Discover Corfe Castle the dramatic hilltop ruin in the rolling Dorset countryside
Corfe Castle is one of Britain's atmospheric and iconic castles; the ruins are perched on a hill offering superb views of the surrounding countryside. The panoramic scene from the battlements is amazing; you can see for miles. A vital advantage for Corfe's defenders of the past. Contemporaries described the stronghold as 'the most secure of all of England's Castles'.
The castle is great for picnics, and young children tend to use their imaginations and play games. Corfe has a pretty village to wander through and stop for a pint and maybe lunch.
Let your driver-guide enlighten you with on the tales of Corfe Castle. The castle is a short distance from the stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Jurassic Coast. Stay at luxurious Chewton Glen Hotel and tour the southern region of England.
Protecting England's south coast for over a millennia
A brief history of Corfe Castle
The Isle of Purbeck
The isle of Purbeck is the shape of a rhino's head jutting into the sea. Straight across the middle of the isle, the Purbeck Hills rise like a wall encasing the peninsula. To the north lies the giant natural harbour of Poole, to the south huge white cliffs guard England's southern frontier. But, there is a gap between the hills, a hole in the naturally defensive chalk hills. Two rivers, the Wicken and Byle have sculpted a weakness in southern England's natural defences. The story of Corfe Castle begins with the plugging of that hole.
The site is perfect for a safe settlement, without a doubt there were Iron Age, Roman forts on the site before the Norman Castle. The word 'Corfe' means cutting or pass.
Murder at the castle
The teenage boy King Edward (962-978) was hunting in and around the Purbeck Hills, probably within sight of Corfe Castle (the old Saxon fort). The year was AD 978, and the date was 18th March. Edward arrived at Corfe Castle and greeted by his stepbrother Ethelred and stepmother Elfryda. Nobody will ever know what happened at Corfe that day. Still, we do know that either Elfryda or Ethelred murdered or ordered the killing of King Edward, he was only 15 years old.
The obvious motive is that Elfryda's son would become King, and he did. He wasn't the best King and became known as Ethelred the Unready (meaning ill-advised). King Edward, on the other hand, was buried at Wareham and miracles were attributed to the King and Martyr. By 1001, the church recognised him as a saint.
The Normans under William the Conqueror invaded successfully in 1066 and shore up England's defensives. Corfe needed a Norman makeover; they were brilliant castle builders and their successful colonisation of England was based around expertly built fortifications.
Re-built in stone
During the 12th century under King Henry I, castle's that were built hastily in wood were re-built in stone. King Henry added a very tall keep on to the hill at Corfe, thus raising the tower 250 ft into the air. Now Corfe was a fortress, luxury palace, secure place for valuables and a prison. Kings in those days travelled their realms hearing disputes, made judgements and hunted. Corfe was a place to lodge when times were turbulent. Henry imprisoned his rebellious brother Robert at the castle after his capture in Normandy.
A place to hide treasure
Corfe was so secure that many Kings used it to house treasure. Unfortunately for King Stephen (1135-1154), he found himself on the outside of the walls during a Royal civil war. He built a temporary castle next door and thought he could starve the Earl of Devon out of Corfe. The siege was a failure and King Stephen mover on to easier sieges.
Over time Corfe's role as an impregnable fortress, prison and Royal home ended when the country became politically stable, and the Corfe became a comfortable Tudor home.
The secret of Corfe's strength lies in the way the builders utilised the landscape and enhanced the defensives with deep ditches. In addition to that, the design has concentric walls of stone. Once inside the outer walls, an attacker would need to contend with an additional set of walls protecting the inner sanctum. From the internal walls, archers and crossbowmen would have a clear line of sight.
The English Civil War
A catastrophic conflict rocked the long period of stability. The English Civil War (1642-1651) took place when siege engines had become powerful cannon, the largest of which could reduce a medieval castle's wall relatively quickly. When war broke out, Corfe was in the hands of the Royalist. Unfortunately, the whole of Dorset was overrun with Parliamentarian troops. Sir John Bankes, Charles I lord chief justice was with the King in Oxford, but his wife Mary was in Corfe with her staff.
The Round Head troops had planned to infiltrate a local hunt, luckily for Lady Mary somehow she heard of the plan and closed the gates. A game of cat and mouse ensued with Parliament taking a relaxed view of the situation because only five men and Lady Mary defended the castle. Lady Mary took the advantage, restocked Corfe and recruited men.
Parliaments troops launched a serious attack with six hundred men to only eighty within the walls. The government army pounded the castle walls, but medieval Corfe Castle held out for six weeks and was then relieved by Royalist troops. Lady Bankes lost two men to parliaments hundred or so.
Under attack again
Again Corfe came under attack. This time Parliamentarian troops disguised themselves as reinforcements. When the battle began, the incognito soldiers took over key vantage points inside the walls – Corfe was lost. In honour of her bravery, Colonel Bingham allowed Lady Banks to leave the castle unharmed and keep the key. Corfe remained a formidable fort. Therefore government policy was to slight or damage the defences enough to make them undefendable. That is why we now have a romantic ruin. Such places created a new kind of siege, a siege of visitors to view the romantic and picturesque ruins.
Touring and accommodation
Corfe makes for a lovely stop en-route to Devon and Cornwall. It is possible to combine Corfe Castle and touring the Jurassic Coast. Paddle-boarding around Old Harry Rocks is another option nearby, along with a multitude of other water-based activities. Please take a look at our page for ideas or contact us for further information.
Stay at the luxurious Chewton Glen Hotel in the New Forest National Park. Corfe Castle and the Jurassic Coast is only a short hop. Alternatively, stay at traditional Summer Lodge Country House Hotel and Restaurant. Summer Lodge has a delightful village location and option to stay at the cosy Acorn Inn. There is a wide choice of accommodation in the UK; Cottages, Manor House Hotels and traditional Guest Houses.
If this is your first time to England, we would recommend a custom version of our Town and Country Tour; it covers the famous places and allows you to utilise your private driver-guide by getting-off-the-beaten-path. Our Classic tour of Ireland is a good place to start for the first trip to Ireland, and we suggest the Classic tour of Scotland for your first trip to the bonny Highlands.
The Romantic Ruin
'The most secure of all the English Castles'
- Explore the Jurassic Coast nearby
- Picnic in the Castle Grounds
- Explore the Village of Corfe
- Surrounded by Nature Reserves
The Village Pub - The Fox Inn
Viking Attack at Corfe
Explore the ruins
Entrance to Inner Bailey
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