Bankes, Mary (DNB00)
BANKES, Lady MARY (d. 1661), the heroine of Corfe Castle, was the only daughter of Ralph Hawtrey, of Ruislip, in the county of Middlesex, the representative of an ancient family of Norman origin. Of her early life nothing seems to be recorded ; but having married Sir John Bankes [q.v.], chief justice of the common pleas in the latter part of the reign of Charles I, she retired with her children, on the commencement of the civil troubles, to Sir John's newly purchased residence, Corfe Castle, in the Isle of Purbeck, Dorsetshire, for many centuries a royal residence and one of the strongest castles in England. Here Lady Bankes, with the assistance of a small garrison, stood two prolonged sieges, the first in 1643, lasting six weeks and ending in the flight of the besiegers; the second in 1646, which after eight weeks ended in the taking of the castle through the treachery of one of the garrison. The fullest and best original account of the first siege is contained in a contemporary royalist publication, 'Mercurius Rusticus,' No. xi., which, notwithstanding its contemptuous banter of 'the rebels,' is probably a fairly truthful account, and is confirmed by occasional allusions in contemporary newspapers of the opposite side.
From this authority we learn that in May 1643, Sir John being in attendance on the king, the commissioners of Poole sent a force of forty seamen ('they in the castle not suspecting any such thing') to demand of Lady Bankes the surrender of the four small pieces of cannon which formed the armament of Corfe Castle, 'but instead of delivering them, though at that time there were but five men in the castle, yet these five, assisted by the maid servants, at their lady's command mount these pieces on their carriages, and lading one of them they give fire, which small thunder so affrighted the seamen that they all quitted the place and ran away.'
On 23 June 1643 the regular siege was begun by Sir Walter Earle, with a force of 500 or 600 men, and a few pieces of ordnance. Lady Bankes meantime had quietly laid in a good store of provisions, and had obtained from Prince Maurice, by her earnest entreaties, a garrison of about eighty men, commanded by Captain Lawrence. Her resolution was unshaken by the oath taken by the besiegers, 'that if they found the defendants obstinate not to yield, they would maintain the siege to victory and then deny quarter unto all, killing without mercy men, women, and children.' All the assaults of the besiegers were successfully repelled by the little garrison. In the last of these attacks, 'the enemy being now pot-valiant and possessed with a borrowed courage, which was to evaporate in sleep, they divide their forces into two parties, whereof one assaults the middle ward, defended by valiant Captain Lawrence and the greater part of the souldiers; the other assault the upper ward, which the Lady Bankes (to her eternall honour be it spoken), with her daughters, women, and five souldiers, undertooke to make good against the rebels, and did bravely perform what she undertooke, for by heaving over stones and hot embers, they repelled the rebels, and kept them from climbing their ladders.' Having lost in this assault 100 men in killed and wounded, and hearing that the king's forces were at hand, Sir Walter on 4 Aug. drew off his men so precipitately that they left their artillery, ammunition, and horses behind.
For the next two years Lady Bankes seems to have lived unmolested, partly at Corfe Castle and partly near London. The death of her husband in December 1644 caused no abatement of her devotion to the royal cause, and in the summer of 1645 Corfe Castle was again attempted several times by the parliamentary forces, and at last closely besieged a second time, there being now 'no garrison (but this) between Excester and London ' still holding out for the king (Sprigge, iii. 146). On 26 Feb., or according to some accounts 8 April, 1646, Lady Bankes and her little garrison, apparently as far as ever from yielding, were betrayed by one of her own officers who was 'weary of the king's service.' Under pretence of bringing in reinforcements this officer introduced by night fifty of the enemy, and next morning the garrison, finding themselves betrayed and further resistance useless, gave themselves up prisoners at discretion, their lives only excepted.
In Sprigge's table of battles and sieges Corfe Castle is said to have been taken in April 'by stratagem and storm' after eight days' siege, during which eleven men were killed. By order of parliament the castle was ‘slighted’ The massive fragments of mediaeval masonry which still occupy its site bear witness at once to the difficulty of the task and the thoroughness with which it was accomplished.
Lady Bankes was allowed to depart with her children in safety, leaving, however, all her household effects behind. She now petitioned the sequestrators to be allowed her jointure, which, along with Sir John's property, had been sequestered. Her petition, being 'a case of difficulty,' was referred to headquarters, but appears to have remained unanswered until Cromwell's accession to power, when, on payment of large sums by herself and her children, the sequestration was removed (Corfe Castle, pp. 123, 244). She was not further molested during the Commonwealth. In the church of Ruislip there is a monument dedicated by Sir Ralph Bankes, her son and heir, which tells us that 'having had the honour to have borne with a constancy and courage above her sex a noble proportion of the late calamities, and the happiness to have outlived them so far as to have seen the restitution of the government,' she 'with great peace of mind laid down her most desired life 11 April 1661 ' (Lysons). Posterity has willingly endorsed this brief summary of her career. Lady Bankes had four sons and six daughters. Several noble families, as well as the Bankes of Kingston Lacy, near Corfe, claim her as an ancestress (Notes and Queries, 1st series, iii. 458).
[Lysons's Middlesex, p. 211; Hutchins's Dorset, i. 284; Vicars's Parliamentary Chronicle, iv. 372; Sprigge's Anglia Rediviva; Mercurius Rusticus, No. xi.; Lloyd's Memoires, 586; Bankes's Story of Corfe Castle; Notes and Queries, 1st series, iii. 458.]