Newark suffered three sieges during the English Civil War. Control of Newark was important to both sides during the civil war as two important roads ran through the town – the Great North Way and Fosse Way. For the Royalists control of Newark was vital as it connected their headquarters in Oxford to Royalist centres in the northeast.
Newark suffered its first short-lived siege between February 27th and 28th 1643. The second siege lasted longer from February 29th to March 21st 1644 while the third siege lasted from November 26th 1645 to May 8th 1646.
Sir John Digby, the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, had seized Newark on behalf of Charles I in late 1642. Digby was assisted by Sir John Henderson, a professional Scottish soldier, who it was felt would add military acumen to the Royalists cause. Henderson was appointed Governor of Newark.
Parliament also valued the strategic importance of Newark and on February 27th 1643 Major-General Thomas Ballard besieged the town with his own force aided by others from the Midlands that were loyal to Parliament’s cause. It quickly became clear that Ballard did not have the ability to take Newark and he and his men left the next day.
The second siege of Newark took place in 1644. While Parliament had a strong command of much of the Midlands, the Royalists had eight major garrisons in the area and they did a great deal to undermine Parliament’s full control of the Midlands – eve t the extent of stopping Parliament from collecting taxation in areas it seemingly controlled.
One of these strong centres was Newark. However, this changed when the Scots joined the Parliamentarian cause. The Marquis of Newcastle was ordered to repel the force advancing from the north along the eastern coastline. Troops from the Newark garrison were sent to help him. This greatly reduced Newark’s ability to defend itself. Parliament took advantage of this and besieged the town for a second time at the very end of February 1644. The man who led the siege was Sir John Meldrum, a skilled soldier.
Meldrum could call on a force that numbered between 6,000 and 7,000 men, including 2,000 cavalry. While the Royalists could muster a force of 5,000 men within the garrison at Newark, only 3,000 were capable of taking to the field to attack Meldrum. Lord Loughborough, who commanded the garrison at Newark, called on Prince Rupert to assist him while at the same time he started to launch small-scale attacks on Meldrum’s men. Meldrum did his best to cut off Newark and occupied the main area of grazing land for the town – an island in the River Trent just to the north of Newark – in an effort to starve out the remaining Royalists in the town.
On March 21st, after a march in the darkness, Rupert attacked Meldrum’s men to the east of Newark at 02.00. Taken by surprise, Meldrum was pushed back onto ‘The Island’. Rupert’s men captured the only bridges on to and off the island. Surrounded and with no hope of getting off ‘The Island’, Meldrum had no choice but to surrender. In the settlement that followed Meldrum and his men were allowed off the island and given a safe passage while the Royalists got 3,000 muskets, 2 mortars and 11 cannons in return. Satisfied with his work at Newark, Rupert did not take up the challenge of taking on Parliamentarian strong points in the Midlands, such as Nottingham. He rested his men and then marched west.
Soldiers from the Newark garrison fought at Marston Moor. The defeat of the Royalists in a battle for supremacy in the north of England had to have a negative impact on Newark. The overwhelming defeat of the Royalists at Naseby – to the south of Newark – meant that the town was effectively trapped by Parliament both to the north and the south.
On November 26th 1645, troops from Scotland started to besiege Newark from the north while Parliamentarian forces did the same from the south. The garrison aggressively defended the town and during a harsh winter the Scots built up siege works manned by 16,000 men. They also tried to dam the River Deven so that the grain mills in the town were starved of any form of power. Regardless of this, Newark held out. Tokens were made in the town in lieu of coins having a value. The townspeople who survived later wrote that food was so scarce that they had to eat horses and dogs. Plague was also a major day-to-day problem in the town. However, the town held out until it was ordered to surrender by Charles who was made to order the surrender as part of the conditions of his surrender. Newark surrendered on May 8th 1646.