History of Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, England

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Despite heavy taxation, made worse in Newark by the cost of periodically entertaining the king of the time (James I and later Charles I), Newark remained loyal to the royal cause in its growing dispute with Parliament. When war came, although the king first raised his standard at Nottingham, that town quickly became a Parliamentary stronghold, leaving Newark as the main royalist base in this part of the country.

The first attack on the town was in February 1643, when two troops of horsemen burnt Northgate but were driven off. Newark then went on the offensive for much of the remainder of the year, but not always successfully. They attacked Grantham in May and were put to flight by Col. Oliver Cromwell and his men, and a month later an attempt to ambush Cromwell was reversed, resulting in the capture of many of the Newark raiders. Also in May, a party of Newarkers had taken arms to the garrison at Oxford, and attacked Northampton during the return journey. June saw two attacks on Gainsborough, in the first of which their general was killed, but in the second, a few days later, they captured the town. In September 600 of them raided Nottingham, taking control of all except the castle and carrying off booty and prisoners by boat down the river. In November of that year four troops of horsemen from Newark attacked Melton Mowbray at dawn, taking a large number of prisoners whom they incarcerated in Belvoir Castle.

The attacks on Nottingham and the surrounding area continued, bringing Newark to national attention as being the great exception to the successes of the Parliamentary armies in most other areas. At the end of 1644 it was the focus of Parliamentary attentions and was besieged by forces from Nottingham, Lincoln and Derby. Short of food, the town was soon in great difficulties, but in March Prince Rupert arrived with his army and relieved the siege, capturing almost all the enemy arms in the process.

The Newark forces returned to the work of harrassing neighbouring Parliamentary-held towns with attacks on Nottingham, Tuxford and Sleaford. Parliament reacted by commencing a new siege towards the end of January 1645, but this was relieved, apparently without too much difficulty, by Sir Marmaduke Langdale after about a month. Some of the Newark garrison then joined Sir Marmaduke on a march to relieve Pontefract, returning immediately afterwards to Newark. They then recommenced their raiding activities, and their cavalry joined the king's forces in the decisive battle of Naseby, near Leicester in June 1645. Newark's forces increased further as many of the defeated royalist army fled there after the battle.

A further siege was planned, but was called off when the Parliamentary troops rebelled, mainly because of discontent over arrears of pay. The Newark raiders extended their activities over a wider area than ever, with successful raids against Riby in Lincolnshire, Rockingham, Torksey House (Lincolnshire) and Barton-upon-Humber. The king spent about a month in the town, from early October 1645, during which he quarrelled with Prince Rupert so badly that the prince and several other senior officers withdrew from the war. An attempt was made to begin a new siege while the king was there, but the withdrawal of the Yorkshire forces compelled its abandonment and the king moved out to return to Oxford before the siege could be made effective.

Oxford and Newark were now the only remaining garrisons of any strength remaining in royalist hands in the whole country. The third and final siege began later in November 1645, by which time the town's defences had been greatly strengthened. Two major forts had been constructed just outside the town, one, called the Queen's Sconce, to the south-west and another, the King's Sconce to the north-east, both close to the river, together with defensive walls and water filled ditch totalling two and a quarter miles in length, around the town.

The Scottish army occupied the land to the north of the town, centred around Muskham Bridge, which, like that at Kelham, had been destroyed earlier and was now replaced by a bridge of boats. Various English regiments were based in each of the villages around the east, south and north, but the defenders nevertheless burst forth at intervals to make surprise attacks on the enemy camps.

The siege continued until May 1646, despite the efforts of the enemy on the outside and the spread of plague within, when the king came secretly to Southwell to negotiate his surrender to the Scots at Kelham, following which he ordered the surrender of Newark on terms which the Newarkers accepted under protest and very reluctantly. The destruction of the fortifications was immediately ordered, leading to the demolition of most of the castle and the levelling of the King's Sconce, although much of the Queen's Sconce earthworks survived, and can still be seen today.

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This page last updated 1st September 2003