To trace Corfe Castle back in time requires going back a long way. Although the castle as you can see it today
dates back only to Norman times there was earlier habitation dating back to the Celts. The location is perhaps
the key to all this. Lying as it does in the gap along the Purbeck range it is a key strategic point for protecting
the whole region.
of the first events to happen here which is remembered in the history books was the murder of King Edward in 978.
Whilst stag hunting to the north in Wareham Forest he was invited to Corfe by his stepmother Elfthryth. He went
alone and soon after his arrival was attacked. He was stabbed in the back as tradition would have it by his stepmother
who wanted the throne for her son ‘Ethelred the Unready’. but there is no historical evidence of her being directly
involved. Fatally wounded he managed to break through the guard at the gate but, probably due to loss of blood,
he fell from his horse with his foot caught in the stirrup and was dragged towards Wareham. He was found dead later
In the 12th Century the Normans made of Corfe what was to become the strongest fortress in
the country. It was particularly popular with King John. He used it for various reasons eg imprisoning his wife
and hiding his crown jewels. His son Henry spent a considerable amount of money modernising Corfe Castle and used
it for entertaining in style.
When the English Civil War started Corfe Castle was owned by Sir John Bankes who was an ardent Royalist. He
went to war for the King and left his wife, Lady Bankes, defending the castle. She is now perhaps the best known
name to be associated with Corfe Castle and she did her job of defending it with skill. She survived two sieges
in 1643 and 1646. However, as the war drew to a close, the inevitable happened and one of her followers let the
parliamentarians in and they took the castle. In some ways this was a better ending than allowing for the possibility
of a war of attrition against such a stronghold. But it was Corfe Castle’s very strength which then led Parliament
to decide in favour of its destruction. Engineers were brought in to do the deed and succeeded in damaging it enough
for it no longer to be a threat. They left it much as it was in 1981 when it finally was released by the Bankes
family and bequeathed to the National Trust who own it today.