The Third Siege of Newark, 1646

The second siege of Newark was relieved by Prince Rupert in March 1644. After Rupert's departure, the artillery left behind by the defeated Parliamentarians was incorporated into Newark's defences, which were significantly extended. The Spittal, which had served as the Parliamentarian headquarters during the 1644 siege, was completely demolished and a great earthwork called the King's Sconce was constructed in its place. The sconce was nearly three hundred feet across and covered an area of three acres. It was square with arrow-head bastions at each corner where cannon were mounted, and was surrounded by a ditch up to thirty feet wide and fifteen feet deep. An identical fort was constructed to guard the southern approach to Newark. It was called the Queen's Sconce and still stands today.

Royalist raids from Newark to plunder and disrupt enemy positions in the Midlands were resumed during 1644. However, Sir Richard Byron was replaced as governor by Sir Richard Willys in May 1645, possibly because Byron was held responsible for heavy losses sustained by the raiding parties.

In October 1645, King Charles arrived at Newark after the defeat of the Royalist army at Rowton Heath and his subsequent withdrawal from Chester. At a council of war at Welbeck Abbey to the north of Newark, the King finally learned of the decisive defeat of the Marquis of Montrose and the Scottish Royalists at the battle of Philiphaugh. He appointed Lord Digby lieutenant-general and sent him north with Langdale's Horse in a last desperate bid to salvage the Royalist cause in Scotland.

Shortly after Digby's departure, Prince Rupert arrived at Newark, determined to confront the King over his ignominious dismissal from command after the surrender of Bristol. Although the King's Council of War absolved Rupert and acknowledged that he was not guilty of any failure in courage or fidelity, the breach with Charles worsened after a near mutiny by Rupert and his followers over the dismissal of Sir Richard Willys as governor of Newark which, it was believed, was because Willys had supported Rupert. After another angry confrontation with the King, Rupert left with most of the senior Royalist cavalry officers for Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire.

On hearing news that a Parliamentarian army was approaching Newark, King Charles left for Oxford accompanied by his lifeguard on 3 November 1645, having appointed Lord Belasyse governor in place of Willys. In anticipation of an imminent Parliamentarian attack, Belasyse ordered the reprovisioning of Newark and the construction of a further system of earthwork defences with a deep ditch to surround the entire town. Buildings outside the defensive lines were torn down so they could not give cover to the approaching enemy.

Third siege of Newark 1646The fall of Newark, 1646

Having followed the King from Chester with 2,000 men, Colonel-General Sydenham Poyntz proceeded to reduce Royalist garrisons to the south of Newark. On 1 November 1645, Poyntz approached the outpost at Shelford House, where his summons to surrender was scornfully rejected by Sir Philip Stanhope. Poyntz declared that no quarter would be given and stormed the garrison on 3 November. Stanhope was killed and most of the defenders were massacred; Shelford House itself was plundered and burnt to the ground. The following day, Sir Robert Thervill, fearing similar treatment, surrendered the garrison at Wiverton Hall on terms. Poyntz then advanced to Newark, where he was joined by the Earl of Leven and the Covenanter army on 26 November.

With Leven's arrival, the final siege of Newark began in earnest. The Scots stormed Muskham Bridge, as Meldrum had done in 1644, to secure access to the Island — the rectangular strip of land created by the dividing and rejoining of the River Trent to the west of Newark. While the Scots dug in to the north and west, Poyntz occupied the village of Farndon to the south. Additional troops from Yorkshire and Lincolnshire under the command of Colonel Rossiter and Colonel Grey occupied the line of villages to the east of Newark and brought the total strength of the besieging army up to around 16,000 men.

Although the Royalists had less than 2,000 men, Lord Belasyse conducted a vigorous defence. Throughout the harsh winter of 1645-6, the Newark garrison mounted regular raids on the besieging forces, including an attack on Parliamentarian headquarters in which Poyntz himself was almost captured, and another on Muskham bridge that nearly succeeded in driving the Scots from the Island. During the spring of 1646, the Parliamentarians constructed lines of circumvallation to the south and east of Newark, consisting of a chain of earthwork forts linked together by a rampart and ditch, while the Scots secured their hold on the Island to the west by building a great fortified camp, nostalgically named Fort Edinburgh. By mid-March, the besiegers had completely surrounded Newark and cut off all access to the outside world. The Scottish and Parliamentarian armies maintained communication by building bridges of boats across the River Trent north of the town. Colonel-General Poyntz tried to divert the course of the river by damming it; he hoped to stop the mills in the town producing corn and gunpowder and to force the townsfolk to rely on wells for their drinking water. During April, the besiegers' siege lines advanced to bring them within musket shot of the defences. On the Island, the Scots captured a Royalist work called Sandhills Sconce from which they mounted artillery to bombard Newark Castle. Although supplies were running low and plague had broken out in the town, Belasyse refused to surrender.

While the Scots and Parliamentarians made preparations to storm Newark, events elsewhere were moving to bring the civil war to an end. In July 1645, Cardinal Mazarin of France had appointed Jean de Montereul as his envoy to negotiate with the Scottish commissioners resident in London. Mazarin hoped to influence a resolution of the civil war that was favourable to French interests. Encouraged by Montereul, the Scots discussed the possibility of a separate peace treaty with the King. Early in 1646, Montereul acted as an intermediary in secret negotiations to prepare for the King's surrender to the Scots rather than to Parliament. On 27 April, with the New Model Army closing in on Oxford, King Charles fled from the Royalist capital in disguise and made his way to the camp of the Scottish army before Newark. He arrived at the Scottish headquarters at Southwell on 5 May 1646 and surrendered himself to Lieutenant-General David Leslie, who was acting commander of the Covenanter army, Lord Leven having withdrawn to Newcastle.

Leslie was anxious to convey the King to Newcastle, which was a secure garrison and closer to Scotland, but he did not wish to leave himself open to accusations of deserting his Parliamentarian allies, so he urged the King to order the immediate surrender of Newark on reasonable terms. Although Lord Belasyse is said to have wept when he received the order, he had no choice but to obey. Newark surrendered on 6 May 1646 and Belasyse marched out with his depleted garrison. On 8 May, the Scots broke camp and marched north, with the King in semi-captivity.


S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War, vol. iii (London 1889)

Peter Gaunt, The Cromwellian Gazetteer (Stroud 1987)

Glyn Hopkins, The third siege of Newark

P. Young and W. Emberton, Sieges of the Great Civil War (London 1978)