Pendennis Castle and Sir John Arundell – By MJ Logue

Of all the names associated with the siege of Pendennis Castle, Sir John Arundell is perhaps the most renowned. In his seventies, Arundell was a formidable man – despite certain reservations expressed by his peers that he was perhaps no longer up to the job, due to his age. His loyalty to His Majesty earned him the nickname ‘Jack-for-the-King’, and he defied Fairfax’s summons to surrender the castle on 18th March, replying – after only a few minutes’ consideration: ‘I resolve that I will here bury myself before I deliver up this castle to such as fight against his Majestie, and that nothing you can threaten is formidable to me in respect of the loss of loyalty and conscience.’

Rather unfortunately, Sir John Arundell’s daughter Catherine was the mother of Sir John St Aubyn, the Parliamentarian colonel whose descendants now own St Michael’s Mount (where St Aubyn was governor from 1647), which must have made family dinner parties a little awkward…

Parliamentarian lines lay roughly from their headquarters at Arwenack House, across the isthmus. Bearing in mind that – at this time – Falmouth was little more than a collection of fisherman’s cottages, the burning of Arwenack House by the Royalist Killigrew family to prevent its continuing use by the Parliamentarians, must have been a severe setback. Fairfax moved back to Exeter in March 1648 leaving his forces under the command of Colonels Hammond and Ingoldsby, with Colonel Fortescue’s regiment, which included eight hundred troops from Plymouth.[1]

A 1715 map shows ruined guardrooms and storerooms inside the fort, as well as a windmill. There was unlikely to be tentage, as there was none to be had in Cornwall and troops were more likely to be billeted on local farmsteads and cottagers. The main gateway was changed after the Civil War, but there seems to have been little destruction due to bombardment. There was, after all, little point in wasting powder – the defenders weren’t going anywhere….

With the landward side guarded by Fortescue, the seaward side was blockaded by Vice-Admiral Batten, who – it is reported – ‘kept ten large boats and barges well manned before the mouth of the Harbour every night, within command [range] of the Castle, drawing them off in the morning’[2] This did not prevent Royalist attempts to fetch relief, and there were hopes of supplies from St Malo. Word was sent to the Prince of Wales in Jersey around 26th June asking for relief, and although one small vessel did break the blockade, it held ‘little more than a hogshead or two of wine.’

According to Sprigg, who was Fairfax’s chaplain and chronicler and therefore not entirely unbiased, ‘the Enemy in the Castle kept fires all night, for direction to any relief that should make towards them. They were very prodigall of their Powder, making 200 great shot in the space of three dayes at our men, but without any great execution, only 3 of our men being slaine thereby’.- includingthe ‘religious and truly valiant Gentleman’[3], Colonel Ingoldsby. He also states; ‘The Work of keeping them in so straitly from reliefe was very great, and was not performed without very hard duty to our Souldiers, the Enemy within being so numerous, which therefore redounds us much to the honour of the Besiegers, and Captaine Batten with his ships by sea was no lesse carefull and vigilant, though indeed he wanted shallops and Pinnaces for the service.

By August 7th, Arundell sent word to Colonel Fortescue to ask if he had authority to treat for surrender – not, as it seems, a calculated insult of the “wishing to talk to the organ grinder rather than the monkey” variety, but because there was uncertainty as to whether Vice-Admiral Batten or Fortescue held seniority at the siege. After over a week of intense negotiation, the Articles of Surrender were finally signed on 16th August.

At Two O’clock in the afternoon of Monday 17th August John Arundell of Trerice Esquire, Governor of the Castle of Pendennis  ‘with his family and Retinue and all Officers and Soldiers of Horse and Foot and all the Train of Artillery, and of the Ships, as well Reformado’d Officers as others, and all Gentlemen, Clergymen, and their Families and Servants shall march out of the Castle of Pendennis with their Horses, compleat Arms, and other Equipages, according to their present or past Commands and Qualities, with flying Colours, Trumpets sounding, Drums beating, Matches lighted at both ends, Bullets in their Mouths, and every Soldier Twelve Charges of Powder, with Bullets and Match proportionable, with all their own proper Goods, Bag and Baggage, with a safe convoy unto Arwinch-Downs’[4]

Five hundred pounds was provided by Parliament for distribution amongst the defenders to cover expenses and to replenish their sundries, and the sick and wounded were provided for until they recovered.

As many as 800 soldiers marched out of Pendennis to lay down their arms half a mile from the Castle, and disband. Listed were 4 Knights, 8 Colonels, 6 Lieutenant-Colonels, 6 Majors, 17 Captains, 17 Lieutenants, 21 Ensigns, 3 Quartermasters, 15 Officers of the Traine, 16 Gunners, plus several ships at Crab Quay. At least 200 sick were left behind and, of these, must have been some of the 200 women and children in the fortress. Ninety-four guns and 860 arms were seized, with 1100 round shot and 2000 weight small shot, muskets and brown bills. With the six double barrels of powder and 37 single barrels there was certainly enough gunpowder to execute the threat of 100 of the soldiers and their officers led by Lieutenant Digby, which was: ‘to blow up the castle and fall upon the land forces and to live and die together’.


Charles Carlton Going to the Wars London 1992

Cornwall Archaeological Unit  Pendennis Headland  Truro 1992

S. Pasfield Oliver Pendennis and St. Mawes, an Historical Sketch of Two Cornish Castles Facsimile Edition Redruth 1984

Mark Stoyle Loyalty and Locality  Exeter 1995

R. Thomas  History and Description of the Town and Harbour of Falmouth  Falmouth 1827

S.J Haxton is the author of “Exposed To All Villainies” set around the siege at Pendennis, and its sequel, “A Cord Of Three Strands” –

M.J. Logue’s new book The Serpent’s Root (out March 21 – fifth in the Uncivil Wars series) is also set at the siege of Pendennis – from the other side of the castle walls…



[1]Pasfield-Oliver ibid. p.45

[2]Spriggs Anglia Rediva quoted in R. Thomas Falmouth 1827 p.120

[3]Parliamentarian Newspaper The Weekly Account 25th-31st March 1646, as quoted in Pasfield-Oliver, p. 43

[4]CRO DDT 1629


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