A Brief History of Corfe Castle

Jaybex By Jaybex, 23rd Dec 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>Europe>England>Hampshire, Dorset & Wiltshire

Regicide and Revolution, wicked step mothers , imprisoned Princess and knights starved to death. It is Game of thrones on the Jurassic Coast. A brief history of Corfe Castle.

Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle
Corfe Castle is situated in the heart of the Isle of Purbeck in the English county of Dorset and overlooks the village that bears its name. The history of the Castle dates back over 1000 years and has played a part in some of the most important episodes of English history.
The castle was built using the landscape as a part of the defences and helped to shape its reputation as a formidable fortress only conquered through an act of betrayal before its demolition using gunpowder. Today Corfe Castle is owned by the National Trust and has become a popular tourist attraction.

Edward the Martyr
Forever associated with Corfe Castle is the unfortunate King Edward the Martyr, who in the year 978was murdered, it is believed, to place his younger half-brother Ethelred, some stories suggest that it was the Edward’s step-mother Elfrida who had a hand in the assassination in order to place her son on the throne. Edward’s bones were unceremoniously dumped down a well close to the Castle but were later reinterred at Shaftesbury Abbey. He was later canonized St Edward the Martyr his younger half-brother became known rather less favourably as Ethelred the Unready.

The Anarchy
In a period known as ‘The Anarchy’(1139-1153) in what was essentially a fourteen year inter-familial ‘Game of Thrones’ between King Stephen and the rightful heir the Empress Matilda. At the time King Henry the first’s death Matilda was in France and Stephen took the opportunity to seize the Crown with the support of the Norman Barons who opposed the idea of a female on the throne.
Corfe Castle’s role in the Anarchy came when Baldwin de Redvers was tasked with finding a suitable location to base an invasion by Empress Matilda eventually seizing Corfe Castle. King Stephen was quick to react but due to the difficult task of storming the castle prepared for a siege and built a counter castle. Evidence of this can still be seen today as mounds of earth known as the rings are located on a hill only 320 yards from the castle.
Stephen was later captured at the battle of Lincoln and Matilda took control of the country although she was never crowned. Stephens release was part of a prisoner exchange involving Matilda’s half-brother Robert of Gloucester Matilda’s most influential supporter. Robert died six years later forcing Matilda to return to France and handing power back to Stephen. After the death of Stephen’s son Eustace Stephen agreed to name Matilda’s son Henry as heir, he became Henry II in 1154.

King John

In the early thirteenth century King eir.John (the nefarious King of the tale of Robin Hood) was embroiled in a dispute over succession and lands with elder brother Arthur Duke of Brittany who it is believed was to succeed Richard the Lionheart to the English throne. John however took the opportunity to seize the British throne after Richard’s death in 1199 and while the English nobility accepted him the French nobles refused to accept his claim.
In 1202 Arthur had besieged his grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine at Mirebeau Castle. John’s forces came to her aid and took John’s brother, Arthur and Sister Eleanor captive. Eleanor was to remain captive at Corfe Castle for the rest of her life. The same cannot be said for her retinue of whom Twenty five knights were captured and incarcerated at Corfe. After a botched escape attempt twenty two of the knights were recaptured. They were locked into a dungeon and starved to death.

The English Civil War

Further adding to Corfe Castle’s historical importance is the role that it played during the English civil war. The castle was under the ownership of Sir John Bankes who had been ordered by King Charles to travel to York and the castle was left under the stewardship of his wife Lady Mary Bankes. In 1643 Parliamentarian forces began the first of a series of sieges which would last until 1646 due to the Castle’s defences and the fortitude of Lady Mary Banks and her guard. The final siege eventually ended after one of her officers led Parliamentarians in disguise into the Castle forcing her to surrender. Soon after the siege had ended the castle was blown up using gunpowder rendering it useless as a defence or a residence. The effects of this destruction can be seen when approaching the castle as large parts of heavy masonry are scattered around the hill.
The castle remained in the Bankes family until 1982 when it was bequeathed to the National trust.

If you enjoyed this article please click the link for A Brief History of Portchester Castle


Castle, Dorset, England, English Civil War, English Heritage, King, Knights, National Trust, Uk Tourism

Meet the author

author avatar Jaybex
Married father of three beautiful children, studying Classics with the O.U. and help my wife run a small business. Writing mostly about history and heritage.

Share this page

moderator Mark Gordon Brown moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar Legend
9th Jan 2015 (#)

Fascinating and well written

Reply to this comment

author avatar Jaybex
9th Jan 2015 (#)

Thank you very much and thanks for reading.

Reply to this comment

author avatar Retired
16th Feb 2015 (#)

I have a painting of Corfe Castle hanging on my wall - it was a familiar landmark when I lived in the area in my youth!

Reply to this comment

author avatar Jaybex
16th Feb 2015 (#)

Its a beautiful part of the country and one I always enjoy visiting.

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?