Welcome back to Corfe Castle. Are you ready for another jolly dose of misery and murder? Lovely! You may remember last time when I waffled on about Edward the Martyr, the teenage Saxon king who met a bloody end at Corfe Castle in 978. That was just the beginning of the place’s troubles, of course, and many more ghosts have since emerged to keep Ed company. Let’s have a peek!
The next bleak chapter takes place a few centuries after Edward’s death, during the time of King John. John’s seventeen-year reign was… eventful, to say the least. He went to ruinous war with France and lost most overseas territories, practically bankrupting England in the process. He also pissed off his barons so much they devised the Magna Carta to curtail his kingly rights. After that, he provoked civil war by ignoring the famous document and continuing to do whatever he felt like anyway, before finally dying of dysentery in 1216.
Medieval monarchs, eh? You gotta love ’em.
Anyway, King John’s various hijinks also included a colourful episode at Corfe Castle. In 1203, during his long and incredibly tedious war with France, John found himself in possession of twenty-odd captured French knights. Did he follow the code of chivalry by treating them honourably, taking good care of them and ransoming them back to France? Did he heck.
Nope, instead John simply elected to wall the nobles up in the dungeons of Corfe Castle and leave them to it, until they eventually starved to death. An unimaginably horrible method of execution, and one John would turn to again and again before his royal bowels eventually betrayed him. In fact, Corfe Castle seemed to be John’s go-to starvation hotspot. Maud de Braose, a former courtly favourite of John’s, met the same fate in those same dungeons seven years later.
Medieval monarchs! You gotta love ’em.
Naturally, souls who perish in such a dreadful fashion seldom pass quietly on to the great beyond. If you’re ever visiting Corfe Castle and happen to catch ghostly moaning echoing up from its lower depths, feel free to chuck down a Cheesy Wotsit or two. I’m sure it’ll be greatly appreciated.
Our third and final stop on the Wacky Corfe Ghost Tour takes us all the way forward to 1645, plonking us right in the bloody midst of the English Civil War. By this time, Corfe Castle had fallen under the control of the powerful Bankes family, staunch Royalists who sided with King Charles I against Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads.
The castle had been a favourite of many English monarchs (and not just for weird starvation purposes), and enjoyed significant upgrades over the centuries. This made it a powerful fortress, and one the Parliamentarians were desperate to get their hands on. Sir John Bankes was an important figure in Charles’ inner-circle, and was quickly called away to aid in the war effort. This left the duty of defending Corfe to John’s wife, Lady Mary Bankes. She did a nifty job of it too, keeping the besieging Roundheads at bay for nearly three years.
Unfortunately for Mary, all was not well within the castle walls. A disgruntled officer named Pitman eventually betrayed her, allowing a group of Roundhead soldiers to sneak into the castle and attack from within. The surprise worked, and Mary was forced to surrender. In March of 1645, Parliamentarian forces elected to demolish the fortress to stop it falling into Royalist hands once more. This seemingly marked the end of Corfe Castle’s active role in history, and resulted in the hollowed-out ruin we see today.
However, a few years later, rumours began to spread of a strange, deathly white lady lurking about the place, flitting between windows and haunting the battlements at night. Rumours that still persist, in fact. But who is the White Lady of Corfe Castle? Is she the ghost of a woman killed in the siege? Or perhaps she’s some tormented remnant of Mary Bankes herself, drawn inexorably back to the place where it all went tits up.
Whoever she is, she certainly has plenty of company. From its Saxon beginnings to its Medieval pomp to its Civil War demise, Corfe Castle bore witness to an endless procession of betrayal, torture and murder. Such deeds inevitably leave their mark, and it’s no surprise the stone still shudders with dark echoes of all who met their end in this grim, foreboding, and historically fascinating stronghold.