Corfe Castle Ruins taken through one of the remaining arches
Corfe Castle National Trust, Corfe, Dorset
Canon EOS 1000D
Corfe Castle has had a long and eventful history. Positioned strategically in the gap between the Purbeck hills, it was perfect for defending inland Dorset against attack from the sea. The surrounding agricultural lands and forests were rich, and could be used to provide food and resources for the Castle. Not surprisingly, therefore, Corfe Castle was a royal fortress for over 600 years.
A King is murdered
In 978, before the present Castle was built, legend has it that King Edward the Martyr was murdered at Corfe by his stepmother who wanted to put her own son, Ethelred ‘the Unready’, on the throne. While stag hunting in the Purbeck forest, Edward paid a visit to Corfe, where Elfryda is said to have offered him a goblet of wine, then treacherously had him stabbed in the back while he drank it.
A castle is built
Corfe Castle was begun by William the Conqueror soon after his arrival in Britain in 1066. It was served by the surrounding community in return for the use of homes and land, as well as shelter in the Castle in times of trouble. Much of the Isle of Purbeck was a Royal Forest so the hunting of game without royal permission was punishable by death.
A state prison
Corfe was one of King John’s favourite castles. Between 1199 and 1216 he added a great many defences. During his troubled reign the castle was often used as a prison, where many prisoners met their deaths. King John also turned Corfe Castle into a comfortable royal residence. There would have been a garden and a kitchen to grow and prepare food for the king’s table.
A private home
From the 14th to the 16th centuries, Corfe Castle was less important as a royal stronghold and often fell into disrepair. In 1572 Queen Elizabeth I sold it to her Lord Chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton, who converted it into a prestigious home, complete with fine furniture, tapestries and silk cushions. In 1635 Corfe Castle was bought by Sir John Bankes.
The Castle is demolished
Following the death of her husband during the Civil War, Lady Mary Bankes successfully defended the castle during a siege in 1643. During a second siege in 1646 an act of betrayal by a member of her garrison led to their capture. They deliberately demolished the castle resulting in the dramatic ruin you see today.Much of the missing stone can be found in the houses of Corfe Castle Village.
Corfe Castle and The National Trust
The task of The National Trust today is to protect and strengthen what remains of the Castle. Archaeological excavations are being used to reveal more of the castle’s past. Corfe Castle is part of the huge Kingston Lacy estate left to The National Trust in 1981 by Ralph Bankes, a direct descendant of Sir John Bankes.