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In Norman times, Wakefield was held by the Click to enlarge de Warennes, the Earls of Surrey. Their first castle in the area was at Lowe Hill in Thornes Park, Wakefield. (2)

However, by 1157, they had moved from Wakefield to a stronger position overlooking the River Calder, two miles (about 3km) further south at Sandal Magna. The original wooden motte and bailey at Sandal Castle were replaced by a major stone castle during three generations of the de Warennes from the late 12th century onwards. Construction work continued for the next hundred years.

Now only a few stones and earthworks remain, but, in past times the castle was an impressive site - although much smaller than the castle at Pontefract, also in the Wakefield District.

For an overview and site plan, read Sandal Castle, a leaflet published by Wakefield Metropolitan District Council. Check the council's web site for current information.

St Helen's Church. THE DE WARENNES

William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, Lord of Lewes, Seigneur de Varennes (died 1088), was a Norman nobleman created Earl of Surrey under William II Rufus. He is among the few who are documented as having fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. At the time of the Domesday Survey, he held extensive lands in 13 counties.

St Helen's Church.His first wife was Gundred or Gundreda (Latin: Gundrada) (died 27 May 1085). William, the 2nd Earl, resulted from this union. She and her husband established Lewes Priory in Sussex, read more at Lewis Priory Trust, the Priory of St. Pancras Lewis. (Web site accessed 6th November 2018.)

William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey (1081 – 1138) was granted the Sandal estates in 1107. He built the first Sandal Castle of timber. He supported Robert Curthose (the eldest son of William the Conqueror) against Henry I (Robert's brother) and was banished from the kingdom for two years. Later he was given the Manor of Wakefield.

William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Surrey (1119 – 1148) spent little of his time at Sandal, having taken crusading vows and joined the Second Crusade. He had one daughter, Isabel de Warenne (1137–1199), who married William of Blois, son of King Stephen, who became the 4th earl.

William of Blois died in 1159 having no children. Isabel, his widow, next married Hamelin (1129 – 1202), the 5th earl. He was the son of Geoffrey of Anjou (Geoffrey the Fair, enter the Plantagenets) and assumed the Warenne name on his marriage in 1164. Hamelin is thought to have built the early Norman stone fortifications at Conisbrough Castle and also begun to replace the wooden fortifications at Sandal with stone.

William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Surrey (1166 – 1240), Hamelin's son, married Maud Marshal in 1225. He was loyal to his cousin, King John and is one of the four nobles whose name appears in the Magna Carta for John, and on his death in 1216 he supported his the king's son, Henry III.
William's widow, Maud, held the Manor of Wakefield from 1240 after his death to 1252, when their son John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey (1231 – 1304), came of age. John married Alice de Lusignan in 1247.
In 1296 the 6th Earl was appointed Warden for Scotland by Edward I and in 1299, the Earl and his royal master were triumphant over the Scots at the Battle of Falkirk.

John's son, William de Warrene (1256 – 1286) was killed at a tournament in Croydon pre-deceasing his father, and so he did not live to become an earl, of course.
William's son, John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey (1286 – 1347) was born in the year of his father's death. John married Joan of Bar but lived adulterously with Maud de Nereford from a village near Castle Acre in Norfolk.
In 1347, the 7th Earl died, probably from the Black Death. His sons John and Thomas became Knights Hospitaller in the Holy Land, predeceasing their mother. The lands passed to King Edward III.

The Warennes had castles at Lewes and Reigate in Sussex, Castle Acre in Norfolk and Conisborough in Yorkshire.

Click to enlarge.The castle in the reign of King Edward III
(1312 - 1377, reigned from 1327).
Edward Balliol (1283 - 1367) of Scotland resided at Sandal, while an army was raised to establish him on the throne of Scotland. He was the eldest son of King John Balliol of Scotland and was crowned at Scone in 1332. However, Scotland was not united in support for Balliol and there followed a number of years of fighting between his supporters and forces loyal to David II of Scotland (the son of Robert the Bruce). Balliol was supported by Edward III. However, Edward III eventually lost interest in supporting Edward Balliol's claim to the Scottish throne and turned his attention to the crown of France. On 20th January 1356, Balliol relinquished his claim to the Scottish crown to Edward III of England and, in its place, received a pension from the king. Read more at Undiscovered Scotland [site accessed 31 Jan 2017].
Picture of King Edward III used under licence granted by the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Edward III granted the Manor of Wakefield, including the castle, to his fourth son Edmund of Langley, Earl of Cambridge. Later, when Edward III's grandson was king (Richard II), Edmund played an important role in the affairs of state. For his services, Richard II created him Duke of York in 1385. Edmund, Duke of York died in 1402 but the Manor of Wakefield remained in the House of York and Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York (21 September 1411 – 30 December 1460) inherited it in 1415.

The Battle of Wakefield in 1460 took place on Wakefield Green between the castle and Wakefield Bridge. The castle was not damaged in the battle.

No major work seems to have taken place between 1361 until 1484/5 when Richard III ordered work to commence to make the castle suitable for use as a royal base in the North. After the death of Richard III at Bosworth Field in 1485, its importance began to diminish and it ceased to be a royal residence.

Until the reign of Henry VIII it was still an administrative centre but this ceased when the administration of the Manor of Wakefield was moved to Moot Hall.

Click to enlargeThe castle was leased to a number of tenants until it ended up with Sir John Savile in 1586. In 1619 the lease passed to Sir Thomas Savile. In 1636, the Crown sold the castle to Frances Nevile. From 1600 to 1645 the castle was seemingly unoccupied - not even looked after by a resident constable.

By 1564 the castle was already in a poor state of repair and was well into decline before the Civil War once again brought it into service. This drawing was made circa 1560. [1]

Civil War. The last siege it sustained was in the Civil War when Colonel Bonivant held it for King Charles I, and surrendered to the Parliamentary forces on 1st October, 1645, after a few months of occupancy. In keeping with the hard line adopted by Parliament, it was dismantled in 1646 and has remained a sad ruin to this day.

In 1765 the castle passed from the Nevile family to the Pilkingtons - a local family - when Sir Lionel Pilkington bought the Chevet Estate. The estate included a chapel in the Church of St. Helen in Sandal Magna.

The castle ruins in 1722
■ "The South Prospect of the Ruins of Sandal Castle; and the Town of Wakefield, 1722.
Copper-Plate engraving by Samuel & Nathaniel Buck, published London 1722.

The Pilkingtons became involved with the Watertons in the nineteenth century when, together, they fought a legal battle against the pollution caused by Simpson's Soap House in Walton.

In 1912, the castle was leased to Wakefield Corporation and was subsequently bought by the City in 1954.

Click to enlargeThe overgrown ruins were excavated between 1964 and 1973 to Visitor centre signreveal that, although still a ruin, there was a lot hidden underneath the rubble and soil.

In April 2001, it was announced that a visitor centre would be built and improvements to the castle site made. The castle and the Battle of Wakefield could become a significant tourist attraction for Wakefield. Click here to read the newspaper cutting. To find out more about Sandal Castle, visit the official website of the City of Wakefield (search for 'sandal').

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1. Extract from Sandal Castle, National Archives, MPC 97 (ex. DL 31/116).
2. The castle UK location site. [accessed 31 Jul 2016]
. Other sources:
Sandal Magna, a Yorkshire Parish and its People
, Mary Ingham and Barbara Andrassy, 1978.
The Battle of Wakefield 30th December 1460, P.A. Haigh, Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1996.
City of Wakefield Metropolitan District Council*.

Wikipedia, Sandal Castle*. More about the de Warennes is on Wikipedia and elsewhere on the web.
[* accessed 02 Aug 2016]

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