Corfe Castle sits on a natural hill overlooking the surrounding countryside. The remains of its stone walls and towers have a romantic ambiance. Although it is a ruin, Corfe is a popular tourist destination.
Because of its commanding position, this site has long been fortified. Some believe that it was a fortress in Roman times. It certainly was by Saxon times. Indeed, in 979, the teenage Saxon king Edward came to visit his step-mother at Corfe. In order to make her own son, Ethelred the Unready, king, she had Edward murdered. Edward was quickly buried but about a year later, it was decided to disinter the body and rebury him at Shatesbury Abbey. The body was remarkably preserved and it was concluded that Edward must have been a saint. He was subsequently canonized and is known as St. Edward the Martyr.
The current castle, however, dates from Norman times. Following, the Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror decided to fortify the hill because it defended his links back from England to Normandy. The first Norman fortress was wooden but during the reigns of William, his son and gradson, the wood was replaced by extensive stone battlements.
Corfe was the favorite residence of King John, the villian in the Robin Hood and Ivanhoe legends. He liked luxury and built a gloriette, a palace-like structure, within the fortifications. He also used the castle as a prison for his enemies who included at various times, his wife, his niece and various inconvenient knights.
After some 600 years of being a royal castle, Corfe became a priavate home when it came into the hands of Sir Christopher Hatton in 1572. He was the Dancing Master and favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. She also made him Lord Chief Justice of England although he was not a lawyer and had left Oxford University without a degree. A risk taker, Hatton backed various voyages by Sir Francis Drake. In return, Drake named his ship the Golden Hind, a reference to one of the symbols on Hatton's crest.
The English Civil War brought an end to Corfe. In 1643, Corfe was the seat of the Bankes family who supported the Royalist cause. Parliamentary forces besieged Corfe. Since Sir John Bankes had gone off fight for King Charles I, the defense of the castle was left to his wife Lady Mary. Together with some 80 soldiers, she successfully withstood a six weeks siege.
However, in 1645, the Parliamentary rmy returned and again besieged Corfe. (The remains of the fortress they built nearby as their encampment, known as the Rings, can still be seen). This time the siege lasted for six weeks. It came to an end, when an officer, either by treachery or by mistake, allowed a Parliamentary force disguised as Royalist reinforcements into the castle.
Lady Mary and the family were allowed to leave. However, not wishing to have to hold the castle or risk having to besiege it once again, sappers were ordered to slight Corfe with gunpowder. Their work is how the castle came to be a ruin.
After the restoration of the monarchy, the Bankes family regained ownership of Corfe. However, they decided to live elsewhere. The ruin reamined in their hands until 1982 when it was taken over by the National Trust.
Visitors to Corfe Castle can wander in among the castle's ruins. The massive remains testify to hos strong this castle must have once been. In addition, from the castle mound, you get panoramic views of the Purbeck Hills and of the village below the castle.
The village is a charming English country village. It is built of the local grey Purbeck limestone and has two main streets that join together at a square. There is much t entertain visitors including shops, pubs, restaurants, teahouses and hotels. Yet, it does not have a commercialized look or atmosphere.
Attractions in and around the village include the St. Edward the Martyr Church. It was built in the 13th century. Parliamentary troops swiped the lead from the roof in order to make shot during the Civil War and did considerable damage As a result, the church had to be largely re-built in the 19th century.
There is also a model of the village in the days before the castle became a ruin. The Swanage Railway, which features restored steam locomotives, also stops I the village.
Surrounding the castle and the village is pretty countryside with woodland, rivers and streams.
For more information on visiting Corfe Castle, see the National Trust website.
Cruise destination - England - Dorset - Corfe Castle