Located on a steep slope at the end of a peninsula flanked by the Carrick Roads and the Percuil River, St. Mawes Castle was built between 1540 and 1543 to guard the eastern approaches to the Carrick Roads, for centuries one of the most important anchorages at the western end of the English Channel. Distinctively designed with three bastions forming a clover-leaf around the low central tower, the castle was widely considered impregnable from the sea, but capitulated to Cromwell's land-based forces in 1646 without a shot being fired, since all its guns faced seaward. Pendennis Castle, on the opposite headland, was also built by Henry VIII as part of a chain of coastal fortresses designed to protect southern and south-western England from French invasion.
This painting relates closely to an engraving made by Samuel Buck and his brother Nathaniel (fl.1724-1753). They spent over thirty years travelling the counties of England and Wales, drawing views of the country's historical sites. Engravings of these views were initially sold individually as prints, but they were bound as a book in 1774: Buck's Antiquities; or Venerable Remains of above Four Hundred Castles, Monasteries, Palaces, &c. &c. in England and Wales. This three-volume publication was intended to preserve the picturesque ruins for the pleasure and instruction of future generations. The engraving of St. Mawes Castle, which forms plate 28 in Volume 1, is identical to this painting in almost every respect. Both share a topographical inaccuracy: the blockhouse on the shoreline cannot in fact be seen from this vantage point. The engraving also has a key providing information about the landmarks visible in the background of the painting. At the far left is Pendennis Castle, beside the town of Falmouth, and to the right of Falmouth lies the village of Flushing.
We are grateful to Philippa Spackman, of English Heritage, for her assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.