St Michael's Mount, National Trust Cornwall

St Michael's Mount, National Trust Cornwall  

St Michaels Mount is a granite rock near Penzance, Cornwall with a church and castle at its summit. St Michaels Mount is an island for most of the day. However there are between two and five hours in each day when you can walk across the causeway to the island. Ferry boats run regular services to the island when the tide cuts off the causeway. The island has a small harbour on its northern shore, with picturesque houses, shops and restaurants. The nearby town is Marazion and it is situated in Mounts Bay.

At the top of the island is an embattled castle, which originally was a Benedictine Priory, built in the 12 century and a daughter house to Mont St Michel in France. The Mount is dedicated to St Michael, the Archangel, who according to Cornish legend, appeared to a group of fishermen on the western side of the Mount

St Michaels Mount is believed to have been a trading post from the Iron Age, and certainly was visited by the Greeks and Romans. Edward the Confessor founded a chapel on the Mount in 1044 in a grant to the Benedictine Abbey of Mont Saint Michael in Brittany. Edward had spent his youth in Normandy and intrigued by the similarity between St. Michaels Mount and Mont Saint Michael.

The first priory on St Michaels Mount was established in 1135 by Bernard of Le Bec.

Then while King Richard I was on a Crusade in the Holy Land, the Mount was seized and held as a fortress by a group of his brother's Prince John, supporters led by Henry Pomeroy. Apparently the bones of a giant man were discovered when the church was rebuilt in the 14th century, after an earthquake destroyed the original priory.

The year before Agincourt the French monks were dispossessed in "the dissolution of the alien houses by Henry V" and by 1424 all links between the two priories had been broken.

In Henry's VI's reign St Michael's Mount was made over to the Bridgettine nuns at Isleworth.

John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, seized it with 400 men and held it during a siege of twenty-three weeks against 6,000 of Edward IV's troops in 1473. The following year, after a long siege, he was forced to surrender to the King.

Perkin Warbeck occupied the Mount in 1497. His wife, Katharine Gordon, was left at St. Michael's Mount, when Warbeck embarked on his ill fated attempt to seize the English crown. When he was defeated, the king offered Katherine Gordon "the consideration due to her rank, her beauty, and her misfortunes. He sent her to keep company with his queen, and gave her an allowance to maintain herself with, which she continued to enjoy long after the king's death."

By the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s the number of monks or nuns at St Michael's had dwindled to a handful.

Humphry Arundell, governor of St Michael's Mount, led the rebellion of 1549. The Act of Uniformity had been passed, and it abolished the diversity of religious practices that had existed up to then and dictated one form of worship "The Book of Common Prayer, with services only allow to be in English (not Cornish). Humphry Arundell was captured and, with other rebel leaders, hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn.

After being bought from Elizabeth I by Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, whose son it was sold to Sir Francis Basset. During the Civil War, Sir Arthur Basset, brother of Sir Francis, held the Mount against the parliamentary forces in 1646. King Charles II is believed to have stayed at the Mount before taking a boat for the Scilly Isles and to safety. Parliamentary troops arrived and the Mount was surrendered in April 1646.

Major Ceeley was appointed Governor in 1659, by Richard Cromwell during his brief period as Lord Protector. At the Restoration in 1660, John St Aubyn became the proprietor, and the Mount has continued in that family ever since. John St Aubyn, was father of the 1st Baronet (created in 1671). After the war the castle lost its military role and then became the family home of the Colonel John St. Aubyn.

However the new owners used it only as a summer house for the next two hundred years, though they use an early version of Gothic revival on the Lady Chapel some seven years before Horace Walpole embarked on Strawberry Hill Gothic.

At the end of the 19th century, the 1st Baron Saint Levan commissioned a cousin of his, Piers St Aubyn, a London architect, to make the Mount into a family home. Piers St Aubyn left the original church building on the top of the rock and added a large mansion to the southeast side. He seems to have made a point of ensuring that the addition did not alter the existing dramatic skyline of the mount.

The Chevy Chase Room, which was formerly the monks refectory, and is decorated with a 17th century frieze round the walls.

The 18th cent Blue Drawing rooms have Strawberry Hill Gothic plasterwork and Chippendale furniture. The rooms in the castle feature paintings and portraits by artists like Gainsborough, Hudson, Kneller, and John Opie. And there are collections of paintings and armour.

The Map Room has original maps, family silver and 18th cent cloths.

The St Aubyn family owned St Michael's Mount until 1954 when the property was given to the National Trust by the 3rd Lord St Levan, and the castle and its grounds were opened to the public. The third baron, handed St. Michael’s Mount, together with a large endowment, to the National Trust in 1954. The family continue to lease accommodation within the castle from the National Trust. The 4th Lord St Levan left the island in 2003, to enable his nephew James St. Aubyn, plus wife Mary and four children, to take over the family lease.

National Trust in Cornwall

Historic Houses in Cornwall

St Michaels Mount, Cornwall

 

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