Category Archives: Falmouth

Pendennis and St. Mawes – Twin Castles on the Fal Estuary

St Mawes Castle with Pendennis in the Distance

Pendennis and St. Mawes - Twin Castles on the Fal Estuary

THE NEED FOR PROTECTION

Falmouth Harbour is a deep natural expanse of water that has provided anchorage for centuries, and traditionally, like other coastal communities around the country, protection against any threat of foreign invasion was left in the hands of local lords, but the 16th century saw these simple defences become inadequate when the threat of invasion became more serious after King Henry VIII upset the Pope and his Roman Catholic friends.

The failure of Henry’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, to provide a male heir prompted Henry to do something about it, and under normal circumstances, it would have been easy enough for the king to do what he wanted, and that was to divorce Catherine and marry the new love of his life, Anne Boleyn – but these weren’t normal circumstances. When Henry asked Pope Clement VII to annul the marriage he refused, due in no small part to the fact that he was under the thumb of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor who had taken control of Rome – and Charles was Catherine’s nephew.

In 1533, Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn, and left the Pope with no option but to excommunicate him from the Catholic Church. The following year Henry forced through the Act of Supremacy which made him the Supreme Head of the Church of England thus leaving the Pope with no religious authority at all in England. Henry then wasted no time in divorcing Catherine – but he must have known that there would be trouble ahead.

The Pope was eventually compelled to act, and in 1538 issued an order to depose the King of England. Francis I of France, and Charles V, (who was also king of Spain as well as Holy Roman Emperor) posed the main threats, and to deal with them Henry needed to improve his vulnerable defences along the south coast – and the entrance to the Fal Estuary was one of them.

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Falmouth Harbour

Falmouth Harbour

I don’t know how many hours I’ve wasted trawling through facts and figures about the smallest this and the largest that, and now here’s another one. Some people claim that Falmouth is the third largest deep water natural harbour in the world. There are so many variables about what constitutes the criteria for that claim, that I’ve given up trying to get to the bottom of it (the claim I mean, not the harbour).

There’s a difference between a harbour and a bay for instance, and I think it’s fair to say that Sydney Harbour is the most likely candidate for being the largest. The other contenders will have to fight it out because it’s not clear cut. Falmouth however, does qualify as being a natural harbour because it’s really a tidal drowned river valley, or ria, to give it the proper name – and it is deep.

Several rivers merge to provide fresh water for the harbour and they all end up in Carrick Roads, the main body of water in Falmouth Harbour. Its unusual name comes from the Karrek Ruen (Black Rock) which is a potential hazard at the mouth of the estuary between St. Anthony Head and Pendennis Point.

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