~ Sandal Magna Castle ~
Wakefield- Lowe Hill
the Warennes, under the aegis of the first earl Warenne,
had a castle on the left bank of the Calder.
Here they built a motte [mound] about 10 metres high
and a bailey [courtyard within the outer defences]
now referred to as Lowe ['Law'] Hill near Thornes,
Wakefield. The site was excavated in 1953 but although
could not be dated it is considered to have been built in the
11th century i.e. sometime between 1066 and 1100. It has
been surmised that before the first earl,
William The Conqueror himself who held the manor
of Wakefield in D.B.1086, or his son, William Rufus
[d. 1100] had this early castle built at Lowe Hill as a
royal castle. Other suggestions are that it was the Warenne's first
castle later becoming the constable's residence after Sandal
Castle was organised. This constable
would be a local knight whose task was to garrison the castle.
It should be remembered that castles were tax gathering centres
as well as defensive structures for
the surrounding lands. William The Conqueror was the first
to 'popularise' the Inland Revenue.
Lowe Hill near Thornes 1890
= Medieval ridge and furrow. B = Lowe Hill motte surrounded
by its bailey.
The bailey defences
are likely to have been a timbered palisade construction,
as with all early Norman defence works. These were often
hastily erected in order
to defend the relatively small number of Normans against
a surprise attack from a much larger English populace.
Castles had never been built in England before
and were William I's strategic weapon in the pacification
and control of England. In towns, the castles were often built
over pre-existing English houses in a
deliberate show of supremacy. For example, at Cambridge (formerly
Grantchester) 18 out of 387 homes were levelled to build
The first earl Warenne was a commander
in the Norman army at Battle, Lord of Belencombre in Normandy, Reigate
in Surrey and Lewes in Sussex.
|By the sheer physical
presence of a motte and bailey in an
English town, the Norman world of class distinction
was emblazoned with a hot iron on the cloth of English
[Sandala in Domesday]
The second earl Warenne, it is thought, began building
the first Sandal Castle [in some texts referred to
as "Wakefield Castle"] on the right bank of the river
overlooking Calderdale. Sandal is likely to have been granted
by Henry I Beauclerc in the first two decades of the 1100's
after the Battle of Tinchebrai 
probably about the year 1110. Again it was a wooden construction.
The motte was of a typical 'upturned pudding basin shape', similar
to those found at Tickhill
and York and the keep on the mound's summit became
the prison for the Wakefield Manor.
From the summit of the mound most
of the Calder valley and manor could be seen. Standing
today on the what remains of the motte, a view of the
district is well displayed. It would not be difficult
to imagine standing even higher on top of a keep here,
from whence the Norman earl could have stood,
surveyed almost all he held of the manor proclaiming
'I am the king of the castle and you are the dirty
rascal'. Any military movement at Pontefract Castle,
the seat of the de
Laci barons could also be detected.
The remaining buildings we see today,
kitchen, Great Hall etc. were probably started ~1180 during
Henry II's reign. It is thought that this first stage in
of Sandal Castle was complete before the time of the second
earl's death . During the time of the second earl, one of
two early Wakefield churches were
built, one being St. Helen's at Sandal Magna. The second earl
also gained Castle Acre and Conisbrough, probably as a result of
his support for the king. By 1121
the honours of Conisbrough and Wakefield had been granted
to St. Pancras Priory at Lewes.
Source: Google Earth
Sandal Castle near Sandal Magna
The work on the castle
was continued by the third, fourth and fifth earls
of Warenne. The fifth earl, Hamelyn Plantagenet is often
credited with strengthening the
keep on the motte with stone but if this took place between
1157 and 1159 then it is possible that William de Blois the 4th earl
had these additions constructed.
This is likely to be the earliest ever stone building at
Sandal Castle. However it is recognised that most construction occurred
during the time of Hamelyn, his son,
William, 6th earl and John, his grandson, the 7th earl.. These
stone additions were later revealed during a period of ten years
of archaeological excavation.
Hamelyn was a loyal and trusted subject, connected to royalty by
being Henry II's half brother. In addition to Sandal, Castle Acre and
Lewes, Hamelyn held
Bellencombre and Mortemer in Normandy.
William the sixth earl Warenne became involved with
the Crusades and presumably did not overly concern himself
with construction, his money and efforts being
channelled into the Holy Land or Outremer.
Castle- The original sand castle
In the time of John, the 7th
Earl Warenne [1231-1304] the stone castle
of Sandal was heavily
strengthened from 1240 onwards, making it the chief seat
of the manor. It was in this year that
the stone castle was first mentioned in any document and was
no doubt nearing completion at
this time. In 1247, the 7th earl's daughter, Isabel,
married John II Balliol sometimes called
'Toom Tabbard' or 'Empty Coat' on account of his lack of a coat
of arms. It was John who was
later to became the vassal King of Scotland under Edward
I. As Queen of Scotland, Isabella
de Warenne linked the castle with Anglo-Norman forays into Scotland,
for she is likely to have
met Baliol here at Sandal whilst he was waiting to
make an invasion of Scotland. In the time
of John the 7th earl, between 1270 and 1271 the newly constructed
barbican and tower were
nearing completion. This form of defence to protect the keep was
in the forefront of castle
engineering of the time. The barbican and its tower were a further
impediment to attackers
of the keep, for they would have had to have crossed an inner moat
which surrounded this
splendid structure, draw bridge[s], portcullis and another tower.
In 1317 the castle was
attacked by the army of Thomas Earl of Lancaster and Maud De Neirford,
John 8th Earl Warenne's concubine at the time [later Countess] was
ejected. The question is, was the castle besieged, attacked, burnt
or damaged. One wonders how Thomas Earl of Lancaster ever breached
barbican to enter the keep in this year. John had been Lancaster's man
until Gaveston was brutally killed in 1312 and had returned to Edward
This would have been a great annoyance to Lancaster who held the
juxta-posed Honour of Pontefract.
The bailey or castle courtyard had a number of buildings around
its outer perimeter. These buildings catered for business, entertaining and
The latter took place on the first floor of the Great Hall. One wall
of this is still extant and is one of the most visible aspects of the castle
Some of the castle staff slept here in the Great Hall at night. To the
east of the hall were private rooms for the earl and his family. Today to
the west of
the hall, can be seen the foundations of the larder, kitchen, bakehouse
and brewery. The constable supervised the castle, and resided in buildings
Structure of Sandal Castle by the early 1300's
By about 1320,
during Edward II's reign, Thomas Plantagenet, the
Earl of Lancaster had completed Sandal Castle as a strongly
defended stone fortress. Later
n 1322 Lancaster was to have an abortive attempt at resting power
from Edward II at Boroughbridge.
John, the eighth Earl Warenne, Earl of Surrey and
Sussex.[1286-1347] is perhaps the most
controversial owner of Sandal Castle. He had succeeded
to the estates in 1304.
In 1306 John married Joan of Bar, grand-daughter
to Edward I. They later divorced without issue.
[There is a Bar Lane in the nearby hamlet of Midgley]
John quarrelled with Piers Gaveston, Edward II's favourite,
and joined the party of barons at Scarborough in
1312, when Gaveston was taken prisoner and murdered at
Blacklow Hill near Warwick Castle, Warwickshire..
But John recanted when Gaveston was
murdered and returned to supporting Edward II,
an unpopular king.
As mentioned elsewhere, John
produced many "divers bastards" and left no lawful issue. The estate was
thus transferred to the crown following his excommunication in 1316 for
adultery with an Isabel de Houland [Holland of Upholland, Lancs] and
Maud/Matilda de Neireford*, both producing illegitimate children.
Later John married Matilda4 [others say Isabel
de Holland2 who d.1389]
John 8th earl of Warenne had a disagreement with
the Earl of Lancaster over the murder of
Gaveston and subsequently the Warennes of Conisbrough
abducted [or she willingly absconded] Lancaster's
wife whilst in southern England and held her at Reigate
Castle in Surrey. This and the fact Warenne had left his cause
against Edward II prompted Lancaster to lay siege to Sandal
and Conisbrough Castles in October 1317. Sandal Castle was supposedly burnt
to the ground although archaeological excavation has not
shown any great evidence of this sacking except for a thin
layer of black ash found beneath a layer of sand and black
rotted vegetation near the bottom of a barbican garderobe completed
The earl of Lancaster also laid siege to Conisbrough Castle with
a resultant battle in October 1317. In the following year a Robert
Wakefield was called to join King Edward II's army for service in
Scotland but he disobeyed. This is not surprising as many men stayed
home in 1318 to
bring in the first good harvest following two severe years of famine
compounded by cattle murrain in this year. At the same time the earl of
held the manor of Wakefield from 1317-1322 did not attend and no doubt
encouraged his workers to do the same.
* This is also variously spelled Neirford,
Nerford or Mairford but it would seem that Maud
de Nereford was born at Narford Hall,
lying west of the Warenne castle of Castle
Acre, Norfolk. Castle Acre remained associated with
Sandal and the Warennes until the death of the 8th earl in
In the 12th year of Ed.(1319) John 8th earl de Warenne was forced
to grant the manor to Thomas earl of
probably because of earl Warenne's licentiousness
and consequent ex-communication by the Pope, but
Edward II feared the power of Lancaster and may have been trying to
appease him to retain control of the North
Some writers suggest that from
1320 Thomas earl of Lancaster built a stone
castle at Sandal Magna, however excavations indicate that stone
construction was occurring in the late 1200's. Excavations also indicate that the castle
had a keep surmounting the motte with twin turrets
either side and guarding a
Following the short unification of the
Pontefract and Wakefield estates under Thomas, John married
passage entry which was protected by a high wall. The
whole being protected by a closed semi-circular
defending a drawbridge.
However Thomas Earl of Lancaster's tenure of Sandal
Castle was short lived when he allied with the
Edward II and lost at Boroughbridge in 1322, being
executed at Pontefract in the same year. Pontefract reverted
to Edward II until granted to Henry Plantagenet, Thomas's brother
Nereford, his concubine and subsequent wife and received back
the Wakefield estates from the crown whilst the
remainder may have been given to their two sons, John de Warenne
and Thomas de Warenne [both born before
the marriage]. However other records indicate these two brothers
became Knights Hospitallers and left for the Holy Land, never inheriting
due to their
illegitimacy and the fact that they pre-deceased their mother.
| A reconstruction of the keep and
barbican about 1300 during the 8th earl's time9
After the death of Thomas Plantagenet, Earl of Lancaster
just-about-everything-else, King Edward II held the Warenne
until they were regranted to John 8th earl in May 1326 for
remainder of his life. The King, by then Edward III, did
Sandal and other Yorkshire lands until 1334. This regrant
to have occurred because John 8th
earl supported Edward II
against Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer. In October
when the eighteen year old Edward III took power from
and Mortimer at Nottingham Castle with William de Eland*
other faithful Yorkshire knights, John 8th Earl of Warenne
Lord of Sandal Castle and the manor of Wakefield.
At this time he would have been aged about forty-four,
thus he may well have given his assent toWilliam
de Eland in support of Mortimer's demise.
* It would seem that
this William de Eland of Algarthorpe [now Bagthorpe,
Notts.] was a deputy constable of Nottingham Castle. It was
this William who
enabled the young King Edward III to enter Nottingham Castle
and have Sir
Roger Mortimer arrested in Queen Isabella's boudoir. William
seems to be a
younger brother to Sir John de Eland. Sir John was the
high steward for Wakefield Manor under John 8th earl as well as
being a High Sheriff or Viscount of Yorkshire. John de Eland
was killed along with his son John during what became known as the
The hypothesis is that
the young 'emancipated' Edward III came north with his
wife Philippa and
friends, passing through Barnsdale to Wakefield, granting
money to build a new Wakefield church in the same year and
perhaps staying at Sandal Magna and Pontefract. This secured
a loyal base in
Yorkshire where he had been married earlier at York
to Philippa of Hainaut ["Hainault"] on
the 24th January 1328 and thence campaigned with Yorkshire
forces against the Scots in Durham
in 1327. 1331 is a year in which King Edward III appears
to be appraising the likelihood of war
with Scotland and settling to his new found
power. Robert de Bruce having died in 1329, the
Scots in 1331 were coming well South into Yorkshire,
where they sensed an imbalance of
power during the changeover of the English throne.
In 1332 Edward Baliol
[the son of King John II Baliol and Isabel de Warenne]
the Scottish claimant, sailed to
Fife from Ravenspurn in Yorkshire and took the
Scottish crown for a short duration, however he soon came back
across the border on a saddless horse almost naked in his
attempt to flee the Scots who had discovered he had covertly
agreed with Edward III that Edward would be his overlord7.
We know that in about the year 1332 Edward
de Balliol of Scotland, son of King John Baliol
and Isabel de Warenne [the 7th earl's daughter] stayed at
Sandal Castle2 under John 8th earl Warenne's
benevolence, John Warenne had been forgiven, for Edward
III knew he had to get the assistance of these northern
lords to overcome any possible coup against himself. A war
with Scotland especially a successful one would secure him
a place in their favour. The Scots had made several plundering
excursions into Yorkshire from 1311 and except for the Earl of
Lancaster* who lands were purposely avoided, the barons were desperately
requesting help. * Lancaster was trying to make
an alliance with the Scots against Edward II.
impression of a siege
Following Edward Balliol's unceremonious departure
from Scotland, three English divisions were
amassed against its Northern neighbour, one at Sandal Castle
and later, two at Pontefract under the Earl of Norfolk
and the King. [an earlier Earl of Norfolk's daughter
had married the 6th Earl Warenne]
They moved northwards to Berwick to overwhelmingly
defeated the Scots at Halidon Hill
setting the scene for Crecy and Calais.
Edward Baliol was once
again placed on the Scottish throne.
of Sandal Castle and Wakefield from
1722 the castle was destroyed in 1648
along with that of Pontefract.
Castle in 1460 is where the "Grand Old Duke of York"
[ the Yorkist, Richard Plantagenet] of the nursery
rhyme, marched his men before he was killed
at the battle of Wakefield:
Old Duke of York he had ten thousand men, he marched
them up to the top of the hill and he marched them
When they were up they were up
and when they were down they were down and when they
were only half way up they were neither up nor down'.
of the castle site
The Yorkshire Archaeological Society
had visited the remains of Sandal Castle in 1869. By 1893
Dr. J. Walker, a Wakefield historian, and H.S. Childe, a
mining engineer, carried out the first archaeological investigation
of the site. Walker paid labourers to dig sample trenches,
from which he drew a plan of the castle.
Fortunately he did not dig deeper and disturb the earlier
levels. The aim was to confirm the evidence of an Elizabethan
drawing of the castle. The trenches appear
to have followed wall faces and Walker misidentified various
Excavations, using more modern techniques
were conducted from 1964 to 1973 after the site had been
purchased by the Wakefield Council from the
J.W. Walker's sketch of the remains of the
Great Hall in 1893.
Pilkington family in 1954. The Pilkington's had held it since
1912. Pottery was identified from locations as far afield as Norfolk,
Oxfordshire and West Sussex.
de La Walda's estate of Wing, Buckinghamshire [steward
to Wakefield Manor in the early 1300's]
Ware, Wrenthorpe Pottery, Outwood, Potovens.
Sandal Castle and manor
The barbican probably completed in 1270-71 as excavated
The fine ashlar stone
work can be seen in its almost pristine state whilst the upper ashlar has been 'robbed' for local
building stone. It is possible to visualise the superb original appearance
of the stone castle from these remnants.
base of the drum towers as excavated in 1968-70
Photograph source:. Sandal Castle Wakefield. Wakefield Historical
|Timeline for the owners of Sandal Castle
I de Warenne b.1055, d.1088 and Gundreda of
St. Omer, Flanders.
They both introduced
the Cluniac Order into England at St. Pancras,
Lewes when they established a priory in1077-8. He sought
to marry Edith Ceannmhor, d. of Malcolm Ceannmhor, [Malcolm
III] but Edith was then married to Henry I Beauclerc.
This marriage may have been the reason for William's hatred
of Henry, and helped in causing William to join Henry's son Robert
Curthose in a rebellion. William I de Warenne supported the
King against the barons but was fatally wounded by an arrow
at the Battle of Pevensey.
William II de Warenne [William de Placetis]
2nd earl de Warenne, b. 1081, d.1138. He married
Isabel [=Elizabeth] de Vermandois (her second marriage after Robert
de Beaumont, the first Earl of Leicester, d. 1118). The
eldest son of William the first earl Warenne, was granted
the Sandal estates in 1107.
He granted the
parish church of Halifax to St. Pancras priory, Lewes
and in 1190 founded a Cluniac daughter house of Lewes
at Castle Acre, Norfolk. His daughter Adeline married
Henry Ceannmhor, Prince of Scotland, earl of Northumbria
The 2nd earl
probably built the first Sandal Castle of timber. He
carried the Warenne Shield.
In 1101 William
2nd earl supported Robert Curthose against
Henry I and for a time was banished from the kingdom for
his efforts. He was reinstated by Henry two years later
and redeeemed by distinguishing himself at the battle of
Tenchebrai during a Normandy conquest against Curthose.
It may be at this time
2nd earl was granted the manor of Shelf, north-east
of Halifax before being given the Wakefield manor.
William III de Warenne, 3rd earl, b~1119
d.1148 on crusade in Laodicia, Palestine.
He married Adeliade
Talvas [b. abt. 1110, Sussex]. The 3rd earl left
no male heir, they had one child, Isabel de Warenne [b.1137,
d.13th July 1199]. Isabel married Hamelyn Plantagenet of
coat of arms or azure checky is derived from the Count
of Vermandois arms through Warenne's wife.
William de Blois 4th earl
of William 3rd Earl Warenne was given in marriage
to William de Blois, son of King Stephen. William de Blois
died in 1159, Isabel and William had no issue.
Plantagenet 5th earl, b.1129 d.1202. A natural
son of Geoffrey of Anjou, he assumed the name Warenne
upon his marriage in 1164 to Isabel, widow of the 4th earl.
Henry II Curtmantle
tried to get 'widow Warenne' to marry his brother
William but the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket,
disallowed this on the grounds of consanguinity, subsequently
she was given in marrage to Hamelyn, Henry's half brother.
She is buried
beside her husband at St. Pancras priory, Lewes. Hamelyn
is credited with building the very early Norman stone
fortifications of Conisbrough Castle replacing the
earlier wooden motte and bailey built about 1100 and similarly
at Sandal Castle.
Henry II and was one of the nobles to donate to Richard
I's ransom.In later life he attended Prince John's coronation
 and the oath of alliegance by the king of Scotland,
William Ceannmhor, at Lincoln towards John and England
 as well as playing host to King John at Conisbrough.
One of Hamelyn's daughters became a concubine of John.
Warenne 6th earl. b.1166, d.1240 In 1204
King John lost his campaign in France, and like all the English
nobles who held land in France and supported John,
the sixth earl's Normandy estates were confiscated by Phillip
II of France. In 1225 he married Maud Marshal, daughter of
the great knight William Marshal.William the 6th earl was loyal
for a time to King John against the barons and indeed is one of
only four nobles whose name appears in the Magna Charta for John.
But by the summer of 1216 he had deserted John and was supporting
an invasion by the Dauphin, Louis of France. The sixth earl
supported Edward III. He confirmed Kirklees priory in 1236 and
also visited the Holy land and the Shrine of St. James [Santiago]
at Compostella, Northern Spain.
held the Wakefield Manor from 1240 after the 6th
earl's death to 1252 when her son John 7th earl de Warenne
came of age. John was only 9 years old when his father
John 7th earl
Warenne b.1231, d.1306
He married Alice
de Lusignan in 1247. He succeeded in 1240 on the death
of his father. He was aged 16 years when according
to John Major the ballad hero Robyn Hode was supposed to
have died  Also in 1247 the 7th earl's daughter, Isabella de
Warenne was married to John II Balliol.
< John II Balliol and Isabella
John the 7th earl was a half brother to Roger III Bigod through
their mother Maud Marshal.
It was during the John the 7th earl's time
 that the Wakefield Court Rolls were begun.
In 1296 the 7th earl was
appointed warden for Scotland by Edward I. In the same
year Robert III Butler of Skelbrooke, an inspiration for
Robyn Hode was pressed to death at York.
1299- at the
Battle of Falkirk, Edward I and John 7th earl Warenne
triumph over the Scots.
John was an
ally to Simon de Montfort and a bitter enemy of his wife's
relatives the de Lusignans, she was Henry III's half sister.
He held Lewes Castle near de Montfort's greatest battle at
Edward II's investiture as a knight at Caernarvon Castle
de Warenne b.1256, dvp.1286 -he was ambushed and
killed at a tournament in Croydon. He married Joan de
Vere d.of Robert de Vere 5th earl of Oxford. He pre-deceased
his father so never becoming an earl, dying at the age of
30 just after his marriage. His son John was born in the year
of his death.
John 8th earl
Warenne b.1286 d.1347 - probably from the Black
He was a major
land holder in East Anglia. He eventually married one
of his concubines, Maud de Nereford of Narford Hall west
of Castle Acre. In 1317 he had Alice de Laci abducted. She
was the husband of Thomas Plantagenet earl
of Lancaster, this and Warenne's disagreement with
Thomas over the death of Gaveston may have been the start of
the 'Elland Feud'. However there had been strong disagreement
over who held lands in the region ['quo warranto'] since the time
of the 7th earl..
The eigth earl
may have owned the Macclesfield Psalter, now housed
at the FitzWilliam Museum at Cambridge.
In 1333 he gained
the title of Count Palatine when he gained the earldom
of Strathearne from his cousin, the claimant to the crown
of Scotland, Edward Balliol.
In 1240 he was
ordered to supply 200 of the 500 rabbits for Henry
III's Christmas feast.
The 8th earl
was was seriously flawed in marriage and a profligate.
In 1347 John 8th earl died whilst with his 'companion'
Isabel de Holand. His two illegitimate sons by Maud de Neirford
now Countess Warenne, did not inherit, becoming Knights Hospitallers
in the Holy Land. The earldom lapsed at John's death. For
this same year Joseph Hunter claimed that the non-historical
ballad figure Robyn Hode died at Kirklees priory which lay within
the Wakefield Manor. [But see the death of Stephen
II Le Waleys of Burgh Wallis in the same
year]. The line of Maud de Nereford, lost the lands
after her death [~1360], these lands then passed to Edward
III's young son, Edmund de Langley whilst Pontefract
Castle and its honour resided in the hands of the king's
eldest son, John of Gaunt, granted some time after 1322
A victim of the Black
Death or Great Pesrtilence
Mr Haldane of Clarke Hall
North Wakefield excavated the site of St. Swithen's
chantry, which lay a little to the east of Clarke
and Midgley Halls on a piece of land called St.
Swithen's Close. The chantry was founded by John 8th
earl of Warenne, lord of Lewes [Sussex], Conisbrough,
Castle Acre, Sandal, and the manor of Wakefield. It
was built for plague victims, who could attend devotionals
whilst others could attend their parish churches without
the fear of plague or 'cadaveric particles' being
transmitted. It is ironic that
the 8th earl may have died from the
Black Death or Great Pestilence [in the 21st year of Edward III,about 1347-1348,
at the age of approximately 61]. Matilda/Maud
de Neireford (now Countess de Warenne) lived on until about
1360, her two sons John and Thomas, who both became Knights
Hospitallers in the Holy Land, pre-deceased her. The
Wakefield Manor reverted to Edward III and the barony
and revenues were granted in 1362 by Edward to his son Edmund
[Plantagenet] de Langley. The earl's title moved south to Arundel
1. Colour photographs kindly taken by Derek Hirst
of Barnsley, to whom once again I am greatly
indebted. DOWNLOAD a zip file
of larger versions.
Past and Present, Thomas Baines.
3. A Descriptive
History of the Wakefield Battles,
of Cawthorne Rev. C.T. Pratt,1881.
5. Walks in Yorkshire, Wakefield and
Neighbourhood W.S. Banks, Longmans, London.
6. The History of Wakefield, The Rectory
Manor, Thomas Taylor 1886.
Gazeteer, The History of Yorkshire,
8. Butler, Lawrence. Sandal Castle
Wakefield. Wakefield Historical Publications.1991.
Photograph of visitors information, on site, Sandal
10. Butler, Lawrence. Sandal Castle Wakefield. Wakefield
W.H. Sandal in the Olden Time 1839, - an historical poem which
purports to describe the siege of Sandal in 1317
12. Willis, Browne. Notitia Parliamentaria.
History of the Counties, Cities and Boroughs. p. 182.
Wakefield Museum Page
7 days a week dawn till dusk (note this means the gates shut early in
winter) Visitor Centre: Wednesday to Sunday 11:00 -15:00
Walker, J.W. History of Wakefield.
1934, second edition 1939.
Copyright © Tim Midgley 2000, revised 11th