1893 text

Thomas, Lord Fairfax, Generalissimo of the Parliament forces. After the Restoration, he retired to his country seat, where he lived in private till his death, 1671. In a volume (autograph) of Lord Fairfax’s Poems, preserved in the British Museum, 11744, f. 42, the following lines occur upon the 30th of January, on which day the King was beheaded. It is believed that they have never been printed.

O let that day from time be bloted quitt, And beleef of ‘t in next age be waved, In depest silence that act concealed might, That so the creadet of our nation might be saved; But if the powre devine hath ordered this, His will’s the law, and our must aquiess.

These wretched verses have obviously no merit; but they are curious as showing that Fairfax, who had refused to act as one of Charles I’s judges; continued long afterwards to entertain a proper horror for that unfortunate monarch’s fate. It has recently been pointed out to me, that the lines were not originally composed by Fairfax, being only a poor translation of the spirited lines of Statius (Sylvarum lib. v. cap. ii. l. 88)

Excidat illa dies aevo, ne postera credant Secula, nos certe taceamus; et obruta multa Nocte tegi propria patiamur crimina gentis.

These verses were first applied by the President de Thou to the massacre of St. Bartholomew, 1572; and in our day, by Mr. Pitt, in his memorable speech in the House of Commons, January, 1793, after the murder of Louis XVI. — B.

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

5 Annotations

helenamurphy  •  Link

these lines certainly show the sensitive nature of the great military commander. in keeping with his background Fairfax would not have wished to see the appalling execution of Charles 1, which in its era shocked the entire world. Fairfax appreciated the arts as he had his daughter tutored by Andrew marvell.

David Gurliacci  •  Link

"Black Tom" Fairfax

What a story this man's life makes! A fascinating biographical sketch of Fairfax can be found on this web page, part of a larger website ("British Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate 1638-1660") that's chock full of information:


Here's a summary of what that web page says (all quotes are from it):

He was born in 1612 in Yorkshire and educated at Cambridge, 1626. Three years later, Fairfax joined Sir Horace Vere's army, fighting for the Dutch in the Thirty Years War. Then he joined Vere's family, marrying his daughter, Anne. In the First Bishop's War, he marched with Charles I, who knighted him in 1640.

That didn't stop him from siding with the Roundheads, however, and he fought with them in the north of England. "Known as 'Black Tom' for his dark complexion, Sir Thomas gained a reputation as a gallant and courageous commander, though his fortunes were mixed."

In October 1643 he first collaborated with a colonel in the Eastern Association army -- Oliver Cromwell. Appointed Lord General of the New Model Army in 1645, Fairfax "was a strict disciplinarian and did much to establish the high code of personal conduct for which the New Model became famous."

He was victorious in a string of important battles between Roundheads and Cavaliers. On the death of his father, Ferdinando, in 1648, Thomas became the 3rd Lord Fairfax.

"Fairfax became increasingly worried at events leading up to the King's [Charles I] trial because all the army's actions were carried out nominally under his name. Although he was appointed one of the commissioners of the High Court of Justice, Fairfax did not attend the King's trial. When his name was called, his wife, Anne, famously cried out, 'He hath more wit than to be here,' before being forcibly removed from the courtroom. During the execution of the King, Fairfax is said to have been detained at a prayer meeting by Cromwell and Colonel Harrison."

He resigned as Lord General in 1650 rather than invade Scotland.

His daughter, Mary, married the Duke of Buckingham in 1657, which proved fortunate for both Fairfax and Buckingham. The duke was in secret communication with Charles II, and in 1658 Buckingham was arrested and sent to the Tower. "Fairfax came to London to intercede for him, quarrelling bitterly with Cromwell" just days before the Protector died.

After the Restoration, Fairfax's son-in-law returned the favor in kind, for he "probably saved him [Fairfax] from being condemned as a regicide." Instead of the gallows or prison, Fairfax spent a quiet retirement in Yorkshire until his death in 1671.

In December 1659, General Monck in Scotland prepared to march south against Lambert. Fairfax raised the gentry in his native Yorkshire in Monck's support. On Jan. 1, Fairfax seized York from Colonel Robert Lilburne, the very day Monck crossed the Tweed into England (a result of close coordination or just a coincidence?). "Fairfax handed York over to Monck and urged him to restore the Monarchy."

David Gurliacci  •  Link

Fairfax and Monck, 1659-60

Fairfax and George Monck, who was in charge of the army in Scotland, worked together against Lambert and the Committee of Safety, according to historian J.R. Tanner:

"On January 2, 1660, Monk crossed the Tweed at the head of 5,000 foot and 2,000 horse. As early as November, 1659, he had been in negotiations with Fairfax -- the one Parliamentary general left of high character and entirely unstained reputation -- and on January 1 Fairfax and his friends had occupied York in arms. This was an accession of vital importance, for his [Fairfax's] influence was still strong among the soldiers he had once commanded, and this may very well have been one of the causes of the disintegration of Lambert's army."

--"English Constitutional Conflicts of the Seventeenth Century," (1928) Lecture XIII, "The Restoration," p. 206 (1966 edition).

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Fairfax, Pepys: 2 degrees separation

A sister of Thomas Fairfax married Thomas Widdrington, who became a member of the council of state in 1651, speaker of the Commons in September 1656 and chief baron of the Exchequer, where Pepys worked, in June 1658. Thomas's brother, Ralph, was a professor at Cambridge and wrote to Pepys's father (see entry 22 Jan. 1660) about the younger John Pepys possibly entering Cambridge. Edward Widdrington, a relative of both of these Widdringtons, lived in the Axe Yard at the same time Pepys did, according to Claire Tomalin's "Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self" (p. 68).

1911 Britannica article on the Widdringtons:

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.



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