Another in our England’s Ancient Castle series, Corfe Castle, not far from the coast in Dorset, is another of the first castles ordered built by William the Conqueror. It is reputedly one of the earliest to be built at least partially of stone (the first part of the castle was in stone). Because most castles built at that time were wooden motte and bailey structures, Corfe’s partial stone construction shows it was of some importance at that time.
Like many Norman castles, Corfe was built on or near the site of an early Anglo-Saxon hall—postholes from that earlier structure can still be found there. That Anglo-Saxon dwelling may have housed the wife of Edgar, sources said
Corfe was in an important defensive location. Situated on top of a natural hill, it overlooked a picturesque valley—and a strategic pass. A wall was built around the base of the hill. Within that space, were two additional baileys. Eventually, a village of the same name as the castle grew up at the bottom of the hill.
Not only was the castle an important defensive structure, it served as a ‘prison’ site for some political hostages. King John reportedly kept both Margaret of Scotland and Isobel of Scotland there for a time.
And here’s a bit of interesting information from one source. Especially for those who’ve followed John’s maneuvering to obtain the English throne after the death of his brother, Richard the Lionheart.
One of John’s major threats to obtaining the throne lay in his nephew, Arthur of Brittany. Historians believe John had the teen aged Arthur killed. But Arthur’s sister, Eleanor, “The Fair Maid of Brittany”, could have proven a threat to John as well, so he reportedly kept her prisoner.
History doesn’t record (at least that’s been found as yet) what ever happened to Eleanor. Speculation from some say she was committed to a convent. But according to one source, Eleanor was held hostage at Corfe for a time.
Back to the castle’s history. Corfe remained under royal control until Elizabeth I sold it to her Lord Chancellor. Later, under Charles I’s reign, Sir John Bankes purchased it. When the English Civil War came, Sir John remained with the King and the castle remained under Royalist control. Sir John’s wife, Lady Mary Bankes, successfully defended the castle against a lengthy siege. A later attack found her defeated through treachery, although she and the defenders were allowed to leave, a source reported.
A few months later, Parliament voted to demolish (slight) Corfe. The stones were thereafter used for buildings in the town. However, the castle had been constructed and reinforced so thoroughly that the ‘slighting’ still left considerable walls standing.
The castle remained in disrepair until the 20th century, when the then-owner of the property died, leaving his entire estate to the government. Repairs were made on the old keep and visitors are now able to visit the ruins, which are registered historic monuments.
Don’t forget to visit the other ladies of Medieval Monday, Mary Morgan and Anastasia Abboud.