Carisbrooke Castle is a historic motte-and-bailey castle located in the village of Carisbrooke, near Newport, Isle of Wight, England. Carisbrooke 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, 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. Since then it has remained a symbolic centre for the island, not least as the residence of its governor.. The site of Carisbrooke Castle may have been occupied in pre-Roman times. A ruined wall suggests that there was a building there in late Roman times. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions that Wihtgar, cousin of King Cynric of Wessex, died in AD 544, and was buried there. The Jutes may have taken over the fort by the late 7th century. An Anglo-Saxon stronghold occupied the site during the 8th century. Around 1000, a wall was built around the hill as a defence against Viking raids.
Shortly after the Norman conquest, the burh was converted into a castle to secure the island for the Norman invaders. A defended enclosure was formed in one corner of the Saxon burh by digging deep ditches within it. In 1100 the Isle of Wight became part of a powerful lordship, created by Henry I (reigned 1100–35) for Baldwin de Redvers, one of his key supporters. The island remained in his family until 1293. It was probably Baldwin who created the present massive motte-and-bailey castle which still dominates the hilltop. After Henry I’s death Baldwin supported his daughter, Matilda, in her claim to the throne when the king’s nephew, Stephen, took it for himself, resulting in civil war. In 1136 Baldwin probably intended to defend Carisbrooke, but was forced to surrender to King Stephen when its water supply ran dry. By this time the castle had stone walls on its banks, but its internal layout is uncertain. The castle chapel, also a parish in its own right, was probably on the site of the present chapel, with an enclosure behind it in what is now the Privy Garden.
The last of the de Redvers, Countess Isabella de Fortibus, shaped the castle interior into its present form. As well as work to the defences, she concentrated her attention on creating a residence fit for a great magnate. She built the existing, much altered great hall with her chamber at one end and her private chapel at the other, together with numerous other buildings around a central courtyard. In 1293, in the last days of her life, she sold her estates to Edward I, and the castle has remained Crown property ever since. For the rest of the Middle Ages the castle was governed by a rapid succession of Crown-appointed lords of the island. Such work as was done focused on the defences, particularly during the wars with France. The Isle of Wight was raided five times between 1336 and 1370 and the castle was besieged in 1377. At the end of the 14th century William de Montacute (lord of the island 1386–97) remodelled the great hall and rebuilt the chamber block adjoining it. In the early 16th century the importance of the castle declined as Henry VIII adopted a policy of coastal defences.
This changed when Elizabeth I (r.1558–1603) appointed her cousin George Carey captain of the island in 1583. He remained captain until his death in 1604 and had a strong sense of his own importance. He began by rebuilding the domestic buildings of the castle, which had fallen into decay, to provide accommodation worthy of a great magnate. The hall block and St Peter’s Chapel were radically changed with the insertion of an upper floor. Adjoining the hall he added a new range, known as Carey’s Building, with 17 rooms and a long gallery. With the threat of Spanish invasion Carey made some modest additions to the defences in 1587. In the next invasion scare of 1596–7, however, he persuaded the queen and the local gentry to pay for the creation of a major, modern artillery fort at Carisbrooke. This took the form of a low, roughly rectangular rampart nearly a mile long, with five bastions. These defences were completed in 1602, but were never used in action.
At the outset of the Civil War in 1642 the castle passed into the hands of the Parliamentary forces. Its principal use until 1660 was as a prison for important Royalists, the most notable inmate being Charles I in 1647–8. Later it was used as a prison for his youngest son and for his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, who died here in 1650, at the age of 14. Charles I arrived at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight in November 1647, after escaping from Hampton Court Palace in Surrey. He had been held under house arrest for 18 months, most recently at the palace, having surrendered to the Scots in May 1646 after defeat in the Civil War. The Scots had handed him over to Parliament, and while they and the army debated what to do with him, he had decided the wisest course was to slip away. Arriving first at Titchfield Abbey in Hampshire, he opened negotiations with Colonel Robert Hammond, the Parliamentarian governor of the Isle of Wight but also the brother of his chaplain, and thought to be a crypto-Royalist. Presumably Charles believed that being on the Isle of Wight would afford him more freedom to keep in touch with his supporters. But Charles had misjudged Hammond. Arriving at Carisbrooke Castle on 22 November, he placed himself under the governor’s protection; but rather than helping him to escape, Hammond became his gaoler. Initially, though, Charles was allowed considerable freedom, driving about the island in his coach. Many of his household came to join him. A few weeks after his arrival he was even able to sign a military agreement with the Scots known as the Engagement. But after a sympathetic local officer tried to raise the people of the island to help release the king, and with negotiations with Parliament over his future appearing to have stalled, Charles’s imprisonment became stricter. He was confined to the castle, and escape seemed like a good option again.
On the night of 20 March 1648, everything was seemingly in place for him to make his escape. Despite the stricter conditions, he was still able to contact supporters outside the castle, smuggling out secret messages via his chambermaid, Mary – and horses and a boat were made ready for the getaway. All Charles had to do was climb out of his bedchamber window overlooking the courtyard, lower himself on a cord, and make his way to the curtain wall. There his page, Henry Firebrace, would lower him to the ground. There was a fatal flaw in his plan, however. Charles had, he told Firebrace, checked that his head would fit between the window bars, ‘and he was sure, where that would pass, the body would follow’. But when he attempted to clamber out, with Firebrace waiting below, "His Majesty … too late, found himself mistaken, he sticking fast between his breast and shoulders, and not able to get forwards or backwards … Whilst he stuck, I heard him groane, but could not come to help him."
Undeterred by this embarrassing failure, Charles attempted another escape two months later. He had been moved to another, more secure bedchamber, and a similar plan was hatched for 28 May. This time the bars of his window were loosened in advance with nitric acid, and his guards had been bribed. But there were too many people in on the secret, and two of the guards betrayed it. Charles saw that extra sentries had been posted below his window, and decided to stay put. In the end it was Charles’s political manoeuvrings while at Carisbrooke, rather than his escape attempts, that sealed his fate. Under the terms of his agreement with the Scots, Charles promised that if a Scottish army would help him regain the throne, he would establish Presbyterianism in England. The resulting Scottish invasion, along with simultaneous Royalist uprisings in England and Wales, led to the brief Second Civil War. When the Scots were defeated by Oliver Cromwell in August 1648, the outlook for Charles was bleak. 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. After their failure he was moved, first to Hurst Castle on the mainland, and then stage by stage to London. By then, impatient with Charles’s intrigues, and recognising that there would be no peace with him alive, a number of radical MPs and army officers had decided that he should be charged with high treason. He was tried, found guilty, and executed in Whitehall at the Banqueting House on 30 January 1649.
Thereafter the significance of the castle declined as defences moved back to the coast. Carisbrooke was the occasional residence of the governors of the Isle of Wight, some of whom, notably Lord Cutts (governor 1692–1706) and the Earl of Cadogan (1715–26), carried out repairs and alterations. In 1738 the Chapel of St Nicholas was demolished and rebuilt in Georgian style. By the mid-19th century the castle was no longer used as a residence, but still had a residual military role as a base for the Isle of Wight Artillery Militia. The roof and floors of the gatehouse had been removed and Carey’s building had been reduced to a ruin. Many of the remaining buildings were in poor repair. It was by then also becoming much visited as a tourist attraction. It passed into the care of the Office of Works in 1856. The first restoration was carried out by Philip Hardwick in that year. He converted the Constable’s Lodging, at the southern end of the hall range, and the L-shaped block in the south-east corner of the castle to their present form before the funding ran out. He also demolished the Chapel of St Nicholas to create a romantic ruin.
The major influence on the castle’s present form, however, was Percy Stone, an architect who was also the island’s historian. He published the first study of the castle’s history and architecture in 1891. He was helped by renewed royal interest in the castle when Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter, was appointed governor in 1896 in succession to her husband, Prince Henry of Battenberg. Stone first restored the gatehouse, replacing its roof and one upper floor, to make the first Isle of Wight Museum, opened in 1898 in memory of Prince Henry. In 1904 he restored the Chapel of St Nicholas to its present quasi-medieval form. Its internal appearance, however, results from its use as the island’s war memorial commemorating the 2,000 men from the Isle of Wight killed in both world wars. In 1913 Princess Beatrice had the hall range and Constable’s Lodging adapted and modernised to become her summer residence, which she continued to use until 1938. Since the Second World War, the castle has remained largely as a monument. It is used occasionally for island ceremonies but is primarily a tourist destination. It is also the home of the Isle of Wight Museum, which moved after Princess Beatrice’s death in 1944 into the more spacious accommodation of the hall range, where it remains.
Carisbrooke was the strongest castle on the Island; though it is visible from some distance, it does not dominate the countryside like many other castles. There are traces of a Roman fort underneath the later buildings. Seventy-one steps lead up to the keep; the reward is a fine view. In the centre of the castle enclosure are the domestic buildings; these are mostly of the 13th century, with upper parts of the 16th century. Some are in ruins, but the main rooms were used as the official residence of the Governor of the Isle of Wight until the 1940s, and they remain in good repair. The Great Hall, Great Chamber and several smaller rooms are open to the public, and an upper room houses the Isle of Wight Museum. Most rooms are partly furnished. One of the main subjects of the museum is King Charles I. The name of the castle is echoed in a very different structure on the other side of the world. A visit to the castle by James Macandrew, one of the founders of the New Zealand city of Dunedin, led to him naming his estate "Carisbrook". The name of the estate was later used for Dunedin's main sporting venue.
The gateway tower was erected by Lord Scales who was lord of the castle at the time in 1464. The chapel is located next to the main gate. In 1904 the chapel of St Nicholas in the castle was reopened and re-consecrated, having been rebuilt as a national memorial of Charles I. Within the walls is a well 200 feet deep and another in the centre of the keep is reputed to have been still deeper. Near the domestic buildings is the well-house with its working donkey wheel. As it is still operated by donkeys, the wheel is a great attraction and creates long queues. The well is also famous as the hiding place of the Mohune diamond, in the 1898 adventure novel Moonfleet, by J. Meade Falkner. Wyndham Lewis, who lived on the Isle of Wight as a child, cites the donkey wheel at Carisbrooke as an image for the way machines impose a way of life on human beings ('Inferior Religions', published 1917). The Constable's Chamber is a large room located in the castle's medieval section. It was the bedroom of Charles I when he was imprisoned in the castle, and Princess Beatrice used it as a dining room. It is now home to Charles I bed as well as Princess Beatrice's large collection of stag and antelope heads. This room was used as the castle's education centre up until recently. Surrounding the whole castle are large earthworks, designed by the Italian Federigo Gianibelli, and begun in the year before the Spanish Armada. They were finished in the 1590s. The outer gate has the date 1598 and the arms of Elizabeth I.
Carisbrooke Castle Museum is an Accredited local history museum run by an independent Charitable Trust, sited within a medieval castle in the care of English Heritage. It was founded in 1898 by HRH Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter, as a memorial to her husband, Prince Henry of Battenberg. The Museum cares for some 27,000 items connected with the Isle of Wight, including social history, medieval history, King Charles I, ecclesiastical history, costume, military history, photographs, paintings, decorative art, ephemera, and documents.
Ten of the highlights of the collection are described below. Joseph Mallord William Turner (c1775-1851) was a renowned landscape painter, both in oils and watercolours. The watercolour of the gatehouse to Carisbrooke Castle was painted in 1828 for a series of picturesque views in England and Wales, a collaborative project with the printmaker, Charles Heath, who was to produce 96 of Turner’s engravings between 1827 and 1838. This is regarded as one of the finest in the series. Turner visited the Isle of Wight at least twice. In the summer of 1827 he stayed with the architect, John Nash, at East Cowes Castle which may be when he made the sketches for this painting. This painting was accepted by H.M. Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to Carisbrooke Castle Museum in 2007. 2. Norman Tableman. This is a carved walrus-ivory counter from a Norman board game, dating from between 1150 and 1199. Sometimes counters like this are known as draughtsman but it is far more likely that they were used for playing a game called tables, which is why this counter is called a tableman. Tables was a game similar to backgammon. This tableman features a Norman knight in his mail armour, standing on the drawbridge of a medieval castle. It was found down a well on the Isle of Wight in 1732, made its way to Norwich Castle Museum, and then returned to Carisbrooke Castle Museum on the Isle of Wight in 1960. This tableman would have probably been one of a set of 30 pieces, so it would have belonged to someone with both wealth and leisure. It has been suggested that this tableman represents Samson from the bible. More than 200 tablemen with figurative designs survive, and many of the designs are based on biblical or mythological subjects.
3. Jug. The jug was found during excavations at Carisbrooke Castle and would have been used by the Lord of the Isle of Wight, when in residence at the Castle. It was made in the Gascony area of France in the late 13th century and would have contained French wine imported into this country, possibly through Southampton. It may be Saintonge ware, made in Saintes in the north of Gascony. In medieval times the wine trade was enormous, with wine being the single largest import into England. 4. Newtown Mace. A silver mace from the ancient borough of Newtown on the north coast of the Isle of Wight. It dates from the late 1400s - the reign of Henry VII. This mace has both the royal coat of arms and the Commonwealth arms engraved on the plate at the end. During the Civil War the Commonwealth arms were engraved and put uppermost by Sir Thomas Barrington from Swainston, who supported Parliament, and most likely reversed again on the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The mace would have been used to give authority to the burgesses of Newtown during meetings and ceremonies. 5. Bed. This is a Victorian reproduction of an Elizabethan bed that uses some original panels. The wealth of pattern in the carving is typical of Elizabethan furniture and incorporates stylised plants, geometric shapes, borders of repeated patterns, faces and figures and inscriptions. The inscription at the foot of the bed reads ‘Feare God, honour the Queene’ and is adapted from the Bible (1 Peter 2, 17). The reproduction hangings, counterpane and pillow-cover were made by members of the Women's Institute in 1972. The designs, based on Elizabethan originals, incorporate the monogram of Sir George Carey, Governor of the Island during the reign of Elizabeth I, and a coronet, representing his family connections. This bed was not slept in by King Charles but may suggest the style of furniture brought from Hampton Court to the Castle for his use in November 1647.
6. Chamber Organ. The chamber organ displayed in Carisbrooke Castle Museum has been generally regarded as Flemish in origin, having been built by E. Hoffheimer in 1602. Its first owner was apparently John Graham, Earl of Montrose, whose coat of arms is carved on the top of the instrument. Writing in 1937, Mr W H Head, a former owner, said that the organ “was for many years domiciled at Carisbrooke Castle”. It is recorded as having been found in the Island by Mr Snowden Henry, M.P., of Bonchurch, who in 1872 displayed it in the South Kensington Exhibition of Ancient Musical Instruments. It created so much interest that it was kept on loan at the South Kensington Museum. On the death of Mr Snowden Henry in 1889 the organ was sold at Christie's to an art dealer, Mr Harding. It was almost immediately bought by Mr W Howard Head, who took the instrument into his musical workshops for treatment. The organ, now in playing condition, was exhibited at the Crystal Palace in 1900 and at the Fishmongers' Hall in 1904. In 1912 Mr Head moved to Canada and he then sold the instrument to Lady Maud Warrender, in whose possession it remained until 1937. Princess Beatrice of Battenberg, Governor of the Isle of Wight, had been known to express the wish that the organ should one day return to Carisbrooke Castle and Lady Warrender was persuaded in 1937 to sell the organ, which was then presented by the Island to Princess Beatrice on the occasion of her 80th birthday and 41st year as Governor of the Island. The presentation took place at the castle on Sunday 3 October, 1937 and the subscription list remains in the museum. Princess Beatrice bequeathed the organ to the Minister of Works to be maintained in Carisbrooke Castle and it passed to his care on her death in 1944.
It is the oldest organ in Britain still in playing order. It also has interesting associations. Although nothing certain is known about the history of the organ before the 1870s, it was traditionally known as 'Queen Elizabeth's organ'. A previous owner, Mr Snowden Henry, maintained that, “having been in the Isle of Wight so long, it if had a royal owner it is more likely to have been the Princess Elizabeth - daughter of Charles I - who died at Carisbrooke”. It seems unlikely, however, that she can have used it at Carisbrooke. She lived in the castle for only just over four weeks before her death. Moreover the inventory of royal furniture in the castle, taken the following month, makes no mention of the organ. Which Queen Elizabeth then, could it be? Hardly Queen Elizabeth I of England, for the organ was apparently made for the Earl of Montrose towards the end of her reign. The name may perhaps refer to Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia, sister of King Charles I.
Stops and Range. The instrument is of course a domestic one and not a church organ. It is really in two parts: the bellows chest and keyboard, standing 33 inches high, 45 inches wide and 22 inches deep; and the pipe case above it standing 33½ inches high (plus a cornice 5½ inches high), 31 inches wide and 9¼ inches deep. Elaborately carved, it has under the arms of Montrose on the cornice three shields carrying the inscription: ‘LOOF DEN HEERE MET SNARENSPEL ENDE ORGEL PS.150’, i.e. ‘Praise the Lord with stringed instrument and organ’ from Psalm 150. Two of the shields also carry between them the date ‘AD 1602’. The fretwork doors of the pipe case each have a carved Montrose monogram – a letter M composed of Js – under a coronet. The same carved motif, alternating with a human face, appears on the ends of the keys. Another charming allusion to the first Scottish owner is that the stoppers of many of the pipes are carved in the form of thistles (others are shaped like acorns). The compass is from E to C, 45 notes. The organ may originally have had short octave tuning in the bass to give an increased compass, but there is no clear evidence of this. Although the pipes are all carved near the base with the appropriate note (incidentally German notation is used – B for our B flat, and H for our B natural) the relevant pipes at the lower compass of the 2-foot and 4-foot stops do not seem to be the original ones; these were probably the pipes found to be worm-eaten, and replaced when Mr W. H. Head had the instrument restored. At all events, the absence of bottom C and D presents difficulties in playing even music that is contemporary with the organ. There are three stops: a stopped diapason at 4-foot pitch, mellow and pure-toned; an octave flute at 2-foot pitch, particularly successful in the upper register, and adding a brilliance to the tone; and an 8-foot regal, a beating reed –the oldest stop of its kind known in England.
This last stop, which seems to have been added as an afterthought to the rest of the organ – its little pipes are housed in a case attached to the back of the instrument – can be used with a tremulant to produce a ‘vox humana’ effect. Instead of the usual drawstop action the slides are worked direct, with a carved knob at both sides of the instrument in the case of the two flute stops. The regal stop works from the right hand side only, its compass covering just the upper 25 notes, B to C. This stop had certain disadvantages, being slowspeaking and difficult to tune; and its use as a solo stop on a single manual presents many problems. The wind pressure of the organ is 2 3/8 inches. Another interesting feature is that this is one of the very few instruments in this country still kept on the meantone scale, thus preserving the original tuning of the organ. In meantone tuning, everything is sacrificed to achieve perfect major thirds, and the fifths as a result come out rather flat. It is possible to play in all keys that do not use more than three sharps or two flats, all the chords sounding equally good. As keys more remote than this are exceptional in music up to about 1650, this tuning has obvious advantages of producing purer intervals in playing such music. The pitch of the organ, incidentally, is about a semitone below New Philharmonic pitch.
There remains an uncertainty about the exact date of the organ. When it was exhibited in 1904 at the Fishmongers’ Hall, it was catalogued as having been built in 1592. The source for this appears in an unsigned article in The Connoisseur for March 1902, which ends: “When the organ came into the possession of its present owner it had affixed to it, inside the case, a wooden label bearing the following inscription – ‘E. Hoffheimer. Fec. Vien. 1592’ – and the date on the outside of the case was 1592. Mr Head, however, rejects, and has removed this inscription, and has altered the date outside the case to 1602, as, he believes, it originally stood”. Unfortunately we are not told on what foundation Mr Head made this alteration. The original label would suggest that this is an Austrian instrument of the 16th century; on the other hand the present date on the front is 1602 – an admitted alteration – but the text is in Flemish. Mix in the Montrose shield and the Scottish thistles, and we have not only a musical treasure but a cosmopolitan enigma.
7. Dolls’ House. This late nineteenth century dolls’ house was built into a cupboard. It has a door but this has been removed for display purposes. The house is 118cm (3’ 10”) high and has three floors. The fixtures, fittings and dolls date from the mid nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. 8. East Cowes Castle Clock. This clock has not always been inside Carisbrooke Castle Museum; it has been displaying the time to museum visitors only since 1997. However it is now a museum piece rather than a time-piece and it has had a long and interesting history! An inscription on the drum tells us that the clock was made in 1819 by John Moore in Clerkenwell, London. Moore is recognised as one of the great designers and makers of turret clocks. His firm made and installed hundreds all over the British Isles and abroad, most of them for churches and other public buildings. Traditionally, clock and watch-making had involved specialist craftsmen working at home to produce the different parts, before they were assembled by 'finishers'. Moore successfully established a factory system, which was more efficient and profitable. Even so, his clocks were not mass-produced and each one was individually assembled and finished. The factory had a smith's workshop and a wheel-cutting shop on the ground floor. Turret clocks, like the one in the museum, were assembled on the floor above. House clocks were produced in a workshop on the top floor. The windows were large to let in plenty of light. In 1958 the estate was sold to Arthur Guy, who rescued the decaying clock mechanism from the tower. Eventually the estate was bought by property developers. After its rescue from the dilapidated tower, Arthur Guy presented the damaged and corroded clock movement to the Isle of Wight College at Newport as an example of early-19th-century engineering and a restoration project for students. The clock was bought by the architect John Nash in 1824 for his new country mansion at East Cowes where it stayed for over 130 years. It was probably intended to add to the grandeur of his home rather than to tell the time! It would have been wound once a week and chimed every hour. From the 1930s, the cost of maintaining house and grounds became too expensive for the owners. Vandalism, theft and use by the War Office all took their toll.
9. Walking Stick. The head of a walking stick used by Charles I whilst he was at Carisbrooke Castle. Made of ivory, it also doubled as a snuff box. The walking stick on which the head was mounted was made of Blue John, a type of feldspar found only near Castleton, Derbyshire. It is now so rare that only tiny chips, highly polished, are made available for jewellery. Note the holes for inhaling the snuff. 10. King Charles' Nightcap. According to tradition this nightcap was worn by King Charles I on the night before his execution (29th – 30th January 1649). Its size corresponds to other caps which have been authenticated as being worn by the King. The nightcap is made of linen and is decorated with whitework embroidery, drawn-thread work and cutwork with Venetian needlelace inserts. The shape and construction of the cap indicate that it was made in the early 17th century. The nightcap was one of the first items in the collections at Carisbrooke Castle Museum, presented by Queen Victoria when the Museum was originally founded in 1898 by her daughter, Princess Beatrice. Its relevance to the Museum lies in the King’s association with Carisbrooke Castle, where he was held prisoner in 1648.
Well house and ground floor of museum are accessible to visitors in wheelchairs. Due to the steep stairs the wall walk, and the upper floor of museum, are inaccessible to wheelchair users. Disabled drivers may park within castle courtyard, and disabled passengers may be set down there. Four disabled parking bays located behind the museum for Blue Badge holders. There are two flights of stairs to the upper floor of museum (with handrails). Seating and rest points are dotted around the grounds. Surface and GradientsPathways are gravel, tarmac and grass, and are fairly flat. There are accessible toilets on site. Assistance dogs are welcome. There is a model showing the castle in 1600which may be touched and was designed to allow close access for wheelchairs. Entrance to the museum is included in the entrance fee for Carisbrooke Castle.
Location : Carisbrooke Castle, Castle Hill, Newport, Isle of Wight, PO30 1XYG
Transport : Southampton (National Rail) OR Portsmouth Harbour then ferry and bus. Bus Routes : Southern Vectis 6, 7, 12 and 38 stop near by
Opening Times : 1st November to 19th February, weekends 10:00 to 16:00; Otherwise, daily 10:00 to 17:00 (Summer until 18:00)
Tickets : Adults £9.70; Concessions £8.70; Children (5 - 15) £5.80
Tel. : 01983 522107