The dramatic ruins of Corfe Castle stand on a natural hill guarding the principal route through the Purbeck Hills. As you can see it guards the gap between the south of Purbeck, where Purbeck marble was once quarried, and the rest of England. Nothing could pass in or out without going past the Castle.
Corfe castle is one of Britain’s most majestic ruins. It’s history can be tracked back to 6000 BC. Of course back then it was not a castle but a village. The oldest surviving structure on the castle site dates back to the XI century.The fortification of the castle was initiated by William the Concqueror to insure its durability for use as a royal fortress. In the end it was destroyed from within by a “turncoat” during the civil war, who gave entry into the castle allowing Cromwell’s army to enter the castle to destroy everything in their path.
Cromwell’s army fought the most remarkable Lady Bankes, a Royalist, who cared for the castle while her husband, Sir John was called away by Charles I, earning her the name “Brave Dame Mary” as well as the respect of the Parliamentary commander; who was so impressed with her courage that he allowed her to leave the castle with her garrison and the keys to the castle once the Roundheads finally persuaded her to surrender.
She was betrayed by one of her own garrison, who allowed Parliamentary soldiers to gain possession of the building, whereupon they set about destroying the edifice. The Bankes family still preserves the keys at their family home, which is protected by the National Trust. Some say that probably more damage was done by the locals than by the troops as they looted the site for its limestone masonry. It was used to rebuild the pretty local village which had also suffered at the hands of the destructive parliamentarian troops.
There is also a legend which Tomas Hardy recorded concerning the disappearance of an entire Roman legion, with of course, only its ghost remaining leading to the conclusion that a massive battle must have taken place between the Celts and the Romans.
Corfe castle has had a lot of reported ghost sightings that has made the BBC (Corfe Castle Murder Walks). A ghostly white lady and a weeping child are just two of the ghosts that haunt the castle. They say you can come across the headless white lady, whose shimmering shade chills the blood of those who chance upon her, and they find themselves shivering and shaking until she turns and drifts slowly away, fading into nothingness as she goes. The spirit is thought to be that of a young woman who betrayed the castle to Cromwell’s troops during the Civil War.
The castle was also the scene of the assassination of King Edward (Edward the Martyr) on the 18th March 978, on the orders of his scheming stepmother Queen Alfthryth. He was stabbed while still on horseback, then dragged along to his death by his horse.
There is a Legend of the pelican at Corfe castle. In 2008, there was great excitement when a stone carving of a pelican was discovered high on the keep at Corfe Castle. To the castle’s Norman builders, the pelican was a powerful religious symbol and its presence here underlines Corfe’s importance as a royal stronghold.
A pelican’s breast plumage has a reddish tinge and its beak a red tip. In ancient times, it was wrongly assumed that the pelican was pecking its chest with its bill and giving its own blood to its chicks. The pelican feeds its chicks with small fish. As the chick reaches up for the food, it was thought they were attacking the parent. When – full of food – the chicks snuggled down into the nest, it was thought the parent pelican had killed them. After three days the pelican was said to peck its own breast and spray blood on the chicks, thus bringing them back to life.
Early Christians, familiar with the legend of the pelican’s
apparent self-sacrifice, saw this as an appropriate symbol to represent Christ the Redeemer. The pelican is usually portrayed with its wings back and head down – a representation of the cross.
You may see another birds in Corfe Castle – the resident ravens, which have recently returned to nest at Corfe Castle. It was believed that if the ravens left the castle it would fall, and according to local legend in 1638 the ravens disappeared and the castle was largely destroyed in 1646.There is the same prophecy for Tower in London, so they keep breeding ravens there just in case.
Corfe Castle’s history continues to be celebrated by the National Trust with court jester days, castle quest activities and living history events. You can see my friends wearing the court clothes on the right.
There is one more attraction nearby: the award-winning Swanage Railway currently operates on the six miles of track between Swanage and Norden, through the beautiful Isle of Purbeck, passing the magnificent ruins of Corfe Castle. The Isle covers approximately 100 square miles but it is not a true island even though the English Channel, Poole Harbour and the River Frome almost surround it.