Carlisle Castle

(See also Carlisle Cathedral , Carlisle , Tuille House Museum)

Carlisle castle entrance gate and keep by Bill HendersonBetween the River Eden and the River Caldew sits Carlisle Castle, the largest and best preserved of Cumbria's castles. From the 1st to the 4th centuries the site served as a Roman garrison, Luguvalium. Situated on the border between England and Scotland, the town was under Scottish control until William II (Rufus) and his English army arrived in 1092. Claiming Carlisle, he proceeded to build an earthen castle and settle the area with English families.

Carlisle castle entrance gate outer gatehouse by Bill HendersonWhen Henry I visited in 1122, he ordered a stone castle and towers built, but it took 10 years before the city walls were built and the rectangular stone keep begun. In 1135, King David of Scotland seized Carlisle and its castle and continued the building work on the castle. In 1157 Henry II defeated the Scots and returned Carlisle to English control. He continued building, adding an outer curtain to the castle works.

Carlisle castle bridge over the old moat by Bill HendersonKing John came to Carlisle four times. He was an unpopular king, heavily taxing the people of the city. Carlisle joined with the barons who rebelled against him and welcomed their Scottish allies to the city. The Scots, under King Alexander II undermined the south curtain and captured the inner gate and the castle keep. By the time of Henry III's reign, the castle was in a ruinous state.

Carlisle castle battlements by Bill HendersonIt was up to Edward I to start repairs. When he invaded Scotland, he used the castle as headquarters and as the seat of royal government from 1306-07. He had the great hall built, and later the royal apartments were refurbished. In 1315 Robert the Bruce's attempt to capture the castle failed. Richard II did more building in 1378-1383.

Carlisle castle magazine by Bill HendersonIn 1461 the Yorkists defended the castle when it was under siege during the War of the Roses. A gun tower was added for defence. More building and repair work took place under Henry VIII in 1540-43-a modernized keep, new gun embrasures, the Half Moon battery, and wider ramparts. He turned the castle into a gun fort and stocked it with 800 German mercenaries.

Carlisle castle the keep by Bill HendersonIn 1568, Mary Queen of Scots spent two months here as a prisoner, at which time the castle and town walls were partly in ruins. Queen Elizabeth carried out repairs. During the Civil War in 1644, the castle endured an eight month siege before falling to Parliament. The King's men retook it in 1648. Bonnie Prince Charlie captured the weakened castle, sparsely manned, in 1745 during his campaign to take the English throne. It was retaken by the Duke of Cumberland when Prince Charlie fled back to Scotland.

Carlisle castle outer gate house seen from the keep by Bill HendersonA tour of the castle starts in the Outer Gatehouse, rebuilt in 1378 to house Cumberland's sheriffs and serve as the headquarters of the Warden of the March, and now its main entrance. A steward's room, gaoler's room, and dungeon along with a hall, kitchen, and solar once occupied this space. Oak gatehouse doors possibly date to the 16th century and brickwork from the 12th-13th century. Inner bailey walls were protected by a moat at one time. The 12th century Captain's Tower was the entrance to this bailey that had a portcullis and murder holes. The Regimental Museum sits on the site where royal apartments, a chapel and Great Hall once were.

Carlisle castle captains tower by Bill HendersonA stair turret connected these rooms with Queen Mary's Tower (demolished). It was the Norman castle entrance. A wall walk provides views over the town. The castle keep-the oldest surviving part of the castle-after serving as the main part of the castle, became a magazine, a prison, a barracks, and an armoury. An exhibition on Bonnie Prince Charlie is now housed here. Carvings-the walls were soft sandstone-done by poachers, raiders and prisoners from the 15th century lend interest to the walls.

Carlisle Castle
in the city of Carlisle
English Heritage
Open: April-end Sept, 9:30am-5pm daily; Oct-March, 10am-4pm daily.
Phone: 01228 591 922

Note: Please check opening times and dates before visiting in case of changes.

Photos courtesy of Bill Henderson

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