The castle itself overlooks the village and it commands a gap in the Purbeck hills between Wareham and Swanage; the location itself has given rise to a long and colourful history.
On the site itself, the oldest surviving structure dates back to the 11th century and the burial mounds suggest the area was occupied as far back as 6000 BC. There is even evidence of a Celtic field system worked by a pre-Roman tribe known as the Durotriges. There is a lot of evidence relating to a pre-Norman stronghold and legend has it that Queen Elfrida had her stepson, King Edward the Martyr, murdered at Corfe in 978, thereby allowing her son Ethelred the Unready to become king.
Did you know – Corfe is the Saxon word for gap.
The parish council is dedicated to King Edward; the church of St Edward is reputed to have been built on the site of a blind woman’s cottage to which Edward’s body was brought following his murder. The church, originally built in the 13th century, had fallen into a state of disrepair by the 1800s and, with the exception of the tower, it was completely demolished and rebuilt in 1859.
The castle was mainly used as a fortress, prison and treasure trove during Norman times; it was ideal for such thanks to its massively thick walls and steep approaches from all sides, which made it one of the most impregnable castles in the kingdom.
Did you know - King John (1166-1216) stashed fifty thousand marks here in preparation for his French campaign.
The Lord Chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton, purchased the castle from Elizabeth I in the 16th century. He then sold the castle Sir John Bankes, the Attorney General to Charles I in 1635. The castle remained in the Bankes family throughout the Civil War; in this time it came under siege twice and was bravely defended by Sir John’s wife, Lady Mary Bankes, who became known as Brave Dame Mary.
During the second siege, however, the castle was betrayed by a member of the garrison and subsequently destroyed by the Parliamentarians.
Following the restoration of Corfe Castle in 1660, the Bankes family regained their property, although they elected not to rebuild the Castle at Corfe.
Did you know - The ruined castle and surrounding land remained with the Bankes family right up until the 1980s when Ralph Bankes gave the entire estate to the National Trust.
You may recall that in 2006 the Trust undertook an urgent three year multi-million pound restoration project for Corfe Castle. During this period an ‘appearance door’ was found in the keep. This was designed for Henry I, and this door was actually quite significant. It actually indicated that Corfe Castle would have been even more important than was previously thought. It has been said that it would actually appear to be one of the most important castles in the whole of England. The project was completed successfully in early 2009 and full public access has now been restored.
If you are interested in learning more, seeing the castle for yourself, being entertained with a live demonstration, or perhaps you want to see how the castle would have appeared before its destruction by the Parliamentarians, then we strongly recommend that you head to Corfe Castle Model Village. This is built on a 1/20 scale the model seeks to show the castle and village as it was in 1645.
This article highlights just one of the many sites and attractions for you to check out when you stay at the Castleton Hotel in Swanage.
For all general enquiries and bookings, please call a member of our team today.