• CONTACT US if you have any problems registering for the forums.
Some History and background

Carisbrooke Castle has always been the most important stronghold on the Isle of Wight and particularly guarding the important naval base of Portsmouth. Set on top of the chalk ridge running across the island, its hilltop position commands the view.


It is famous for its donkeys, the royal prison of Charles I for ten months before his execution, and as the home of Princess Beatrice, daughter of Queen Victoria until 1944.

The area was wealthy in Roman times and there is evidence of at least three Roman villas. By the C6th there was a Saxon settlement which had developed into a major Anglo Saxon burgh by the C8th. It was attacked in Viking Raids around 1000, when the burgh was fortified by a wall.

Following the Norman Conquest, William I needed to secure the area against further Saxon revolts and created a series of Baronies along the south coast for his loyal followers. William FitzOsbern, a relative and close counsellor of William I, was given major land holdings in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Oxfordshire and the Isle of Wight. He was one of William's major castle builders and constructed a wooden motte and bailey on the site of the Saxon fort to control a potentially hostile population. The Domesday Book of 1086 records a castle and church here.

William Fitzherbert’s heir rebelled against William and was deprived of his lands.

By 1100, the castle was granted to Richard de Redvers by Henry I. His son Baldwin, was responsible for building the present massive motte-and-bailey castle and curtain wall a few years later. As the motte would not have the weight of a massive stone tower, a shell keep was built with buildings round the inner walls.


Baldwin supported Matilda in her claim to her father’s throne and the castle was forced to surrender to Stephen’s forces when the water supply ran out.

The last of the Redvers, Isabella de Fortibus, was a wealthy heiress and the castle was her main residence and administrative centre for her massive estates. She transformed the castle in the C13th into a more comfortable home befitting her wealth and prestige. Much of what we see at Carisbrooke today is her work. The great hall was the heart of the castle and was used for meals, business, justice and government.

She had her own private chapel and the Constable Lodging contained her private room, as well as an apartment for her Constable who was responsible for the administration of the estate.



She outlived all her children and on her death bed in 1274, agreed to the sale of the Castle to Edward I. The castle has remained Crown property ever since, being governed by a succession of Crown-appointed lords of the island.

During the Hundred Years War, the Isle of Wight was raided five times between 1336 and 1370 and the castle was besieged in 1377. The castle was strengthened by the addition of a massive outer and postern gate.


The castle was somewhat neglected in the first half of the C16th and effectively became a munitions store.

In 1583, Sir George Carey, a cousin of Elizabeth I, was appointed captain of the castle. He rebuilt the domestic buildings and added a new range of building, the Carey Range to reflect his status and importance. Backing onto the curtain wall, this had 13 main rooms and a long gallery on the first floor which ran the length of the building and was used for exercise and recreation. Many of the private apartments of Countess Isabella became service rooms and kitchens.


He built the present well house and treadmill in the 1580s as well as a large underground water cistern near the Constable’s Lodgings.

In response to a major invasion scare by the Spanish in 1587, Carey was responsible for turning the castle into an artillery fort, substantially improving the defences to cope artillery warfare. A rectangular rampart and ditch was built around the castle. The massive earth bank helped absorb the impact of enemy cannon fire.



There were five defensive bastions designed to carry artillery. Spaces underneath provided storage and shelter for the troops..



He also refurbished the beacon chains around the coast that formed an early warning system against invasion.

During the English Civil War, the castle came into the hands of the Parliamentary forces after the wife of the absent Governor surrendered to the Parliamentary army. The castle was used a as a prison for high status Royalists, including Charles I in 1647–8. Initially he was allowed considerable freedom and there was even a bowls lawn created for him.


He tried to escape from the castle in 1648 but was unable to get through the bars of his window.


He was then moved to more secure accommodation in the castle. After his execution in 1649, the castle was used as a prison for his youngest son, Prince Henry and his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, who died here in 1650 aged 14, just a few weeks after her arrival.

The castle declined in importance in the C18th although was still used as an occasional residence of the governors of the Isle of Wight, and there were some repairs and additions. Carey’s Mansion and nearby rooms were demolished as they were no longer needed. It was mainly used as a stores depot and military hospital.

By the mid C19th, the castle was no longer used as a residence although it was still used by the Isle of Wight Artillery Militia and passed into the care of the Office of Works in 1856. Many of the buildings were in poor repair. They carried out minor restoration on the Constable’s Lodgings before funds ran out.

Princess Beatrice, the youngest child of Queen Victoria, had spent most of her time with her mother at Osbourne House. She was appointed governor of the Isle of Wight in 1896 following the death of her husband, Prince Henry of Battenberg. She decided to use the castle as her summer home in 1913 and adapted the Hall and Constable’s Lodgings for her use. Part of the range in the south east corner was adapted as staff accommodation


She restored the gatehouse as a memorial to her husband and it became the first home of the Carisbrooke Castle Museum. She was responsible for the restoration of the chapel of St Nicholas in 1904 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the execution of Charles I and the transformation into a memorial to the men of the Island who died in the First World War.


She continued to live at Carisbrooke Castle during the summer months until 1938.

The castle is occasionally used for island ceremonies but is now primarily a tourist attraction in the care of English Heritage.



Visiting Carisbrooke Castle

Entry is across a ditch and through a gateway in the C16th ramparts built by Sir George Carey to defend the castle against possible attack by the Spanish. This leads up to the massive gatehouse with two large round towers, added in the C14th.



This had a ditch in front with a drawbridge. It was protected by massive wooden gates and portcullis. On the ground floor was the guard house and stone stairs led to the upper floors.


The castle is surrounded by a curtain wall with wall walk, which gave good views across the island as well as the interior of the castle. Projecting towers provided additional protection.




The gatehouse leads into the Inner Bailey with the principal buildings of the castle overlooked by the keep. Directly ahead is the Great Hall and Constable’s Lodgings. Near this is the well house. The ruins of Carey’s Mansion are to the north (right). St Nicholas Chapel and Princess Beatrice’s garden are immediately to the left . The C19th coach house and staff accommodation set in a walled yard beyond the well house. They are now a self catering property as well as tea room and the donkeys live here.



The Great Hall and Constable’s Lodgings were added by Isabella de Fortibus in the C13th and externally still look very much as they might have done when built. It would have been linked to the kitchens which were demolished when Carey’s Mansion was built. Sir George Carey also added an upper floor by raising the roof of the Great Hall.

When Charles I was imprisoned in the castle, his bedroom was in the Constable Building. This room was later used as a dining room by Princess Beatrice.

The Great Hall and Constable Building now house the Carisbrooke Castle Museum set up by Princess Beatrice in memory of her husband, and moved here from the castle gatehouse.

Carey’s Mansion and the North Range would originally have had an impressive facade onto the courtyard of the inner bailey and would have appeared very similar to other great houses built during the C16th. It was built against the curtain wall with large windows with stepped seating providing additional light. There were thirteen principal rooms and the remains of the long galley can still be seen running along the curtain wall.





The Norman Keep is beyond the Great Hall in the north east corner of the site. The remains of the motte ditch can still be seen. It is reached either from the wall walk or by climbing 71 steps from the inner bailey. In times of war, this would have been the last line of defence for the Governor. As well as providing basic accommodation, it also stored food and weapons.



The original keep would have been wood, but was replaced by a stone shell keep in the mid C12th. A gatehouse was added in the mid C14th to provide additional protection during French raids and would have had a fighting platform on the roof.

Two parallel walls dating from the C16th form a corridor into the centre of the keep.



The well in a room to the left is the original castle well that ran dry when Stephen attacked the castle in 1136.


Facing the entrance is a latrine set in the wall of the keep.



Stone steps give access to the battlements and the wall walk which has good views down into the castle as well as the C16th ramparts and ditches and Charles I’s bowling green..



Donkeys and the Well House

The original well was in the keep but this was entirely dependent on rain water as it didn’t reach down as far as the water table. When Stephen attacked the castle in 1136 after a long dry summer, the garrison surrendered after the well had run dry.

A new water supply was needed and a new well dug in the inner bailey. It took nearly three years to dig and was 50m deep. It can still supply the castle with water.
A well house was added with a treadwheel to raise the buckets of water. The present well house and treadwheel was built by George Carey in 1587, when he added a huge cistern near the Constable’s Lodgings.

The treadwheel was originally worked by servants or prisoners and took 17 turns, walking a distance of 255m to raise a bucket of water and took 30 minutes. When filled to capacity this weighed 16.5 stones.

The first written record of a donkey being used dates from1696 and the time needed to lift the bucket was just 10 minutes. The large diameter of the wheel makes it easy for the donkey to turn the smaller spindle so lifting the bucket. The main wheel is made of oak but the slats are pine as they are softer on the donkey’s feet.

P3210762 copy.jpg

P3210762 copy 2.jpg

The donkeys are still used today, but purely for demonstration purposes as castle was connected to mains water in early C20th.

The castle has six resident donkeys. Donkeys are ideal as they can be easily trained and can live for up to 50 years.


It is difficult to take photos in the wheel house so this picture comes from the information board.

P3210761 copy.jpg

Originally the donkeys were worked between 12-16 hours a day. Now they are only allowed to work a maximum of 6 minutes a day and just two turns of the wheel. When they are too old to work, they are retired to the Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary.



Chapel of St Nicholas and Princess Beatrice Garden

The Chapel of St Nicholas is located inside the main gate and several chapels have been built on this site.


The first chapel was built at the same time as the castle and both are recoded in the Domesday Survey of 1086. This was replaced by an early Medieval chapel and Charles I probably worshipped in this one. The chapel was rebuilt in 1738 but dismantled in 1856 by the Office of Works and left in ruins.

There were plans to rebuild the chapel in 1899 to commemorate 250th anniversary of the execution of Charles I. It was eventually re-consecrated in 1904. There is a bust of Charles in the ante chapel.




The organ was donated by Edward VII from the Rolls Chgapel in Chancery Lane, London.

The richly decorated interior with its painted ceiling, was not in the original plan, but the result of a decision taken in 1919 to make the the Chapel into a war memorial for the dead of the First World War.



Their names are inscribed on stone panels along the walls.


The altar painting was commissioned by Princess Beatrice in memory of her son Maurice, who had been killed at Ypres in 1914.


The names of the dead from the Second World war are recorded on the back of the pews, which were made from the wood of HMS Nettle, one of the last of the wooden warships.


Next to the Chapel of St Nicholas and beneath the curtain wall, is the Princes Beatrice Garden. It may have begun as a cemetery for the chapel. From the C17th it was the privy garden for the governors of Carisbrooke Castle, serving as both pleasure and vegetable garden. It was separated from the rest of the castle by a range of now demolished buildings. In 1913, it became Princess Beatrice’s private garden. It has been restored, based on the original layout of four quarters with a central fountain.



The statue of General Jack Seely on his war horse, Warrior was placed in the garden in 2014 as part of an exhibition on the First World War. Jack Seely led one of the last great cavalry charges at the Battle of Moreuil Wood on Warrior in March 1918. Warrior was posthumously awarded an honorary PDSA Dickin Medal for bravery in 2014.



How to Find Information

Search using the search button in the upper right. Search all forums or current forum by keyword or member. Advanced search gives you more options.

Filter forum threads using the filter pulldown above the threads. Filter by prefix, member, date. Or click on a thread title prefix to see all threads with that prefix.


Booking.com Hotels in Europe
AutoEurope.com Car Rentals

Recommended Guides, Apps and Books

52 Things to See and Do in Basilicata by Valerie Fortney
Italian Food & Life Rules by Ann Reavis
Italian Food Decoder App by Dana Facaros, Michael Pauls
French Food Decoder App by Dana Facaros, Michael Pauls
She Left No Note, Lake Iseo Italy Mystery 1 by J L Crellina

Share this page