Some castles like Carnarfon are built to impress the natives, others such as Sherborne are built to impress the owner's piers. Carisbrooke Castle is not like that. This is a castle built first and foremost for defence.
And for good reason. The Isle of Wight has long been seen as offering a beachhead to potential invaders, particularly the French and Spanish who targeted the island many times. The last time being in 1778.
Although the site looks like the classic location for an Iron Age hill fort, there is no evidence of occupation before the sixth century. The original Saxon walled enclosure was buried under a Norman motte and bailey castle and later Medieval fortifications. These were then surrounded by a massive Elizabethan artillery fort, built following Spanish invasion scares in 1596 and 1597 (the decade after the Spanish Armada of 1588).
In most castles, the buildings inside the walls either lie in ruins, or have been incorporated into later Georgian and Victorian structures. Carisbrooke has a pleasing mixture of ruins, Medieval and Tudor buildings and some more modern buildings and reconstructions. It is very easy to imagine what the castle might have been like in Medieval times.
One of the surviving early buildings is the Well House, and Carisbrooke, of course, is famous for its donkeys. At the time of my visit (2014) there were four of them, who each spend a maximum of six minutes a day turning the treadwheel. However, by the look on Jill's face, listening to the talk was equally burdensome. Mind you donkeys aren't exactly known for their cheerfulness.
Ironically within two years of the Elizabethan defences being completed, peace was made with Spain, and the castle had to find other rolls. After a spell as a supply depot and arsenal, in 1647 it became a prison of sorts. Only one prisoner, mind you, King Charles I who was held here for ten months prior to his execution. Two of Charles's children were held here after his death. Princess Elizabeth, who died of a chill within a week of arriving, and ten year old Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who was held for three years before being allowed to join his family in exile.
From then on, as well as its residual military use as a storage depot, it was used, from time to time as a grace and favour residence by the island's governors. However, it slowly deteriorated until Queen Victoria's daughter Princess Beatrice took an interest, and started to restore it. In 1913 she decided to move from Osborne House to Carisbrooke and lived there until 1938.
The old Privy Garden has recently been redesigned by Chris Beardshaw and is now known as the Princess Beatrice Garden.
At the time of my visit (2014) a very fine half size bronze sculpture of General Astride Warrior by Philip Blacker was on display in the gardens. It had been loaned to English Heritage for the duration of the First World War centenary, and accompanied an exhibition in the Carisbrooke Castle Museum.
Warrior survived four years on the Western Front leading the famous last cavalry charge at Moreuil Wood in March 1918. Jack Seely's book about this real life War Horse was first published in 1934. A new edition was published in 2011.