Carlisle Castle

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Drever on June 1, 2010

Carlisle Castle is a must see for visitors to Carlisle and we duly headed for its grim fortifications. This great medieval fortress, has watched over the City of Carlisle for over nine centuries. It was a constantly updated working fortress until recently. Today English Heritage manages the castle and visitors can explore its rich and varied visitor attractions reflecting its long and eventful history.

The history of this site dates from an important Roman fortress here guarding their northern border. When William the Conqueror invaded England, Scotland had held this territory for the preceding 200 years. William’s son, William II, however defeated the Scots and claimed the area for England. He ordered his men to build a Norman style motte and bailey castle here to guard against attempts by the Scots to regain the territory. Construction began in 1093. In 1122, King Henry I of England ordered that a stone castle replace it. Gradually the squat frowning keep of the present castle and city walls arose to protect the city.

The Castle came under attack on many occasions during the first seven centuries of its construction. In the 12th century the Scottish King, David I captured the city. He completed the walls and stone keep. It served as his Royal Palace. However after his death the English seized back the city and castle. The castle again fell temporarily into Scottish possession during the Civil War.

Henry VIII updating the castle for heavy artillery. From his time dates the keep's rounded 'shot-deflecting' battlements and the Half-Moon Battery defending the Captain's Tower gateway.

The most important battles for the city of Carlisle and its castle were during 1745 when Jacobites arose for a second time, this time against King George II of Great Britain. The forces of Prince Charles Edward Stuart marching south from Scotland into England reached as far south as Derby. On the way they seized Carlisle and its castle and fortified it. However the forces of William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, the son of George II drove them north again but they left a garrison behind in Carlisle Castle to slow down the pursuit.

The surrender of the Jacobite garrison to superior forces marked the end of the castle's fighting life, as defending the border between England and Scotland was not necessary with both countries now forming a peaceful united country, Great Britain.

A series of storyboards in the keep tell the story of the Jacobite Rising. After their surrender here their captors imprisoned them in the keep's dank basement. Visitors can see the 'licking stones" the prisoners licked to get enough moisture to stay alive, a wasted effort for brutal execution on Gallows Hill followed! The exhibitions also cover the exploits of Elizabethan Border Reivers (Raiders) and the Civil War siege. One room contains the remnants of a large fireplace, added during the 14th century. The second floor has strange mysterious carvings cut in about 1480.

Other buildings within the Inner Bailey include the Captain's Tower (or inner Gatehouse) dating from the 12th century. Heavy wooden doors, a portcullis and the gruesome 'murder holes defended it. Perhaps most famously, the far north-east corner contain the ruins of Queen Mary's Tower. Here Mary Queen of Scots stayed in captivity when she fled from Scotland. Along "Lady’s Walk" she used to walk in the sunshine under the watchful eyes of her guards.

With such a troubled and chequered history, it is not difficult to understand why Carlisle Castle has undergone several rebuilding programmes over the centuries. Nonetheless, it is still an imposing castle, and the permanent exhibitions are informative about the major historical events that have taken place at Carlisle Castle.
Carlisle Castle
Near ruins of Hadrian's Wall
Cumbria, England, CA3 8UR
+44 (0)1228 591922

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