16. History of the County.

Let us now turn to the history of man in Nottinghamshire. The hills, valleys, and rocks which make up the county have a history of their own. They are the stage upon which man has acted. For ages generation has been followed by generation, but the hills, streams, climate, and natural history, which have been dealt with in earlier chapters, have altered very little.

The present generation is writing its history in books and papers. It is also making less perishable records in the form of railway lines, factories, and mines. This chapter is concerned only with the written history of past generations. The succeeding ones attempt to give body and life to that history by the contemplation of their handiwork.

Newark Castle and the Great Cross Roads (The Fossway is seen to left of the picture, the Great North Road to right).
Newark Castle and the Great Cross Roads (The Fossway is seen to left of the picture, the Great North Road to right).

Nottinghamshire with its extensive forests on the west and swamps on the north and east offered no great attractions to the Romans. They had no stations of such importance as Lincoln and Leicester within the bounds of the future county. But it was traversed by the great road, the Fosseway, which joined these two places. This road, which enters the county near Collingham and leaves it near Willoughby on the Wolds, was the probable route by which the Angles invaded the county during the sixth century. A great battle was fought between the East Anglians and the Northumbnians in the year A.D. 617 on the Idle close to Retford.

The Angles soon realised the strategic importance of what we now know as the Castle Rock at Nottingham, which must have played an important part in the struggle between the rival kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria. The first mention of this stronghold is made in connection with the coming of the Danes. These latest invaders, having gained control over Northumbria, came south from York and entered it in A.D. 868. Here they wintered, but in the following year were attacked and compelled to make a treaty with Ethelred and Alfred. Six years later they returned, but this time they extended their conquests far beyond Nottingham into western Mercia. In A.D. 878 Alfred concluded the Peace of Wedmore with them. By this it was agreed that they should have control over the country north-east of Watling Street. This region was called the Danelaw. Here they had several strongholds known as “The Five Boroughs,” of which Nottingham was one. In or about A.D. 922 it was recaptured by the Saxon king of Wessex, Edward the Elder. He built a bridge across the Trent at this point and placed fortifications near each end.

Two years after the battle of Hastings William I came to Nottingham preparatory to subduing the north. Here he erected a castle which he entrusted to one of his followers, William Peveril, and thus gave permanence to his conquest in this region.

From that time until the Commonwealth Nottinghamshire was a constant resort of nearly all the sovereigns with the exception of the Tudors. Several factors account for this. It occupied a central position in the kingdom and lay upon the great trunk routes to the north. For the earlier kings especially, Sherwood Forest was a favourite hunting-ground and the castle a worthy residence.

Market Place, Newark.
Market Place, Newark.

Henry II took the castle from the Peverils, and made Nottingham an object of his favour, granting a charter to its burgesses.

During the absence of Richard I from England this district became the centre of his brother John’s treacherous activities. On his return Nottingham held out for John to the last and did not yield until the King began to carry the castle by storm. Both this town and Newark always remained true to John. The former received three charters from him and at the latter place he died.

After Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer had contrived the murder of Edward II they established themselves in Nottingham Castle and sought to rule the country during the minority of Edward III. In 1330 this youth, then eighteen, proceeded to take over the reins of power. With several nobles he gained access to the castle by means of a secret passage now known as “Mortimer’s Hole.” Mortimer was arrested, sent to the Tower of London, and finally executed at Tyburn.

In 1349 Nottinghamshire in common with the whole country suffered from that scourge, the Black Death. The depopulation caused by this led to consequences of far-reaching influence, more particularly on the relationships of landowners to labourers and upon the discipline of the clergy.

During the Wars of the Roses the county was mainly on the side of the Yorkists and the castle was generally in their hands. Richard III made it his headquarters. It was from here that he started out on that journey. which ended so fatally on Bosworth Field.

After the close of the wars the Yorkists used Lambert Simnel as their tool, and having crowned him Edward VI in Dublin they determined to depose Henry VII. They landed their forces in Lancashire, marched first to York, and then across Nottinghamshire by Mansfield and Southwell to Fiskerton, where they forded the Trent and encamped on the opposite side of the river at East Stoke. Meanwhile the King had collected his army at Nottingham and held a council of war in the castle. The next day he marched to Newark, and on the following day, June i6, 1487, joined in battle with and defeated the rebels on Stoke Field.

On August 25, 1642, Charles I performed the opening act of the Civil War by erecting his standard on the present grounds of the Nottingham General Hospital. Here he called upon his subjects to rally round him, but received no very hearty response. Generally speaking the landowners and Newark sided with the Royalists the people and Nottingham with the Roundheads. The two castles held similar strategic positions for the two parties. Both were keys to the north; the one for the Parliament, the other for the King. Though no great battle was fought in this county it witnessed the closing as well as the opening act of the war. In May, 1646, Charles surrendered himself to the Scottish Commissioners at the Saracen’s Head Inn, Southwell. From thence he sent orders to Newark, the last of the Royalist strongholds, to yield.