Carlisle Castle

I cannot remember the last time I visited Carlisle Castle; it was most likely a primary school trip, and I probably wasn’t paying attention, so it was about time I stopped by again and found out more.


Carlisle Castle was originally a Roman fort, called Luguvalium, which sat smackbang on Hadrian’s Wall. A basic wood-and-earth castle was built under William II to protect the border from the dastardly Scots. The stone fortifications were added in later, between 1122 and 1135, during the reign of Henry II, and can still be walked around today. Part of the castle has been recreated in a typical Medieval style, which is where Nen found a book suitable for her reading level:


The castle has seen a lot in its 900+ years, including visits from English and Scottish royalty, sieges, civil war, and rebellion. It is a truly fascinating location with an awful lot to discover.

The most notable events seen at Carlisle Castle fell during the second Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. After the deposition of James II, and following the Glorious Revolution, there were a series of uprisings which were known collectively as the Jacobite Rebellions.

Rebels believed that James II was still a legitimate ruler of England and Scotland and so they supported the claim to the throne of his son, James Francis Stuart, and later Charles Edward Stuart. Spoiler alert: the rebellions came to nothing, and the Hanoverian era continued, but they did create a period of upheaval and strife in the north, especially in the border region.

An exhibition exists on the top floor of the keep at Carlisle Castle which describes the activity which took place in the city and the castle during the 1745 Rebellion, led by the ‘Young Pretender’ Charles Edward Stuart, a.k.a. Bonnie Prince Charlie.


The story begins on 19th August 1745 when Charlie raised his ‘royal’ standard at Glenfinnan, declaring himself as the rightful heir to the throne. He had lived in Italy in exile all his life (having actually been born in Rome) and made the journey to Scotland with every intention of deposing George II, as William had to James II.

Charles’ supporters were mostly made up of clansmen from the Scottish Highlands, who were known at the time for their ruthless fighting and aggression. Some say they even ran barefoot into battle, which really isn’t the best idea. His opponent, the Duke of Cumberland, had far more organised fighters, made up of veteran soldiers, infantry, cavalry, and artillery, who all had basic training as a minimum.

Bonnie Prince Charlie began his campaign by taking the city of Edinburgh, before moving south to the border region.  The Jacobites faced a few skirmishes on the way down, but ultimately defeated the Royalist forces who then retreated to Berwick-upon-Tweed. In preparation for the Jacobite attack, Carlisle began to prepare itself by accumulating arms and food within the city walls.

On 10th November, the Jacobites gave the citizens of Carlisle an ultimatum. They reportedly said:

“If you shall refuse us entrance… it will not perhaps be in our power to prevent the dreadful consequences which usually attend a town’s being taken by assault”

Basically, let us in or we’ll completely mess you up. It worked, and four days later the city surrendered, and three days after that, Charlie rode in accompanied by 100 pipers.

After all that fuss though, they left again only a few days later, having “[spoilt] all the places where they lay”. Soon after though, the Jacobite forces were back again, having been defeated at Derby by the Duke of Cumberland’s army.

To stop the pursuit by the Royalist forces, 400 Jacobite soldiers were garrisoned in Carlisle. The Duke lay siege to the city, and after ten days they surrendered. The men in the garrison were swiftly imprisoned before being sent to trial.

A total of 382 Jacobite soldiers were imprisoned in Carlisle, and were kept in awfully cramped conditions in the castle keep and city jail. These cells can still be walked into today, and they are really quite creepy.


The prisoners were put in irons with very little water or food. Moisture did get into the cell via one particular area in the brickwork. Prisoners actually licked the wall to get the water, and even now you can see the tongue marks of these men.

The treatment of the prisoners didn’t improve much from there. To be honest, it wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Game of Thrones. Upon being inevitably found guilty, the man was taken out of irons, before his arms were tied. He was then dragged through the ‘English Gate’ where the severed heads of his fellow soldiers were displayed. When they reached Gallow’s Hill, they were hanged for a few minutes, chopped down and cut open so their guts could be burned in front of their face. To finish, they had their heads cut off and displayed alongside the others. Nice…

Thus marks the end of Carlisle’s involvement in the Jacobite Rebellion, which culminated in the Battle of Culloden in April 1746. Bonnie Prince Charlie was soundly defeated and ran away back to Italy where he lived out the remainder of his days.


This is only one small segment of Carlisle’s history, and there is so much more to discover than all I have described in this post. I’d highly recommend a trip, and if you’re an English Heritage member, it’ll be free for you! Wahoo!



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