Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle, Dorset


The Square, Corfe Castle.




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Corfe Castle is one of the most symbolic castles in all of England.

The hill upon which it is built and nearby fields were occupied as early at 6000 years BC, from people who have crossed the dry land bridge from Europe. Later Celts, then Romans, Vikings and later still Saxons, all occupied Corfe.

~ History ~

400's ~ Following the last of the Roman legions leaving Corfe as part of their withdrawal from Britannia, the raiding Saxons made Corfe a place to settle. They too are later victim to sea raids by plundering Danes.

875 ~ The Saxon King Alfred forces an agreement with Hubba the Dane in order to cease centuries of raids and warfare. However, within two years of a peace treaty being secured, it is broken, resulting in a sea battle near Swanage. Attacked by Alfred's fleet as well as a massive storm, 120 Viking ships are sunk. In order to prevent further attacks by the Danes, King Alfred orders that a permanent castle be built at "Corffe's Gate".

978 ~ King Edward, son of King Edgar, just three years into his reign, is assassinated upon arriving at Corfe Castle to visit his step-mother Elfrida, who has arranged his murder in order to see her own son Ethelred, secure the throne. This act triggers war and with it the return of Danish raids. Elfrida has a palace built within the walls of Corfe Castle.

1106 ~ King Henry I, who had been swiftly crowned King of England six years earlier following the suspicious death of his brother William Rufus, in a hunting accident where he was killed by an arrow,  defeats his older brother Robert, Duke of Normandy at the Battle of Tinchebray. He now also adds Normandy as a possession of the English crown. Captured after the battle, Robert is imprisoned in Corfe Castle, before being moved to Devizes Castle for the next twenty years, and then seeing out the remainder of his days in Cardiff.

1138 ~ During the civil war known as "the Anarchy", King Stephen besieges Corfe Castle and its custodian Baldwin de Redvers, who is loyal to his rival Empress Matilda. He is eventually forced to raise the siege.

1202 ~ King John, four years into his reign, decides that his nephew Prince Arthur of Brittany, is a threat to his reign and at the Chateau de Falaise, he has Arthur guarded by Hubert de Burgh. He then orders Hubert to have two of his servants to blind and castrate the Arthur. Hubert de Burgh refuses to let him be mutilated.The following year Arthur is transferred to Rouen, under the charge of the Kings favourite William de Braose

After King John had captured Arthur and kept him alive in prison for some time, at length in the castle of Rouen after dinner on the Thursday before Easter when he was drunk and possessed by the Devil, he slew him with his own hand, and tying a heavy stone to the body cast it into the Seine. It was discovered by a fisherman in his net, and being dragged to the bank and recognised, was taken for secret burial….’

Arthur's elder sister and his niece Eleanor is also John's prisoner. She together with twenty-five French nights are taken and imprisoned in Corfe Castle, where twenty-two of them are starved to death. Eleanor is well treated and has William, King of Scotland's daughters as companions in their confinement.

1204 ~ With King John's loss of Normandy and Corfe Castle's location close to the south coast, he orders building work to be carried out on the castle. This work continues for the next ten years.

1208 ~ William de Braose quarrels with King John following his wife Maud's indiscreet comments regarding the murder of King John's nephew Arthur of Brittany. The King uses a debt as his excuse that William's son be sent to him as a hostage for his continued loyalty. William's wife Maud refuses, and states loudly within earshot of the King's officers that "she would not deliver her children to a king who had murdered his own nephew." 

The response King John quickly leads troops to the Welsh border and seizes all of the castles that belong to William de Braose. Maud and her eldest son William flee to Ireland, where they find refuge at Trim Castle with the powerful de Lacys.

1210 ~ King John sends an expedition to Ireland. Maud and her son escape but are apprehended by the Earl of Carrick.

After being briefly held at Carrickfergus Castle,they were dispatched to Windsor and then the dungeons of Corfe Castle.

Maud and her son are both starved to death.Her husband William de Braose dies a year later in exile in France where he had gone disguised as a beggar to escape King John's wrath after the King declared him an outlaw, following his alliance with Llywelyn the Great, whom he had assisted in open rebellion against the King, an act which John regarded as treason

1214 ~ King John returns to England after his failed campaign in France. He is met with open rebellion by his baron's over his disasterous French campaigns and his treatment of many of his nobles, including Lord and lady de Braose. 

King John uses Corfe Castle to imprison his most powerful and noble prisoners.

1215 ~ King John is at war with his barons and is forced to sign Magna Carta, giving protection and rights to the nobles of the land. As soon as he is strong enough to again take on his Barons, he discards Magna Carta and is again at war.

The following year King John is dead at Newark Castle from dysentery which finally brings Cival War to and end and the release of his prisoners from Corfe Castle.

1221 ~ King John's son, Henry III, but a child when his father died, has long been ruled by the Earl of Pembroke, during a period where baron's had usurpsed royal power. Now in his mid teens King Henry was flexing his royal authority and taking back power from the barons, including Peter de Mauley, Constable of Corfe Castle, which he is forced to surrender to his King upon suspicion of treason and a period of imprisonment.

1222 ~ Eleanor of Brittany, the long inprisoned sister to Prince Arthur, is finally released from Corfe Castle for Gloucester.

1230 ~ Peter de Mauley returns into the Kings favour and is once again Constable of Corfe Castle.

1264 ~ Under the leadership of Simon de Montfort, the Baron again rebel against the King, culminating in his defeat at the Battle of Lewes. One of their demands is that Corfe Castle is delivered to them.

1265 ~ Parliament restores Corfe Castle to King Henry's son and heir, Prince Edward.

1266 ~ Prince Edward defeats de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham and with it King Henry's royal authority is restored.

1275 ~ Simon de Montfort's son, Amauri, is captured off the coast of South Wales whilst bringing his sister Eleanor to marry Llywelyn, Prince of Wales. Whilst Eleanor, King Edward I's cousin, is accepted into the Royal court, Amauri is imprisoned at Corfe Castle.

1326 ~ King Edward II is deposed and imprisoned for a short while at Corfe Castle, before being transferred to Berkely Castle where he meets a grizzly death. By this time Corfe Castle was is in sad state of repairs.

1356 ~ King Edward III ensures that urgent repairs over the next twenty years are made to the crumbling castle.

1461 ~ With the accession to the throne as King Edward IV, the Lancastrian custodian of Corfe is relieved of the Castle and placed into the hands of the King's youngest brother, the future King Richard III.

1496 ~ King Henry VII visits Corfe Castle and orders Parliament pay £2,000 for its repair and readiness for the residence of his mother, Margaret,Countess of Richmond.

1536 ~ King Henry VIII's illegitimate son, the Duke of Richmond and Somerset, dies and his castle reverts back to his father.

1522 ~ The young King Edward IV is ruled by his uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, who has acquired Corfe Castle. Upon his execution the castle once more reverts to the Crown.

1572 ~ Queen Elizabeth sells Corfe Castle and its estates for £4,761 to Sir Christopher Hatton. Twenty years after his death the castle and estates pass to his nephew and heir, who gives the castle to his wife, the Lady Elizabeth Cecil.

1635 ~ The Lord Chief Justice, Sir John Bankes purchases Corfe Castle.

1643 ~ Under King Charles I, England is at Cival War. Corfe Castle is besieged by Parliament with its Lord, Sir John Bankes, absent in York and later Oxford with the King. His wife the Lady Bankes receives advance warning and is able to withstand the siege. Parliement resort to making threats to burn the houses of Lady Bankes tenants in Corfe, who had joined her in her defence of the castle.Eventually she is forced to sign a treaty to surrender four small cannon and a cease fire. During this period she is able to restock supplies and recruit the assistance for Prince Maurice and the Marquis of Hertford. Despite Parliament sending more men, cannon's and siege engines, the castle holds out as the siege is renewed.

Over a period of six weeks more than one hundred Parliamentary soldiers are killed, compared to just two in of the garrison.

1645 ~ Parliament orders the blockade of Corfe Castle once more, as it is by now the only Royalist stronghold holding out between Exeter and London.

1646 ~ A young Royalist officer, Colonel Cromwell, leads a hundred and twenty men from Oxford, disguised as Parliamentary reinforcements, to relieve Lady Banks and her garrison at Corfe Castle. The manage to make it through the lines of siege and present themselves to Lady Banks, offering her the chance of escape, which she refuses.

The siege is finally broken by an act of treachery by one of the Royalist garrison, who allows disguised Parliamentary troops from nearby Lulworth Castle, under cover of night, to enter Corfe. Lady Bankes is allowed to keep the seal and keys to teh castle in recognition of her bravery. Later the same year Parliament orders the castle to be slighted, demolished with gunpowder and picks.