Things to see and Do

Characters of the Castle

In its 900-year history Carlisle Castle has played host to an array of exciting characters, including royalty and feisty border reivers. Some were imprisoned in the castle keep, others dramatically rescued from inside its walls, and some have even died here. Discover more about these fascinating characters and the history of the castle, in the exhibition.


David I of Scotland was a 12th-century ruler who held Carlisle Castle during the long Scottish occupation of the northern counties. After Henry I's death in 1135, Carlisle and Cumberland were retaken by David I (reigned 1124-53) who, according to the Huntingdon Chronicle, built 'a very strong keep' there.

It is possible that he was completing work begun by Henry I, and the dating of Carlisle's keep remains an open question. David died at the castle on May 24 1153 at the age of 69.

David I of Scotland
David I of Scotland


Mary, Queen of Scots (1542–87), fled from her rebellious subjects to England in May 1568. She was brought to Carlisle Castle by order of Elizabeth I, who was reluctant to receive her exiled cousin in the south of England.

As Elizabeth's nearest relative Mary was the heir-apparent to the throne of England. She was also a Catholic and an ally of the French: on all these grounds, she was highly dangerous.

Mary was lodged in the 'Warden's Tower', later known as Queen Mary's Tower, with a small court. She borrowed money from the city's merchants to support herself, but the main cost of keeping her household, averaging £56 a week, fell on Queen Elizabeth.

Sir Francis Knollys, ordered to keep watch over her, allowed her to walk on the 'Lady's Walk' in front of the castle, but banned her from hunting. Eventually, she was taken by Lord Scrope, the then Lord Warden of the West March, to Bolton Castle in Yorkshire, one of his seats. Four carriages, twenty packhorses and twenty-three riding horses were needed to transport her household.

Find out more about Mary’s imprisonment at the castle.

Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots


The castle was also used as a prison for border reivers. A famous incident in its history was the rescue of the notorious reiver William Armstrong of Kinmont, known as 'Kinmont Willie', from the castle. A large armed group of his friends broke into the castle using ladders and freed him on 13 April 1596.

The ‘Ballad of Kinmont Willie’ retells the story of this dramatic rescue and is featured in the exhibition, using 15 local voices who took part in an open-mic event at the castle.

See more things to see and do at Carlisle Castle. Plan your visit today.