Corfe Castle and the curse of treachery

corfe dorsetPhotograph by Peter Langsdale

The Middle Ages left after themselves a wide heritage of miscellaneous castles and strongholds scattered all around Britain. Some of them have been keeping the stories about valiant victories or shattering defeats, the others have been enveloped into romantic tales about audacious knights and dames of their hearts, but there are also those whose walls witnessed some evil deeds. Such places inevitably become surrounded by sinister legends, mysterious stories or yarns about spooks or curses.

Although Corfe castle has lain in ruins since the Civil War it miraculously has not lost its grandeur and magnetism. The picturesque village (of the same name with Corfe Castle) with pretty little cottages clustering the castle’s hill, the 6 mile long Swanage Railway with charming steam trains making its way through breathtaking sceneries of the Isle of Purbeck, the proximity of Jurassic Coast as well as the castle’s vivid stories about treachery, courage and hidden treasures made the site one of the most favourite places to visit in Dorset, if not in the whole South West of England. Such a place cannot but excite the imagination; so no wonder that Enid Blyton was so impressed by Corfe castle that even made it the prototype of the Kirrin castle from one of the timeless stories about The Famous Five.

Corfe Castle was built during William the Conqueror but long before the Norman Conquest Saxon noblemen, queens and kings had already dwelt on its place trapped in their mundane passions.

corfe castle dorsetPhotograph by Jim Champion
Elfrida happened to live there in the 10th century. According to the legend she was not only strikingly beautiful but also belonged to a very noble family that made her an alluring catch for any of blue-blooded suitors in the realm including the king himself. Having heard about the Dorset beauty his Majesty Edgar the Peaceful decided that if Elfrida’s good looks turned out to be the truth he would marry her. The story does not mention whether the young sovereign was too preoccupied with the kingdom’s affairs or simply was not too fast about going 120 miles away from London (that made quite a substantial journey then), but it is known for certain that for approving or refuting the speculations he sent to Dorset his confidant Athewold. It was a mistake though. The courtier was so besotted by Elfrida’s loveliness that without thinking about consequences he set his mind on stringing the king along. When Athewold came back to London, to impatiently having been waiting for him Edgar, with all dexterity he was capable for he tried to detractor the girl’s beauty as much as it only could be possible. The king took his words for it without a shadow of doubt, lost the interest to Elfrida and presently, when Athewold warily mentioned in passing that he would be probably marry the girl himself mainly because of her mighty and influential family, even gave his blessing to this conjugal union. Athewold and Elfrida got married, and the court intriguer was over the moon that everything went so smoothly. It is rather strange though that he naively believed that he would succeed in hiding his Dorset Venus far from the court’s and the Edgar’s eyes forever.
dorset corfe castlePhotograph by Sarah Charlesworth
Although at first he contrived in doing that. But with time his ambitious pretty wife got bored with the countryside’s lack of amusements and started to strive from Dorset to the court with its distractions. Athewold could cope with his wife but when the king showed his curiosity and began to insist on showing Elfrida he suddenly realised all danger and instability of his station. Just before the arrival of Edgar to Corfe Castle the troubled husband confessed in his cheating to his wife and was pleading her for not ruining his life and help in duping the young monarch further on. He asked Elfrida to disguise her beauty and magnetic personality by unprepossessing clothes and humble manners. She seemed to assist to her good-for-nothing hubby and consented to perform the part of simple provincial wife. Athewold drew a deep breath of relief with out the faintest idea that the young woman had nursed a grievance against him. In due time she appeared dressed up to the nine before two stunned men and behaved with all her characteristic grace and finesse. No need to say that by the end of the evening she effortlessly won Edgar’s heart and the queen’s crown to the boot because a couple of days after the king disposed of Athewold by killing him while hunting.

corfe dorsetPhotograph by David Bunt
But this crime drama about love and treachery had a sequel. Edgar suddenly died when he was only in his thirties, leaving Elfrida with their 8-year-old son Ethelred and his 13-year-old boy Edward from the first marriage. Notwithstanding his green age Edward became the king having had ruined the ambitious plans of his stepmother of becoming the Regent during her son’s minority. Elfrida’s deceased second husband set her a good example of getting rid of the rivals, but the opening only occurred to her 3 years afterward. The teenage king was hunting with his retinue, slightly went astray but soon realised that he was not far from Corfe castle where the dowager queen was residing with Ethelred. Edward probably thought why not to pop in at the castle for greeting Elfrida with his little brother he was fond of, as well as to take some refreshments. What Edward definitely could not think that just in a while he would be stabbed by order of so sincerely welcoming him stepmother…

dorset corfePhotograph by Chris Downer

Some people even say that the place has been cursed and that the evil spirit of treachery settled there ever since. In the 14th century Edward II was confined in Corfe castle by his own wife Isabella of France and her lover. In the 17th century during the Civil War the Parliamentarians laid the castle with its Royal residents in it. Lady Mary Bankes only with her daughters and the sprinkle of servants had managed to keep the siege for 3 years but eventually had to surrender her dwelling only because of the betrayal of one of her officers. It has been rumoured that before to capitulate she gathered a lot of gold and jewels and threw it down the well in one the Corfe castle’s wards (it also happened to be the State prison under the king John). It was buried under the debris through wrecking the castle by Cromwell’s soldiers and might still has been resting there waiting for its hour of being discovered.

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