Easter holidays: the 17th-century longbow

A young boy tries archery at Corfe Castle

Experience archery and feasting 17th-century style this Easter as we recreate the lifestyle enjoyed by rich visitors to the castle in the era of Cavaliers and Roundheads.

By the 1600s the mighty longbow had largely been replaced on the battlefield by gunpowder, but lived on in the hands of sportsmen and women.

Corfe Castle, surrounded as it was by woodland and heath, made an ideal venue for parties of wealthy guests to enjoy country pursuits by day and feast by night.

From Monday 3 April to Sunday 15 April, you can test your skill with bow and arrow on the 17th Century archery range where expert bowmen will teach you how to use a replica wooden longbow.

The rich lifestyle enjoyed by a privileged few meanwhile comes to life in a display of 17th Century banqueting.

For most of the 17th-century Corfe Castle was in the hands of the aristocratic Bankes family.

Sir John Bankes (1589-1644) bought it in 1635 from the daughter of Sir Christopher Hatton, its first private owner.

Bankes was an important man who rose to become Lord Chief Justice under King Charles I and used the castle as a country home befitting someone of his status.

But when civil war broke out in 1642 the Norman fortress returned to defensive duties.

The Bankes were staunch supporters of the king and as the tide of war turned against him Corfe Castle was left as one of the few remaining Royalist strongholds in the south of England.

It survived two sieges before eventually falling in 1645 when it was infiltrated by Parliamentarian forces posing as reinforcements.

Sir John died in 1644 while he was away in the King’s service but his widow Lady Mary Bankes, who had led the defenders, lived to see the castle returned to the family following the restoration of King Charles II.

It remained property of the Bankes family until passing to the National Trust in the 1980s, though the family home moved to Kingston Lacy near Wimborne.