The village of Corfe Castle takes its name from the ancient castle that stands guard over a gap in the Purbeck Hills.
The castle was of great strategic importance, commanding entry to the Isle of Purbeck. Even today the ruins are some of England’s most majestic and photogenic.
The oldest surviving structure within the castle dates from the eleventh century. But evidence exists that there was some kind of stronghold here before the Norman Conquest.
Piracy in the 1600s
Sir Christopher Hatton purchased Corfe Castle in 1572. He was a courtier in Queen Elizabeth’s court and with the Queen’s patronage he rose to become Lord Chancellor, the most senior judge in England.
Among Sir Christopher titles was Admiral of the Purbeck Fleet. This gave him the right to fit out warships both to defend England against invaders and to capture enemy vessels as prizes – a sort of licenced piracy.
He also had right to the ‘wreck of the sea’ and to ‘prisage’. This meant he could take a portion of the cargo from every ship carrying wine and landing in Purbeck.
Sir Christopher Hatton was a leading light among those who invested in Sir Francis Drake’s 1577-80 voyage. This was an adventure in search of plunder that took Drake and the crew of his ship Pelican around the world.
The Golden Hind
When Drake reached the Pacific Ocean, he renamed his ship The Golden Hind. This name was inspired by the emblem on Hatton’s coat of arms and the stacks of Spanish gold in the ship’s hold. That venture alone earned Hatton £2,300 – a fortune at the time.
The Civil War and Lady Mary Bankes
In the 1640s, England was in the grip of civil war and Corfe Castle found itself on the front line of conflict between Parliament and King Charles I.
The formidable Lady Mary Bankes led its defence while her husband was away serving the King . She became a darling of the Royalist cause in the process. She her daughters and maids took part in defending the castle three times from Parliamentary forces, but eventually the Castle was captured during the final siege
The keys of Corfe Castle were given back to Lady Mary when Charles II became king. Corfe Castle remained in the Bankes family until 1981.
Over the centuries that followed the siege of Corfe Castle in the Civil War, local householders completed what the civil war had begun, removing parts of the castle for use in their own homes. Materials and masonry from the castle can still be seen in houses all over the village.