Pomfret arms of the 1500's The Honour of Pontefract

Pontefract Castle -"The key to the North" originally called Kirkby by the Danish invaders but later the town had a name change under the Normans to Pomfret or "Broken Bridge". From Pontefract was administered the vast Duchy of Lancaster.

The Pontefract lands held by the de Lacis were purposely interwoven with the lands granted to the Warennes of Wakefield Manor by William I. Both de Laci and Warenne were present at the Battle of Hastings and were consequently rewarded with such large estates, the latter family having their main seat at Lewes in Sussex.

Townships [villages]
held in the district by Ilbert de Laci [d. 1089] were Penistone, Thurlstone, Denby, Scissett, Skelmanthorpe, Clayton, Cawthorne, Silkstone, Chevet ('Chute'), Crofton, Snydale, Whitwood, Heath, Altofts, Newlands, Carlton, Methley, East Ardsley, Lofthouse, Middleton, Morley, Batley, Southowram, Elland, Greetland, Heckmondwike, Mirfield, Nether Midgley, Over Midgley, Middleton, Thornhill [manor built in 1236], Kirkheaton, Highburton [Birton], Deighton, Fixby, Bradley, Huddersfield, Almondbury, Honley and Thong. 

The Honour of Pontefract
                                 The Honour of Pontefract [purple] and the Manor of Wakefield.


                                                                                 Lords of Pontefract Castle and the honour of Pontefract:
                                                                                           The years denote their tenure of the honour

Ilbert de Laci  d.1089 Robert de Laci 1187-1193
Robert de Laci   1089-1121 Roger (Fitz-Eustace) de Laci 1193-1211
Hugh de Laval   1121-1131


John de Laci  1211-1240
William Maltravers    1131-1136 Edmund de Laci  1240-1258
Ilbert de Laci (2nd)    1136-1141 Henry de Laci   1258-1311
William de Romare, Earl of Lincoln 1141-1146 Thomas, Earl of Lancaster 1311-1322
Henry de Laci 1146-1187 Edward III followed by John of Gaunt [ b.1340 d.1399] one of Edward III's sons.

Ilbert de Lacy      ?-1089
Ilbert was given the task by "William the Bastard" of quelling the Anglian insurrection in the district during "The Harrying of the North". At this time English nobles were disposessed of their lands and titles, de Laci, Warenne, Marmions [Stansfield] and others were given the spoils.
Ilbert was granted the honour by William I, Ilbert built a castle somewhere between 1068 and 1080. which was probably started about 1076. It is known to have been in existence in 1086 [DB] His land ownership in Domesday covers four pages.
Ilbert de Laci was rewarded  for his services at Senlac [Blood Lake] by the Conqueror with the whole district of Blackburnshire in Lancashire, and 170 lordships, of which 150 were in Yorkshire. He held the town and castle of Pontefract ['Brokenbridge'] which became his seat, the remainder was in Lincolnshire [4 lordships] and Nottinghamshire [10 lordships]. Ilbert founded inside his fortress a collegiate chapel, dedicated to St. Clement, and also built the foundation for the abbey of St. Oswald at Nostell, completed by his eldest son and heir,Robert De Laci
Two members of the De Laci/Lacy family, Walter de Laci and Ilbert de Laci, came to England with William the Conqueror, but in what degree allied, if at all, has not been ascertained. However, it is known that Ilbert left two sons, Robert and Hugh. Robert de Lacy, the eldest son, was known as Robert de Pontefract.
This Ilbert left two sons, Robert and Hugh. Robert de Laci, otherwise Robert de Pontefract, had a confirmation from King William Rufus of all those lands whereof Ilbert, his father, died possessed. Attaching himself, however, to the interest of Robert Curthose, after the death of Rufus, himself and his son, Ilbert were expelled from the realm by King Henry I., and the honor of Pontefract bestowed upon Henry Travers; which Henry, having shortly after been mortally wounded by one Pain, a servant of his own, caused himself to be shorn a monk, and so died within three days. After that the king gave this honor to Guy de la Val, who held it until King Stephen's time, when, it is stated by an old historian, that Robert de Laci's eldest son, Ilbert, was restored to the honor

Robert de Lacy   1089-1121
Robert de Lacy supported Robert Curthose and was so caused to be banished from the realm. for a few years. He was disspossessed of his lands in 1106 by Henri I His lands were granted to Hugh de Laval and afterwards William Maltravers. After Henri II's death [1135] he was pardoned  following the murder of Maltravers. He returned to England where he refounded  the priory of St. Oswald [previously St. James] at Nostell Priory. He succeeded to his estates in 1095.He may have been banished a second time [Dugdale]. He also fonded the Priory of St. John at Pontefract and bulit the castle at Clitheroe.

Hugh de Laval   1121-1131

William Maltravers    1131-1136

Ilbert de Lacy (2nd)    1136-1141
Ilbert II accompanied his father into exile. He strongly supported King Stephen against Matilda. He fought at the Battle of the Standard [1138] at Cowton Moor where David I [Ceannmhor] of Scotland was defeated. Ilbert II de Lacy died .s.p.

William de Romare, Earl of Lincoln 1141-1146

Henry de Lacy 1146-1187
He succeeded his brother Ilbert II who died s.p. Henri founded  a Cistercian abbey at Barnoldswick  which moved to Kirkstall Abbey near Leeds.
Robert Butiler witnessed a charter of Henry de Laci (Old Mon. [Monasticon], i, 657). This Robert was probably a member of the Butler or Pincerna family of Skelkbrooke. Henry founded Kirkstall Abbey in 1152. He was a campaigner both at home and abroad.

Robert de Lacy 1187-1193
Attended the coronation of Richard I . d.s.p.. 21st August 1193. Robert II was interred at Kirkstall Abbey near Leeds.. He was the last of the original or true De Laci line.

Roger (Fitz-Eustace) "Helle" de Lacy 1193-1211
As Constable of Chester this family had the earls of Chester as their overlords. With the constableship went the tenure of Halton Castle [Cheshire]  held by the Dutton family and Donington Castle near Nottingham. He assumed the name Lisours / Lizours as his grandmother denied him the Lizours estates and titles. He then assumed the De Laci name. In 1193 he was accompanied by William De Beaumont of Whitley Hall on King  Richard's Third Crusade [C.T. Pratt] having assisted at the siege of Acre [but this is now questioned]. He was a sheriff of Lancashire VII-IX Richard I, Constable of Chester 1209 and possibly a Justicar of England [1290].

In 1192 the De Lacis are recorded as holding Hooton Pagnell [Hotton Painel] held from the De Lacis by the Paynell family. Roger took possession of the honour of Pontefract in 1196 but did not take possession of the castle at Pontefract until after the death of  King Richard I [1199] who had retained it for his own purposes. Roger's name appears as a witness to a charter for John Ceann mhor Le Scot and earl David Ceann mhor.
He was much involved with Robert FitzRoger, Lord of Warkworth, Northumberland who was related to Roger De Laci through Richard FitzEustace who married twice. Both Roger and Robert [sheriff of Northumberland] were together, heavily involved  in keeping 'lawnorder' in the north of England.  He was a tandem sheriff of Yorkshire with Robert Le Waleys [Walensis] of Burghwallis 1204-1209 and sheriff of Cheshire before 1210  Roger became very close to King John in his reign. Robert Le Waleys was also Robert's senior steward [seneschal].
Roger's De Laci's daughter [name not known] married Roland of Galloway [his first wife according to Stringer], Roland and his De Laci wife were contemporaries of this Roger De Skelbrooke. Roger De Skelbrooke may have been introduced to the Galloways through Roger 'Helle' De Lacy. Roger de Scalebroc [Skelbrooke] went to Scotland in the late 1100's. After the  suppression of  a revolt in Galloway and subsequent treaty in 1186 Roger De Skelbrooke built a ring work castle at Greenan near Ayr. Roger De Skelbrooke was a vassal and tenant of Duncan grandson of Fergus of Galloway, an interesting connection with the Scots.

John de Lacy  1211-1240
In 1213, John de Lacy agreed to pay King John 7000 marks of silver in order to succeed to his father, Roger's lands. John de Lacy granted Whiteley Hall to the De Beaumonts. According to K.J. Stringer, John had a sister who married Alan of Galloway [no issue]. John went on campaign to Poitou in 1214 with King John, one of the few barons who did so. All his debts were cancelled two days after promising to go on a Crusade with King John in March 1215 but within two months he was part of the insurrection against the king.
 About 1211 John married Margaret De Quincy the daughter  of the countess of Lincoln [Hawise De Keveliock, a sister to the Ranulf, Earl of Chester] and thereby gained the earldom of Lincoln. He was hereditary Constable of Chester.

John  had a seneschal, Hugh de Buticularius, before John became the Earl of Lincoln [~1211].
Hugh Pincerna [Butler] b.~1175, of Skelbrooke, Amthorpe and Kirk [Sandal or Parva] was  John's Butler about 1211-1216. Hugh was of age by 1202 but Holmes refers to him as 'aged Hugh Butler, seneschal of Pontefract for 1216, but there is no evidence that he was aged. Another source has Hugh as steward to Sir John about 1212 when John would have been ~ twenty years old.

Edmund de Lacy  1240-1258
Edmund was granted a manor at Stanbury near Haworth. This strategically connected the castles of Pontefract and Clitheroe in the Honour with a road running from Pontefract through Bradford Dale, Haworth and over the Pennines at Colne Edge and Clitheroe Castle, another seat of the De Laci family. The manor or Stanbury was given a charter in 1234-1235 and with 5 other manors was granted to Edmund De Laci [November 1249]. From 1240-1246 Walter De Ludham was steward of Pontefract

The famous painting of Pontefract Castle.

Henry (2nd) de Lacy  1258-1310
Henry was a supporter of Edward I. Edward I died in 1307 with Edward II ascending the throne. He was made Earl of Lincoln about the year 1280.
In 1294 Alice de Laci was contracted in marriage to Thomas Plantagenet. During Henry's tenure the Wakefield Court Rolls of the adjacent Wakefield Manor were begun in 1274. These record that in 1275 the Steward of Pontefract was a Peter de Santon. Sir John de Hoderode is recorded as Steward of Pontefract in Henry III's and Edward I's reigns as is also Oliver de Stansfield and Peter de Santon [1275]. Henry de Laci died without male issue in 1311 and the honour then passed to Thomas of Lancaster.

Thomas, 10th Earl of Lancaster 1310-1322 a vexatious and troublesome time.
In 1314 [other sources say the 12Ed II i.e.1319] John 8th Earl Warenne, as a result of his peccadilloes, was excommunicated by the Pope, either Clement V (1305-14) or John XXII (1316-34) and  forced by king Edward II to grant the Wakefield estates to Thomas who took possession of them to add to the Honour of Pontefract. This was the first occsaion since William I's time that the estates were combined and precipitated what "The Conqueror" had tried to avoid, a challenge to the Crown. Thomas's seneschal or senior steward was Robert Holland who had gained the earl's respect as his valet at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298  when William Wallace was hammered back into his little box. At this battle Wallace had employed his new invention, the schiltron, a mass of men protected by a bristling ring of long spears. But Edward, later nick-named 'malleus Scotii', had a new invention of his own, Welsh longbows, which were employed not as at Crecy, aimed high into the air to fall as a rain of arrows, but at close range. By 1316 each township had to provide a knight for king Edward II's army such were the incursions by the "Red-shanked robbers" from the North. To some extent Thomas of Lancaster used this situation to his own advantage particularly after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

                       .Pontefract Casle before 1648
                                                                                 Pontefract Castle before it was sleighted in 1648

Thomas Earl of Lancaster, King Edward II's cousin, was opposed to Piers Gaveston's homosocial influence over the King. John 8th earl de Warenne was also originally opposed to Gaveston, but when Gaveston was murdered in his presence on Blacklow Hill near Warwick in 1312 he again sided with  the unpopular Ed II. Thomas was becoming powerful in his own right, he fell out of favour with Ed II because of  his lead in Gaveston's death.
The 8th Earl of Warenne was reinstated to his lands who then set about, probably with the connivance of Edward II, having Thomas's wife Alice de Laci abducted whilst she travelled in Dorset. This led Thomas to lay siege to Conisbrough and Sandal Castle [1317] both seats of the Warenne'. Sandal Castle was burnt to the ground. By 1320 Thomas had rebuilt Sandal Castle in stone.
The populace in the early 1300's was continually suffering  famine. Thomas entreated Ed II ostensibly to help, the king promised much but gave nothing. For this Thomas endeared himself to those under his lordship. Later after his death, Thomas became revered by the people locally, almost as a saint and the remainder of Thomas' army, following his defeat at Boroughbridge, described as "Contrariants" gathered in the forests, using the watchword "St. Thomas".
Thomas allied with the Scots but was defeated by the king's army under the command of  Sir Andrew de Harclay at Boroughbridge in  March 1322. As a result of his rebellion Thomas was beheaded outside the walls of his own castle at Pontefract on what is now called 'St. Thomas' Hill'. He was interred at St. John's Priory which lay just outside the castle walls.

1322 - After the Battle of Boroughbridge the leader of the aborted coup, Thomas
earl of Lancaster
was arrested while praying in the local Boroughbridge church and taken to York. Here he was mocked by the crowd, thence taken to Pontefract castle where he was confined to the basement of a tower, a tower that he reputedly had built for others. Edward II arrived shortly after Lancaster's incarceration and Lancaster was arraigned in Pontefract's great hall before the king and a tribunal  which included John 8th earl de Warenne, Hugh Despenser snr., Hugh jnr. and Edmund FitzAlan,  Earl of Arundel.
Thomas was not allowed a plea in his defence for in the King's eyes he was a traitor to England. The Great Hall is thought to have stood  where the large grassy area now sits within the very much  destroyed castle. Beneath this grassy area are the Great Hall cellars which can be visited on occasions through a locked hatchway.
Stand there, where the Great Hall once stood and feel the power of this great man who is buried  just an arrows flight away from the castle in the former grounds of  St. John's priory, now a grassy field alongside All Saints Church.  Here the victors could look out every day  from the castle walls and remind themselves that they had succeeded where Thomas had failed. But had he? Thomas may have been forgotten but he held the Northern half of England for a large part of Edward II's reign and methinks he had the last laugh, for King Edward 'got it in the end'. Once again, to the victors went the history.

Lancaster was paraded on an old horse through the streets of Pontefract with a friar's hood on his head and given many insults. He was taken to Monk's Hill just North of the Castle near where the railway station is located today. Initially he was to be hanged, drawn and quartered but this was reduced to beheading because of Lancaster's Plantagenet blood, after all he was Edward II's cousin. At his execution he was made to kneel towards Scotland before being beheaded as a traitor. Time stood still, Scotland and the North of England held its collective breath, then it was done.
The remnants of Lancaster's army were declared 'contrariants', many escaping to the protection of the local district or overseas, dressed as monks before some were later pardoned by King Edward. 

After Boroughbridge ninety five barons and knights were made prisoners at Pontefract and tried for high treason. Some were executed here at the same time while others were taken to York and executed later. Roger de Clifford of Skipton was hung in chains at York castle. Some say his body was left there for three years as a warning to others.  Lesser contrariants were given hefty fines, many of which could not be paid, hence they defaulted and had their lands taken from them. Edward II then held a Parliament at York, reversing sentences that were previously passed by rebel barons against the  his new found favourites, the Despensers.

A reversal of Lancaster's attainder and a return of the rebels' forfeited lands was not to occur until Edward III was to ascend the throne, under the control of two regents, his mother Queen Isabella, and Roger de Mortimer.


                         The earl of Lancaster was buried to the right of the altar


                                                                                                    Medieval tiles found at the priory of St. John's, Pontefract

Following Edward II's success at Boroughbridge the honour of Pontefract then reverted to the king along with the manor of Wakefield.
During the year 1327 Ed II was murdered at Berkeley castle and Ed III was invested as a young puppet king by his mother Queen Isabella and her lover Sir Roger Mortimer.
Henry Plantagenet, Thomas's brother was reinstated to the earldom as the 3rd earl in his line, under a new king, Edward III on March 7th 1327 as the 11th Earl of Lancaster, but the estate of Pontefract remained in Edward III's hands, probably a strategy to prevent any further rebellion from this family in the castle dubbed  'The Key to the North".

It was probably about this time that Edward III made William Midgley a knight of  the County of York and a reward of land meant to retain his allegiance following the demise of William's overlord, Thomas Earl of Lancaster in 1322 but particularly after Ed II's death in 1327. Edward III who was only 14 or 15 years of age at this time would have been under the control of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer. William having been appointed to Parliament in 1335-6 would traditionally have been an elder statesman probably in his 50's and had  previously been serving on York County trial courts for acts against the king.

By 1330 Ed III had overthrown Mortimer with the assistance of 24 knights about his own age and the steward of Nottingham Castle, Sir William de Elland. The township of Elland was of course now part of  Ed. III's estates , the constable of the castle at Pontefract being Robert de Bosville ('Boseville)' in 1338. [C.P.R.]
Henry's son, the 12th earl of Lancaster, also a Henry Plantagenet bore two daughters, The first had no issue the second was Blanche Plantagenet. Blanche married John of Gaunt [Ghent] a son of Edward III also a Plantagenet. In this way  one of Edward III's sons married into the House of Lancaster becoming the first DUKE of Lancaster.
By 1360 Edward III had given the Wakefield Estates, including Conisbrough and Sandal Castles, to his son Edmund de Langley [Longley] the earldom was given to Fitz-Alan of Sussex one of the family names appearing at Thomas of Lancaster's 'trial'.


^ Pontefract keep abt 1878.

John ofGaunt [ b. 1340 d. 1399]
John of Gaunt, the fourth son of Ed.III, was given the Honour of Pontefract by his father.
John's arms are depicted in the east window of Elland Parish Church. Elland is one of the townships within the Honour of Pontefract.
See John of Gaunt  
In the same year as John of Gaunt's death, King Richard II was murdered at Pontefract Castle. He is believed to have been starved to death, under the orders of Henry IV [formerly Henry de Bolingbroke], in what was later to be known as the Gascoigne Tower. The evidence comes from Adam Usk, a contemporary chronicler, who says that Richard II 'died miserably on the last day of February as he lay in chains.... tormented by Sir N. Swinford with starving fare'. This latter reference is undoubtedly to Sir Thomas Swynford, eldest son of Katherine Swynford by Sir Hugh Swynford of Kettlethorpe, Lincolnshire.*  Starvation was a feudal method used to avoid marks on the body which would indicate foul play. Only the basement of the Gascoigne Tower can be seen today, and one can imagine Richard lying there on the floor, where only wind devils now blow the leaves around, there was much cruelty and death in this place. *Goodman, Anthony. Katherine Swynford, Lincoln Cathedral Publications, 2004, p. 20.

Eventually the honour passed to the heirs of Gaunt, the three Harry's, Henry IV [Bolingbroke], V and VI but by 1471 both Henry VI and his son [Edward Prince of Wales] both died in the same year., 1471. This was the end of this particular line descending from John of Gaunt.
Edward IV then succeeded a member of the 'House of York'  descending from Edward III's youngest son Edmund Duke of York. There is some question over the legitimacy of Edward IV .

Pontefract Castle

See: Pontefract: Its name, its lords, its castle (1878)

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 Text copyright © Tim Midgley 2001, revised 25th January 2022