About Carisbrooke Castle
Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight is a Norman castle with a long and fascinating history. From medieval stronghold to royal summer retreat, Carisbrooke has something for lovers of all historical eras, and provides a pleasant day out for the family.
Carisbrooke Castle history
In around 1000 an Anglo-Saxon burh, or fortress, was likely situated at the site of Carisbrooke Castle, intended to protect the island from Viking raids.
After the Norman Conquest in 1066, the burh was converted into a castle by the Normans, and by 1100 the Isle of Wight was part of a powerful lordship owned by Baldwin de Redvers. One of Henry I’s key supporters, it was likely Baldwin who built the present motte-and-bailey castle in stone.
The castle stayed in the keeping of the de Redvers family until 1293, with its last member Isabella improving its defences and building the magnificent great hall with her chamber at one end and her chapel at the other. It was then sold to Edward I, and has remained largely in the property of the Crown ever since.
During Henry VIII‘s rule Carisbrooke Castle’s significance waned as he adopted a policy of coastal defence, however under Elizabeth I it again found prominence when she appointed her cousin George Carey as captain of the island. He renovated the castle and in 1596-7, as the threat of the Spanish Armada loomed on the horizon, it was transformed into a major artillery fort.
During the English Civil War, Carisbrooke Castle was in the hands of the Parliamentarians who used it as a prison for their most important Royalist prisoners – including King Charles I himself in 1647-8. Whilst imprisoned there, a section of land on the castle’s east side was converted to a bowling green for his use!
He made 2 escape attempts in 1648 before being moved to Newport and eventually back to the mainland, where he was executed the following year following a host of unsuccessful attempts at negotiation with Parliament.
In later years Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria‘s youngest daughter, was appointed governor of the Isle of Wight, undertaking a number of restorations at the castle. She then used it as a summer residence until 1938, and in 1944 she died at the age of 87.
Carisbrooke Castle today
Today Carisbrooke Castle is managed by English Heritage and is open for visitors to explore its fascinating story. A well-preserved stronghold, highlights include the Norman Keep and wall walk, which provide panoramic views over the site and out across the wider Isle of Wight.
Inside the 16th century guard house is an exhibition on the castle’s rich history, while inside the Great Hall, St Peter’s Chapel, and Constables Lodgings is housed the Carisbrooke Castle Museum. Here a host of Charles I memorabilia is on display, alongside a variety of regularly changing exhibitions.
The Princess Beatrice Garden is also a delight, and a visit to Carisbrooke would be incomplete without seeing its resident donkeys, who for centuries have been drawing up water for the castle in the well house. They give short demonstrations each day of how the well house operated, and spend the rest grazing on the 5-acre field behind the castle.
Getting to Carisbrooke Castle
Carisbrooke Castle is located on the Isle of Wight 1 1/4 miles southwest of Newport, and can be reached by following signs to Carisbrooke village and then to the castle. The nearest ferry port is West Cowes, 5 miles away, while the Southern Vectis 6, 7, 12, and 38 bus services pass near to the site.