During the first Civil War there was a great deal of fighting in the Midland counties between the 'Roundhead' supporters of Parliament and the 'Cavalier' supporters of King Charles I. Newark was a town of strategic importance in the war, itself being besieged three times. Here the Great North Road crossed the River Trent, also meeting Fosse Way (Roman road connecting the Royalist capital of Oxford to vital centers of Royalist support in the Northeast). Newark became center of the Nottinghamshire Royalists to counter-balance Parliament's control of Lincoln and Nottingham, and in fact continued to pose a threat to their control of Lincolnshire throughout the war.
In 1642 the medieval walls surrounding Newark were in such a bad state of disrepair that the Royalist garrison built a new defensive perimeter. This consisted of ditches and banks, and kept adding to Newark's defenses throughout the First Civil War, until 1645 described the fortifications as resembling almost an "entire skonce." Beyond this strong defensive perimeter the garrison constructed several strong forts (one of which survives to this day, Queen's Skonce). In 1645 there also existed the King's Skonce. A skonce was a star-shaped fort of four bastions surrounded by a ditch.
Historical Background of the Third Siege
Throughout 1645 the King's cause worsened, and after his defeat at Naseby many of the Royalist survivors fled to Newark, one of the strongest and best fortified garrisons nearby, and helped to further strengthen it's defenses for the inevitable siege that was to come. Forces from Newark managed to recapture Welbeck and Bolsover during the summer, but with the Northern Horse's defeat at Rowton Heath on September 24th, the last formal battle of the first Civil War, this effectively ended hopes for the King's cause.
November 4th, 1645, Lord John Bellasyse was appointed governor of Newark, and immediately sent out forces to gather provisions from surrounding areas for a long siege. Due to the current state of the war, money was in short supply, so he authorized the minting of diamond-shaped Newark coinage for the siege, called 'siege money'.
On November 27th, 1645, after their failure to take Belvoir Castle, the forces of Parliament's Northern Association (which was still not part of the New Model Army!) under Colonel-General Poyntz, Colonel Rossiter and Colonel Gravies, along with the Scots Army under General Alexander Leslie, took up positions to besiege Newark with renewed strength. The winter of 1645/46 was a very hard one; the River Trent was covered with such thick ice that Muskham Bridge, being only made of wood, collapsed through its pressure. Bellasyse and his garrison were aggressive from the start of the siege, with various sorties and raids on the Roundhead forces, and almost captured Poyntz himself in January 1646.
In February and March the Parliamentarians further strengthened their defenses by building siege works totally encircling Newark, with headquarters set-up at various key points, plus batteries from which to bombard the town. Colonel Gravies set up his headquarters in the nearby village of Coddington, positioning his men between it and Beacon Hill. The Roundheads prepared for an assault.
Meanwhile, due to overcrowding, the Cavaliers were suffering from a worse enemy - plague. It turned Newark into a "stinking infected place", killing many of the defenders. Despite this, Royalist morale remained high as they continued to hold on, even as the Scots attempted to dam the River Devon to stop the Newark corn mills from working, thus worsening the town's situation.
By the end of March the garrison were faced by 16,000 troops, but Newark staunchly refused to consider surrender. The King arrived in Newark on April 27th, still hopeful Lord Goring's forces would break out of the West to join him, and together they would march North to join up with Montrose. The King also hoped for the ever growing threat of French involvement, since the Thirty Years' War was winding down, and Cardinal Mazarin, Richelieu's successor, as well as the Queen of France, were about to send the Duke of Lorraine with 10,000 mercenary troops to Charles' aide, to end this "insult to royalty".
On May 5th, 1646, King Charles, whose situation had become even worse, surrendered to the Scots in the courtyard of the Saracen's Head at Southwell, just outside the Appleton Gate of Newark. When the garrison received news of the King's surrender, a council of war decided that it still did not want to surrender. The King, forced by the Scots, ordered the garrison to surrender, thus forcing their hand, as neither the town nor the governor wished to give in yet, and plans were made for a fighting escape from the town in an effort to join up with Northern Royalists and with Montrose in Scotland.
Therefore, on May 8th, Governor, Lord John Bellasyse, marched out of Newark with the remaining 1,500 defenders of the garrison. Bellasyse, with tears in his eyes, signed the terms of the surrender. The final capture of Newark was largely as a result of attrition, and without the surrender of the King, the town may well have held out much longer, plague notwithstanding!
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