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 around 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 buildingwork 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 and remained in Lancastrian or royal possession for ten years, the castle continued to develop under the de Warennes until 1361.
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 until 1484/85 when Richard III ordered building works to make Sandal 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.
The only major event of the Wars of the Roses to take place here was the Battle of Wakefield on 30th 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.
The castle came briefly back to life in the Civil War when soldiers were stationed here for the king, but as soon as the besiegers brought in the cannon in 1645, the soldiers quickly surrendered. The castle was already partly in ruins, and what was left, was deliberately demolished.
By the 18th century the castle ruins became the subject for poetic and artistic inspiration and a place of leisure and relaxation for the residents in Wakefield. Samuel Buck drew the castle ruins in 1719 or 1722. This view was published in 1774. In 1753 George Vertue had his engraving of the castle published in Vetusta Monumenta (Ancient Monuments).
The heap of stonework that was left quickly became overgrown and the extent of the masonry that did survive were only revealed during the excavations in 1964-1973.