"The visitor, for whom such a book as this is especially prepared, generally has but little time to spare for reading when bent upon sight-seeing, and he shall not be troubled with all the speculations which have been indulged in by antiquarians as to the origin and history of the “Garden Isle.’ This guide would not, however, be complete without some notes on the history of the Isle of Wight and its inhabitants.
There can be no doubt that it was known to the Phoenician merchants centuries before the Christian era. Herodotus, about the year 430 before Christ, spoke of the ancient Britons as the “Celtae,” who “were the furthest people in Europe, after the Cynetae, towards the setting sun.” Aristotle also, about B.C. 330, refers to the British Isles as Albion and Ierne, and in the days of the Caesars the Islanders, as the rest of the ancient Britons, dwelt in circular excavations in the earth. These ground wigwams were roofed with branches of trees, thatched with turf and straw, the architectural skill of our forefathers of those days not being quite so advanced as that of the builders of the mud huts of the New Forest fifty and a hundred years ago. We have the authority of Caesar, Dion Cassius, Strabo, and Tacitus that such were the dwellings of the Britons in their days. About four miles from Newport, in a south-westerly direction, are now to be seen the remains of two ancient villages, Rowborough and Gallibury. They consist of about sixty pits or huts, divided into two portions. The diameter of these pits varies from 15 feet by 15 feet, to 55 feet by 46 feet, and their depth from one foot to seven feet. The majority are oval in shape, the rest being round, and to all appearance a few seemed to be joined together, forming double houses. About a mile from these two villages are the remains of another ancient settlement reaching from Newbarns Down into a valley encircled by hills. In this valley are thirty-four large pits and sixty or seventy smaller ones. A great number of remains of human and other animals have been found in these pits, and in various parts have been unearthed stone spear heads and bronze celts, some of which are now to be seen at the British Museum and at museums at Ryde and Newport.
History informs us that it was Vespasian who first brought the Isle of Wight into the subjection of the Roman Empire, when Consular Lieutenant for Claudius Caesar. Passing over from France Gaul into the south of England, he fought thirty battles, and conquered two powerful British tribes, the Damnonii and Belgaee, subduing the Isle of Wight, and capturing twenty British towns. The Romans called the Isle of Wight Vectis, a name it has retained to this day. In the year 296, the Britons having defied the power of the Romans for some ten or a dozen years, Cesar himself came over to bring the islanders again into subjection.
In his history of the Isle of Wight, written in 1615 by Sir John Oglander, appears the following: “it is, and hath been, a tax laid on this island, that it never produces any extraordinary fair handsome women, or a man of any super-eminent gifts in wit or wisdom, or a horse excellent for goodness.” Whatever may have been the quality of the beauty of the women of the Isle of Wight in the seventeenth century, it is evident that the women of these north-western isles were not bad looking in the days of the Caesars, for we are told that when the British girls who had been taken to Rome as trophies of their victories were seen in the public thoroughfares and the bystanders were told that they were Angles (alluding to the Angle-land from which they had been taken), the reply was that they must be Angels, so beautiful were their countenances. In this matter, of course, the whole of our English women can claim the credit, and we suppose the Isle of Wight “produces” as ”extraordinary handsome women” as any other part of Great Britain. As to men of “super-eminent gifts in wit and wisdom,” it is not our duty in this book to champion the intellectual genius of the Isle of Wight; our mission is to point out the undisputed beauties with which Nature has so lavishly endowed it.
The name Wight is believed to be from the British word “ gwyth,” a channel, the original name of the Island being “Ynyswith,” the “Channel Island.” It is reported t have been conquered by Cerdic, a Saxon chief (A.D. 530), and during the following six centuries as frequently the scene of incursions and invasions by piratical Danes, who often made its valleys to run with blood. At the Norman Conquest the Island was bestowed byw William on Fitz-Osborne, Earl of Hereford, and for more than two centuries it was governed by feudal lords, who exercised all the rights and privileges of sovereignty. In the year 1293 Isabella de Fortibus, who had reigned as the feudal chief of the Isle of Wight for a decade, ceded her sovereignty of the Island to the crown for a sum of money (6,000 marks) representing the present value of about £60,000. After this the Isle of Wight was governed under the care of wardens. This system of government continued during the reign of the Edwards, after which the former system was again introduced, the first “Lord of the Isle” under the new arrangement being the Earl of Salisbury (William Montacute); and the last of the race of Isle of Wight lords, Sir Edward Woodville, who perished in an expedition against Louis XL Thenceforth a captain or governor was appointed, and the position generally fell to a military officer of distinction, who governed for the crown and was responsible to the crown. The office is now merely honorary, and is held by the Queen’s last son-in-law, H.R.H. Prince Henry of Battenberg, who is also hon. colonel of the Isle of Wight (Princess Beatrice’s) Rifle Volunteers. The connection of the unhappy Charles I. and his family with the Island is the most interesting event of modern times. He was induced to throw himself into Carisbrooke Castle, by the hope that its then Governor, General Hammond, a nephew of his own chaplain, might befriend him. In this hope he was disappointed. Hammond had married a daughter of John Hampden, and was wholly in the other interest. Though The King was received with a great show of outward hospitality and was at first allowed some appearance of liberty, he was in reality treated as a prisoner, he was ultimately confined to his own apartments and closely watched, and after two abortive attempts at escape, was removed to Hurst Castle and thence to London, where he was executed. His children, the Duke of Gloucester and the Princess Elizabeth, were kept in confinement after his death, but they were humanely treated, the only hardship to which they were subjected being that they were deprived of their liberty. Elizabeth died in captivity on the 8th of September, 1650, and was buried in St. Thomas’s Church, Newport, and the young prince was liberated in 1660, by the advice and through the influence of Cromwell. One of the most conspicuous events in this century’s history of the Island was its selection by our beloved Sovereign and the late Prince Consort as a place of residence. The Osborne estate was purchased, and a beautiful marine palace erected on the banks overlooking the Solent and Hampshire coast. "
The Minerva Isle of Wight Pictorial and Guide - circa 1900