In 1642 during the English Civil War, the royalist Corfe Castle was placed under siege by Parliamentarian forces – and held by the miraculous work of a single woman. She came to be known as Brave Dame Mary for her years-long hold against the assaults of the Parlimentarians.
This is her story.
“Mary,” John said to me before he left, “you must stay safe, whilst I am gone.”
Now there were three hundred armed soldiers at our door.
But we had only five soldiers in the house with the girls, the servants and I – no matter how strong the castle was, we could not hold it with that alone.
Were it not for Captain Robert and his men, I do not think we would have survived. We snuck them in at night, whilst the Parliamentarians slept. Only eighty – but the odds have always favoured the besieged.
At length they left, and we were relieved – but I will say this for their Sir Walter; he was nothing if not stubborn. He returned in June, when the days were longer, with twice as many soldiers and two siege engines.
I remembered what John had said to me. I remembered our sons, sent away for safety; our daughters, clustered within the castle with me. And Robert and I began to plan how we would drive them away.
They did not expect the stones; we hurled them from the battlements, heaving them through the crenels and down onto the forces below. Nor did they anticipate the embers from the raging fires, which sent their forces scattering in pain.
I found to my surprise that I did not spare them a thought; they stood against the King, against England – against me. Against the people who served me. Against my daughters.
And that, I could not stand.
We repelled them – then. Years later, whilst John was still away, our own Colonel betrayed us to them. By then we were one of the last royal bastions in England. Colonel Pitman volunteered to bring back more troops, that we would be prepared. They came dressed as royalists; they were not.
I did not expect his treachery, and so the castle – which had stood for so long, against so much – was lost. I gave them my surrender, and asked only that my daughters and my people not be harmed.
Thus did we part from Corfe, only to return to it later, once the war had been won. I found, when I looked upon it then, that I was fonder of its ruined state than I ever had been of it whole. It was the castle that had kept my daughters safe; it would always be our truest home.