Carlisle Castle

This post I will be talking about my trip to Carlisle Castle, which I can recommend to everybody, because it’s fascinating. Carlisle Castle is a red sandstone fortress near the Anglo-Scottish border, which was continuously occupied for nearly 900 years (!!!).

King William II Rufus conquered Carlisle and Cumberland from the Scots and built a castle in 1092 to protect the new border. His brother, Henry I, then fortified it in stone. The St Bees’ red sandstone that you can now see was used in later alterations. In 1136 the region was taken back by King of Scots David I. The future Henry II of England promised to David he would leave his land alone, but later broke this promise.

In 1190, Scotland had no ruler, after their Queen Margaret died, who left no heirs as she was only a child. Edward I of England got to pick a new ruler for Scotland and chose John Balliol. However, the Scots were not happy with their new king, as they suspected that he was heavily manipulated by Edward and got rid of him. Subsequently, they invaded England and conquered Carlisle. Edward invaded Scotland, and there was a great war between the two kingdoms for years, during which Carlisle was an important base. Edward I’s wife Queen Margaret of France lived at Carlisle Castle during these years. Carlisle would continue to be an important location as England and Scotland continued to have wars very frequently. The job of warden of the West March was thus a hard and important one. The wardens lived at Carlisle Castle; the most famous one was probably Richard, who would later become Richard III.

During the English Civil War, Carlisle endured the longest siege of a town in English history! Carlisle was loyal to the crown and was thus besieged by Parliamentarians and Covenanters (Scots who had joined the Parliamentarians against the English crown) for nine months, after which the city surrendered. After some decades of peace, Carlisle was again besieged during the Jacobite uprising of 1745 (anybody who has been watching Outlander: all the feels) by Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie). After failing to get support in England, the Jacobite army returned to Carlisle and were captured there by the English.

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Outer Gatehouse of Carlisle Castle

The first thing you see when approaching the castle is its gatehouse. The oldest parts of this gatehouse are from around 1160, but it has been much altered over the centuries, as you can imagine.

Via the gate, you enter the outer ward of the fortress. In the Middle Ages, this was open ground. In the 19th century, accommodations were built here for soldiers, which are still used today. The Border Regiment was stationed here between 1873 and 1959. The buildings are named after significant battles in which the Border Regiment was involved. One of them is called Arnhem, depicted below for all the Dutchies out there.

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Arnhem building at Carlisle Castle

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View of Carlisle Castle from the outer ward with the Captain’s Tower on the left

The Captain’s Tower, as seen above, was where the head officer lived. It was built in the 12th century, and again, changed much through the ages.

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Hinges of the Captain’s Tower’s gate

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View of the Captain’s Tower from the inner ward (note the beautiful 14th century tracery above the gate)

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View from the inner ward of three 16th century storage spaces

Now on to the part that gets me properly excited: Mary, Queen of Scots was held captive here in 1568 and the tower she occupied is aptly named Queen Mary’s Tower. The tower was demolished in 1835, as it was too old to be restored, and all that can be seen now is a few foundations. She grew up in France, while Scotland was ruled by regents in her place. Back in Scotland, an uprising took place against Mary and her husband and the throne went to her one-year old son. Mary fled to England, seeking her cousin Queen Elizabeth I‘s protection. However, Elizabeth wasn’t too friendly towards Mary, as Mary had previously claimed the throne of England and many English Catholics perceived Mary to be the true Queen of England. As such, Elizabeth kept Mary captive for 18 years, after which Mary was executed, having been found guilty of plotting to assassinate the Queen.

The Castle Keep is 21 metres high. Originally it was higher, but the roof was rebuilt to allow for better gun placement.

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16th-century entrance to Carlisle Castle Keep. The remains of foundations along the sides of the entrance suggests that in the original building plans, the Keep was meant to have a more impressive entrance.

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Great Hall at the Keep

The absolute highlight to be found at the Castle Keep is a small section of wall on the second floor that is completely filled with doodles. These are called the Prisoners’ Carvings, because the drawings used to be attributed to prisoners. However, it is more likely that they were actually made by guards on duty, considering they only appear in this small doorway. They are dated to about 1480, when Richard (who would later become King Richard III) was the Warden here. The carvings can be divided into two categories: crude drawings of animals and more refined carvings of many different subjects.

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Part of the Prisoner’s Carvings at the castle keep; here you can see a drawing of a boar, the symbol of Richard

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The Prisoner’s Carvings at the castle keep; here you can see the drawing of a leopard, part of the coat of arms of England

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Part of the Prisoner’s Carvings at Carlisle Castle Keep; here you can see a carving of a white rose, the family symbol of the House of York (Richard’s house)

Again, I can definitely recommend visiting this fascinating place. Next time, I’ll be blogging about something closer to home: the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, right here in Cambridge. I’ll be leaving Cambridge very soon, so it may be my last post about Cambridge in a long time!


4 thoughts on “Carlisle Castle

  1. Loved all the information of Carlisle Castle……and the art at the keep…..
    Keep them coming
    Be safe
    Have fun
    Elena from Miami 🙂

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