By Swords Divided:
An exciting, moving, and sometimes hilarious account of how heroic Lady Mary Bankes and her tiny band of followers, defended Corfe Castle during a prolonged siege by the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War. Finally, having displayed ‘courage beyond her sex’, it was only by betrayal that she was defeated.
Dr Andrew Norman recounts the gripping tale, with verve and attention to historical detail, drawing on contemporary records to take the reader to the heart of the action.
The romantic ruin of Corfe Castle still stands at the heart of Dorset’s Isle of Purbeck, a shadow of its former glory but still with the power to draw thousands of visitors each year, intrigued by the dramatic – and often dastardly – deeds that unfolded in and around its walls. Of these, perhaps the most enthralling tale is of Mary Bankes, the woman who for three long years during England’s bloody Civil War, held the besieged castle against the Parliamentary forces, at times with only a handful of men, her daughters and maidservants. At the start of the struggle – with her husband away in oxford serving King Charles – Mary was faced with an agonising decision. She could either, surrender, and thereby place the lives of her children and household staff at the mercy of those she called the ‘rebels’. Or she could pit her wits and courage against the enemy, and attempt to muster whatever help and arms she could. With her noble Norman ancestry and belief in the cause, Mary refused to surrender, even taking to the battlements where she ‘did bravely performe what she undertooke’, heaving stones and hot embers onto attackers bearing flaming torches. Only betrayal could beat her.
Andrew Norman retells the gripping ale – and that of Corfe Castle’s proud history – with verve and attention to historical detail, drawing on papers and accounts of the Bankes family and eye-witness accounts to take the reader to the heart of the action.
‘No one could be failed to be stirred, by the bravery and sometimes hilarious ingenuity – of brave Dame Mary and her gallant domestic band.’
– The Purbeck Advertiser