Saturday, 27 October 2012

Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle
On a grey drizzling Friday we drove down to see Corfe Castle, high on its hill in Dorset.  It's a vast complex, much larger than I expected and must have been quite something in its day.  Ravens live in the castle now. Soay and Herdwick  sheep graze the steep hillsides.
Herdwicks grazing under the walls
First, long ago there was a Saxon hall and Edward the Martyr, King Edward the first of England died there in 978, murdered it is said by his stepmother Aelfthryth.  They say that on the anniversary of his death a cold north wind blows through the castle.

The typical herringbone pattern of a Saxon stone wall
William the Conqueror acquired Corfe in 1086 and built the first substantial castle there.  The very steep hill is a natural feature carved out from the landscape by two rivers and extremely defensible.

In the 12th century King Henry I  built a great stone keep.  This took nine years and as more kings took ownership over the centuries a small village grew up at the base of the hill to house the workforce.

Henry's tower
King John and King Henry III went on to add to the castle so that it became a very sophisticated royal residence.  Henry III ordered that the keep be whitewashed and it would have been seen for miles.  Over the years many royal and aristocratic unfortunates were imprisoned there as rebellion and royal struggles raged across the land.
Where the Ravens live
Queen Elizabeth I sold Corfe to Sir Christopher Hatton in 1572 and in 1635 it was bought by the Royalist supporter of King Charles I - Sir John Bankes.  During the Civil War Lady Mary Bankes defended it valiantly for six weeks.  
Watching Out for the Enemy
Finally the castle was betrayed when a force of Parliamentarians disguised as Royalist reinforcements were admitted.  The castle was attacked from inside and outside and defeated.  Lady Bankes was given safe passage to leave because of her gallant defense.  The story goes that she threw her jewelry down the well inside the castle, but it has never been found and it's now believed she smuggled it out in her underwear.

In 1643 the Parliamentarians voted that the castle be 'slighted', demolished so that it could not be made defensible again.  Huge chunks of masonry have been thrown and tilted, they were very good at 'slighting'.  Sad that there is someone in every generation who excels at tearing things down. 
Craftsmanship - the fancy stonework at the top is probably
conservation work to prevent further deterioration