Falmouth, England has the third deepest harbor in the world after Sidney and Rio. In June 1944 the harbor was packed with ships that took part in the D-Day invasion of Nazi Europe. Two castles, Pendennis and St. Mawes, guarded the entrance to the harbor that day just as they have since they were built by King Henry the Eighth.
French forces actually landed in England during the Hundred Years’ War in the 14th Century. Henry had rejected the
Catholic religion when he wanted a divorce from his first wife, the French and Spanish were threatening again, and he wasn’t about to let an invasion succeed. So he built a chain of castles along the coast. Pendennis, the most imposing, sits on a high peninsula giving it a natural geographic advantage against attack.
During his daughter Elizabeth I’s reign, the original castle was encircled with a “modern” high-walled star fort, a fort with bastions that stuck out from the walls so that cannons cold fire at attackers along the wall. In 1595, the Spanish attacked Mounts Bay near Newlyn and Penzance. St. Mawes and Pendennis were reinforced, but they were never attacked.
In March 1646, Pendennis was attacked by Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces. Previously, it had given sanctuary to Queen Henrietta Maria and the Prince of Wales, the future King Charles II, before they fled to France.
The siege lasted five months before the approximately one thousand men and women inside under the leadership of a seventy year-old John Arundel were forced by starvation to surrender. It was one of the last three Royal castles to fall.
But unlike many castles of the time (see Restormel, July 2015), Pendennis survived the Civil War and continued in use right up through World War II. Indeed, it is managed by the English Heritage today, but there is a provision in the agreement that states it can still be used by the military if necessary.
We walked into the castle through a gate on a hill looking down toward the water. Just inside was the guard house restored to its World War I condition.
On the left are the Victorian Royal Artillery Barracks. Today, it houses a ticket and souvenier office, a tea shop, and a museum which had exhibits on the First World War and cartoons from the Second.
Henry VIII’s castle is still much as it was. One can see the recreated Tudor gun deck on the second floor as well as the apartments of the Governor which had its own latrine. From the top, one gets excellent views of Falmouth, St. Mawes Castle on the other side of the harbor entrance, the coast and the sea.
Victorian gunners ate and slept in the “War Shelter” while manning the “One Gun Battery.”
Further along through tunnels outside Elizabeth I’s walls, is the “Half Moon Battery where guided tours will show you magazines from the 18th century through World War II and simulate an air raid.
During the Second World War, Pendennis was Command Centre for Cornwall. One can see the Battery Observation Post and the guns which actually fired on a Nazi submarine.
We were on the roof of the castle for the daily blast of the noon day gun. Being away from the noise was fine by us, but if you have children, they may want a closer view.
Click on photos to enlarge.