May 8th 2016 marks four hundred and fifty years since the Royalist forces holding the town of Newark-on-Trent during the English Civil War surrendered to Parliament. This was done on the orders of King Charles 1, who had already surrendered himself to Parliament at the town of Southwell, eight miles away. Members of the Sealed Knot re-enactment group gathered last Sunday (May 8th) to commemorate the events of the official ceremony of surrender. And we hopped along to have a look.
First we headed for the castle grounds to watch the groups gathering before they marched to the Market Place for the actual surrender ceremony. A few tents had been set up and accompanying wives and children, also in costume, added interest to the scene. The soldiers in blue are the Scots, who had fought for Parliament. The royalists are in red, some of the more high-ranking ones dressed as cavaliers with red sashes and big black hats with plumes. One or two Puritan ministers were also present (in black, with white collars):
This is the march to the Market Place to the sound of accompanying drum beat:
Civil War broke out in 1642, for many reasons that I won’t go into here, other than to say that the causes can (very generally) be said to fall into three categories: politics, religion and money. King Charles and Parliament simply could not agree on so many issues. Like all civil wars, it split the country in two as people sided with either King or Parliament. Sometimes, members of the same family were on different sides: a tragic state of affairs.
Newark was staunchly Royalist from the beginning, besieged three times until it surrendered, reluctantly, in May 1646, on Charles’ orders. The town had been surrounded by enemy sconces (forts) and totally battered. Scars from cannon fire can still be seen on the castle wall facing the river, and the church in the town centre displays a hole beneath one of the windows in the spire where a cannon ball struck:
So, by 1646, the town’s food supplies had been cut off for some time; people were nearing starvation and suffering from plague. War debts and damage to the surrounding grazing and farmland would impoverish it for generations. Yet still, surrender was only accepted under protest by the town’s garrison, the loyal Royalists prepared to hold out to the bitter end.
Newark played a vital role during the English Civil War. Not only was it was situated at the intersection of two major roads (the Great North Road and the Fosse Way) it was also sited at the last crossing point of the River Trent before it became tidal. Additionally, Newark’s central location, near to Parliamentary areas in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, made it particularly desirable to Parliamentary generals.
The Royalists held it and the Parliamentarians wanted it! And in the end, Oliver Cromwell’s well-disciplined and organised ‘New Model Army’ won out over the less well organised, less well paid and less well fed Royalist troops. The execution by beheading of Charles 1 in 1649, is one of the most well known events of English history.
And finally, here are some photos of the ceremony. Unfortunately, as we were ‘roped off’ it was difficult to get close. The then Governor of Newark, Sir John Henderson (a Scottish military figure who was thought to add ‘clout’ to the Royalist cause) plays the major role. Several speeches were made.
Then it was back to the castle for the stalls and displays of musket fire in the afternoon. As we’d watched the Sealed Knot do this last September (which I posted about) we gave it a miss on this occasion.