Pontefract Castle circa 1630
Image: Wakefield MDC Museums
Image: Wakefield MDC Museums
In the summer of 1648 the castle at Pontefract was seized by a group of local Royalists as part of a plan to cover the invasion of England by a Scottish army led by the Duke of Hamilton with the aim of releasing King Charles I from the house arrest he was under and restablishing his authority. Its strategic importance had meant that unlike other castles it had not been slighted when it surrendered after two sieges in 1645. With the defeat of the Scots at the battle of Preston in August the garrison came under close siege.
When the Rump Parliament tried and executed the King the beseigers called upon the garrison to surrender - they were the only place actually still fighting in the King's name. The Rump had made it illegal to proclaim a new King, and abolished the office on February 7th but all their actions were those of a junta without any lawful authority of their own. The reaction of the Pontefract garrison was to proclaim the late King's son as King Charles II, and to continue to hold out in his name. A contemporary report said that "They say they will have a King whatever it cost them."
Within the castle silver siege coins had already been produced in the name of King Charles I, with the motto Dum Spero Spiro (Whlst I breathe I hope). The design of the die suggests the work of a much more competant engraver than that of other pieces produced elsewhere. He now produced a new set of dies in the name of King Charles II, and with the motto Post Mortem Patris Pro Filio (After the death of the father we are for the son). One example exists in gold, presumably a pound piece, or possibly a commemorative striking, but otherwise the coins are shillings and two shilling pieces.
The castle itself finally surrendered on March 24th, then the end of the year.* Six member sof the garrison were supposed to be surrendered for punishment but one was killed trying to escape, three hid in a collapsed part of the castle and broke out and escaped to the continent. One survived to see the restoration in 1660. The Governor, and mastermind of the plot to capture the castle the previous year, Col. John Morris, and Cornet Michael Blackburne were eventually captured, tried and executed at York in August 1649.
Prompted by the government the townspeople petitioned for the demolition of the castle, and this was carried out with devastating thoroughness during the summer of 1649.
A shilling struck in the castle in the name of King Charles II
After the Restoration the town began to use the motto Post Mortem Patris Pro Filio, and this can be seen in the arms of the borough of Pontefract, which are first recorded in a 1585 Heraldic Visitation, as exemplified by the College of Arms in 1931.
Brought up as I was in Pontefract the proclamation of King Charles II was one of those historic events which was impressed upon my mind at an early stage.
* Until 1752 the new year began on March 25th - hence the date of 1648 on coins struck in what
we would regard as 1649.