Civil War Sieges,
and taking of Corfe Castle
The castle is situated nearly in the centre of the Isle of Purbeck, in
the southwest corner of Dorset and its remains are one of the finest examples
of a Norman castles in southern England.
not really an island but a peninsula bounded on the north and east by Poole
Harbour, to the south by the English Channel and to the west by the rivers
Piddle and Frome.) Situated
in the breathtakingly beautiful and wild Purbeck Hills it rests on a steep and rocky hill
dominating the road from Wareham to Swanage cutting the Purbecks in half so that
access either north or south must pass under itís walls.
The castles history before the Civil War
A building on the site goes back to A.D. 876. At the time of the Saxons it was probably only a strong tower, called 'Corffe's Gate.' During the reign of Edgar íThe Peaceable' 958-975, the castle was greatly extended by Italian stonemasons as it was his principal residence. Edward, his son from his first marriage, succeeded Edgar. His stepmother, Elfrida, vainly opposed the succession of Edward.
On Edgar's death Elfrida was left the castle and in March 978 Edward was hunting nearby, when separated from the rest of the hunters towards evening he visited the castle. Riding up he was greeted by the dowager Queen and and wine was brought for him which while he was drinking he was stabbed in the back by one of her servants. Badly wounded Edward fled but fell off from faintness and was dragged to death. His body was then hidden in a cottage and the next day was then thrown down a well where it was found the next year and buried at the Church of St Mary, Wareham, later it was reburied at Shaftesbury Abbey. The 19 year old Edward became called 'The Martyrí and Elfrida went to a nunnery in shame and her son now ruled, Ethelred 'The Unready'.
With his conquest of England the castle became William 'The Conqueror', property and in the late 11th century the Saxon castle was replaced by a small hall of stone surrounded by a perimeter wall
In AD 1090 the Corfe Castle proper was begun. Henry I developed the castle keep and inner bailey and with his death his daughter Empress Matilda claimed the throne. In 1139 Baldwin de Redvers took the castle in her name and successfully held it when it was besieged by King Stephen it in 1138 and 1139. At its base he constructed a motte and bailey castle, this is still just visible and is know as 'the rings.'
Later it became a favourite residence of King John, due to its inaccessibility, it was also his State prison, here he kept part of his treasure and regalia, and thus it escaped the fiasco at the Wash. John built a hall alongside of the keep called the 'Gloriette'. He also walled the lower part of the hilltop, thus creating the West Bailey, and also dug the 'Great Ditch' along the south side of the inner ward. In 1202 after the siege of Mirabeau Castle, in Poitou, John incarcerated 25 knights at Corfe, 22 of these were starved to death after an attempted escape, and he also kept his niece Eleanor, the 'Maid of Brittany', a prisoner there with royal companions Isabel and Marjory/Margery, daughters of the King of Scotland.
John also imprisoned and then judicially murdered Peter of Pomfret 'The Hermit' who was taken from his dungeon dragged behind a horse to Wareham and hanged. John also expanded the castle, building during 1201-4 an outer curtain wall, domestic ranges, a great hall, and chapel.
An even more ambitious building campaign was done in the reign of Henry III when the lower slopes of the hill were fortified with a curtain wall to make the Outer Bailey. Also were added a gatehouse of two massive towers, with a drawbridge, with a similar one built between the Outer and West Baileys. He even whitewashed the exterior.
Under Edward II the castle was much improved and strengthened but by command of Isabella, and her paramour Mortimer, Edward was imprisoned at the castle for a few weeks by his regicides Sir John Maltravers and Sir John Gournay, before being moved to Berkeley Castle and his murder in 1327.
The castle was now to pass through numerous hands during the Wars of the Roses and the reigns of Henry VII and VIII and then Elizabeth I who gave/sold it to Sir Christopher Hatton who expended large sums improving and restoring the castle which had become dilapidated. The castle passes through other hands until it was sold in 1635 to Sir John Bankes, Lord Chief Justice of England. Bankes used the castle as a second home rather than a fortress spending most of his time in London, leaving the castle in the capable care of his wife, Lady Mary Bankes.
One of the leaders of Dorset, and specifically the Isle of Purbeck, were the Bankesí and they were staunch Royalist.