The remains of Newark Castle are set within a park. The remains are ruinous but the waterside wall remains to its full height and gives an indication of how impressive this castle was in its heyday. Access to some parts by tour only. The Queen’s Sconce, a rare surviving Civil War earthwork, is nearby.
1. Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln also built castles at Sleaford and Banbury.
THE QUEEN’S SCONCE
The second siege of Newark (February to March 1644) had revealed the weaknesses of the medieval defences and accordingly two new earthwork forts were constructed. The Queen's Sconce was one of these (the other was the King's Sconce) and was built upon a sandy knoll positioned to cover the southern approaches to the town as well as access along the River Devon. Named after Charles I's wife, Queen Henrietta it conformed in shape to the latest fort design - for example as seen at the seventeenth century rebuild of Sandown Castle on the Isle of Wight - with arrowhead bastions at each corner. The Sconce is a rare survivor of Civil War earthworks - the Parliamentary forces left before completing the job due to fears of plague.
Third Siege (November 1645 - April 1646). The third siege was extensive with vast earthworks constructed around the town dwarfing the King and Queen’s Sconce built by the defenders.
Notes: Castle is poorly sign-posted but easily found off Castle Gate Street. Some on-road car parking nearby, otherwise pay and display car parks in close vicinity. Sconce is set in its own park with car parking.
Situated on the Fosse Way and the River Trent, Newark Castle was a church property until the reformation. Witnessing strife during Barons Wars, the death of King John within its walls and three sieges during the Civil War it was later slighted by order of Parliament.
HISTORY OF NEWARK CASTLE
Newark is positioned at an intersection between the River Trent and the Fosse Way which ran between Exeter and Lincoln. Despite the Fosse Way briefly acting as the frontier of Roman territory during the first century AD, the site doesn't seem to have been fortified during this period - the nearest military establishment seems to have been at East Stoke, around three miles from the later town. The area was settled by the Angles in the subsequent centuries and eventually become incorporated into the Kingdom of Mercia. As the north and east of Britain was overrun by Danish raiders, Newark became part of the Danelaw and by the ninth century had been fortified.
The Fosse Way was still a major road in Norman times and the strategic location prompted construction of defences. An existing Saxon fortified manor house, founded by King Edward the Elder, was included in an earth and timber motte-and-bailey castle which was commenced around 1073 on behalf of Bishop Robert Bloet. This was replaced by the stone castle seen today between 1133-48 by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln. Unfortunately his castle building prompted the suspicion of King Stephen prompting his arrest and forfeiture of Newark to the Crown.
Newark Castle had an active role during the first Barons War - the conflict between King John and his magnates. During the fighting the castle had been taken by Gilbert de Gaunt in 1215 and was only just back in Royal hands when King John, on route to meet his adversaries once again, arrived at Newark with dysentery. He died at the castle on the night of 18 October 1216 allegedly screaming in agony whilst a storm raged outside. Newark remained a problematic area however; by 1218 the castle was under the control of another Baron, Robert de Gaugy, who was ordered to surrender it to the Bishop of Lincoln. Initially he refused forcing Henry III to besiege the castle.
Over the subsequent centuries the castle was periodically modified to put comfort above defence. In 1547 the Castle passed from the church to the Crown and passed through several private owners including William Cecil, Lord Burghley (Exchequer to Elizabeth I).
In the Civil War Newark was seized by the Royalists soon after the commencement of hostilities in October 1642. The town's importance - in particular its central location near Parliamentary areas in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire - was such that a Parliamentary force under Major-General Thomas Ballard attempted to capture it in February 1643. The first siege was in place by 27 February 1643 but it was short-lived - Ballard met a spirited defence and withdrew his forces within days.
The second siege of the Civil War commenced in February 1644. At the start of that year - and in the latter months of 1643 - the Royalist position in the North Midlands had been strong with significant tax revenue raised and significant disruption to Parliamentary movements. Much of this was due to the presence of the forces of William Cavendish, Marquis of Newcastle. On 18 January however, Scottish forces had entered the war in support of Parliament. Cavendish was dispatched to intercept along with portions of the Royalist garrisons in the Midlands including Newark. The reduction of forces was not lost on Parliament who dispatched John Meldrum to besiege the town with a force of around 6,000 men. On 6 March he tightened the siege by storming the land to the immediate north-west of the town but on 21 March a Royalist force under Prince Rupert engaged Meldrum's forces. He was defeated and surrendered 3,000 muskets, 2 mortars and 11 cannons to the Royalists. The shock of the defeat prompted the Parliamentary garrison of Lincoln to withdraw whilst Derby and Nottingham braced for siege - but Prince Rupert withdrew his forces keen to pursue his campaign in the South West.
The third siege came after the decisive Royalist defeat at the Battle of Marston Moor in July 1644. The Scottish army rendezvoused with the northern Parliamentary army and set to work besieging the northern capital at York. This prompted the King to dispatch Prince Rupert with a large Royalist army to relieve the city; as he approach the Scottish-Parliamentary force withdrew but was pursued by Prince Rupert who was then roundly defeated. With no further Royalist interference the army set about reducing northern garrisons with York surrendering on the 16 July. Forces from Newark had been defeated alongside the Prince at Marston Moor and this severely curtailed the operations of the garrison. After the Battle of Naseby in April 1645, the Royalist war effort collapsed although forces from Newark did successfully recaptured Bolsover and Wellbeck in Summer 1645. Newark was now a target and on 26 November 1645 Scottish forces established siege positions. Extensive earthworks were dug around the town - manned by almost 16,000 soldiers - and the River Devon was dammed to bring Newark's corn mills to a halt. The works were complete by March 1646 but the town's Governor, Lord John Bellasye, refused to surrender. His hand was forced by the arrival of King Charles himself who, in an attempt to divide the Parliamentary-Scottish alliance, had surrendered to Scottish forces at nearby Southwell. The captured King was compelled to order the Governor of Newark to surrender which was duly done on 27 April 1646. The defensive earthworks were flattened and the castle slighted by order of Parliament in 1648. It was subsequently left as an abandoned ruin until the nineteenth century when efforts were made at restoration. The castle came into the ownership of the corporation of Newark in 1889.