For anyone who isn’t familiar with the area, Carlisle is at the western end of Hadrian’s wall in modern day Cumbria, only fourteen miles from the present day border with Scotland. Strategically placed at the northern end of a steep bluff, the castle overlooks the confluence of the Rivers Caldew and Eden at the northernmost tip of Carlisle city centre. With 800 years of continuous military use under its belt, it has functioned as the first line of defence against marauding Scottish armies and as a focal point for English military campaigns against the Scots.As early as AD 70, there was a turf and timber Roman fort, known as Luguvalium, on the site of the present castle. Excavations discovered a waterlogged and remarkably well preserved timber gateway, and located parts of the west and south defences of this fort which extended as far south as Abbey Street and Castle Street in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. After AD 330, there is little information to be had, though crudely built stone structures dating to the late 4th century have been found where the present- day barracks stand.
In 1092 William II built a timber and earth construction (motte and bailey) and thirty years later Henry I gave money to fortify the town with 'a castle and towers.' During the next decade the city walls were built and construction began on the stone keep which is built upon the central and northern half of the Roman fort. The siege of 1217 damaged the castle, but luckily the Scottish wars meant Edward I ordered repairs which were completed by 1290.
The main keep was completed by the Scottish King, David I. He occupied the castle for almost twenty years from 1135 until his death in 1153. In 1157 Carlisle came under English control once more, and has stayed there ever since. In 1163 Henry II built a stone outer curtain pierced by a new southern gate.* A waterlogged moat in front of the south curtain wall added extra defence. Access across the ditch was by a stone bridge. The parapets of the bridge are modern, but the lower part of the bridge is medieval. An earlier timber drawbridge rested on stone walls.
Henry visited the castle again in 1186 when he commissioned a new chamber for his personal use. In 1216 King John's barons rose against him, Carlisle sided with the northerners and the city welcomed the Scottish army led by Alexander II. Maunsell's Tower, William de Ireby's Tower, and the tower over the inner gate were destroyed and not rebuilt.
*The outer gatehouse was also known as de Ireby's Tower. The Gatehouse was substantially altered between 1378-83. Residential quarters for the Constable of the castle were here, as a key administrative, financial and judicial centre for the county. In the west tower of the outer gatehouse there is an anteroom - now used as the ticket office and sales area - the steward's room with a garderobe, a gaoler's room with a garderobe, and a windowless dungeon. A mural stair (built within the thickness of the wall and open on one side) leads to a kitchen on the first floor, with a door leading to the barbican walk and a service area. The reconstructed solar lies above the service area. Above the passageway is the hall where there are remains of a large hooded fireplace.
The portcullis housing can be seen in the wall recess. Below the solar are two rooms, probably used as a prison, and a garderobe. The castle became the headquarters of the Warden of the March and also continued to accommodate Cumberland's sheriff. In 1378 work began on the rebuilding of the outer gatehouse to provide suitable lodgings for these magnates. In 1430 funds were again made available for Carlisle's defences and a good deal of this money was spent on cannons.The old building work (as opposed to Victorian interventions) consists of two lengths of Carlisle city wall adjacent to the curtain walls of the castle, the towers and outer gatehouse, with the bridge over the moat, and an inner ward with its gatehouse, keep, ditch, and curtain walls. The Main gate was rebuilt circa 1380. Carlisle became the centre of the English West March from 1422, and sums were allocated to ensure that Carlisle remained defensible. The inner gatehouse (aka the Captain's Tower) went up mid-C14. In 1483, when Richard III was Lieutenant of the North and in charge of Carlisle, he ordered the building of the Tile Tower.
In 1538 Henry VIII's reign was under threat from Catholic Europe, and defences were required against Scotland, which always insisted on offering a backdoor into England to any European monarch. In 1541, Stefan von Haschenperg replaced the keep's medieval battlements with gun embrasures. He backed the inner bailey walls to the north and west with ramparts wide enough to carry guns, and built the half-moon battery.
To the west of the inner bailey lies the large outer bailey. A ditch, originally waterlogged, separates the two baileys and provided additional defence for the inner bailey. Protruding into this ditch immediately in front of the inner gatehouse is the half-moon battery built in 1542. It comprised a double row of guns; at ground level cannon fire would have raked the outer bailey, whilst below a number of square openings allowed defenders to fire on assailants attempting to cross the ditch.
I’m recording this information because the castle features in my story set in 1546 - Capture A Queen! When Matho and Harry walked into the Gatehouse to meet with Sir Thomas Wharton, the rooms were already 166 years old!
I've toured the castle, bought the booklets, taken photographs, climbed nooky stone stairways and looked at carvings made by prisoners. It all helps to set my characters in believable places.