Castle of the Week 19 – Carisbrooke Castle

Carisbrooke Castle is on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England and is probably best known as the castle where Charles I ws imprisoned prior to his execution.

Not much is known of its earliest history, although one remaining ruined wall suggests there was some sort of building on the site in late Roman times. The Jutes probably took over the Roman fort and the Saxons would have been there by the late 7th century. The remaining earthworks date back to the end of the 11th and early 12th centuries, including the motte and bailey – a shell keep on a mound and a curtain wall round a courtyard. The chapel dates back to the 13th century and was finally restored during the last century having fallen into ruin and the governor’s house, with its medieval Great Hall, now houses the castle museum. The large gatehouse dates from the 14th and 15th centuries.

After the Norman Conquest, William I gave the Isle of Wight to his friend William Fitzosbern who built a wooden castle on top of the Saxon mound. After an unsuccessful uprising against the king by Fitzosbern’s son, the castle was taken over by the Crown and William arrested his traitorous half-brother Odo there in 1092. The lordship was then granted to the de Redvers family who built the stone castle. In 1136 Baldwin de Redvers fought for Empress Maud against King Stephen and, after being defeated, was pursued to the castle which was besieged. The water supply ran out and the castle was surrendered. Countess Isabella was the last of the family to own the castle and was the first person in England to use glass for windows. When she died in 1293, it reverted to King Edward I.

During the Hundred Years War, the island and castle were frequently attaacked by the French. In 1377 they landed on the island and lay siege to the castle. It was successfully defended after the French Commander was killed, as legend has it by a long distance bowman. In Elizabethan times the Spanish were heading for the island when they were defeated in a naval battle. Because they had come close to invading, the castle was altered so it could withstand artillery bombardment. An Italian engineer was employed in the 1590s to build an outer wall, enclosing the original castle and the walls, bastions and bulwarks can still be seen today. Landscaped gardens were also added. Since then the only alterations have been modernisation.

When Charles I escaped from imprisonment at Hampton Court in 1647, he sought refuge on the Isle of Wight. Unfortunately the man he thought would help him, Colonel Hammond who was the governor, imprisoned him in Carisbrooke. He tried unsuccessfully to escape three times, but in 1648 was returned to London where he was executed in 1649. The following year two of his children were put in detention in the castle where 14 year old Princess Elizabeth died of pneumonia. Her brother was set free two years later and sent to Holland.

Another thing for which Carisbrooke is famous is the 49m deep medieval well. Not unusual in itself, but uniquely it was worked by a donkey walking inside a treadwheel and this is still demonstrated to visitors today.

Write-up and images provided by GillB


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