Pontefract Castle – August

DateEvent
1/8/1086Around August 1086 in the Domesday Book of that year, Tanshelf or Tatessella (along with Kirkby representing modern day Pontefract) was recorded as having a priest, 60 petty burgesses, 16 cottagers, 16 villagers and 8 smallholders, a church, a fishery and three mills. Its nominal population of 101, recording only landholders, was probably four to five times larger when family members were included.
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21/8/1193On 21st August 1193 (one source says 21st June), Robert (2) de Lacy, lord of Pontefract, died. He had had to pay a relief of 1000 marks (nearly £1.5 million in today’s money), discharged by 1181, to take possession of his lands from 1177. It is recorded that he renounced the world some time before his death and entered a monastery. Having no children, his lands passed to his cousin, Albreda de Lissours.
22/8/1138On 22nd August 1138, Ilbert de Lacy, lord of Pontefract, fought against the Scots of King David I at the Battle of Northallerton (the Battle of the Standard, as it became known). King David, uncle of Empress Matilda, had made various incursions into northern England, attempting to stake claim to King Stephen of England’s territories and force Stephen to do battle on many fronts (Geoffrey of Anjou was also frequently making similar moves in Normandy). King Stephen’s English forces, under the organisation of Thurstan, Archbishop of York, reportedly killed 11,000 Scots with few English casualties. Reputedly, the field was called Bagmoor as a jibe at the amount of baggage abandoned by the fleeing Scots. The Battle of the Standard’s soubriquet was due to a ship’s mast secured to a cart from which hung the banners of St Peter, St John of Beverley and St Wilfrid of Ripon and above which was placed the ‘Body of the Lord, to be their standard-bearer and the leader of their battle’.
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1/8/1242In August 1242, Edmund de Lacy, later lord of Pontefract, and John de Warenne, heir to the earldom of Surrey and Sandal Castle, both in royal custody due to the ‘premature’ deaths of their fathers, were granted a gift of two deer by Henry III. This was indicative of their esteem within the royal household.
7/8/1244On 7th August 1244, whilst the Honour of Pontefract was in the control of the king during Edmund de Lacy’s minority, Henry III gave his brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall, 50 head of deer from Pontefract Park to stock his park at Knaresborough.
9/8/1217On 9th August 1217, after John de Lacy, lord of Pontefract, had sworn fealty to Henry III and had been pardoned by his minority government for his support of the barons’ rebellion (refer their defeat at Lincoln in May 1217), his lands were returned to him.
18/8/1257On 18th August 1257, Sir Edmund de Lacy, lord of Pontefract, was granted the right to hold a weekly market and annual fair at Tanshelf, Pontefract.
23/8/1271On 23rd August 1271, Edmund de Lacy, son of Sir Henry de Lacy, 9th Earl of Lincoln and lord of Pontefract, was born at Denbigh. A contract of marriage to Maud de Chaworth was signed in 1287 (she was five years old and the marriage was never consummated) but Edmund drowned in a well at Denbigh Castle sometime before 30th December 1291. Edmund’s brother John fell to his death from a tower at Pontefract Castle sometime before 1311, leaving their surviving sister, Alice, to become countess of Lincoln in her own right on her father’s death.
23/8/1273On 23rd August 1273, Sir Henry de Lacy, lord of Pontefract, gave the Chapel of St Nicholas in Pontefract to the Abbey of St John in Pontefract.
29/8/1212On 29th August 1212, King John was at Pontefract and is reputed to have met Peter of Pontefract (or Wakefield), a hermit blessed with the gift of prophecy. Peter had foretold that by Ascension Day, 23rd May 1213, John’s crown would pass to another. Peter was imprisoned at Corfe Castle under the ‘care’ of William Harcourt. The following year, on Ascension Day, John set up his tent in a field at Ewell, feasted and openly displayed his good health and status.
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3/8/1394On 3rd August 1394, Anne of Bohemia, queen to Richard II, was buried at Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, John of Gaunt turned up late to the funeral causing a furious Richard to ‘smite him in the face and draw blood’. Following this, John prudently headed north to Pontefract Castle.
6/8/1307Thomas, Earl of Lancaster and later lord of Pontefract, witnessed Piers Gaveston’s return from exile and creation as Earl of Cornwall by Edward II on 6th August 1307 at Dumfries. This was one of Edward’s first acts on becoming king on the death of his father on 7th July that year. Thomas was with the royal party on three occasions later in the month, and after a visit to Pickering he came south with Edward through Nottinghamshire and Northampton to Langley. Throughout the late winter and early spring of 1308, he was apparently at Westminster, and during the autumn he followed the king to Chertsey, Byfleet, and then back to London.
9/8/1310On 9th August 1310, Edward II was at Pontefract and gave its Dominican friars 13s 4d (£408 in today's money) for one day’s food.
9/8/13181318 would see a brief lull in the enmity between Earl Thomas of Lancaster and his cousin Edward II sealed by the Treaty of Leake on the 9th August 1318. The hatred had come to a head in 1312 when Thomas had organised the execution of Piers Gaveston, the king's favourite.
15/8/1309By mid-August 1309, Piers Gaveston was back with Edward II following a recent banishment. Gaveston was publicly if reluctantly acknowledged by the nobles in parliament; it is significant that Thomas of Lancaster who had not been involved in the campaign to banish Gaveston had now become disaffected by this time. Gaveston, with his position with Edward secure again, began to give the nobles derisive nicknames :Henry de Lacy of Pontefract Castle was ‘Burst-Belly’ and Thomas Earl of Lancaster,  later of Pontefract Castle was nicknamed ‘Churl’.
16/8/1312On account of the rapidly deteriorating situation between Edward II and many of his nobles, on 24th July 1312, letters close had ordered the shire levies to be held in immediate readiness. Now on 16th August 1312, writs were sent to certain sheriff and other officials, charging them to bring their forces to London on 27th August: the day on which Thomas, Earl of Lancaster and lord of Pontefract, and the Earls of Hereford and Warwick had been summoned to come to Westminster.
24/8/1394On 24th August 1394, following his late attendance at Queen Anne’s funeral (wife of Richard II), on 3rd August, John of Gaunt was at Pontefract with his grieving family. His own wife Constance had died in March, whilst both Queen Anne and Mary de Bohun, the first wife of the future Henry IV, and thus his daughter-in-law, had recently died.
25/8/1394Whilst still at Pontefract, John of Gaunt heard that people at the court were questioning his loyalty to King Richard II. Knowing Richard was distraught and angry, John wrote him a letter, on the 25th August 1394, from Pontefract, protesting his loyalty. This apparently reassured the king as by September, Richard had made John the Duke of Aquitaine.
29/8/1350On 29th August 1350, Henry, 4th Earl of Lancaster, lord of Pontefract, commanding one of the ships of the English fleet, helped Edward, Prince of Wales’ grappled ship during the Battle of Winchelsea against a Castilian fleet. The prince’s younger brother, John of Gaunt, was also on board the stricken vessel. Of the forty-seven larger Castilian ships (to the English fifty), between fourteen and twenty-six were captured with several sunk. Reputedly, only two English vessels were sunk.
30/8/1372On 30th August 1372, Edward III made his grandson (son of Prince Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince), Richard of Bordeaux (later Richard II), guardian of the kingdom as he prepared to leave from Sandwich on his flagship, Grace de Dieu, on campaign for France. To reinforce a treaty, John of Gaunt (Edward III's fourth, and second surviving, son) had been forced to give up his earldom of Richmond to the Duke of Brittany and was informed by his father that, in the event of Prince Edward’s death, then Richard of Bordeaux would be heir to the throne, not John.
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3/8/1403On 3rd August 1403, Henry IV arrived at Pontefract Castle from Nottingham after the Battle of Shrewsbury on 21st July at which Henry Percy (Hotspur) had been killed and Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester (Hotspur’s uncle) and Sir Richard Vernon and Sir Richard Venables beheaded. Henry was pursuing Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland (Hotspur’s father), for his complicity in the Percy family’s revolt and his mustering an army against him at Tadcaster.
6/8/1403On 6th August 1403, Henry IV departed Pontefract Castle for York awaiting the arrival of the Earl of Northumberland and for his complete submission to Henry after the Percy rebellion. The Earl’s son’s head (Henry Hotspur) had been placed over one of York city’s gates after defeat at the Battle of Shrewsbury.
9/8/1484On 9th August 1484, Pontefract’s first mayor, John Hill, was confirmed by Parliament. He was the only man to have been Mayor of Pontefract three times. Richard III's charter to Pontefract borough, incorporating this role, was confirmed at Westminster on this date and witnessed by two Archbishops (Bourchier and Rotherham), the Bishops of Lincoln (Russell), Bath and Wells (Stillington) and London (Kemp), the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk, the Sheriff of London, Sir Thomas Stanley,, Sir John Wade and the Keeper of the Privy Seal (John Gunthorpe).
13/8/1403On 13th August 1403, Henry IV arrived at Pontefract with his prisoner, the Earl of Northumberland, travelling from York in a day. After being pardoned, the Earl was later killed at the Battle of Bramham Moor (19th February 1408) and his body dismembered and exhibited around the country at Berwick, Lincoln, Newcastle and York with his head impaled on a pike on London Bridge.
15/8/1403On 15th August 1403, Henry IV, having accepted the Earl of Northumberland’s submission at York, made him seal documents at Pontefract commanding his officers to surrender all his castles and all the knights and esquires in Northumberland county to swear an oath of loyalty to Henry. On this day, Henry also commanded his sheriffs to raise forces to meet him at Worcester on the 3rd September for a fourth Welsh campaign in order to quell Owen Glendower’s rebellion.
15/8/1417On 15th August 1417, Joan Waterton, daughter of Robert Waterton, Constable of Pontefract Castle (and also Constable at Tickhill Castle and Castle Donnington), was married to Lionel de Welles, 6th Baron Welles, at St Oswald’s church, Methley with a young Richard Plantagenet (Duke of York and lord of Sandal Castle) as a guest. Lionel later became stepfather to Lady Margaret Beaufort and step-grandfather to Henry VII.
18/8/1483On 18th August 1483, only two months after his coronation and on his ‘royal progress’, Richard III wrote to seventy-one knights and gentlemen when he stopped at Leicester on his way to York, instructing them to meet him at Pontefract Castle on the 27th of that month. Some commentators believe that Richard’s four months’ absence from London, starting merely a week or so after his coronation, was a major error and allowed the fomentation of rebellion.
19/8/1407On 19th August 1407, Henry IV arrived at Pontefract Castle from Nottingham on his journey through the north travelling between his castles and pilgrimage sites. Henry’s wishes to lead French and Welsh campaigns that year were stymied by his increasing frailty and political and financial obstacles.
24/8/1460On 24th August 1460, after the Yorkist nobles Salisbury, Warwick and the Earl of March were victorious at the Battle of Northampton, they returned to London. The remaining Lancastrians were gathering in the north and so the Yorkist lords sought to crush them. On 24th August, a commission, headed by the Yorkist lords, was charged with arresting fifteen men who were said to be uttering falsehoods to arouse discord. On the same day, the Earl of Northumberland was ordered to surrender Pontefract and Wressle Castles.
24/8/1469On  24th July 1469, the Yorkist forces had been defeated at the Battle of Edgecote by those of Robin of Redesdale and the Earl of Warwick. Warwick, feeling frozen out by his long-time friend, Edward IV,  had now switched sides to the Lancastrian cause. Edward, captured by Warwick’s brother George Neville at Olney, was placed in confinement at Warwick and Middleham, before being moved to Pontefract Castle. On 24th August 1469, whilst Edward was still a prisoner at Pontefract, Margaret Beaufort met with Edward’s brother, George Duke of Clarence, an ally of Warwick, to discuss how her son’s lands - Henry Tudor - would be returned to him. Margaret was desperate to use the ongoing situation to obtain the best possible outcome for Henry Tudor. On his release from Pontefract, Edward would swiftly gain revenge on the Lancastrian forces, the result of which would see Warwick flee into exile. The next two years would see this section of the Wars of the Roses reach a climax with Henry VI briefly restored, Edward IV in exile before his eventual victory at the climactic battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. Henry VI would either die or be murdered on the orders of Edward on the 21st May 1471.
24/8/1483Following his coronation on 6th July 1483, King Richard III, in his progress through his kingdom, entered Yorkshire. On 24th August, he reached Pontefract having summoned to meet him seventy one knights and gentlemen of the North. The purpose of this meeting was to enquire into the state of local affairs and to provide direction in administering justice as he had to the Lords in London. On the same day, Prince Edward was reunited with his parents at Pontefract. While at Pontefract (some sources say  the official appointment was made at Nottingham Castle on this date but this is questionable),  Prince Edward was pronounced Prince of Wales (with a later ceremony in York) and Earl of Chester.
26/8/1483Whilst at Pontefract on 26th August 1483, Richard III restored the landed endowment of the Dominican Friary of St Richard. He chastised his late brother for having taken ownership of it when it should have been used to provide masses for the soul of Richard Duke of York, who was buried there till 1476.
31/8/1407On Henry VI’s accession on 31st August 1422, Robert Waterton was re-appointed to his offices of constable at Pontefract and Tickhill Castles.
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1/8/1513By 1st August 1513, an English army of Henry VIII, under Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey, had arrived at Pontefract Castle setting up camp and recruiting additional troops prior to the impending Battle of Flodden Field on 9th September against James IV of Scotland. Surrey had sent Sir William Bullmer to round up a troop of mounted archers to patrol the border region. On 3rd August, Bullmer’s one thousand archers ambushed a Scots’ raiding party at Millfield of between seven to eight thousand men, led by the Earl of Home, sustaining only sixty men lost to the Scots’ five hundred slain and four hundred taken prisoner. James IV was killed at Flodden Field (the last monarch from the British Isles to die in battle) along with eleven to twelve thousand of his compatriots with twelve hundred captured in less than two hours. The English lost about four thousand men with 120 taken prisoner.
23/8/1541Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the youngerKing Henry VIII stayed at Pontefract Castle for several days in August 1541, whilst he was on a ‘northern progress’ seeking to ‘pacify’ the northern counties after the disturbances of the Pilgrimage of Grace. Leaving the Queen, Catherine Howard, at the castle on the 23rd August the king went to Wressle Castle and Hull, arriving at York on the 15th September, on his way back to Windsor. It was not until 1st November 1541 that the king became aware of the queen's alleged misconduct with one of her old lovers  (Thomas Culpeper, a distant cousin) at Pontefract Castle and earlier in the Spring of that year. Catherine was interrogated by Archbishop Cranmer and a delegation of councillors at Winchester Palace on 7th November and formally stripped of her royal title on 15th November (but her marriage to Henry was never formally annulled). A True Bill was found against her by the Justices of Doncaster on Tuesday 24th November. The Grand Jury at Doncaster condemned the Queen and after a bill of attainder was passed by Parliament on 7th February 1542,  she was executed at the Tower of London on 13th February 1542.  
24/8/1578On 24th August 1578, John Taylor, who dubbed himself ‘The Water Poet’ was born. He visited Pontefract in 1622, describing the castle as then ‘a strong, faire and ancient edifice’ having been restored and edified by the Prince of Wales, later Charles I. Ten years later, three military men journeying for pleasure through twenty-six counties found, at Pontefract ‘a high, stately, famous and princely impregnable castle…..having seven famous towers…ample enough to receive as many princes.’ Charles I was at Pontefract in 1625.
25/8/1541On 25th August 1541, Francis Dereham - a Tudor courtier - arrived at Pontefract Castle having been thrown out of the household of Agnes Howard, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Dereham arrived at Pontefract seeking employment within Queen Catherine's household, and he was made the Queen's Private Secretary and then a Gentleman Usher of the Queen's chamber. The significance of this appointment is that Dereham had begun sexual relations with Catherine when she was fifteen, whilst living in the household of the Dowager Duchess in Norfolk House, Lambeth. There was no obvious vacancy within her household, but after speaking with Dereham in her private quarters at Pontefract, Catherine introduced him to the rest of her staff. Rumours of a pre-contract of marriage between Dereham and Catherine would have invalidated Catherine's future marriage to King Henry VIII. On December 1st 1541, Dereham and Thomas Culpeper were arraigned at Guildhall for treason and were executed on  December 10th 1541 - Dereham being hanged, drawn and quartered, Culpeper's  sentenced commuted to beheading.
29/8/1541At the trial of Thomas Culpeper, which began on December 1st 1541, an indictment was made that Queen Catherine had ' on 29th August 1541, with Henry VIII, at Pomfret, and at other times and places before and after with Thomas Culpeper, late of London, one of the gentlemen of the king's privy chamber, falsely and traitorously held illicit meeting and conference to incite the said Culpeper to have carnal intercourse with her; and insinuated to him that she loved him above the king and all others. Similarly the said Culpeper incited the Queen.'
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10/8/1618On 10th August 1618, Ben Jonson, poet and dramatist, visited Pontefract on his accompanied walk from London to Edinburgh. After feasting on venison with the Pontefract Aldermen, on walking home, he was mobbed by ‘dancing giants’ (this may have been arranged to welcome Johnson though it may just have been that his arrival coincided with feast day of St Lawrence) . Processional giants, built on wicker frames and covered with cloth were sometimes carried in medieval English towns and cities in midsummer festivities and often represented religious figures. It is suggested that these giants were stored at the castle. Over four hundred years later, in September 2021, artists Matthew Rosier and James Bulley created the Pontefract Giants’ immersive experience’ at the castle exploring the history of the site.
15/8/1645On 15th August 1645, Royalist Colonel Sir Richard Lowther, ex-Governor of Pontefract Castle, who had surrendered it only three weeks before, died of consumption at Newark.
16/8/1649On 16th August 1649, Colonel John Morris, who in June 1648 had taken control of Pontefract Castle from Parliamentary forces, with men pretending to deliver mattresses and bedding, was put on trial at York, indicted under the Treason Act 1351 for ‘levying war against the late king and the parliament.’ Morris, like Charles I, questioned the authority of the judging body: ‘My lords, under correction, I conceive this court hath not the power to try me in this case; I being a martial man, I ought to be tried by a council of war.’
17/8/1654On 17th August 1654, John Evelyn FRS, writer, gardener and diarist whose works encompassed art, culture and politics including the execution of Charles I, rise and death of Oliver Cromwell and the Great Plague and later Great Fire of London, visited Pontefract. He noted: ‘the castle, famous for many sieges both of late and ancient times, and the death of that unhappy King murdered in it (Richard II), was now demolishing by the rebels: it stands on a mount and makes a goodly show at a distance. The Queen has a house here, and there are many fair seats near it, especially Mr Pierrepont’s, built at the foot of a hill out of the castle ruins. We all alighted in the highway to drink at a crystal spring, which they call Robin Hood’s Well; near it, is a stone chair, and an iron ladle to drink out of, chained to the seat.’ (The reference is to the one-time Robin Hood’s Well just south of Barnsdale).
23/8/1649Colonel John Morris, who in June 1648 had taken control of the castle with men pretending to deliver mattresses and bedding, was hung drawn and quartered, as a traitor by Parliament, at York on 23rd August 1649, having been on-the-run for ten days. He was buried, at his request at Wentworth near the grave of Lord Strafford who had been executed on Tower Hill in May 1641.
25/8/1645Around St Bartholomew’s Day, on 25th August 1645, the rump of the Long Parliament which had begun in 1640, passed an ordinance meaning a year’s imprisonment would befall anyone using the Book of Common Prayer at any time, including private or family prayers. Up to eight thousand Church of England clergy were expelled from their homes including Dr Bradley, Rector of Ackworth
29/8/1637On 29th August 1637, Sir Thomas Yarborough, High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1673 and MP for Pontefract 1685-86 was baptised in Snaith, Yorkshire. He had been born on the 19th of the month and died on 8th January 1709. He was also Receiver of Rents and Revenues for Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II.
31/8/1624On 31st August 1624, James I of England issued a proclamation to the inhabitants of Pontefract prohibiting them from conveniently grinding their corn at the mills at Pontefract to the detriment of the revenue derived from the royal mills at Knottingley. In 1623, the Duchy of Lancaster had complained about this practice of by-passing the Royal Duchy Mills (formerly the ancient Soke Mills).
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1/8/1797In summer 1797, (most probably late July, early August), Joseph Mallord William Turner sketched ‘Pontefract: The South Side of All Saints’ Church, with the Porch and South Transept 1797’ during his stay in Yorkshire as a guest of landowner Walter Ramsden Fawkes at Otley. The church, in the shadow of Pontefract castle, had been severely damaged in 1645 (its Tower being used as a lookout), hit by cannonballs.
9/8/1726On 9th August 1726, Volume III of Daniel Defoe’s travelogue A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain: Divided into Circuits or Journies was released (and later on 13th October 1738, the second, revised edition), having been published in three volumes between 1724 and 1727. Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe in 1719), novelist and pamphleteer wrote about Sandal and Pontefract: ‘From Wakefield, we went to see the ancient Town of Pontefract. …. In Pontefract, and the Castle, much Blood has been spilt, in different Ages. Here, Henry (sic), the great Earl of Lancaster, who was Lord of the Castle, and whose Ancestors had beautified, inlarged, and fortified it, was beheaded by his Nephew, King Edward II with three or four more of the English Barons. Here Richard II was murder’d, and, if History may be credited, in a most cruel manner: and here Antony Earl of Rivers, and Sir Richard Gray, the former Uncle, and the other Brother-in-law to King Edward V were beheaded by King Richard III. In the late Civil Wars, a small Party of brave Fellows took this Castle by Surprize for the King, and desperately defended it to the last Extremity; but being at length obliged to yield, five of them attempted to break thro’ the Besiegers Camp, three of whom perished in the Attempt. The Town is large and well built, but much smaller than it has been. The Castle lies in Ruins, though not demolished…..in the year 1735, the old (market) Cross was pulled down, and a handsome Dome, supported by a Colonnade of Doric Pillars (the charge whereof was defrayed by a Legacy left by one Dupere, an Inhabitant of the Town) was erected for that Purpose. The Ruins of The Castle shew it to have been a Noble Pile. A round Tower, yet standing, is intire, in or near which, the Tradition is, King Richard II was slain. Adjoining to this Tower are Winding airs, which descend into several Vaults, and subterraneous Passages.’ 
21/8/1783On 21st August 1783, John Gully, an English prize-fighter, horse-race owner (won The Derby in 1832, 1846 and 1854, St Leger in 1832, 2,000 Guineas in 1844 and 1854) and politician was born. He was MP for Pontefract from 1832-37. He was portrayed by boxer, Henry Cooper, in the 1975 film, Royal Flash.
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15/8/1872On 15th August 1872, the Pontefract by-election was the first UK Parliamentary election held by secret ballot. Hugh Childers was re-elected following his appointment as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The ballot box seal was made with a liquorice stamp from Frank Dunhill’s factory showing a representation of the castle gates with a raven on the top bar. The castle lodge emblem is reputed to date from 1612.
19/8/1898On 19th August 1898, ‘The Globe’ reported: ‘The recent complaint of correspondents to the weekly paper about the lack of information afforded to visitors to Pontefract Castle will find an echo in the mind of many a traveller in our country.’
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2/8/1950On 2nd August 1950, the Duchy of Lancaster informed Pontefract Corporation that it was granting a new lease for Pontefract Castle for thirty-one years at a rent of £3 pa (£105 in today's money) subject to the guardianship of the ruins being passed to the Ministry of Works.
14/8/1926On 14th August 1926, a dog show, promoted by the West Riding Branch of the British Alsatian Association, was held in the grounds of Pontefract Castle.
28/8/1942On 28th and 29th August 1942, over 450 local people staged a pageant at Pontefract Castle with soldiers and members of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (women’s branch of the British Army during World War II) portraying notable events in the castle’s history. Music was provided by the band of the York and Lancaster Regiment.