STAR CASTLE, ISLES OF SCILLY, TR21 0JA
Postcode: TR21 0JA
Lat/Long: 49.9154N 6.3211W
Notes: Castle is easy walking distance from Hugh Town (the main settlement on St Mary’s Island and point of disembarkation from ferries from the mainland).
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
The bastions of the Elizabethan fortress are visible and in good condition. The central keep and area encompassed within the walls has been converted into a hotel and restaurant/bar.
The addition of the four angled bastions on each side of Star Castle give the structure its distinctive shape.
Built with angled bastions in the latest military fashion, Star Castle on St Mary’s island was constructed to protect the Isles of Scilly from Spanish invasion. Surviving this threat it provided a last safe haven for Royalist forces as the (first) Civil War came to an end.
HISTORY OF STAR CASTLE
Star Castle was built against a backdrop of war between Protestant Elizabethan England and Catholic Spain. In February 1587 Mary Queen of Scots had been executed at Fotheringhay Castle removing a hostile and potential Catholic replacement for Elizabeth I, Queen of England. Whilst the execution removed one threat, it effectively gave Philip II of Spain a motive and justification for attack; by invading England he stood to obtain the English Crown, surround his enemy France and strengthen the Catholic church by restoring that faith in England. His Armada of 1588 was famously defeated by weather, fire ships and dogged determination from English sailors whose fortunes had been made by plundering and pirating of Spanish ships. However, despite the catastrophic defeat, this did not stop the Anglo-Spanish war from continuing and, fearful of another attack, Elizabeth ordered enhanced defences on the Isles of Scilly.
In the 1570s, the Isles of Scilly had been leased to Sir Francis Godolphin, a Parliamentarian and leading citizen of Cornwall whose father had also been Governor of the Islands. In 1573 he had started work on fortifying the high ground overlooking Hugh Town on the main island, St Mary's. This enclosure was originally known as the 'Hugh' but later renamed The Garrison. Following Elizabeth's instruction to improve the defences of the islands, he started building Star Castle itself in 1593 as a centrepiece stronghold to the Garrison. Robbing stone from an earlier fortification - Ennor Castle - it was completed in a timely 18 months under the oversight of Robert Adams, Surveyor of the Royal Works. Despite the budgetary savings brought about by the readily available prepared stone, the castle was only part funded by the Crown - Elizabeth's government paid around 40% of the overall product costs with the rest falling to Godolphin.
When Elizabeth I died in 1603 her successor, James I (VI of Scotland), sought peace with Spain and brought the war to an end. The Isles of Scilly had escaped attacked and whilst Star Castle remained garrisoned, it saw no action. However, in 1646, as the Parliamentary forces swept away Royalist strongholds on the mainland, it hosted Prince Charles (later Charles II) briefly after he fled here from Pendennis Castle. Concurrently the harbour at Hugh Town was used by Sir John Grenville as a base to launch attacks on Parliamentary shipping. This came to an end in 1646 when Admiral Blake attacked the Island on behalf of Parliament and stormed Star Castle. The castle was then used as a prison for prominent Royalist prisoners including James Hamilton, Marquis of Hamilton. The favour was returned after the restoration of Charles II in 1660; Star Castle was used to imprison the Parliamentarian Sir Harry Vane before his transfer to London for trial and execution.
The castle remained garrisoned until the eighteenth century but in 1740 more extensive fortifications were built around the line of the Garrison with new curtain walls and gun batteries being installed. Effectively made obsolete by these updates, Star Castle itself was re-rolled into the governor’s residence. Finally, in 1933, it was converted into a hotel.
The White Ensign flies at Star Castle in 2013 to mark a visit by HMS Somerset.
1. Star Castle's design utilised the latest concept in military engineering; angled bastions which had seen only limited use previously in England (Lindisfarne, Southsea and Yarmouth Castles being key examples). These bastions allowed covering fire at all angles offering significantly better defensive properties than the bulk of the device forts built fifty years by Henry VIII. Star Castle had eight such bastions giving it the form of an eight-pointed star - originally this shape gave it the name "Stella Mariae" (Star of Mary) but this later became commonly known as Star Castle.
2. Charles II imprisoned Sir Harry Vale at Star Castle in 1660. Vale had been denied the amnesty granted to so many Parliamentarians at the Restoration and was later transported to London where he was charged with treason and executed in 1662.
3. Ennor Castle was a thirteenth century fortification built in the village of Old Town on St Mary's. Little survives today but was originally a small motte-and-bailey structure. A licence was granted to crenellate (fortify) the facility in 1315 to a Ranulf de Blanchminster. But in 1337 the entire Isles of Scilly, including Ennor Castle, were assumed into the Duchy of Cornwall. Ennor Castle became redundant with the building of the Garrison and Star Castle - its stone was robbed to support these and the buildings of Old Town itself.