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Carisbrooke Castle, Isle of Wight, UK

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Carisbrooke Castle is the castle in the middle of the Isle of Wight, UK and has long been used as the key stronghold of the island. It is positioned on an excellent site, as it is on the top of Mount Joy, just outside Newport, the island's capital.

The Roman Fort and Saxon Burh

Carisbrooke Castle is thought to have been the site of a Roman fort, but there is little evidence and many conflicting theories. What is certain is that there was a Roman villa at the base of the hill, not far away. There is, though, very strong remains of a Saxon burh on the site. A burh is a fortified camp built by the Saxons to defend England against the Vikings. The burh at Carisbrooke was called Wihtgarsburh, named after Wihtgar who was said to be King of the Isle Of Wight and kinsman of Cerdic, the first of the kings of Wessex. The Saxons are said to have won a battle here in 530 AD, yet it is believed that the island stayed in the hands of the Jutes until the 680s.

The Norman Castle

After the Norman Conquest of 1066, William the Conqueror gave the Isle of Wight to his kinsman William Fitzosbern, who started to build a wooden castle on top of the burh. In 1071 William Fitzosbern died, and his son Roger continued its fortification, planning rebellion against the king. In 1078 the rebellion failed and the castle was controlled by the Crown, and it was there that William the Conqueror arrested his traitorous half-brother Odo in 1082. From 1100, Lordship of the island and castle was granted to the family de Redvers, and they built most of the castle that is visible today. The family held the castle until 1293, with a short break. In 1136, Baldwin de Redvers I fought against King Stephen with Empress Maud, and after being defeated at Exeter, retired to the island, but was pursued, and Carisbrooke was besieged. Baldwin surrendered when the castle's water supply was exhausted, and was exiled until 1153. On his return, he built a new well. The last of the de Redvers was Countess Isabella.

Countess Isabella

Isabella's early life was typical of the time. In 1261, when she was only 23 years old, Isabella's husband William de Fortibus, Earl of Albemarle, died. Isabella returned to the island and lived with her brother Baldwin IV, Lord of the castle. Tragically, her brother was murdered by poison in 1262 whilst in Savoy and so Isabella inherited the Lordship of the castle. Countess Isabella ruled the castle and the island for 30 years, and in that time was the wealthiest non-royal lady in the kingdom. She was also the first person in England to use glass for windows, and made many modifications to Carisbrooke, affectionately calling it the 'new castle'. After her death in 1293, Carisbrooke returned to the ownership of the King.

The French Attacks

During the 14th Century and the Hundred Years War, the island and the castle were frequently attacked by the French. In 1377 the French landed in strength on the north coast and destroyed the towns of Yarmouth and Francheville and lay siege to Carisbrooke. Local legends tell of a bowman, Peter Heynoe, who killed the French Commander from a great distance and demoralised the French, causing them to retreat.

The Lords of the Castle

After Isabella, the castle was held by the crown until 1355, when Edward III, Earl of Chester, granted the castle to his daughter Isabel, wife of Ingram de Couci, who was French and so resigned his English honours. From 1385, the Lordship became by appointment rather than as a permanent fief. After 1495, the Lordship of the island remained with the crown, and after only Captains of the castle were appointed. After 1582, the title was renamed to 'Governers', the greatest of which was Sir George Carey. During the War of the Roses, three of the Captains of the castle found themselves to be on the wrong side, and were convicted as traitors. Recent Governors include HRH Princess Beatrice, youngest daughter of Queen Victoria, who died in 1944, and Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who was installed as Governor in 1965.

Sir George Carey

George Carey, second Lord Hunsden and Queen Elizabeth I's cousin, was appointed Governor of the island in 1582. After hearing how one of the Spanish Armada's aims had been to capture the Isle of Wight, remembering the French Invasion of Yaverland, Bonchurch and Bembridge in 1545 and realising that Henry VIII's castles were not enough to defend it, between 1597 and 1600, Carisbrooke castle was modernised and designed to be effective against enemy artillery. The earthworks were designed by Federigo Giaibelli and cost over �4,000. It not only prevented enemy artillery from being able to reach the castle but attacking forces would have to place themselves trapped between bulwarks and endure the criss-cross of cannon fire.

The Civil War and King Charles I

At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, the Governor of Carisbrooke was Jerome, Earl of Portland. He was a Royalist, and removed from power by Parliament, despite the island being strongly Royalist. The Mayor of Newport demanded the surrender of the castle, which was tenanted only by Lady Portland, her children and a small number of servants. They surrendered, and the castle was kept by Philip, Earl of Pembroke until 1647, when he was succeeded by Colonel Hammond, who was the brother of King Charles I's chaplain.

In 1647, King Charles managed to escape from Hampton Court where he was held prisoner, and decided to go to the Isle of Wight. If he escaped to the continent, it was unlikely that he would be able to return to England, but he hoped to continue the war from Carisbrooke. Hammond was appalled, and at first treated Charles as an honoured guest, allowing him the freedom of the island, but after Captain Burley attempted to rescue Charles from Carisbrooke, he was treated as a prisoner once again1. However, Hammond tried to keep the King comfortable and the barbican outside the castle was converted into a bowling green for him to play on.

A second escape attempt took place on the 20 March, 1648, when the King would escape through the window of his lodgings, climb down with a rope provided, and then be assisted over the outer wall and would escape on a provided horse. Unfortunately, Charles was unable to fit through the bars of his window. Charles was then moved to another room, and he planned to escape again, having acquired nitric acid with which to cut through the window bars. The date was set for the 28 May, yet Colonel Hammond learnt of this, and said to the king, 'I am come to take leave of your majesty, for I hear you are going away...'. Charles stayed at Carisbrooke until the 6 September, when he was moved to Newport, and he returned to London on the 30 November. King Charles I was executed at Whitehall, London on the 30 January, 1649.

King Charles I had three children: Charles, who had escaped; Henry, Duke of Gloucester; and Elizabeth. They were moved to Carisbrooke in August 1650, and were treated with respect and consideration, yet Princess Elizabeth, who was a fourteen year old child suffering from rickets, died of pneumonia on 8 September, 1650. She was buried in Newport Parish Church. Henry lived on in captivity before being released to join his family abroad in 1653.


When the castle's water supply failed in 1136, a new well was dug in the courtyard. It descends 161 feet, or 49 metres, and was in use until the early 20th Century when the castle was linked to the water main. It still contains 12 metres of water, and Princess Beatrice used to prefer the well water to the tap. Since 1291 there has been a well-house over the well, and a treadmill also. The treadmill was replaced in 1334, and both the well-house and the wheel were rebuilt in 1587. Donkeys were used to raise buckets from the bottom, and there is still a team of six donkeys that work at the castle, showing the public how the water was brought to the surface2.

1Captain Burley was executed for his treachery.2It is the only Donkey-powered well in Britain, possibly Europe.

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