For over 400 years, Pendennis Castle in Falmouth protected Cornwall from invasion. Originally built in the 1500s, the castle was still being used during the Second World War. 




Built 1540-45

Postcard showing Pendennis Castle in 1909
Postcard of Pendennis Castle from 1909 Reproduced courtesy of Mac Waters as featured on cornishmemory.com
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A fortress is needed

In 1537, the Spanish navy attacked two French ships in the water near Falmouth. Shocked at how easily they had been able to get close to land, King Henry VIII ordered that two new fortresses be built next to the waterway. Pendennis Castle was placed on one side, and St Mawes Castle on the other. This meant that any invading ships would have to sail between the two castles and could easily be attacked.

1900s postcard of Pendennis and St Mawes castles
Postcard from the 1900s showing the castles of Pendennis and St Mawes
Reproduced courtesy of Mac Waters as featured on cornishmemory.com

Pendennis under siege

During the Civil War, the castle was an important base for King Charles I. In 1646, Queen Henrietta Maria and her son, Prince Charles, stayed there before escaping overseas. 

Not long after, the Parliamentarian army invaded Cornwall and attacked Pendennis. In charge was John Arundel, the 70-year-old governor of the castle. For months, he and 1,000 of the king’s soldiers refused to leave. Eventually, the men ran out of food and were forced to surrender rather than starve. By the time they left, around 100 had already died or become dangerously ill.

Adding new defences

As Britain fought with America and France in the American War of Independence and Napoleonic Wars, Falmouth once again became important. Pendennis Castle was used to defend against invasion by sea. More guns and buildings were added, including a barracks (living area) for troops.

First and Second World Wars

During the First and Second World Wars, Pendennis Castle was used as a command centre (base) for organising local defences. Thousands of troops came to the castle for training before going away to fight. In 1957, the castle was opened for the public to visit.



Fortress Falmouth

Linzey, R, Fortress Falmouth (2000)

Pendennis and St Mawes

Oliver, SP, Pendennis and St Mawes: An Historical Sketch of Two Castles (1875)

Journals of the House of Commons

Journals of the House of Commons: Vol. 4 (1803)

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