Carisbrooke Castle

Carisbrooke Castle is a historic motte-and-bailey castle located in the village of Carisbrooke, near Newport, Isle of Wight. Charles I was imprisoned at the castle in the months prior to his trial.

Early history

The site of Carisbrooke Castle may have been occupied in pre-Roman times. The existence of a ruined wall suggests that there was a building there in late Roman times. The Jutes may have taken over the fort by the late 7th century. An Anglo-Saxon stronghold occupied the site during the 8th century. Around 1000, a wall was built around the hill as a defence against Viking raids.

Norman history

After the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror gave the Isle of Wight to his friend William fitzOsbern, who built a wooden structure at Carisbrooke. The castle is mentioned in Domesday Book under Alvington, and was probably raised by fitzOsbern, who was made first lord of the Isle of Wight. From this date, lordship of the Isle of Wight was associated with ownership of the castle, which thus became the seat of government of the island.

In 1100, Henry I gave Carisbrooke to Richard de Redvers. The castle was garrisoned by Baldwin de Redvers for the Empress Matilda in 1136, but was captured by Stephen of England.

Later history

Entrance to Carisbrooke Castle

From 1100 The castle remained in the possession of Richard de Redvers family, and over the next two hundred years his descendants improved the castle with stone walls, towers and a keep. This was until 1293, when Countess Isabella de Fortibus, the last Redvers resident sold it to Edward I, after which the government was entrusted to wardens as representatives of the crown.

In the reign of Richard II it was unsuccessfully attacked by the French (1377). Anthony de Wydville, Lord Scales, later Earl Rivers, obtained a grant of the castle and rights of Lordship in 1467. He was responsible for the addition of the Woodville Gate, now known as the Entrance Gate.

The keep was added to the castle in the reign of Henry I, and in the reign of Elizabeth I; when the Spanish Armada was expected, it was surrounded by an elaborate pentagonal fortification by Sir George Carey.

Charles I was imprisoned here for fourteen months before his execution in 1649. Afterwards his two youngest children were confined in the castle, and the Princess Elizabeth died there. Most recently it was the home of The Princess Beatrice, daughter of Queen Victoria, as Governor of the Isle of Wight, 1896-1944. It is now under control of English Heritage.

The castle is located above, and to the south of Carisbrooke village centre. There is a car park and Southern Vectis buses on the route 11 stop outside the main gate, while route 6 stops nearby.

Steps to the keep, Carisbrooke Castle,
circa 1910


Carisbrooke was the strongest castle on the island, though it does not dominate the countryside like many other castles.

There are traces of a Roman fort underneath the later buildings. Seventy-one steps lead up to the keep; the reward is a fine view. In the centre of the castle enclosure are the domestic buildings; these are mostly of the 13th century, with upper parts of the 16th. Some are in ruins, but the main rooms were used as the official residence of the Governor of the Isle of Wight until the 1940s, and they remain in good repair.

The Great Hall, Great Chamber, and several smaller rooms are open to the public, and an upper room houses the Isle of Wight Museum. Most rooms are partly furnished, but on the whole it is the fireplaces and other features of the rooms themselves which are most interesting.

One of the main subjects of the Museum is King Charles I. He tried to escape from the castle in 1648, but was unable to get through the bars of his window.

The name of the castle is echoed in a very different structure on the other side of the world. A visit to the castle by James Macandrew, one of the founders of the New Zealand city of Dunedin, led to him naming his estate "Carisbrook". The name of the estate was later used for Dunedin's main sporting venue.

The Main Gate

The gateway tower was erected by Lord Scales who was lord of the castle at the time in 1464.

The Chapel

The chapel is located next to the main gate. In 1904 the chapel of St Nicholas in the castle was reopened and re-consecrated, having been rebuilt as a national memorial of Charles I. Within the walls is a well 200 ft. deep, and another in the centre of the keep is reputed to have been still deeper.

The Well-House

A donkey operating the well
Photo © Dave Page, 3 july 2007

Near the domestic buildings is the well-house with its working donkey wheel. As it is still operated by donkeys, the wheel is a great attraction and creates long queues. The well is also famous as the hiding place of the Mohune diamond, in the 1898 adventure novel Moonfleet, by J. Meade Falkner. Wyndham Lewis, who lived on the Isle of Wight as a child, cites the donkey wheel at Carisbrooke as an image for the way machines impose a way of life on human beings ('Inferior Religions', published 1917).

The Constable's Chamber

The Constable's Chamber is a large room located in the castle's medieval section. It was the bedroom of Charles I when he was imprisoned in the castle, and Princess Beatrice used it as a dining room. It is now home to Charles I bed as well as Princess Beatrices large collection of stag and antelope heads. This room was used as the castle's education center up until recently.

The Earthworks

Surrounding the whole castle are large earthworks, designed by the Italian Federigo Gianibelli, and begun in the year before the Spanish Armada. They were finished in the 1590s. The outer gate has the date 1598 and the arms of Queen Elizabeth I.

Holiday apartment

In 2007, English Heritage opened a holiday apartment inside the castle, in converted former staff quarters.

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