Wars are rarely, if ever, civil. Civil wars especially, rip countries apart, tear towns apart, turn brother against brother, where muskets mean military warfare, where sword meets flesh and where King Charles I divine right is severed with his head. The National Civil War Centre in Newark reminds us what nine years of fighting did to shape the country we are today.
A free day thanks to Radio Nottingham Big Day Out, we’re in Newark, a strategic town that spent time under siege three times during the English civil war.
The British Civil Wars are often ignored in favour of more ‘romantic’ or ‘chivalrous’ wars, which is never the case, these wars divided religion and politics shaping the country as we see it today and one of the few times that common people started to talk about social equality. Most Britons probably only able to sum that there was a war between Roundheads and Cavaliers and that Britain became a republic for a short while. This museum is tastefully displayed with an airy feel of musket and armour. Armour that is battle worn and musket ball riddled.
On display are a collection of civil war era pieces, Huckbut Guns, flintlock pistols, siege helmets, pikeman’s armour, breastplates and buff coats and medical devices such as bullet extractors, amputation knives and bone saws. There’s even a hand brand, like a metal spiked glove with blunt spikes that were heated up and then used to burn the imprint on deserters from the Royalist Army.
Some of these are historical pieces, the buff coat worn by Colonel Francis Hacker who led King Charles to his execution. A pikeman’s pot helmet with a deep indentation caused by a pistol ball impact and shallow gash marks from sword blows. Serious armour for deadly intent.
The riding boots, wheelchair and sword of Sir Thomas Fairfax, the Commander in Chief of the New Model Army, the first modern porfessionally trained army commanded by Parliament. Certainly a character, he led from the front, getting wounded 3 times in one year once with a shot in the shoulder, had his face slashed with a sword and once shot in the wrist at Selby which he described as:
I received a shot in the wrist of my arm, which made the bridle fall out of my hand, which being among the nerves and veins, suddenly let out such a quantity of blood, that I was ready to fall from my horse.
He then rode a further 20 miles before he got the wound treated. There is a floor devoted to the medical care that some soldiers received. Not quite as medieval as history would have us believe, not pleasant none the less, but advancements were made in prosthetic limbs as amputation was common. At least the Parliamentary Army was the first to offer welfare and pensions to wounded soldiers. Something that still has to be fought for today.