resorting to force [see here]. No matter how the castle was taken, it reverted to Warenne hands after the Battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322, albeit with a new grant to John Warenne only being for his life.

Sandal Castle and the House of York

Edward III chose to grant the castle at Sandal to his six year old son, Edmund of Langley. Edmund was created Earl of Cambridge aged 21, and elevated to being Duke of York by his nephew, Richard II, in 1485. Edmund appears to have spent little time at Sandal Castle, with records suggesting that the castle was managed on behalf of the 1st and 2nd Dukes of York by stewards and constables. Edmund’s son, Edward, inherited Sandal Castle upon his fathers death in 1402. Edward, 2nd Duke of York, died in the Battle of Agincourt. As Edward had no children, his heir was his nephew, Richard Plantagenet, son of the 2nd Duke’s brother, Richard of Conisborough, Earl of Cambridge, who had been executed for his role in the Southampton Plot in 1415.

Richard 3rd Duke of York and Sandal Castle

Richard 3rd Duke of York inherited his uncles titles and lands. This provided him with a large estate, including the castle at Sandal. When the Act of Accord was passed in 1460 it led to the gathering of forces loyal to Queen Margaret, her son, Prince Edward, and the Lancastrian dynasty. This was a threat to the Duke of York and threatened to undo the terms of the Act of Accord which transferred inheritance of the crown to Richard 3rd Duke of York and his heirs, from the line of King Henry VI, to be active upon the king’s death.

The Lancastrian opposition to the Act of Accord and Richard 3rd Duke of York was based in Yorkshire, where the Queen’s allies held York, Pontefract, and many of the manors in the Aire Valley and across North Yorkshire. As the now designated heir to the throne, and effective head of the king’s government, the Duke of York had little option but to address the opposition to his position. To do this, he gathered his forces and along with his son, Edmund Earl of Rutland, and Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, marched north.

The destnation for the Yorkist force was Sandal Castle. The castle was close to Lancastrian strongholds, particularly the crown [Lancastrian] held stronghold at Pontefract which dominated the region. Sandal could provide Richard and his force with a base from which to direct operations, if needed, against those opposing his rights and the Act of Accord.

Whilst Sandal Castle was close to areas into which the Duke of York may need to advance, this was also perhaps its greatest weakness. Shortly after arriving at the castle, the Duke’s force was engaged on land outside the castle walls. The Lancastrians were present in force, and may have tricked the Duke into thinking he was safe. Whatever the reason for his force being exposed on the lands outside the walls of Sandal Castle, it was to prove to be the final act of Richard 3rd Duke of York. In the resulting Battle of Wakefield, Richard 3rd Duke of York was killed. His son, the Earl of Rutland, was slain in the rout. Legend has it that this took place on the nearby bridge, with John 9th Baron Clifford of Skipton Castle being responsible for the Earl’s death, perhaps as revenge for the death of his father at the hands of the Yorkists in the First Battle of St. Albans in 1455. So too did the Earl of Salisbury meet his end as a result of the clash on fields outside Sandal Castle. The Earl of Salsbury was captured after the battle, taken to the Lancastrian castle at Pontefract, and beheaded there.

Sandal Castle in the reign of King Edward IV

Edward IV granted the Manor of Sandal to his brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester. The Castle did not see any further military action during the Wars of the Roses, but was of note at times. In 1471, Edward IV and his force stopped at Sandal Castle on their way south as part of his campaign to retake the crown. This allowed the Yorkist force a relatively safe stopping point in an area that was militarily under the control of John Neville, Marquess of Montague.

Richard III and Sandal Castle

Richard had been lord of Sandal during the reign of his brother, Edward IV. As he had developed his dominance of the north castles such as Sandal were of importance to him as administrative and military centres. The value of Sandal Castle was clear to him, so much so that as King, he ordered the defences to be improved:

Warrant to the auditor of Wakefield to allow the said John (Woderove) “such sums of money as he shall employ in making of a tower of new in the castle of Sandal”…’ 3 June 1484

This was followed with new ordinances governing the routines at the castle. It was, in the summer of 1484, being upgraded into a modern fortress, with attention being paid to even the minor details:

the hours of God’s service, diet, going to bed and rising, and also the shutting of the gates… 15 June 1484

The improvements at Sandal Castle linked in with Richard III’s creation of the Council of the North. The residences allocated for John, Earl of Lincoln, and other leading men within this new for of governance for the North included Sandal Castle and Sheriff Hutton.

Sandal Castle Links

Wakefield Council – visitor information and a brief history

Wakefield Historical Association – history of the castle

Historic England –  listung for Sandal Castle

History Hit – brief film about the castle

Featured Image Details

Remains of Castle, Sandal Magna. To the north of the castle is the site of the Battle of Wakefield 1460. Dennis Turner. This image was taken from the Geograph project collection. See this photograph’s pageon the Geograph website for the photographer’s contact details. The copyright on this image is owned by Dennis Turner and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. Via Wikimedia.

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