• Lucy

Corfe Castle (Dorset, England)

Updated: Jan 15, 2019



Corfe Castle is a breathtaking ruin now managed by the National Trust.


Established by William the Conqueror soon after the Norman Conquest of 1066, the castle is built on a steep hill in a gap between chalk hills created due to water erosion from two streams around it. Corfe Castle is unusual in that it seems the initial phase of construction included stone, whereas in most castles the first structure was made of timber and subsequently replaced by a masonry structure in later development.

William's son Henry I built the stone keep during the early 12th Century. As the chalk of the hills that the castle stood upon was unsuitable for building, it was instead made with Purbeck limestone that was quarried a few miles away.


The castle withstood a siege from the king himself during the 1139 civil war of King Stephen's reign. Earthworks suggest that King Stephen constructed a siege castle to the south/south-west of the castle.


Extensive construction of other towers, halls and walls occurred during the reigns of John (1199 - 1216) and Henry III (1216 - 1272), both of whom kept Eleanor, rightful Duchess of Brittany who posed a potential threat to their crowns, in confinement at Corfe until 1222. It was Henry III who ordered in 1244 that Corfe's keep should be whitewashed.


The castle remained a royal fortress until sold by Elizabeth I in 1572 to her Lord Chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton. The castle was then bought by Sir John Bankes, Attorney General to Charles I, in 1635.


The English Civil War broke out in 1642, and by 1643 most of Dorset was under Parliamentarian control. While Bankes was in Oxford with the king his men held Corfe Castle in the royal cause. During this time his wife, Lady Mary Bankes, resided at the castle with their children. The Parliamentarian forces numbered between 500 and 600 and began a more thorough siege; it went on for six weeks until Lady Bankes was relieved by Royalist forces.


During the siege the defenders suffered two casualties while there were at least 100 deaths among the besieging force! (This brings to mind Lady Brilliana Harley of Brampton Bryan Castle in Shropshire, who defended her home for 3 months from a Royalist siege in 1643... there were tenacious women on both sides!)


In 1645 Corfe Castle was captured and Lady Bankes and the garrison were allowed to leave. In March that year, Parliament voted to slight (demolish) the castle, hence the current ruinous state. Later a substantial amount of masonry was taken from the site and used in the surrounding village.


In the present day the castle is an imposing presence, with collapsed masonry and towers and a distinct air of decay. The part that stands out to me is the gatehouse into the inner ward, which is totally collapsed and now entered through a walkway that almost touches the arch of the gate.


Photos taken March 2018


And I am super happy that the new Wix format finally allows galleries again!

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