Gazing at the ruined fortress on the opposite bank of the River Trent on a summer’s evening, one wouldn´t necessarily think of it, as once, being one of the most important castles in north of England. But its unique position on the old Roman Foss way, guarding the main route north and south and a crossing point of the Trent was probably the reason for its importance. Hence the reason why King Henry I gave permission to Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln in 1129 to build the first castle here. Of its appearance Henry of Huntingdon, who was asked by the Bishop to write the history of England, described the castle in 1139 as being, “a magnificent castle of very ornate construction.”
This castle was soon to be rebuilt in stone in the years between 1173 and 1180.
Stephen became King in 1135, against a lot of opposition from the barons who favoured Matilda daughter of Henry I. In order to break his enemy’s power, Stephen seized many of their fortresses and in particular, forced Bishop Alexander to surrender this castle to the crown.
Years later, the castle was again in the news after the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 and in the wake of King John battling against the English rebel barons. King John arrived at Newark, weak and unable to travel any further. He was suffering from dysentery and was given an apartment in the fortified gatehouse which was the most secure part of the castle. Here he died a short time afterwards on 18 October 1216.
In 1603, James I lodged here on his way to London to be crowned. While here he held court and ordered the execution of a pick-pocket but interestingly James was so shocked at the living conditions of the prisoners in the castle that he ordered them to be released, save for those guilty of murder.
During the Civil War that followed, The castle was garrisoned by Royalists and it was to Newark that King James I retreated in 1645 after the disastrous Battle of Naseby. The embattled King surrendered on the 6 May 1646 and within days the people of the area were summoned to do what 450 years and three sieges failed to do. Destroy the castle, leaving it in the condition the visitor sees it today.
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