Tag Archives: War of the Three Kingdoms

Newark Siege Coin 1645

During the Civil War (1642-51) Newark was besieged three times. It was an important transport hub where two roads (The Great North Road and the Fosse Way), and the River Trent met. Whoever controlled Newark had a great deal of influence in the conduct of the war.

Though the road system has changed a bit over the years, the Great North Road still appears under that name on my satnav, though it is variously known as the A1 or A1(M) these days. It was Ermine Street in the days of the Romans, and the the Fosse Way retains its Roman name to this day, as it makes its way between Exeter and Lincoln. It’s also known as the A46 when it passes Newark. The Trent is still in use as a working waterway with barges conveying sand, gravel and oil. It’s interesting to note that our transport system hasn’t changed that much in 2,000 years.

Anyway, back to the sieges. The siege of 1643 was insignificant, and lasted from 27th to 28th February. It was, to be honest, little more than a visit and the Parliamentarian forces were completely outclassed in terms of leadership and fighting spirit.

The second was February 29th to March 21st 1644 and ended when Prince Rupert’s  relief force mounted a surprise attack and trapped the army of Sir John Meldrum. They were eventually allowed to march away, leaving their equipment behind – 3,000 muskets, 11 cannon and 2 mortars.

Newark Siege Coin 1645

The final siege lasted from 26th November 1645 – 8th May 1646. THe Royalists were on the ropes by this time but they had spent the years building defences and Newark was one of the few places still capable of resisting. One of the Star Forts is still there – the Queen’s Sconce. In the old days, before we started being more careful of our heritage I marched up and down it re-enacting the siege. It was hard work, even without people actually trying to kill me.  The third siege featured17,000 Parliamentarian troops, including Scots, against the town. The people, of Newark suffered cold, hunger and disease (around 1,000 dying of typhus and plague). Eventually the King surrendered to the Scots commanders at The Saracen’s Head in Southwell and the town surrendered two days later. It is still a pub, and still named The Saracen;s Head if you fancy a drink in a place with history.

The coin in the header picture is a Newark Siege Shilling. Siege coins were made for use in besieged towns so that normal life could carry on. They were made from silver, such as plates and spoons, and cut to weight to equal the weight of silver in coin of the realm (which were made of sterling silver in those days). Newark coins are dated 1645 or 1646 and are available as halfcrowns (XXX), shillings (XII), ninepences (IX) and sixpences (VI). They are almost always slightly untidy in the striking – hardly surprising when you consider they were made from flattening household silver and then cutting it into lozenges before hammering between home-made dies. Sometimes they even have remnants of decoration on them from the original donor item. They are often found pierced as loyal Royalists used to wear them as pendants in remembrance of the King.

There are other siege coins (also known as obsidional coins) from towns in the UK, though many of them have been challenged as “fantasy pieces”. Pontefract, Scarborough, Carlisle and Cork all seem to have struck coins, some of which were of far worse quality than the Newark coins.

Obsidional comes from the Latin obsidionalis, meaning “of a siege”, hence the “OBS” stamped on the Newark coin.

Newark Siege Shilling 1645

Newark Siege Shilling 1645


The Saracen’s Head

Driving into Southwell from Newark, you can’t really miss the Saracen’s Head – as it positively dominates the junction in the middle of town.

In 1646 it was called the King’s Head, and on the morning  of 5th May 1646 the King came to call. Things hadn’t gone well for him over the years.

He’d fought against the Scots in the Bishop’s Wars of 1639 and 1640 and had not covered himself in martial glory.  The first was a draw, the second an emphatic away win for the Scots, who easily over-ran the counties of Northumberland and Durham, They then refused to hand them back until the English reimbursed them for the cost of the war. In 1641 the Irish started again (having fought four wars against the English in the previous 100 years), and in 1642 the English Civil War started.

The first action of the king was to raise his standard on Standard Hill in Nottingham. It blew down. It may or may not have been  bad omen, but it was certainly an inauspicious start to a war that gradually went wrong. By 5th May 1646 it looked about as bad as it could be, and the King arranged to surrender to the Scots.

He was rather caught out when the Scots handed him over to Parliament in return for £400,000, but carried on scheming and eventually managed to enlist Scots help in fighting Parliament. A Scots army did invade England in 1648, but was badly beaten by Cromwell at Preston.

With hindsight, (and if you believe in these things), meeting the Scots in a tavern called the King’s Head has the look of a bad omen.

We now come to my view of King Charles I, which isn’t necessarily a balanced academic view. He was a bit of an idiot and a good advert for why royal families should pay attention to the depth of their gene pool. If you look at his father you can see he never had much of a chance.

But when the chips were down he put on an extra shirt so he wouldn’t shiver in the January cold and seem afraid as he stepped up to the execution block.

“Let me have a shirt on more than ordinary by reason the season is so sharp as probably may make mee shake, which some Observors will imagin’ proceeds from fear. I will have no such Imputation, I fear not death!”

There is more to being a King than being clever and avoiding marrying your cousin.