Corfe Castle - History and Facts | History Hit

Corfe Castle

Dorset, England, United Kingdom

Corfe Castle is the stunning ruin of a castle which has been everything from a royal residence to a military stronghold and even a prison.

Lily Johnson

08 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle is a stunning 11th century castle in Dorset, that has fulfilled a number of roles throughout its thousand-year history – from  royal residence to military stronghold. Today Corfe Castle provides an atmospheric look into Britain’s medieval past, with its picturesque views and imposing structure attracting visitors from far and wide.

Corfe Castle history

The current incarnation of Corfe Castle was built by William the Conqueror in around 1066, although even before this the site was of great historical importance. Legend tells that when a Saxon hall stood on the site, the young Edward the Martyr was murdered there in 978 during a plot to position his half-brother Ethelred ‘the Unready’ as monarch. Edward was later canonised, with his feast day falling on the anniversary of his death – 18 March.

Following its construction as a medieval fortress, Corfe Castle would be expanded and altered over the coming centuries, especially in the 12th century by Edward I who built the imposing keep, and in the 13th century under King John. Not only did John further fortify the castle, he also used it as a prison and royal residence. Sold by Elizabeth I in 1572, Corfe Castle became a grand private home, first to Sir Christopher Hatton and later by Sir John Bankes in 1635.

The demise of Corfe Castle and the cause of its current ruined state came with the English Civil War. Having survived one siege in 1643, it would fall to another only 3 years later, before being slighted – or intentionally damaged – by the Parliamentarians. Its ruins were eventually handed back to the Bankes family, who retained it for 350 years before in 1982 gifting it to the National Trust.

Corfe Castle today

Today, Corfe Castle remains under the remit of the National Trust and is open to the public. Its romantic ruins sit high atop a natural ‘motte’, with many of its original features still well preserved. The castle’s towering 12th century keep may be explored, while a number of its gatehouses remain in good condition and allow visitors to walk through centuries of history.

Corfe Castle’s role as a military stronghold is also echoed in many of its hidden features – murder holes, fallen walls, and arrow loops to name a few. Stunning views of the village below may too be enjoyed from the castle’s elevated position, as well as the picturesque  Purbeck Hills that surround it.

Getting to Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle is located in a village of the same name in Dorset, and can be reached via the A351 road from Wareham to Swanage. Parking is available opposite the castle mound on the A351, or at the nearby Purbeck Park. The nearest train station is Wareham, following which the number 40 bus may be taken 15-minutes to the village. The Village Centre bus stop is then a 10-minute walk to the site.

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