Sunday, October 2, 2011

The One That's a Castle and a Village

The last place on the itinerary was Corfe Castle. As its name suggests, Corfe Castle is a castle, but it’s also the name of the entire village – which we easily decided was the cutest village we'd ever seen!

The word Corfe means “cutting” or “pass” in Anglo-Saxon and the castle sits atop a steep chalk promontory between the River Wicken and the Byle Brook where the waters have eroded the rock near the Isle of Purbeck. According to legend, in 978, the teenage king Edward (the Martyr) was hunting in the royal forest on the Isle of Purbeck when he was attacked and stabbed to death. The story claims that the stabbing was ordered by Edward’s stepmother, Elfryda, so that her son Ethelred could become king (later known as Ethelred the Unready).  In 1001, Edward was recognized as a saint.

Shortly after his victory at Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror realized the defensive potential of the site and laid the foundations for the castle. Although many Norman castles were built on a man-made “motte” (or mound), the steep hilltop at Corfe is entirely natural. The earliest fortification included a thick stone wall which was unusual at the time, highlighting the importance of Corfe to the Norman defensives.

In 1105, Henry I had the wooden keep replaced with stone. The keep itself stood 21m tall and sat atop a 55m tall hill. Using the latest style of carefully worked stone blocks (from the local Purbeck limestone), the Keep would have taken eight or nine years to build at the rate of 3-4 meters a year. It was one of the largest buildings that had ever been constructed in this part of England.

Corfe was described as “the most secure of all the English castles” during the early medieval period and was able to withstand a long siege (which it did in 1138 and 1139 during the Anarchy period). The Outer Gatehouse originally stood at least twice as high as it does now and was built between 1280 and 1285.

The South-West Gatehouse was built by Henry III around 1250.

By the time King John came to the throne, the Norman keep was old fashioned so John added a new royal residence, known as the “Gloriette” (which means “highly decorated chamber”). The Gloriette was built solely as a luxurious royal residence and given that it was surrounded by highly defended stone walls, and it was separated from the Keep by a courtyard. Remains of the first floor hall and Presence Chamber are visible today.

The Outer Bailey was the work area of the castle where the workshops, stables, storehouses and living accommodations were located.  By the mid 13th century the entire outer boundary was a series of stone walled towers, many of which were destroyed during the civil war four centuries later.

Corfe was often used as a state prison perhaps due to its remote location. King Henry I imprisoned his eldest brother Robert here after capturing him in battle in Normandy and the castle was often used as a royal treasury, especially by King John. John also used Corfe to imprison his niece Eleanor (after allegedly killing her brother Arthur in order to secure his own claim to the throne). In 1326, Edward II was imprisoned here after his capture, but there was so much local sympathy for the king that he didn’t stay here long and was eventually moved to Berkeley Castle where he died in 1327.

In 1496, Henry VII granted the castle to his mother, and money was appropriated for the castle’s repair and the castle’s role had gradually changed from that of a royal fortress and residence to a grand country house. It was often used as a residence by the constables of Corfe Castle, who for many years were the Dukes of Somerset.

In 1572 Elizabeth I sold Corfe to one of her favorites, Sir Christopher Hatton and its 500 year history as a royal castle came to an end.  During the English Civil War, Corfe Castle was one of the last Royalist strongholds in the south of England and due to a traitor within the castle walls, it eventually fell to Parliamentary troops in 1645. In March 1646, Parliament voted to demolish the castle and within months, the work of the previous six centuries was reduced to rubble.

By the 18th century, the ivy covered walls were considered romantic and the place opened to tourists. In the early 1600s the castle was owned by Charles I’s Lord Chief justice, Sir John Bankes. The castle remained in the Bankes family for three and a half centuries and in 1982, it was given to The National Trust along with three miles of coastline, three nature reserves and adjoining farmland.

And just so you don't think I made that up about the village, here are a few shots to prove it!

The town square outside the entrance to the castle

Corfe Castle is quite small (population around 1500) and so parking is in a lot on the edge of the village (that's where we took the very first picture in the post from).  These shots were taken on the way to/from the castle and the entire place looks like this!  Cute, huh?


 *all information from the guidebook


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