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Friday, 4 October 2013

Regency History's guide to Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle
Corfe Castle
Where is Corfe Castle?

Corfe Castle is in the village of the same name near Wareham in Dorset.


Corfe Castle was built for William the Conqueror around 1086 and during the early 1200s it was a favourite fortress of King John. It remained a royal residence until 1572 when Queen Elizabeth I sold it to Sir Christopher Hatton, who later became the Lord Chancellor.

Lady Bankes  from The Story of Corfe Castle by G Bankes (1853)
Lady Bankes
from The Story of Corfe Castle by G Bankes (1853)
In 1635, the castle was purchased by Sir John Bankes, the Lord Chief Justice, and it was defended by his wife, Lady Bankes, on behalf of the King during the Civil War. The castle held out against a siege by the Parliamentarians in 1643 and was only defeated during a second siege by the betrayal of one of Lady Bankes’ own officers.

Keys of Corfe Castle on display at Kingston Lacy
Keys of Corfe Castle on display at Kingston Lacy
In recognition of her bravery, Lady Bankes – “Brave Dame Mary” - was allowed to keep the castle keys (1). Parliament voted for the castle’s demolition and it was destroyed by explosives in 1646, creating the ruin that remains today.

The Bankes family built a new home at Kingston Lacy and this was given to the National Trust, along with Corfe Castle, in 1981.

Georgian connection

Corfe Castle from The Lady's Magazine (1789)
Corfe Castle from The Lady's Magazine (1789)
The romantic ruin of Corfe Castle was a popular visitor attraction in the Georgian period. It is mentioned in the local guidebooks of the time.

The Weymouth Guide (1785) describes Corfe Castle as “one of the finest ruins in Europe”. (2)

The Weymouth and Melcombe Regis New Guide (1835) states:
“The vast fragments of the king’s tower, the round tower leaning as if ready to fall, the broken walls, and the huge mass hurled into the vale below, form such as scene of havoc and devastation, as must strike the spectator at once with horror and regret.” (3)
Corfe Castle
Corfe Castle
A guidebook from 1857 gives a short history of the castle and then concludes:
“We recount these deeds to show the spirit and conduct of times happily passed away. These beautiful ruins bear not the guilt of those perpetrations; and in them, it may be, is set forth a moral lesson, safe to learn and good to practise: hence, in contemplating the ruins of Corfe Castle, we may realize that there are ‘sermons in stones, & c.’ ” (4)
Corfe Castle
Corfe Castle
What is there to see today?

• A ruined castle!

Corfe Castle
Corfe Castle
 • Great views

View from Corfe Castle
View from Corfe Castle
Last visited September 2013.

(1) The keys of Corfe Castle are on display at Kingston Lacy.
(2) From The Weymouth Guide (1785)
(3) From The Weymouth and Melcombe Regis New Guide (1835)
(4) From Weymouth as a Watering Place (1857)

Sources used include:
Bankes, George, The Story of Corfe Castle, and of Many who Have Lived There (1853)
Delamotte, Peter, The Weymouth Guide (1785, Weymouth)
Groves, E, The Weymouth and Melcombe Regis New Guide (E Groves, 1835, Weymouth)
Simpkin & Marshall, Weymouth as a Watering Place (Simpkin & Marshall, 1857, London)
The Lady's Magazine (1789)
The National Trust, Corfe Castle (guidebook) (1985)

Photographs by Andrew Knowles -

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