Pendennis Castle was built as a consequence of international tensions between England, France and the Holy Roman Empire in the final years of the reign of King Henry VIII. Traditionally the Crown had left coastal defences to the local lords and communities, only taking a modest role in building and maintaining fortifications, and while France and the Empire remained in conflict with one another, maritime raids were common but an actual invasion of England seemed unlikely. In 1533, Henry broke with Pope Paul III in order to annul the long-standing marriage to his wife, Catherine of Aragon and remarry. Catherine was the aunt of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, and he took the annulment as a personal insult. This resulted in France and the Empire declaring an alliance against Henry in 1538, and the Pope encouraging the two countries to attack England. An invasion of England appeared certain. In response, Henry issued an order, called a "device", in 1539, giving instructions for the "defence of the realm in time of invasion" and the construction of forts along the English coastline.
The stretch of water known as Carrick Roads at the mouth of the River Fal was an important anchorage serving shipping arriving from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. A small gun tower, called the Little Dennis Blockhouse, was built in 1539 overlooking the entrance, and plans were made to protect the anchorage further with five additional castles. In the event, only two of these were constructed, Pendennis and St Mawes Castle, positioned on each side of Carrick Roads and able to provide overlapping fire across the water. John Killigrew, a prominent member of the local Cornish gentry, probably oversaw the construction of Pendennis; it was built on his land and he was appointed as its first captain. The Killigrews controlled the castle for several decades, with John Killigrew's son and grandson continuing in turn as the captain there until 1605. The captains of Pendennis frequently argued with those of St Mawes and in 1630 a legal dispute broke out about the rights to search and detain incoming shipping: both castles argued that they had a traditional right to do so. The Admiralty eventually issued a compromise, proposing that the castles share the searching of the traffic.
Meanwhile, a lasting peace with France was made in 1558 and the initial invasion threat passed. The Spanish threat to the south-west of England became more serious, however, and war broke out in 1569. As a result, a defensive earthwork was constructed north-west of the castle to protect it against an attack from the land, and an additional gun battery facing upriver was installed alongside the blockhouse. Pendennis had a garrison of 100 men in 1578, and could have mustered around 500 men in 1596, while in 1599 it was reportedly guarded by 200 soldiers. The Spanish threat continued; raiding parties destroyed the Killigrews' family home at Arwenack in 1593, and four Spanish ships attacked the towns along the coast in 1595. In 1597 a Spanish fleet with 20,000 men set out to assault Pendennis and invade England, only being prevented from landing by bad weather. The failed attack caused considerable concern inside government and the Privy Council were informed that the castle was not sufficient to prevent a Spanish landing along the coast. A subsequent review carried out by Sir Nicholas Parker, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Ferdinando Gorges recommended that the castle's defences should be significantly extended. The military engineer Paul Ive constructed an Italian-styled ring of earthworks, embrasures, bastions and a stone-revetted ditch around the original Henrician castle between 1597 and 1600, using a team of 400 local workers, costing around £80 a week in wages.In the early 1600s England was at peace and Pendennis was neglected; reportedly the garrison's pay was two years in arrears, forcing them to gather limpets from the shoreline for food.
When civil war broke out in 1642 between King Charles I and Parliament, Pendennis and the south-west of England were held by the Royalists. The growing town of Falmouth was a strategically important part of their supply route to the Continent, while Carrick Roads formed a base for Royalist piracy in the English Channel. As the war turned in favour of the Parliamentarians, preparations were made for Prince Charles to shelter there over the winter of 1645–46, as part of which the surrounding fortifications were improved; in the event, Charles stayed in the castle only briefly in early 1646. Thomas Fairfax entered Cornwall with a substantial army. Almost all the other Royalist positions in England had by now fallen and St Mawes Castle surrendered immediately as Fairfax approached. Pendennis Castle, however, continued to hold out, defended by around 1,000 soldiers under the command of Sir John Arundell. Two Parliamentary colonels, Fortescue and Hammond, directed the bombardment of the castle from the land, while Captain Batten, with a flotilla of ten ships, blockaded it by sea, preventing fresh supplies from arriving. The garrison's defences were supported with artillery fire from a Royalist warship that was deliberately run aground north of the castle to produce an additional gun platform. By July, food had begun to run short and some of the garrison unsuccessfully attempted to break out by sea to acquire supplies. Arundell agreed to an honourable surrender on 15 August, and around 900 survivors left the fort two days later, some terminally ill from malnutrition. Pendennis was the penultimate Royalist fortification to hold out in the war.
During the American Revolutionary War, France allied itself with the revolutionaries, causing war with Britain to break out in 1778. The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars followed, during which period Falmouth became an important military depot. In 1795, the Crown purchased the castle's land from the Killigrew family, and reinforced the fortress to deal with the fresh threat of invasion. The government installed more guns and built a new gun position called the Half-Moon Battery just outside the 16th-century walls; the landward defences of Pendennis were reinforced, and a new barracks and other ancillary buildings were built inside the fortress. At its peak, the castle was equipped with up to 48 artillery pieces. After the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, Pendennis was neglected; many of its guns became unserviceable and some buildings fell into ruin. The old post of captain of Pendennis Castle was abolished in 1837, with the fortification commanded by a conventional military appointment. In the 1850s, renewed fears of a French invasion led to investment in new artillery at the castle, and nineteen 32- and 56-pounder (14.5 and 24.5 kg) guns were installed. Falmouth continued to be an important harbour, particularly for the Royal Navy. When new concerns about France emerged, an electronically operated minefield was laid across Carrick Roads in 1885, jointly controlled from Pendennis and St Mawes. New 6- and 12-pounder (2.7 and 5.4 kg) quick-firing guns, supported by machine-guns for close defence, were assigned to the castle to deal with the emerging threat from enemy torpedo boats
Assistance dogs are welcome. Dog bowls are available. There is wheelchair access to the ground floor of the Royal Artillery Barrack Block and lift access to the first floor which houses the Fortress Falmouth and the First World War exhibition and toilets. There is wheelchair access to the Discovery Centre and grounds also. Access to keep has steps and spiral staircases. Disabled visitors may be set down at the Keep entrance before car continues to the parking area behind the Royal Artillery Barrack Block. There are Braille Guides available. Free guided tours daily - ask for details on arrival. Tactile exhibits in the Discovery Centre. The Barrack Block has family-oriented hands on displays about the site. There are disabled toilets for the mobility and visually impaired.
Location : Falmouth, Cornwall, TR11 4LP
Transport: Falmouth Docks (National Rail) 1/2 mile. Bus Routes : 366 provided by OTS stops here.
Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 18:00.
Tickets : Adults £8.70; Child £5.20; Concession £7.80
Tel: 0370 333 1181