Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight /ËˆaÉªl É™v ËˆwaÉªt/ is a county and the largest and second-most populous island in England. It is located in the English Channel, about 4 miles (6 km) off the coast of Hampshire, separated by the Solent. The island has resorts that have been holiday destinations since Victorian times, and is known for its mild climate, coastal scenery, and verdant landscape of fields, downland and chines.
The island has been home to the poets Swinburne and Tennyson and to Queen Victoria, who built her much-loved summer residence and final home Osborne House at East Cowes. It has a maritime and industrial tradition including boat building, sail making, the manufacture of flying boats, the hovercraft, and Britain’s space rockets. The island hosts annual music festivals including the Isle of Wight Festival, which, in 1970, was the largest rock music event ever held. It has well-conserved wildlife and some of the richest cliffs and quarries for dinosaur fossils in Europe.
The Isle was owned by a Norman family until 1293 and was earlier a kingdom in its own right. The island has played an important part in the defence of the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth, and been near the front-line of conflicts through the ages, including the Spanish Armada and the Battle of Britain. Rural for most of its history, its Victorian fashionability and the growing affordability of holidays led to significant urban development during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The island was part of Hampshire until 1890 when it became its own administrative county, but continued to share the Lord Lieutenant until 1974 when it became a ceremonial county. Apart from a shared police force, there is now no administrative link with Hampshire, although a combined local authority with Portsmouth and Southampton is being considered. Until 1995 the island had a governor.[n 1]
The quickest public transport link to the mainland is the hovercraft from Ryde to Southsea, while three ferry and two catamaran services cross the Solent to Southampton, Lymington and Portsmouth.
Formation and early history
During the Ice Age, sea levels were lower and the Solent was part of a river flowing south east from current day Poole Harbour towards mid-Channel. As sea levels rose, the river valley became flooded, and the chalk ridge line west of the Needles breached to form the island.
The first inhabitants are assumed to have been hunter-gatherers migrating by land during the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age period, as the ice age began to recede. From the Neolithic era onwards, there are indications that the island had wide trading links, with a port at Bouldnor, evidence of Bronze Age tin trading, and finds of Late Iron Age coins.
Caesar reported that the Belgae took the Isle of Wight in about 85 BC and gave its name as Vectis. The Roman historian Suetonius mentions that the island was captured by the commander Vespasian. The Romans built no towns or roads on the island, but the remains of at least seven Roman villas have been found, indicating the prosperity of local agriculture.
During the Dark Ages the island was settled by Jutes as the pagan kingdom of Wihtwara under King Arwald. In 685 it was invaded by Caedwalla, who tried to replace the inhabitants with his own followers. In 686 Arwald was defeated and the island became the last part of English lands to be converted to Christianity, added to Wessex and then becoming part of England under Alfred the Great, included within the shire of Hampshire.
It suffered especially from Viking raids, and was often used as a winter base by Viking raiders when they were unable to reach Normandy. Later, both Earl Tostig and his brother Harold Godwinson (who became King Harold II) held manors on the island.
The Norman Conquest of 1066 created the position of Lord of the Isle of Wight, the island being given by William the Conqueror to his kinsman William FitzOsbern. Carisbrooke Priory and the fort of Carisbrooke Castle were then founded. Allegiance was sworn to FitzOsbern rather than the king; the Lordship was subsequently granted to the de Redvers family by Henry I, after his succession in 1100.
For nearly 200 years the island was a semi-independent feudal fiefdom, with the de Redvers family ruling from Carisbrooke. The final private owner was the Countess Isabella de Fortibus, who, on her deathbed in 1293, was persuaded to sell it to Edward I. Thereafter the island was under control of the English crown and its Lordship a royal appointment.
The island continued to be attacked from the continent, raided in 1374 by the fleet of Castile, and in 1377 by French raiders who burned several towns, including Newtown, and laid siege to Carisbrooke Castle before they were defeated.
Early modern period
Under Henry VIII, who developed the Royal Navy and its Portsmouth base, the island was fortified at Yarmouth, Cowes, East Cowes, and Sandown.
The French invasion on 21 July 1545 (famous for the sinking of the Mary Rose on the 19th) was repulsed by local militia.
During the English Civil War, King Charles fled to the Isle of Wight, believing he would receive sympathy from the governor Robert Hammond. But Hammond imprisoned the king in Carisbrooke Castle.