Romans, Reivers and Royalty

Carlisle Castle proclaims to be the most besieged fortress in the whole of Britain.

This is mainly because of its location – on the border between Scotland and England, quite a contested area.

The castle sits on the site of the ancient Roman fort of Luguvalium, built in around 78 AD, which was a major stronghold on the western side of Hadrian’s Wall.

Over the next 900 years, the castle has seen a grand total of 10 sieges ranging from Scottish invasions (quite a few!) to rebellion against the king and from civil wars to the Jacobite uprising in 1745.

In 1568, Mary Queen of Scots fled to England after being removed from the Scottish throne by the nobility there, thinking that her cousin, Elizabeth 1, would support her. She remained at the castle for 2 months under protective custody, however, things didn’t quite turn out as she expected. She was eventually executed in 1587 under order of Elizabeth 1.

Another notable prisoner was William Armstrong of Kinmont, a notorious Border reiver who was imprisoned in the castle in 1596.

Er…what exactly is a reiver?

Due to ongoing wars between England and Scotland – the border region became a sort of lawless state…a ‘wild west’ if you like. Families from either side initially banded together for self-defence but then began to pillage and rob from people on the other side! Their name became synonymous for lawlessness and terror – the ‘reivers’.

Interestingly, many Border reiver surnames are still common use today – Armstrong, Carr, Henderson, Murray, Nixon, Reed, Taylor, Young….to name a few!

While at the castle, have a look at the doodles on the walls of one of the upstairs galleries. These are quite mysterious…. but it is assumed that they were carved by 2 bored prison guards!

Doodle bug

Today the castle is run by English Heritage and is also the site of the Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life which relates the history of the local regiment.

For information on the castle, have a look here

Just across the road (access via the subway just outside the castle entrance) is the Tullie House Museum which has excellent displays on the Romans (in the basement) and on the first floor, there is a detailed exhibit about the Border reivers, including a map with surnames!

The restaurant is also excellent! 🙂

One of the displays at the Tullie House Museum

Another site worth visiting is the Carlisle Cathedral, which I mentioned in the previous blog The Divine Gem of Carlisle

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