CARISBROOKE CASTLE, PO30 1XZ
Postcode: PO30 1XZ
Lat/Long: 50.687459N 1.315207W
Notes: The castle is located to the South West of Newport near Clatterford and is well sign-posted. A large dedicated car park serves visitors to the castle.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
An English heritage highlight property, Carisbrooke boasts defences from multiple eras. The outline of the Saxon burh remains visible in places whilst the thirteenth century medieval walls are pleasantly complete. Younger visitors will enjoy the donkeys who still work the castle’s well.
Carisbrooke Castle. The Saxon burh largely defined the size and shape of the medieval castle although the motte straddled the earlier defences. The huge arrow head bastions added in the late Elizabethan period significantly enlarged the enclosed area..
Shell Keep. The Shell Keep was built to replace an earlier timber tower in the twelfth century.
1. The French besieged Carisbrooke in 1377 but their Commander was killed by an archer, Peter de Heynoe, causing them to lose heart. They were subsequently brought off by a payment of 1,000 marks.
2. The 1596/97 upgrades made by Sir George Carey in his role as Captain of the Isle of Wight were designed and implemented by a Federigo Gianibelli, an Italian Engineer. Yarmouth Castle - also on the Isle of Wight - had previous been the first fortification in Britain to be built with an arrow head bastion.
3. Charles I was held as a prisoner at Carisbrooke between November 1647 and September 1648. He attempted to escape on 20 March 1648 but got stuck in the bars in the window of his bedchamber. A second attempt in May also ended in failure.
Bastion Defences. The medieval castle was surrounded by arrow head bastions in the late Elizabethan period. They were configured to provided artillery fire along the entire length of the defensive circuit.
Originally a fortified Saxon burh situated near the River Medina, Carisbrooke Castle was for centuries the most important fortification on the Isle of Wight. Besieged by the French during the Hundred Years War, it was later extensively modified during the Elizabethan Spanish Wars. After the Civil War it would act as a the prison for Charles I.
HISTORY OF CARISBROOKE CASTLE
The hill on which Carisbrooke Castle now sits was probably first fortified around by the eleventh century when a burh was established here as a counter-measure against Viking attacks. These sea-borne raiders had attacked Southern England and the Isle of Wight regularly during the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. Furthermore they had occupied the island between 998-1009 where they established an operating base from which to mount raids from against the mainland. The Saxon solution to the Viking assault was to establish defended settlements that were able to resist the attackers and provide a place of refuge for the populace. Carisbrooke was the fortified burh serving the Isles of Wight and consisted of a rectangular enclosure protected by a chalk bank with a single gateway. The bank was later fronted with stone.
Following the Norman Conquest the Isle of Wight was granted to William FitzOsbern, a cousin of the new King. He built a castle within the boundary of the former Saxon burh sectioning off the North East corner with a deep ditch and wooden palisade. When William died his heir rebelled against the King in 1075 forfeiting his ownership of Carisbrooke. The castle was then held by the Crown until 1100 when it was granted by Henry I to Richard de Redvers who re-built the it, still within the Saxon enclosure, as a motte-and-bailey. It was either he or his son, Baldwin, who replaced the original timber defences with stone.
When Henry I died in 1135, England slipped into the civil war known as the Anarchy where his daughter Matilda and nephew Stephen fought for the throne. Baldwin de Redvers supported Matilda's claim to the throne and prepared Carisbrooke for war - however the castle's well failed and he was forced to surrender to Stephen's forces who were dominant in the area. His lands were confiscated but eventually returned to him in 1153.
Carisbrooke Castle continued to be owned by descendants of the Redvers family through the remainder of the twelfth and the vast bulk of the thirteenth centuries. In 1260 the last of the line, Countess Isabella de Redvers, inherited the castle and during her tenure extensive upgrades were made at the site which she made her primary residence. When she died in 1293 she sold the castle, on her deathbed, to Edward I and it remained in Royal ownership thereafter with various upgrades being made. The distinctive drum towers were added to the Gatehouse in 1335.
In 1337 Edward III commenced the Hundred Years War with France. As the fortunes of war ebbed and flowed the Isle of Wight - which had significant strategic importance due to the control it offered over the Solent - was attacked on multiple occasions. The most significant incursion was in 1377 when they landed in the north and destroyed Yarmouth - at the time the main communication link between the island and the mainland. The French forces advanced on Carisbrooke and besieged it but when the French Commander was killed by one of the castle's archers they withdrew. Further defensive upgrades were made after this assault most notably with the gatehouse being heightened and gun-loops added.
Throughout the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries Carisbrooke was neglected although some improvements were made by Anthony Woodville, brother to Elizabeth, Edward IV's Queen. The next significant upgrades came during the late Tudor era. The policies of Queen Elizabeth - including the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots and the blind eye turned to the piratical practises of English sailors - prompted the Spanish to declare war and launch their famous Armada in 1588. The original plan had been for the Spanish Fleet to rendezvous with a Land Army in Flanders and then invade England via the Solent and the Isle of Wight. The old medieval castle became relevant again and urgent attempts were made to convert it into a fortification suitable for the artillery age; the southern towers were modified for artillery. Further invasion scares of 1596/97 prompted more radical upgrades with arrow head bastions constructed around the castle.
Carisbrooke played no military role during the Civil Wars. In September 1642, prior to the first significant battle at Edgehill the following month, the mayor of Newport marched on the castle and demanded its surrender. It was held by the Countess of Portland - wife to the Captain of the Island - who only had a small garrison of 20 men and could not have defended the site against the larger rebel force. She surrendered without any shots being fired. Thereafter it played no part in the conflict but in November 1647 became the prison for King Charles. After the King's defeat at Naseby he had failed to revitalise the Royalist cause and had eventually surrendered to Scottish forces besieging Newark. They sold him to Parliament and he was subsequently held at Hampton Court Palace. He escaped in November 1647 and attempted to re-ignite the Civil War by inciting the Parliamentary Governor of the Isle of Wight, Colonel Robert Hammond, into rebellion. He failed and the King was imprisoned, albeit in some comfort, within the Constable's Lodging. Over the subsequent months extensive negotiations commenced trying to find a settlement between King and Parliament but Charles was conniving against peace instead trying to split the Parliamentary-Scottish alliance. On 26 December 1647 he signed a secret treaty with the Scots agreeing to establishment of Presbyterianism in England for three years. The Second Civil War commenced in May 1648 at Pembroke with additional rebellion in Kent, Essex and the promised Scottish invasion. All were dealt with in turn by the New Model Army culminating in the defeat of the Scots at the Battle of Preston in August. The following month the King was moved from Carisbrooke to Newport for final negotiations and, when these failed, was moved onto London where he was tried and finally executed on 31 January 1649.
In the later seventeenth century and beyond the importance of Carisbrooke diminished. The increasing pre-eminence of the Royal Navy, coupled with newer fortifications elsewhere on the Island, meant its military role was superseded. The castle remained the seat of the Governor of the Island and the grounds were used by the militia in the nineteenth century but in 1856 it was taken into State care and recognised as a monument.