Pontefract Castles Stories

Castle Stories Video

Join local artist and wildlife illustrator Richard Bell on an online tour of the castle.

Richard Bell trained in natural history illustration at the Royal College of Art, London. He has been writing an online nature diary and drawing journal, www.wildyorkshire.co.uk, since 1998.

Carry On At The Castle

Henry VIII and Catherine Howard

On the 23rd August 1541 Henry VIII and his entourage arrived at Pontefract, amongst them were his wife, Catherine (Howard) and his close friend Thomas Culpeper. The visit was part of their Royal Progress of the North.

It is alleged that whilst staying at Pontefract Castle, Culpeper and Howard began a love affair that would eventually result in their beheadings. An incriminating love letter written by Howard to Culpeper, possibly at Pontefract, was intercepted and found its way to Archbishop Cranmer.

The Archbishop dared not present this information to Henry in person, so he placed it on the king’s seat at Hampton Court Palace; just before Henry was due to listen to mass.

For the high treason of adultery with the queen, Thomas Culpeper was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered but the sentence was commuted to beheading and Culpeper was dispatched in December 1541.

Was it murder or mystery?

King Richard II

Richard II inherited the throne from his grandfather at the age of 10. His father (The Black Prince) had died a year earlier. Richard’s reign was at times quite turbulent and the last two years were known as “Richards Tyranny”.

During his tyranny Richard took revenge on many of the nobles that he considered to have caused him trouble during the first half of his reign, before he became of age. One of those nobles was Henry Bolingbroke, Richard’s cousin and son of John of Gaunt, Richard’s influential uncle.

When John of Gaunt died in 1399 Richard acted quickly to disinherit Henry to prevent him taking the throne. This didn’t work; Henry who had already been banished returned, deposed Richard and had himself crowned Henry IV.

Richard was imprisoned in Pontefract Castle from late 1399 until his death on or around the 14th February 1400. Most sources agree that Richard died of starvation, although whether this was self-inflicted as a protest or murder remains unclear.

Those north of the border with Scotland however tell the end of the story slightly differently. They believe that Richard escaped Pontefract (with a local man taking his place), and fled to Stirling Castle. Certainly a man is documented as staying there, identifying himself as Richard and being buried as a king in the local Dominican friary.

Richard II