a Pendennis Castle story
When Pendennis Castle was first built, it was on the land of a local family called the Killigrews. This family had been based in Cornwall since the middle of the 13th century and managed to grow in power and land, to the point where Henry VIII gave John Killigrew the role of the Governor of Pendennis, a title which the family kept for three generations. The fighting against a potential invasion was only one of the things the new castle had on its agenda: the other role included fighting pirates. Unfortunately, the Killigrews weren’t the best people to do so, because they were actually pirates themselves!
The history of the family is very colourful, but what makes it unique is not just what the men of the family did, but also the wives, the most famous one being Mary Wolverstone.
Mary joined the Killigrew family when she married into the second generation of Pendennis governors and she immediately took a very active part in their piracy business. When we think about pirates, the image of buried treasure and a map with an ‘X’ marking the spot springs to mind, but it is actually not accurate because of two reasons. The most important thing we should remember about pirates is that they used to rob ships, and most ships did not carry treasures, but commodities. Secondly, when pirates did manage to steal some money, they tended to spend it rather than burying it (wouldn’t you do the same?). But there is at least one documented pirate treasure that was indeed buried and it was done by the order of Mary Wolverstone.
It all started when a Spanish ship moored in the Falmouth harbour, not far away from the Killigrew house. The Spanish seaman did what seaman do when they reached the shore and went to drink in Falmouth. Whilst they were away, Mary, along with her servants, took a boat and raided their ship. Whilst Mary was busy raiding, her husband was giving himself an alibi: he was a guest at a dinner far from the harbour. During these days, the job of stopping pirates was given to a commission that included Mary’s husband and two more Cornish gentlemen. When Mary and her servants raided the ship, they ended up killing a merchant in the process.
Mary and her crew came back to Alnwick House with their loot when suddenly they were warned that the other members of the anti-piracy commission were on their way to the house. Mary had to think fast. She ordered her servants to dig a big hole and bury the treasure (they did not plan to keep it hidden for long so they did not bother drawing a map). But it did not work, and she was arrested with some of her men. Mary and some of her servants were sentenced to death and two of them were actually executed; however, Mary was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth, probably after a massive bribing process led by her family.
So what happened to the buried treasure? Well, as soon as Mary was released, she went to dig it out. But in any case, it was not a big haul and it included a few chairs and some fabric: not very exciting, right?
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