Sandal began as a motte castle of the 12th century, consisting of a motte about 45 ft high with its own ditch opposite a horseshoe-shaped bailey. After 1200, the castle was converted to stone, with the building continuing to about 1280. Sandal was first held by the Warennes, earls of Surrey. With the death of the 3rd earl in 1150, the property passed to his daughter. She married (her second husband) Hamelin Plantagenet, natural half brother of Henry II, who became the earl in right of his wife. Hamelin was the builder of Conisborough Castle around 1180-90 and it was Hamelin who probably began the stone conversion at Sandal.
The stone conversion began early in the 13th century, with the erection of the structure on the motte. This was a cylindrical tower about 30 ft in diameter. To the northeast of the half-cylinder, a wall projects towards the outer stonework on the motte. This later tower appears to have been a great tower, which had segmented chambers around its inside walls, and two clasping semi-cylindrical towers on its north and northwest sides. The remains of the lower level of a polygonal tower added in 1484-5 to the northwest corner of the great tower on the motte. This had been built by Richard III on the site of a smaller semi-cylindrical tower that also contained a well.
Both the entrance and exit were at the northeast, through a guarded chamber out across a bridge, and also at the northwest, through a passage out across a bridge over the motte ditch to the great tower’s gatehouse block. The gatehouse block consisted of a pair of wing walls running parallel and close down the motte slope out of the southeast of the great tower, and into a twin-cylindrical towered gateway flanking the end of the passage between the walls. A drawbridge provided access between the gatehouse and the barbican.
There were other stone buildings of importance within Sandal, which was enclosed by a curtain wall whose ends went into the great tower more than half way up the motte. The remains of these buildings show that there was a semi-circular range of structures including a kitchen, larder, pantry, great hall, and bailey gatehouse. The curtain wall seems to have had some flanking towers, which were probably square.
From 1353, Sandal was held by Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, 5th son of York, and his successors. Sandal was one of the chief residences of Richard, Duke of York. In December, 1460, the Duke and his son Edmund, Earl of Rutland, were killed in a skirmish against Lancastrians near Wakefield. The castle passed to the Duke’s eldest son Edward, who had become Edward IV after the Battle of Towton a few weeks later. Sandal was also one of the two headquarters of the Council of the North, beginning in 1484. Richard III spent some time here; in 1484 he authorized the building of a new tower, bakehouse and brewhouse. There is also a statue of the Duke of York erected on the battle site which is now Manygates Middle School in Sandal, just south of Wakefield, in Manygates Lane.
The Crown held Sandal until 1566. In 1558 it was transferred to the Duchy of Lancaster. Eight years later Elizabeth I granted it to several private owners, who could not afford to maintain it. By 1592, the castle was a ruin. In 1642, Sandal was garrisoned by Royalists who then built a stable block on the ruins of Richard III’s bakehouse. Outwork defenses were raised beyond the curtain wall. In 1645 it was besieged twice and suffered major damage caused by cannon fire. The castle was then abandoned. The site gradually became more derelict, covered over except for one or two standing wall fragments in the semi-circular range located at the south. Some excavation work was done in the 1890s, at which time a plan was drawn. The site has been landscaped as a park around the castle precincts. The park and the castle are open to visitors. A model of the castle can be seen at the Wakefield Museum.
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