Carlisle always was and always will be a border City. Hadrian's Wall passed through here before terminating to the west at Bowness-on-Solway. When the Normans arrived, under the command of William Rufus in 1092 a small town clustered on the River Eden here. He built the first Castle on the bluff above the River. During the Anarchy the whole of modern day Cumbria was occupied by the Scots, taking advantage of the chaos in the south. In 1157 Henry II made the Scots withdraw from the area. Less than 20 years later they were back under the command of William the Lion, taking advantage of yet another period of chaos in England. He laid siege to the Castle for three months, but never gained entrance. William was subsequently captured at Alnwick in Northumberland and Carlisle came back under English control.
During this siege the keep (pictured right) was described as "old" and has been attributed to Henry I, although it may have been the work of King David of Scotland. It is unusually squat and rather ugly, and doesn't look much like Henry's other keeps, so it could well be David's work.
In 1216 with England once more torn apart by war, this time against King John, King Alexander II arrived and took both the City and the Castle, only to be thrown out again when order was restored in England. Henry III subsequently added the curtain walls and the outer gatehouse (pictured left).
Edward I, having thoroughly subdued the Welsh, turned his attention to Scotland. He died on his way to the Solway Firth and, despite wishing his body to be taken into battle, it was returned to Carlisle Castle before heading south for burial. After his son, the rather useless Edward II, was routed at Bannockburn by Robert the Bruce Carlisle became a cherry ripe for picking.
Robert arrived in 1315 and laid siege once more. Again, he never succeeded in capturing the Castle. Black Douglas sacked the City twice during Richard II's reign, but the Castle was never taken. Henry VIII, recognising a need to keep Carlisle safe, added the inner gatehouse and refortified the whole City (he was responsible for the magnificent gates of the "Citadel" which stand in the centre of town).
In 1645 the Castle was besieged by Parliament's Scottish allies and once more the Castle was taken. One hundred years later a repeat performance was carried out, this time with Bonnie Prince Charlie taking the Castle. However, as the Jacobites retreated the Castle was easily retaken by the Duke of Cumberland. The fighting here was the last to take place on English soil.
Considering this long history of violence and destruction, it is astonishing that Carlisle Castle is so well preserved, even if it is a little bleak and ugly. The City is one of England's undiscovered treasures and the Castle is owned by English Heritage and open all year.
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