Thursday 26 November 2020

Newark Besieged

 On this day in 1645 the third, and by far the longest, siege of Newark began when Scottish troops to the North and English Parliamentarian forces to the South moved to encircle the Royalist stronghold. The garrison, under the leadership of Lord Belasyse, put up a vigorous defence, despite being outnumbered eight to one, but the besiegers gradually tightened their grip, encircling the town with a network of fortifications and attempting to dam the river so that the town's mills would have no water to drive them. By March, Newark was cut off entirely from the outside world. With supplies running dangerously low and plague breaking out in the town, Belasyse stood firm, refusing to surrender. However, the King himself, having fled from Oxford, surrendered his person to the Parliamentarians at Southwell on 5th May, 1646, and the following day he sent an order to the garrison at Newark to surrender. Lord Belasyse is said to have wept when he received this order, but he could only obey. He duly marched out with his depleted garrison and surrendered. 
   When I was first reading about the English Civil War, back in my far-off schooldays, I inclined to see it in the terms pithily outlined in 1066 and All That: the Cavaliers were 'wrong but wromantic', the Roundheads 'right but repulsive'. Nowadays I'd be more inclined to categorise the Royalists as wrong and wromantic, and the Parliamentarians as wrong and repulsive. Charles I was a wrong-headed monarch, also muddle-headed and fatally pig-headed, but the royalist cause seems far more attractive to me now, partly because of my researches into 17th-century English church monuments, the best of which nearly all seem to commemorate members of Royalist families (just as, earlier, many of the best of them were to Recusants). Evidence of the terrible iconoclastic violence inflicted on sacred buildings by the Puritans also counts heavily against them in my book. But, beyond that, there is something in the whole Puritan mindset that I find repulsive indeed, especially as that mindset seems to be indestructible. It is certainly enjoying a resurgence in this age when the Righteous and Justified army of the 'woke' seems to be on a mission to cleanse the world of sinfulness by rooting out 'wrong' thought, demystifying tradition and authority, destroying the past, and starting again from scratch, convinced that this time the result will be an earthly Paradise, a new Jerusalem. The murderous devastation wrought by such thinking over the centuries since the Civil War hardly needs spelling out. 

  But enough of that – it's time to strike the viol. Here is John Jenkyns's wonderful fantasia inspired by the siege of Newark (in particular Prince Rupert's heroic lifting of the second siege) – Newark-Seidge:

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