Sandal Castle was probably first built in the early 12th century after William de Warenne received the Manor of Wakefield from Henry I in about 1106.
The earthwork motte and bailey castle was probably completed by about 1130.
The archaeological evidence suggests that the rebuilding in stone started at the very end of the 12th century and continued throughout much of the 13th century. The only documentary records relating to the building work are references to materials being supplied for building work in 1270 and 1275.
Apart from a short period after 1317 when the castle was attacked and captured by Thomas Earl of Lancaster the castle continued to develop under the de Warennes until 1361.
Artist's impression of Sandal Castle.
From 1361 the castle was in the hands of royal owners, who were largely absentee landlords and no further major building work seems to have taken place. In 1484/85 Richard III ordered building works to make Sandal Castle suitable as a base for a permanent household in the north.
His defeat at Bosworth in 1485 brought an end to any further development at Sandal Castle. The major event of the Wars of the Roses to take place here was the Battle of Wakefield on 30 December 1460 at which the Duke of York was mortally wounded. The battle was fought on Wakefield Green below the castle and the castle suffered no damage. There is a comic book available to download based on the battle (see related downloads).
Artist's Impression of a scene from the battle of Wakefield.
From then on Sandal Castle was allowed to fall into decay. The progress of that decay can be seen in surviving surveys of the fabric of the castle undertaken in the years 1538, 1545, 1564 and 1565-6. These surveys are very detailed, listing building by building the extent of the repairs needed. It is clear from the increasing amount of work needed in each survey that most of the stonework was in an advanced state of disrepair.
A Victorian postcard from Sandal Castle, based upon an Elizabethan survey drawing.
The castle seems to have been completely unoccupied from about 1600 until it was briefly re-fortified by a Royalist garrison in 1645 during the Civil Wars. The occupation lasted only a few months and the castle surrendered on 1 October 1645. In 1646 on the orders of Parliament the castle was stripped of its defences. The heap of stonework that was left quickly became overgrown. The masonry that did survive was revealed during the excavations in 1964 -1973.
Artist's impression of a selection of pottery vessels excavated during the digs of the 60s and 70s.
Some of the finds from the excavation of Sandal Castle, carried out during the 1960s and 1970s can be seen at
Finds include the 500 year old Sandal Castle love ring with the romantic inscription ‘I’m all yours’ in medieval French, which is on display at Wakefield Museum.
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