Over 1,000 years of history
Carisbrooke Castle has been a central place of power and defence on the Isle of Wight for over 1,000 years. During that time it has been a Saxon fortress and a castle of the Norman Conquest, which was much remodelled during the Middle Ages and under Elizabeth I.
Most famously, Charles I was held prisoner here during the Civil War, shortly before his execution in 1649.
The main entrance to Carisbrooke Castle has always been through this gateway. Medieval gatehouses were often strongly fortified, and Carisbrooke’s was no exception. The rectangular central tower dates from the late 13th century, and the two cylindrical drum towers were added in 1335–6 in response to the threat of French raids.
In 1583 Elizabeth I appointed her cousin George Carey captain of the Isle of Wight.
A self-important man, he rebuilt the domestic buildings of the castle to provide accommodation worthy of a great man. Beside the castle’s great hall he added a new range, known as Carey’s Mansion, with 17 rooms and a long gallery. This range is now in ruins.
Because Carisbrooke’s location was important for coastal defence, it remained important militarily for much longer than most English castles.
In the 1590s, under Elizabeth I, Carisbrooke was one of the few places in England to be wholly refortified as an artillery fortress. Its star-shaped perimeter is nearly a mile long.
Isabella de Fortibus, or Forz (1237–1293), was the elder daughter of Baldwin de Redvers, Earl of Devon.
By the age of 26 she had inherited not only the lands and title of her husband, Willaim de Fortibus, but much of the estate of her brother, Baldwin de Redvers, Earl of Devon, who had died childless.
Isabella’s inheritance included the lordship of the Isle of Wight, as well as lands in Devon and Hampshire. She had become one of the great landowners in England, which made her an unusually powerful woman.
Carisbrooke Castle was her main home, and she shaped the castle interior into its present form.
However, as mistrust between the king and Parliament grew and negotiations over his future stalled, Charles’s imprisonment became stricter.
Escape began to seem like a good option. But his first attempt, on 20 March 1648, failed when he became stuck between the bars of his bedroom window in the Constable’s Lodging. This window replaced it in 1856.
Undeterred, the king made another attempt two months later. He’d been moved to another, more secure bedchamber next to the north curtain wall.
This time he had loosened the window bars in advance with nitric acid. But two of the guards betrayed the plot, and seeing sentries posted below his window, Charles gave up.
When the king finally left Carisbrooke, on 6 September 1648, it was with the approval of Parliament to join negotiations on the island in Newport. When they failed he was eventually taken to London, and charged with high treason.
He was tried, found guilty, and executed in Whitehall at the Banqueting House on 30 January 1649.