Douglases in Carlisle

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Carlisle Castle Carlisle Castle   siege of Carlisle  

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Carlisle Castle was first built during the reign of William II of England, the son of William the Conqueror who invaded England in 1066. At that time, Cumberland (the original name for north and west Cumbria) was still considered a part of Scotland. William II ordered the construction of a Norman style motte and bailey castle in Carlisle on the site of the old Roman fort of Luguvalium, dated by dendrochronology to 72AD, with the castle construction beginning in 1093. The need for a castle in Carlisle was to keep the northern border of England secured against the threat of invasion from Scotland. In 1122, Henry I of England ordered a stone castle to be constructed on the site. Thus a keep and city walls were constructed. The existing Keep dates from somewhere between 1122 and 1135.

The act of driving out the Scots from Cumberland led to many attempts to retake the lands. The result of this was that Carlisle and its castle would change hands many times for the next 700 years. The first attempt began during the troubled reign of Stephen of England.

On 26 March 1296, John 'The Red' Comyn, since the fourth quarter of 1295 Lord of Annandale, led a Scottish host across the Solway to attack Carlisle. The then governor of the castle, one Robert de Brus, deposed Lord of Annandale, successfully withstood the attack, before forcing the raiders to retreat back through Annandale to Sweetheart Abbey.

•  Sir William Douglas, Lord of Nithsdale, a man of apparently dashing bearing, was with the Franco-Scots army when it unsuccessfully besieged Carlisle Castle in 1385, the defending Governor being Lord Clifford. He is recorded as there performing feats of valour and killing many Englishmen.
•  Bishop John Douglas
 (July 14, 1721 – May 18, 1807) was a Scottish scholar and  bishop. As chaplain to the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards, he was at the Battle of Fontenoy, 1745, where he was employed in carrying orders from general Campbell to a detachment of English troops.. He then returned to Balliol as a Snell exhibitioner; became Vicar of High Ercall, Shropshire in 1750; Canon of Windsor in 1762; Bishop of Carlisle in 1787 (and also Dean of Windsor in 1788); and Bishop of Salisbury in 1791.
•  Sir William Douglas of Kelhead was Governor of Carlisle. He was appointed the city's Governor following the seige of Carlisle in 1645.
•  Mary, second daughter and co-heir of James Douglas, M.D., of Carlisle, third son of Sir William Douglas, bart., of Kilhead. (as above?)
•  The Scots suffered defeat at the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542, fought close to Carlisle. Sir James Douglas, 7th of Drumlanrig was taken prisoner following the battle  His keeper was the Master Customar of Carlisle. (But see below)
•  Initially James Douglas, 2nd earl of Queensberry was a supporter of the Scottish national covenant. However, in 1645 he changed his allegiance to the king. He set out to join Montrose after his victory at Kilsyth, but on the way was captured and taken prisoner to Carlisle.
•  James Douglas of Drumlanrig;  the Master Customar of Carlisle (But see above)

Mary Queen of Scots’ imprisonment at Carlisle Castle

Mary spent just eight weeks at Carlisle Castle, from 18 May to 13 July 1568, with Sir Francis Knollys as her custodian. Although Mary was permitted to take walks outside the castle walls with her ladies, and walk the stretch of castle walls that later became known as ‘the lady’s walk’, the other limitations placed upon her movements (such as the fact that she couldn’t travel elsewhere or receive guests without the permission of Elizabeth I) were a foreshadowing of the long years of imprisonment to come.

Mary was kept in what became known as Queen Mary’s Tower, which was largely demolished in 1834 due to its unsafe condition and is now a ruin. As the original Norman entrance this was one of the oldest parts of the castle. Mary arrived after a four-hour crossing of the Solway Firth with her retinue, and she expected that her stay at the castle would be a short one – believing she was simply awaiting the help of her cousin Elizabeth I who would help her to regain the throne. Sadly for Mary, this ill-advised plan was to lead to her being imprisoned for the rest of her life.

Although Mary wrote to a supporter soon after her arrival that she had been ‘right well received and honourably accompanied and treated’ whether or not she realised it at this point, she was a prisoner, and was being kept under armed guard. Sir Francis Knollys was sent north from London by Elizabeth I to be Mary’s keeper and although he described her as ‘pleasant’ he was under pressure not to allow his royal prisoner to escape.

Mary’s retinue included her faithful friend Mary Seton, who was able to help the queen to maintain her appearance. The cost of keeping the queen and her court at Carlisle was £56 a week, money which was payable by Elizabeth I. Mary’s accommodation was on the south-east corner of the inner ward in a building known as Warden’s Tower (and later, as Queen Mary’s Tower). Despite the conditions, Mary lived in much more sumptuous surroundings than the majority of Elizabeth’s subjects, and a 19th-century text confirmed that the tower was in a better state of repair than the rest of the castle, with richer architecture.

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Last modified: Thursday, 16 January 2020