Talks and Tours

Listed below are the talks and tours that we presently deliver with a brief synopsis of each event. If you would like us to deliver a talk or tour for your group or you as an individual/family, please click the ‘Contact us’ button on the front page of the website and make your request via e-mail. We will get back to you as soon as possible.


A History of Pontefract Castle 1070-1650

The history of Pontefract Castle reflects that of Medieval England. Known as the ‘Key to the North’ the castle from its inception in the 1070s to its destruction in 1649, witnessed a myriad of events, executions, sieges and even the death of a reigning monarch. This talk will take you on a journey through six hundred years of history so you can truly appreciate the key role and importance of this great northern fortress.

Pontefract Castle: Truths, Myths and Lies

Through six hundred years of history, Pontefract Castle was often at the centre of national events in Medieval England. In this talk, we will look at six pivotal moments that have passed into local folklore and ask the key question ‘Was this event true, a myth or a lie?’. We hope you will find this talk both enlightening and entertaining and we will aim to leave you with one very thought provoking premise.

John de Lacy – Life and Times

Pontefract and its castle is the former home of John de Lacy, one of the twenty-five nobles who ensured that King John sealed the great document, Magna Carta. But was de Lacy always such a key opponent of King John? Through this talk, we will aim to answer this question as well as looking in detail at Magna Carta itself and how the crisis came to a head, along with the key components of Magna Carta that are still in force today.

Richard II and John of Gaunt – Loyalty and Distrust

On the 14th of February 1400, Richard II died at Pontefract Castle, the great northern fortress of his uncle John of Gaunt, who had died a year previously. Throughout the turbulent reign of Richard, Gaunt would play a key role in not only maintaining the peace, but as a focal point for the hatred of both nobles, commoners and at times, his nephew, Richard, himself. Why this occurred and why, with the death of Gaunt, Richard’s days were numbered, is the focus of this talk, and one in which we aim to provide a ‘balanced’ view of the king’s reign over twenty-two turbulent years.

Henry IV and His Connections to Pontefract Castle

In July 1399, Henry Bolingbroke landed at Ravenspur near Hull, ostensibly to reclaim his lands – including Pontefract Castle – seized by his cousin Richard II. By 30th September that same year, Henry had seized the throne and captured and imprisoned Richard. Through this talk we will examine the key events in Henry’s life, his key role as a Lord Appellant, and what led to his eventual exile and return, and how, throughout his life, Pontefract Castle would play a significant role, eventually becoming established as a ‘royal’ castle.

Friends and Enemies – Pontefract and Sandal Castles 1070-1650

The district of Wakefield has two great castles, Pontefract and Sandal, which were often at the centre of national events, from their beginnings in the late 11th century through to their destructing following the Civil War. But were these close neighbours always on the same side, or were there key differences at crucial points in history that would see these castles and their occupants, often at loggerheads? The truth is both enlightening and fascinating, so come with us on a six hundred years’ journey through local and national events, that played out here in Wakefield district.

The Wars of the Roses and the Battle of Wakefield

On the 30th December 1460, Richard Duke of York, leader of the Yorkist cause and now ‘heir’ to the throne of England, met his end at the Battle of Wakefield. Why Richard left the ‘safety’ of his castle at Sandal to engage the Lancastrian army on Wakefield Green, when so outnumbered, has long been debated by historians. Through this talk, we will look at the origins of the Wars of the Roses themselves as well as considering all the various theories that surround the battle and look to draw some conclusions ourselves.

From Wakefield to Towton- Three Tumultuous Months

With the Yorkist defeat at Wakefield and the death of Richard Duke of York, the Lancastrian cause should have been in the ascendency once and for all, and Henry VI secure on his throne.However, only three months later, on a snowy Palm Sunday in March 1461, the Yorkist army under Richard’s son, Edward Earl of March, routed the Lancastrian at the Battle of Towton and Edward claimed the throne for himself. The key events of this three months’ period will be examined in detail, along with the infamous Battle of Towton itself, in order to understand how it all went so disastrously wrong for the House of Lancaster.

The Wars of the Roses Part III – A Yorkist Civil War 1461-71

With the Lancastrian defeat at Towton and the ascension to the throne of Edward IV, the House of York had surely defeated its Lancastrian opponents. But Medieval England was never so straight-forward and the next ten years would see the Yorkist alliance break apart and eventually erupt into a Yorkist Civil War, giving the House of Lancaster renewed hope. Learn about the key events of this ten years’ period, the unbelievable alliances that were made between former enemies, and how, eventually, Warwick the Kingmaker would meet his end, and Edward would finally establish his rule, once and for all.

Famous Prisoners of Pontefract Castle

Pontefract Castle throughout its history has been seen as a remote and foreboding fortress, suitable for holding prisoners from all walks of life. Some of these prisoners are well known e.g. Richard II, but others less so, but still key players in European royal families. This talk will take you on a journey through the life and times of many of these prisoners and the events that led to their incarceration in what Shakespeare called ‘bloody Pomfret’.

Pontefract Castle and the Pilgrimage of Grace

In 1536, the reign of Henry VIII was rocked by a great northern rebellion known to history as the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’. Pontefract Castle would stand firmly at the centre of this rebellion being a meeting point for some of the vast gatherings of the rebels and their leaders. Although eventually defeated, this rebellion would rock the Tudor dynasty and this talk will explain the key moments that led to this uprising as well as examining the key players on all sides, and how Henry was eventually able to re-establish control.

Yorkshire in the Civil Wars 1642-51

The Civil Wars of 1642-51 were the first truly national war, that impacted every part of the country and its population. Yorkshire would be no different, whilst Pontefract would suffer three major sieges during this period. Learn about the key battles that took place on Yorkshire soil as well as some of the lesser-known skirmishes and sieges that were to impact Yorkshire towns and cities, along with blighting the countryside itself. We will end the talk by looking at the sieges of Pontefract Castle itself and how it was the last ‘Royalist’ stronghold to fall.

A Brief History of Pontefract and Sandal Castles

This talk is a school presentation and is aimed at age groups 9-11. We will look at how castles were built, their place in local society in Wakefield district and some of the key events that took place at these great fortresses that have now become famous in English history.


A History of Pontefract Castle

Meeting on the bailey at Pontefract Castle, this tour will walk you around the castle itself, stopping at various points of interest in order that we can discuss the history of the castle and some of the key events that have taken place here: from the death of a king – Richard II – through Magna Carta, the Wars of the Roses, Catherine Howard’s infidelity and the three sieges of the English Civil War, through to the castle’s eventual destruction and ultimate re-emergence in the 21st century through Heritage Lottery funding. The tour lasts about an hour and is suitable for all ages from twelve upwards, although there are some steep steps to the top of the keep.

Thomas of Lancaster – Saint or Sinner

On the 22nd March 1322, Thomas of Lancaster, the great baron of Pontefract and the wealthiest man in the kingdom, behind King Edward II, was executed on a hill overlooking his great fortress here at Pontefract. As we walk around the castle, we will discuss the early life of Thomas, how he became the leader of the opposition to Edward II and his ‘confidant’Piers Gaveston, and how for a number of years, Lancaster would be the ‘quasi’ ruler of England. How this all went wrong, and what led to his ultimate demise and execution will be discussed as we stand on the walls and look out to the site of his execution and original burial. This tour lasts about an hour and is suitable for all ages from twelve upwards.

Sandal Castle and the Battle of Wakefield

As we walk around the ruins of Sandal Castle and climb to the top of the keep, we will discuss the history of the castle from its inception under the de Warennes in the late 11th century, through its local war with Thomas of Lancaster, to the Wars of the Roses, the improvements made by Richard III to its ultimate demise in the English Civil War. The tour will focus mainly on the Battle of Wakefield, and we will discuss the various theories regarding this event along with the reasons why Richard Duke of York gave battle in vain when so outnumbered. We hope to dispel some of these theories and provide you with other ideas as to why Richard was so heavily defeated. There will be an option to walk part of the battlefield and visit the Richard Duke of York memorial if participants so wish. The tour is suitable for all ages from twelve upwards, but there are steep steps up to the top of the keep.

Shakespeare and the Wars of the Roses

Meeting in the car park at Sandal Castle, this tour will allow us to walk around the ruins of the castle whilst we discuss the Wars of the Roses, their origins, and how they have been depicted in literature, especially by William Shakespeare. We will examine Shakespeare’s main history plays and hope to provide some insight into whether Shakespeare was recounting historical fact or was merely a mouthpiece of the Tudors; aiming to help them justify their claim to the throne. The tour will last about an hour and is suitable to all ages from twelve upwards although there are steep steps to the top of the keep.