Civil War Visit Nottinghamshire
Continuing with our guide to Nottinghamshire’s unique heritage, as part of English Tourism Week, today we’re stepping back in time to the days of bloody battles, skirmishes and sieges, deep into the heart of Britain’s deadliest conflict - the English Civil War.

One of the most turbulent times in British history, Nottinghamshire played a pivotal role this richly dramatic era, as King Charles I’s Royalist army and Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians fought to control the country in a battle over the power of the monarchy and the rights of parliament.

In 1642, Charles I was faced with growing discontent with his rule. Amongst an increasingly tense backdrop of war in Europe, religious conflict, and debt, Charles I came to Nottingham Castle and raised his royal standard at Derry Hill (now Standard Hill) to demonstrate his authority and effectively started the Civil War. Nottingham was chosen for its central location in the heart of England, the midpoint between the largely Royalist north and west and a broadly Parliamentarian south and east.

The monarch had expected the people of Nottingham to fall over themselves to take up his royal cause, hand over their gunpowder and join his army, but the people proved harder to persuade. Shortly after Charles I left Nottingham to gather support for his cause in Shrewsbury, the Castle fell into Parliamentarian hands.

This dramatic period in history was characterised by divided loyalties, not only within towns and cities, but within families and homes, as was the case at Holme Pierrepont Hall. Two brothers living in the hall held opposing views, with Henry, Marquess of Dorchester supporting the King and his brother, William being a close friend and supporter of Oliver Cromwell. Being on opposing sides and with their mother living at Holme Pierrepont Hall the house was spared of attack, even though battles took place very close by.

Newark catsle - Visit Nottinghamshire

Other areas in the county were not so lucky. The Nottinghamshire town of Newark, situated on the banks of the River Trent, was a Royalist stronghold and many fierce battles were fought at the Castle and other key sites. Newark came under siege from the Parliamentarians in 1643, 1644 and 1645-46 and as the fighting raged, the population suffered disease and famine.

Today visitors can see many landmarks associated with the conflict and vestiges of the violence, like the cannonball hole in the spire of the parish church, and the remaining walls of Newark Castle, which was partly destroyed in 1646, as well as immersing themselves in the stories of gunpowder, plague and plot at the National Civil War Centre. The town’s Civil War history spills out of the museum and threads through the streets with the National Civil War Trail, an immersive augmented-reality experience that places you in the midst of a siege-torn town. 

Several Royalist attacks on Nottingham were made from Newark, with the town successfully seized in 1644, but the strategic stronghold of Nottingham Castle remained under Parliamentarian control throughout the war.

The nearby town of Southwell  played its own significant role in the English Civil War; it was here that King Charles I spent his last night as a free man. In May 1646, Charles I left Newark for Southwell, disguised as a clergyman. He spent a night at the Saracen’s Head – then named the King’s Head – before visiting the Archbishop’s Palace to strike a deal with the Scottish Commissioners, believing he had secured sanctuary from Cromwell and the Parliamentarians. The Scottish Commissioners betrayed the King and handed him over to the Parliamentarians for a substantial fee, and the king was imprisoned at the nearby Kelham Hall.

Many of Southwell's historic buildings and landmarks suffered during this period, with the Archbishop's Palace and Southwell Minster bearing scars from the conflict; the blows from swords are clearly visible in the famous Leaves of Southwell – stunning naturalistic carvings that adorn the Minster's Chapter House. Oliver Cromwell's troops destroyed monuments and graves for lead and other valuable materials. At the end of the war, only the Great Hall still stood in the Archbishop's Palace.

Though the Royalists won early victories, the Parliamentarians ultimately triumphed through combination of parliament's alliance with the Scots and the formation of the New Model Army. King Charles I escaped to the Isle of Wight in 1647 and encouraged discontented Scots to invade. This 'Second Civil War' was over within a year, and King Charles I was tired for treason and executed in 1649.

Nottingham Castle - Visit Nottinghamshire

However, that didn’t mean the destruction was over in the new republic. In 1651, the remains of the war-ravaged Nottingham Castle were destroyed with gunpowder, much to the annoyance of Oliver Cromwell, to prevent it from future military use. Only the subterranean structures of the medieval castle survived, and it wasn’t until 1679 that the Ducal palace which can be seen today was constructed by William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle.

Another beautiful castle in the area, Belvoir Castle, suffered the same fate. During the war, it had been of the more notable strongholds of the king's supporters and King Charles spent a night here on his way into Lincolnshire. It was destroyed in 1649 by parliamentarian forces, and later rebuilt by the Earl of Rutland as a mansion house. It was not until 1830 that it was converted back into the traditional gothic style castle we see today, with towers, turrets and battlements.

A Civil War trail through Southwell, Newark and Nottingham is available to download here, and there are a variety of immersive experiences to step back into the turbulent mid-17th century. The 5th Annual Pikes and Plunder: Civil War Festival will take place on Sunday 5 & Monday 6 May, to mark the fall of Royalist Newark in 1646, where ‌over 300 civil war re-enactors will descend on the town. In June, you can hear the canons roar and see the soldiers prepare for battle as they sharpen their swords, prepare their muskets and clash in a fight over king and country in a re-enactment of the dreaded Siege at Bolsover Castle.


This blog was written by Claire Jones, Marketing Assistant at Visit Nottinghamshire. 

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National Civil War Centre Newark
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National Civil War Centre Newark

Explore the richly dramatic English Civil War, seeing stories of gunpowder, plague and plot as you walk through the fantastic galleries of Newark's National Civil War Centre.

Siege at Bolsover Castle
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Siege at Bolsover Castle

It's the Civil War and the Duke of Cavendish is nervously awaiting the Parliamentarian armies to arrive at the doorstep of Bolsover.

Southwell
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Southwell Minster
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