St. Mawes Castle
OS Grid ref:- SW 876 357
Sixteenth century St. Mawes Castle stands on the seafront at the town of St. Mawes on the Roseland Penninsula, it is among the best-preserved of Henry VIII's coastal artillery fortresses, and the most elaborately decorated of them all.
Along with its sister castle at Pendennis, St Mawes defended the approaches to Carrick Roads, one of the largest natural harbours in the country. Henry VIII feared that he may have been unable to control the English Channel and embarked on a massive scheme of coastal defence, new gun forts of radical design being erected all around the south coast of England from Kent to Cornwall.
Its larger counterpart Pendennis Castle occupies the opposite headland to enable their joint cannon to cover the entrance to the Fal estuary. Henry VIII (1491 - 1547) built a chain of castles along the south coast as a defence against a possible attack by the French which never materialised. St. Mawes Castle was probably enlarged by his son and successor, the boy king, Edward VI (1537 - 1553).
The castle which was constructed between 1540 and 1545, consists of three huge circular bastions and is shaped like a clover leaf. The central tower was designed with four floors. The visitor enters the tower by a bridge to the third level. The castle's elaborate decorations are continued inside the tower, with wooden carvings of a cherub, a monk, Tudor roses and fleur-de-lis surviving to the present day.
The towers upper gun deck were constructed with ventilation shafts above the gun placements to disperse the smoke. Several canon are on display to the public in the forward gun room.
The expected invasion of the 1540s envisioned by Henry VIII never materialised, but, during the reign of his successor Queen Elizabeth I (1533 - 1603), the war with Spain meant the castle remained garrisoned and new earthworks were added at the base of the original fort for additional guns. Despite a Spanish plan to attack Falmouth in 1596/7 the castle did not see action, as the weather dispersed the Spanish fleet before they could attack.
During the Civil War both St. Mawe's and its larger neighbour Pendennis Castle held out for the royalist cause of King Charles I (1600 - 1649), as did much of Cornwall and the Scilly Isles. The castle underwent attack from the Roundheads and was duly surrendered without a single shot being fired. Thirteen guns were taken, which were then used by the Parliamentary forces against nearby Pendennis Castle, commanded by Sir John Arundel, and assisted by Sir Henry Killigrew, was in a much better strategic position and resisted a six month siege by the Parliamentarians.
St Mawe's Castle is now in the care of English Heritage. Ample parking is provided.