For over 500 years Corfe was one of the most important royal castles in England, a symbol of mighty power.
Corfe Castle is a fortification standing above the village of the same name on the Isle of Purbeck in the English county of Dorset. Built by William the Conqueror, the castle dates to the 11th century and commands a gap in the Purbeck Hills on the route between Wareham and Swanage.
In 1572, Corfe Castle left the Crown's control when Elizabeth I sold it to Sir Christopher Hatton. Sir John Bankes bought the castle in 1635, and was the owner during the English Civil War. His wife, Lady Mary Bankes, led the defence of the castle when it was twice besieged by Parliamentarian forces. The first siege, in 1643, was unsuccessful, but by 1645 Corfe was one of the last remaining royalist strongholds in southern England and fell to a siege ending in an assault. In March that year Corfe Castle was slighted on Parliament's orders.
It may have been a defensive site even in Roman times and Corfe Castle certainly has had a colourful history. The first castle buildings would have been built of wood. In 979 King Edward was reputedly murdered by his step-mother so that her own son Ethelred the Unready could become King of England. In the latter half of the 11th Century the Castle was rebuilt in stone by William the Conqueror and for the next six hundred years was a royal fortress used by the monarchs of England and latterly their constables.
By 1572 warfare had changed and Corfe Castle was sold by Queen Elizabeth I to Sir Christopher Hatton, her dancing master and favourite. In 1635 the Castle was bought by Sir John Bankes, who was Lord Chief Justice, as an occasional private residence.
As trouble brewed for Charles I, the Bankes family took up permanent residence. By 1643 most of Dorset was occupied by the Parliamentarians, and Lady Bankes and her supporters successfully withstood a six week long siege. Sir John Bankes died in 1644 and the family endured a series of half-hearted blockades by Parliamentary forces. Late in 1645 Colonel Bingham Governor of Poole started a second siege, and treachery by one of the garrison allowed a Parliamentary force into the castle in February 1646. The Roundheads allowed the family to leave the Castle and then it was systematically destroyed by Parliamentary sappers.
Corfe Castle Opening Times
January – March: 10am to 4pm
April – September: 10am to 6pm
October: 10am – 5pm
November – December: 10am to 4pm
Address: The Square, Corfe Castle, Dorset, BH20 5EZ