Carlisle is located just seven miles from the Scottish border on the southern banks of the River Eden, a major waterway which once offered direct access to the Solway Firth and the Irish Sea. Furthermore the site of the city was flanked on the east and west sides by the Rivers Caldew and Pettrell which offered significant natural defences as well as facilitating access deep into Cumbria.
The first fortification at Carlisle was built by the Ninth Legion (Legio IX Hispana) around AD 72 as part of a military campaign against the Brigantes tribe. With its location on the River Eden, Carlisle could be accessed by ships of the Classis Britannica, the British arm of the Roman navy, enabling the army to be resupplied. Known as Luguvalium, it was perhaps initially just used as a temporary base but it was re-occupied and rebuilt in AD 78 presumably to support the campaigns of Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola in Dumfries and Galloway. It was rebuilt again in AD 83 perhaps to serve a logistical function as the army continued to campaign in the north of Scotland and inevitably would have played an important part in the Roman withdrawal from Scotland during the AD 90s. Luguvalium was rebuilt once again in AD 103 this time to serve as one of the forts along the Stanegate Road, the initial Roman frontier along the Tyne-Solway isthmus.
The construction of Hadrian's Wall in AD 122 saw a new fort built at Stanwix around 1000 metres to the north-west on the northern bank of the River Eden. Known as Uxelodunum, it was initially a small earth and timber fort occupying an area of around four acres and was connected directly to the Wall (itself a timber construction at this time). However, unlike other fortifications along the frontier, it did not straddle the Wall suggesting the fort garrisoned an infantry regiment. Uxelodunum was rebuilt in stone around AD 160 concurrently with the rebuilding of the western section of the Wall. Luguvalium, which had continued to be garrisoned until this time, was decommissioned.
Shortly after the rebuilding of Uxelodunum, the fort was converted into a cavalry base for the one thousand strong Augusta Petrian Wing of Gauls (Ala Augusta Gallorum Petriana), the largest cavalry Regiment in Britannia. This required substantial rebuilding with the fort extended northwards beyond the Wall allowing three of its gates to provide access north of the frontier. The new facility enclosed an area of almost 10 acres making it the largest fort on the Wall. Its size and scale was perhaps a reflection of the perceived threat from the Novantae and Selgovae tribes of Dumfries and Galloway.
Around AD 200 Luguvalium was rebuilt by the Twentieth Legion (Legio XX Valeria Victrix) and it probably served as a logistical site in a similar manner to Corbridge (Coria) in the east. A major town developed outside of this new facility which survived the decommissioning of the fort in the early fourth century AD. The town, which kept the name Luguvalium, was protected by an earth rampart and ditch which probably served as a delineation marker for taxation purposes rather than for substantive defence. Uxelodunum continued to be garrisoned until the withdrawal of Roman forces from Britannia in the late fourth/early fifth century.
Carlisle Roman Forts. The sites of the two Roman forts no longer have any above ground remains but the sites of both are marked.
After the Romans
The history of Carlisle during the Dark Ages is obscure but the town probably continued in use long after the Roman administration had broken down. In AD 685 it was visited by St Cuthbert who reported it served as a Northumbrian Royal estate and was shown the still standing walls of Luguvalium as well as a functioning Roman water fountain.
At the time of the Norman Invasion in 1066, Carlisle formed part of the English Earldom of Northumbria but its ownership was disputed with Scotland. By the late eleventh century Carlisle was in the hands of Dolfin who was the younger son of Gospatric, Earl of Northumbria but probably also a vassal of the King of Scotland. In 1092 however, William II of England seized Carlisle and drove out Dolfin. The English King then founded the medieval castle which probably took the form of a simple earth and timber ringwork fortification. The town wall was built at this time, probably also as an earthwork, broadly following the line of the Roman town wall and penetrated by three gates on the east (Scotch Gate or Rickergate), west (Irish Gate or Caldew Gate) and south (English or Botcher Gate). Both castle and town defences endured until 1122 when Henry I ordered the castle to be rebuilt in stone and it was probably he who commissioned the Great Keep. The rebuilding of the town wall in stone followed soon after with work starting around 1130.
Henry I died in 1135 without leaving a male heir and England slipped into a civil war, known as the Anarchy, over who should succeed him. David I of Scotland exploited this distraction and annexed significant portions of northern England including Carlisle. It was he who completed the work on the Great Keep and he used Carlisle as a major Royal centre ultimately dying there in 1153. The following year the Anarchy ended and the new English King, Henry II, sought to re-establish control of the northern territories. He retook Carlisle in 1157 and commenced major upgrades including construction of the gatehouse and also divided the castle into inner and outer wards. The upgrades were clearly sufficient for Carlisle Castle withstood attacks by William the Lion of Scotland in 1173 and 1174.
The Keep. Started by Henry I of England, the Keep was finished by David I of Scotland after Carlisle was annexed by the northern nation.
First Barons' War
The reign of King John (1199-1216) saw further instability in England which resulted in the First Barons' War. Alexander II of Scotland sought to exploit this and in 1216 attempted to seize Carlisle. The town opened their gates to the Scottish King but the castle resisted and was duly besieged. However, the attackers successfully breeched the Outer Ward and bombarded the inner defences prompting the garrison to surrender. The achievement was fleeting however for King John died in October 1216 and the new English regime encouraged the Scots to withdraw. With the Treaty of York (1237) ownership of the northern counties was defined in an agreement that lasts to the modern day (although continued dispute raged over ownership of the debatable lands and Berwick-upon-Tweed for many centuries).
In the late thirteenth century Edward I of England attempted to make Scotland a vassal Kingdom. His actions prompted the First War of Scottish Independence and Carlisle Castle was used as a supply base for operations in the north. In particular Edward I stayed in the town (and his Queen in the castle) as he rode north to deal with the rebellion of Robert the Bruce in 1307. Just weeks later though Edward died at Burgh-by-Sands leaving his son, Edward II, to deal with the Scots. The new King was less able as a military commander and led his army to a catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314). With English forces in the north effectively destroyed, Robert the Bruce raided northern England with impunity. In July 1315 he attacked Carlisle Castle but the garrison mounted a determined resistance and the Scots were eventually repelled.
The Wars of Scottish Independence continued on and off until 1357 but, even after the final peace, they left a bitter legacy that cultivated a violent, lawlessness culture amongst the border populace. Large scale raiding, theft and murder became commonplace. In an attempt to control this and to prevent the risk of escalation, both countries established East, Middle and Western Marches along their borders. Each area was headed by a magnate effectively performing a policing, judicial and liaison role. Carlisle Castle became the headquarters of the Warden of English West March and was used as a prison for holding suspects. However, its reputation as a formidable gaol was undermined when Sir Walter Scott, an ancestor of the later poet, smashed through a postern gate and rescued the notorious Willie Armstrong of Kinmont who was held within.
Despite its important role in border security, by the sixteenth century Carlisle Castle was in a poor state of repair. However, in 1534 Henry VIII declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England and suppressed the monasteries causing outrage across Europe. A Franco-Spanish invasion of England was deemed likely and Scottish involvement, through that country's ong-term alliance with France, could not be ruled out. Accordingly Stephen von Haschenperg, an architect who had worked on Henry VIII's fortifications along the south coast, was commissioned to enhance the castle and town defences. He duly did so ensuring the castle was fitted with artillery including adding the half moon battery in the Outer Ward and installing guns on the curtain wall and Keep roof. He also constructed a lavish fortress at the south end of the town walls that was known as the Citadel.
Tudor Upgrades. The fractious relationship between England and Scotland during the Tudor period prompted upgrades to castle and town defences. The Citadel (left) was added to replace the former Botcher Gate whilst Half Moon Battery (right) was added within the castle's Outer Ward.
Mary, Queen of Scots
In 1568 Carlisle Castle hosted Mary, Queen of Scots after she fled her native land. Her controversial marriage to James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell had ignited a civil war. On 15 June 1567 at Carberry Hill near Edinburgh she surrendered to her opponents and was duly imprisoned in Lochleven Castle where she was forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son, James. She escaped and rallied her forces but was defeated at the Battle of Langside, fought on 13 May 1568, and thereafter fled to Carlisle Castle hoping to obtain English assistance. The constable - Henry Scrope, Warden of the Western March - initially treated her as a honoured guest but this changed into imprisonment on the instructions of Queen Elizabeth who feared her as a Catholic claimant to the English throne. Given the proximity to the English border, Carlisle was eventually deemed unsuitable and Mary was moved south to Bolton Castle. She spent the next twenty-nine years in English custody before her execution at Fotheringhay Castle.
In 1603 James VI of Scotland also became James I of England seemingly ending the need for border fortresses such as Carlisle Castle. However, the reign of Charles I (1625-49) saw the outbreak of the Wars of Three Kingdoms which again thrust it into national prominence. Trouble came first in Scotland where the King's efforts to remodel the church led to war with the Covenanters prompting Carlisle Castle to be placed in a state of readiness. The Scottish war led to significant financial troubles for the King leading him to recall the English Parliament in 1642. This had been dissolved by the King eleven years earlier and who had then reigned as an absolute monarch employing various taxation regimes to fund his Government. The newly reformed Parliament sought to limit the King's power and this led to the Civil War in England throughout which Carlisle Castle was garrisoned for the King. Its northern location meant it saw little action in the early years of the war but when Scotland entered the war, the Royalist forces in the north came under pressure and were decisively defeated at the Battle of Marston Moor (1644). This gave Parliamentary forces a free hand and in October 1644 Carlisle was besieged. The castle and city withstood significant hardships but refused to surrender. However, the catastrophic Royalist defeat at the Battle of Naseby (1645) ended all realistic prospect of relief and on 25 June 1645 Carlisle surrendered.
In 1689 the Catholic James II (VII of Scotland) was overthrown in what became known as the Glorious Revolution and was replaced by William, Prince of Orange and Mary Stuart who ruled as joint monarchs. Whilst England supported the new regime, reaction in Scotland was mixed with many reluctant to displace the Stuart dynasty which had ruled for over 300 years. Four major Jacobite (the name derived from Jacobus, Latin for James after the deposed King) rebellions followed in 1689, 1715, 1719 and 1745. Carlisle Castle saw action during the latter when city and castle surrendered to Prince Charles Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) on 14 November 1745 who, fresh from his victory at the Battle of Prestonpans (1745), had commenced an invasion of England. This ended in failure with the Prince turning back in early December after having reached Derby. As he retreated back across the border, he left a rearguard of around 400 men at Carlisle Castle.
Government forces under Prince William, Duke of Cumberland were in hot pursuit of the Jacobites and in no mood for compromise. The Duke brought up heavy artillery and bombarded the castle prompting the garrison to surrender on 30 December 1745. The castle then became their prison where many were held in appalling conditions. The Duke marched on to intercept and defeat the Jacobite army at the Battle of Culloden (1746).
Vault. After their surrender the Jacobites were held in dreadful conditions in the Keep. Many relied upon moisture seeping through the walls to stay alive.
Barracks and Depot
The castle was substantially rebuilt once more in the early nineteenth century as it was converted into a barracks for troops to guard against civil disorder caused by campaigners seeking political reform. The Outer Ward was levelled and purpose built facilities constructed. The castle continued in this role throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the last structure being added to the Outer Ward in the 1930s.
Allen, R (1976). English Castles. Batsford, London.
Breeze, D.J (2002). Roman Forts in Britain. Shire Archaeology, Oxford.
Carpenter, D (2004). The Struggle for Mastery. Penguin Books Ltd, London.
Creighton, O.H (2002). Castles and Landscapes: Power, Community and Fortification in Medieval England. Equinox, Bristol.
Douglas, D.C and Greeaway, G.W (ed) (1981). English Historical Documents Vol 2 (1042-1189). Routledge, London.
Douglas, D.C and Rothwell, H (ed) (1975). English Historical Documents Vol 3 (1189-1327). Routledge, London.
Douglas, D.C and Myers, A.R (ed) (1975). English Historical Documents Vol 5 (1327-1485). Routledge, London.
English Heritage (2010). An Archaeological Map of Hadrian's Wall, 1:25,000 Scale. English Heritage, London.
Fields, N (2005). Rome’s Northern Frontier AD 70-235. Osprey, Oxford.
Fleming, R (2011). Britain After Rome. Penguin, London
Fraser, G.M (1971). The Steel Bonnets: the Stpry of the Anglo-Scottish Border Border Reivers. London.
Goodall, J.A.A (2004). The Great Tower of Carlisle Castle.
King, C.D.J (1983). Castellarium anglicanum: an index and bibliography of the castles in England, Wales and the Islands. Kraus International Publications.
Ordnance Survey, Historic England and RCAHMW (2016). Roman Britain. 1:625,000 Scale. Ordnance Survey, Southampton.
Royle, T (2004). Civil War: The Wars of Three Kingdoms 1638-1660. Abacus, London.
Summerson, H (2008). Carlisle Castle. English Hermitage, London.
Thompson, M.W (1987). The Decline of the Castle. London.
Turner, H.L (1970). Town defences in England and Wales. John Baker, London.
Visit Official Website
Carlisle Castle is a major tourist attraction with the highlight of any visit being the huge Keep and the impressive Gatehouses. Portions of the western side of the city walls survive as does much of the sixteenth century Citadel (prettified in the nineteenth century). The eastern portion of the walls, which followed the line of Lowther Street, were demolished in 1813. The Tullie House museum is also an essential stop with its exhibits including Roman and Medieval artefacts. Nothing remains visible above ground of the Roman forts but an information panel can be found about Uxelodunum in the Castle Park Hotel car park (at the site of excavations)
Roman Forts. Carlisle had two Roman forts with Luguvalium, near the later castle, being built first. Stanwix (Uxelodonum) was added when Hadrian's Wall was built and was initially a small infantry fort before being rebuilt into a vast cavalry base. Regrettably no visible traces of either fort remain above ground but Luguvalium is marked by a series of wooden posts whilst information of Uxelodunum can be found at St Michael's Church and in the car park of the Castle Park Hotel.
Keep. Started by Henry I of England and finished by David I of Scotland.
Outer Gatehouse. Built by Henry II in 1157.
Inner Gatehouse. The castle interior was originally a single enclosure but it was split into Inner and Outer Wards by Henry II.
The Citadel. The Citadel was built in 1542 due to the increased tensions following Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. The fortress consisting of a central square blockhouse surrounded by two round artillery towers. Later these were used by the legal system with the East Tower hosting the civil courts whilst the criminal cases were heard in the West Tower.
Carlisle Castle and Town Walls. The castle occupied the northern end of the town defences and was divided into Outer and Inner Wards. The town defences followed the line of the former Roman ramparts. The modern road network still closely resembles the medieval street pattern.
Carlisle Walls. The town walls evolved around former defences of a Roman civilian settlement. Regrettably the walls have largely been destroyed although sections survive near the castle (including one extensively modified tower) and along the western side of the town.
and CARLISLE CITY WALLS
Carlisle Castle was built on the site of a Roman fort that had once supported the garrison of Hadrian’s Wall. It was started by William II of England in the late eleventh century but was finished by David I of Scotland. It served as an important fortress and saw action during the Anglo-Scottish wars, the Civil War and the 1745 Jacobite rebellion.
Carlisle Castle is situated in the centre of the city. There is ample parking (most pay and display) and related attractions are all within easy walking distance.
Car Parking Option
Tullie House Museum