St Mawes Castle benefits from a wonderful waterside setting and is one of the most intact examples of Henry VIII’s coastal fortresses. Henry built St Mawes between 1539 and 1545 and, in conjunction with Pendennis Castle it was intended to protect the Fal estuary from invasion by the Spanish.
The castle bears little resemblance to a grim fortress as the stonework is embellished with string courses, carved gargoyles and elaborate windows. St Mawes has an unusual design in which the round central tower is protected on all but one side by three semi-circular bastions. This architectural design has been likened to a ‘clover leaf’ and the drawbridge when it was in place would have formed the ‘stalk of the leaf. Taller than Pendennis Castle, it has four floors, a kitchen in the basement and a neat round watch turret. This turret was of vital importance when invasion form the continent was always a possibility. St Mawes like Pendennis did not see action against either the Spanish or the French and the invasion when it came was by land. During the English Civil War the castle was in the hands of the Royalists who quickly realised that as it was sited part way down a hillside a land attack was difficult to repel. The Royalists surrendered to the Roundheads after a very short confrontation whereas Pendennis, with its hilltop position, held out for nearly six months.
St Mawes Castle is well worth a visit, the views across the river are stunning and the castle has fine examples of inscriptions in the stonework to praise and commemorate Henry Viii and his son Edward. Over the main entrance is the dedication “SEMPER HONOS HENRICE TUUS LAUDESQUE MANEBUNT” which translates as “Henry, thy honour and praises will remain for ever.” An audio tour chronicling the castle’s long history adds interest as it details the people and events that have made an impact over the years.