At one time the capital of the Isle of Wight, Carisbrooke - no larger than a village itself - embraces a fine medieval castle. This Norman structure, set high on a hill, was based on a Saxon fort that occupied the site during the 8th century.
The original 'motte and bailey' castle was laid out in the 11th century, and the polygonal Keep was added in the first half of the 12th century, built on an artificial mound. About the same time, the stone curtain walls were built, with their square flanking towers at the south east and south west encompassing the bailey. On the western side of the curtain wall lies the twin-towered Gatehouse, where it is still possible to see evidence of the portcullises. This imposing Gatehouse, dating from the 14th/15th centuries, replaced an earlier gateway built during the time of the Redvers family, who ruled the island until 1293. Following the family's departure from Carisbrooke, the castle was bought by Edward I.
Two medieval wells still exist within Carisbrooke Castle: the Keep houses the first well, which is some 160ft (48.5m) deep and is reached by 71 steps; and the second well is contained in a 16th century wellhouse in the courtyard. This well has been in constant use since the 12th century, following a failure in the first well, and it is thought that prisoners were used to tread the waterwheel. However, in the 17th century, donkeys were introduced to drive the winding gear, and they still give demonstrations today of how this fascinating piece of early engineering drew up the water.
Many of the domestic buildings at Carisbrooke Caslte date from the 13th century, including The Great Hall displaying an impressive fireplace provided by William de Montacute. Although alterations were made by each generation, it is remarkably easy to identify every phase of remodelling or reconstruction.
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the Governor at that time, Sir George Carey, undertook a large-scale refortification programme to counteract continued invasion threats from Catholic Spain. These included the vast earthworks surrounding Carisbrooke Castle, and the landscaped gardens. Interestingly, only the foundations of George Carey's mansion exist facing onto the courtyard.
One of the sheer delights of Carisbrooke Castle is the much restored 13th century chapel, commissioned by Countess Isabella, but which has suffered severe damage over the years. Despite its near demolition, the beauty and opulence of this wonderful chapel as seen today is based on the original design of the Countess. During the 20th century, the chapel was finally restored as a memorial to King Charles I, who was imprisoned at Carisbrooke Castle for over a year. Later still, it was decided that the chapel should become a memorial for all the people of the Island who died during the First and Second World Wars.
Carisbrooke Castle is a compact and unusual arrangement of building evidence spanning some 1200 years. From fragments of a Saxon wall running below the Norman Keep, to the Elizabethan and Jacobean influences seen in the various additions and enlargements to the basic 13th century construction.