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The Lord Fairfax of Cameron
Thomas Fairfax by Robert Walker, painted between 1649 and 1658
Nickname(s)Black Tom
Rider of the White Horse
Born(1612-01-17)17 January 1612
Denton Hall, Denton, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died12 November 1671(1671-11-12) (aged 59)
Nun Appleton, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
AllegianceKingdom of England
Parliament of England
Service/branchEnglish Army
Parliamentarian army
RankLord General

Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron (17 January 1612 – 12 November 1671), also known as Sir Thomas Fairfax,[1] was an English politician, general and Parliamentary commander-in-chief during the English Civil War. An adept and talented commander, Fairfax led Parliament to many victories, including the crucial Battle of Naseby, effectively becoming military ruler of England, but he was eventually overshadowed by his subordinate Oliver Cromwell, who was more politically adept and radical in action against Charles I. Fairfax became dissatisfied with Cromwell's policy and publicly refused to take part in Charles's show trial. Eventually he resigned, leaving Cromwell to control the country. Because of this, as well as his honourable battlefield conduct and active role in the Restoration of the monarchy after Cromwell's death, he was exempted from the retribution that was exacted on many other leaders of the revolution.

Early life

Thomas Fairfax was born at Denton Hall, halfway between Ilkley and Otley in the West Riding of Yorkshire, on 17 January 1612, the eldest son of Ferdinando Fairfax, 2nd Lord Fairfax of Cameron. (His family title of Lord Fairfax of Cameron was in the peerage of Scotland, then still independent from England, which was why he was able to sit in the English House of Commons after he inherited it.) His dark hair, eyes and swarthy complexion would earn him the nickname "Black Tom".[2][3]

Fairfax studied at St John's College, Cambridge,[4] and Gray's Inn (1626–1628), and then volunteered to join Sir Horace Vere's expedition to fight for the Protestant cause in the Netherlands.[5] In 1639, he commanded a troop of Yorkshire dragoons which marched with King Charles I against the Scots in the First Bishops' War, which ended with the Pacification of Berwick before any fighting took place. In the Second Bishops' War the following year, the English army was routed at the Battle of Newburn. Fairfax fled with the rest of the defeated army, but was nevertheless knighted in January 1641 for his services.[1]

Pre-Civil War events

Sir Thomas Fairfax, Knight, line engraving, 1680. National Portrait Gallery, London

The Fairfaxes, father and son, though serving at first under King Charles I, were opposed to the arbitrary prerogative of the Crown, and Sir Thomas declared that "his judgment was for the Parliament as the king and kingdom's great and safest council". Charles endeavoured to raise a guard for his own person at York, intending it, as the events afterwards would prove, to form the nucleus of an army. Fairfax was employed to present a petition to his sovereign, entreating him to listen to the voice of his parliament, and to discontinue the raising of troops. This was at a great meeting of the freeholders and farmers of Yorkshire convened by the king on Heworth Moor near York. Charles attempted to ignore the petition, pressing his horse forward, but Fairfax followed him and placed the petition on the pommel of the king's saddle.[6]

Civil War

When the civil war began in 1642, his father, Lord Fairfax, was appointed general of the Parliamentary forces in the north, and Sir Thomas was then made lieutenant-general of the horse under him. Both father and son distinguished themselves in the Yorkshire campaigns.[a][6]

In 1643, a minor battle between Royalists for Charles I and a small group of Roundheads under Fairfax, who were en route from Tadcaster to Leeds, took place at Seacroft. Fairfax was obliged to retreat across Bramham moor, and summed up the Battle of Seacroft Moor as 'the greatest loss we ever received'.[7][8]

Sometimes severely defeated, but more often successful, and always energetic, prudent and resourceful, father and son contrived to keep up the struggle until the crisis of 1644, when York was held by the Marquess of Newcastle against the combined besieging forces of the English Parliamentarians and the Scottish Covenanters, while Prince Rupert hastened with all available forces to the relief of the besieged garrison. A gathering of eager national forces within a few square miles of ground naturally led to a battle, and Marston Moor (2 July 1644) proved decisive for the struggle in the north. The younger Fairfax bore himself with the greatest gallantry in the battle and, though severely wounded, managed to join Oliver Cromwell and the victorious cavalry on the other wing. One of his brothers, Colonel Charles Fairfax, was killed in action. But the Marquess of Newcastle fled the kingdom, and the Royalists abandoned all hope of retrieving their affairs. The city of York was taken, and nearly the whole of the north would submit to the Parliament.[6]

In the West, South and South West of England, however, the Royalist cause remained strong. The war had lasted two years, and the nation began to complain of the contributions that were exacted of and the excesses that were committed by the military. Dissatisfaction was expressed with the military commanders and, as a preliminary step to reform, the Self-denying Ordinance was passed. This involved the removal of the Earl of Essex from the supreme command, along with other Members of Parliament. This was then followed by the New Model Ordinance, which replaced the locally raised Parliamentary regiments with a unified army. Sir Thomas Fairfax was selected as the new Lord General, with Cromwell as his Lieutenant-General and cavalry commander. After a short preliminary campaign, the New Model Army justified its existence, and "the rebels' new brutish general", as the king had called him, proved his capacity as commander-in-chief in the decisive Battle of Naseby (14 June 1645). The king fled to Wales. Fairfax besieged Leicester, and was successful at Taunton, Bridgwater and Bristol. The whole of the west was soon reduced.[6]

Doublet worn by Fairfax at the Battle of Maidstone in 1648

Fairfax arrived in London on 12 November 1645. In his progress towards the capital he was accompanied by applauding crowds. Complimentary speeches and thanks were presented to him by both houses of parliament, along with a jewel of great value set with diamonds, and a sum of money. The king had returned from Wales and established himself at Oxford, where there was a strong garrison but, ever vacillating, he withdrew secretly, and proceeded to Newark to throw himself into the arms of the Scots Covenanter army there. Oxford capitulated in June 1646 following the final siege, and by the end of September 1646 Charles had neither army nor garrison in England, following the surrender of Thomas Blagge at Wallingford Castle after a siege conducted by Fairfax. In January 1647, the King was delivered up by the Covenanters to the commissioners of England's parliament. Fairfax met the king beyond Nottingham, accompanying him during the journey to Holdenby, treating him with the utmost consideration in every way. "The general", said Charles, "is a man of honour, and keeps his word which he had pledged to me."[6]

With the collapse of the Royalist cause came a confused period of negotiations between the Parliament and the King, between the King and the Scots, and between the Presbyterians and the Independents in and out of Parliament. In these negotiations the New Model Army soon began to take a most active part. The Lord General was placed in the unpleasant position of intermediary between his own officers and Parliament. In July the person of the King was seized by Cornet Joyce, a subaltern of cavalry—an act which sufficiently demonstrated the hopelessness of controlling the army by its Articles of War.[6]

Gold medal depicting Thomas Fairfax in profile, 1645. National Portrait Gallery, London

Fairfax was more at home in the field than at the head of a political committee, and, finding events too strong for him and that his officers were rallying around the more radical and politically shrewd Cromwell, he sought to resign his commission as commander-in-chief. He was, however, persuaded to retain it. He thus remained the titular chief of the army party, and with the greater part of its objects he was in complete, sometimes most active, sympathy. Shortly before the outbreak of the Second Civil War, Fairfax succeeded his father in the barony and in the office of governor of Hull. In the field against the English Royalists in 1648 he displayed his former energy and skill, and his operations culminated in the successful siege of Colchester, after the surrender of which place he approved the execution of the Royalist leaders Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle, holding that these officers had broken their parole. At the same time, Cromwell's great victory of Preston crushed the faction of the Scots Covenanters who had made an engagement with the king, the Engagers.[5]

John Milton, in a sonnet written during the siege of Colchester, called upon the Lord General to settle the kingdom, but the crisis was now at hand. Fairfax was in agreement with Cromwell and the army leaders in demanding the punishment of Charles, and he was still the effective head of the army. He approved, if he did not take an active part in, Pride's Purge (6 December 1648), but on the last and gravest of the questions at issue he set himself in deliberate and open opposition to the policy of the officers. He was placed at the head of the judges who were to try the King, and attended the preliminary sitting of the court, but absented himself after this. The most likely explanation is that when he saw that they were serious about intending to execute the king he declined to have anything to do with this.[9]

In calling over the court, when the crier pronounced the name of Fairfax, it is said that his wife, Anne Fairfax, shouted from the gallery that "he had more wit than to be there". Later when the court said that they were acting for "all the good people of England", she shouted "No, nor the hundredth part of them!". This resulted in an investigation and Anne was asked or required to leave the court.[10][9] It was said that Anne could not forbear, as Bulstrode Whitelocke says, to exclaim aloud against the proceedings of the High Court of Justice.[5] In February 1649 Fairfax was elected Member of Parliament for Cirencester in the Rump Parliament.[11] Anne was later approached to intercede on the King's behalf to prevent his execution.[10]

Fairfax's last service as Commander-in-chief was the suppression of the Leveller mutiny at Burford in May 1649. He had given his adhesion to the new order of things, and had been reappointed Lord General, but he merely administered the affairs of the army; when in 1650 Scots Covenanter Kirk Party eventually declared for Charles II, and the Council of State resolved to send an army to Scotland in order to prevent an invasion of England, Fairfax resigned his commission. Cromwell desired to see him continue as Commander-in-chief, as did those planning the war, but Fairfax could not support the war. Cromwell was appointed his successor, "Captain-general and Commander-in-chief of all the forces raised or to be raised at authority of Parliament within the Commonwealth of England."[5]


The Most Excellent Thomas Fairfax, Captin Generall of the Armyes etc, etching, 1640s. National Portrait Gallery, London

During the Commonwealth of England in 1654, Fairfax was elected MP for the newly created constituency of West Riding in the First Protectorate Parliament.[11] He received a pension of £5,000 a year, and lived in retirement at his Yorkshire home of Nunappleton until after the death of the Lord Protector in 1658. Nunappleton and Fairfax's retirement there, as well as his personality, are the subject of Andrew Marvell's country house poem, Upon Appleton House. The troubles of the later Commonwealth recalled Lord Fairfax to political activity, and in 1659 he was elected MP for Yorkshire in the Third Protectorate Parliament.[11]


For the last time Fairfax's appearance in arms helped to shape the future of the country, when George Monck invited him to assist in the operations about to be undertaken against John Lambert's army. In December 1659 he appeared at the head of a body of Yorkshire gentlemen, and such was the influence of Fairfax's name and reputation that 1,200 horse quit Lambert's colours and joined him. This was speedily followed by the breaking up of all Lambert's forces, and that day secured the restoration of the monarchy. For these actions, along with his honourable conduct in the civil war, he was spared from the wave of Royalist retributions. In April 1660 Fairfax was re-elected MP for Yorkshire in the Convention Parliament.[11] He was put at the head of the commission appointed by the House of Commons to wait upon Charles II at The Hague and urge his speedy return. His actions assisted the Stuart Restoration. Fairfax provided the horse which Charles rode at his coronation.[5]

Later life

The remaining eleven years of the life of Lord Fairfax were spent in retirement at his seat in Yorkshire. His wife died in 1665[10] and Fairfax died at Nun Appleton Priory in 1671. He was buried at St James' Church, Bilbrough, near York.[5]


Fairfax had a taste for literature. He translated some of the Psalms, and wrote poems on solitude, the Christian warfare, the shortness of life, etc.[12] During the last year or two of his life he wrote two Memorials which have been published—one on the northern actions in which he was engaged in 1642–44, and the other on some events in his tenure of the chief command. At York and at Oxford he endeavoured to save the libraries from pillage, and he enriched the Bodleian with some valuable manuscripts. His correspondence was edited by G.W. Johnson and published in 1848–49 in four volumes.[13]

The metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell wrote "Upon Appleton House, To My Lord Fairfax", nominally about Fairfax's home, but also his character as well as England during his era.[14]


Lead bust of Thomas Fairfax, c. 1650, National Portrait Gallery, London

Fairfax married Hon. Anne de Vere, daughter of Horace Vere, 1st Baron Vere of Tilbury and Mary Tracy, on 20 June 1637. They had a daughter, Hon. Mary Fairfax (30 July 1638 – 20 October 1704),[15] who married George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham.[5]

Fairfax was succeeded as Lord Fairfax by a cousin, Henry Fairfax, 4th Lord Fairfax of Cameron.[16]


As a soldier he was exact and methodical in planning, in the heat of battle "so highly transported that scarce any one durst speak a word to him",[17] chivalrous and punctilious in his dealings with his own men and the enemy. Honour and conscientiousness were equally the characteristics of his private and public character. But his modesty and distrust of his powers made him less effectual as a statesman than as a soldier, and above all he is placed at a disadvantage by being both in war and peace overshadowed by his associate Cromwell, who was politically talented and able to manipulate public antipathy against Charles to lead to his execution, something Fairfax never wanted.[5]

In fiction

Fairfax, played by actor Dougray Scott, is a pivotal character in the 2003 film To Kill a King,[18] as well as in Rosemary Sutcliff's 1953 historical fiction Simon, being portrayed as inspiring and fair.[19] He also appears as a central character in Sutcliff's 1959 novel The Rider of the White Horse, which gives an account of the early stage of the Civil War from the point of view of his wife,[a] and in Howard Brenton's 2012 play 55 Days.[20] Douglas Wilmer portrayed him in the 1970 Ken Hughes film Cromwell.[21]

He was played by Jerome Willis in the 1975 historical film Winstanley.[22] He appears in Michael Arnold's novel Marston Moor, which includes an account of Fairfax's adventures in the eponymous battle.[23] He was also a central character, played by Nigel Anthony, in the 1988 BBC Radio production of Don Taylor's play God's Revolution.[24]


  1. ^ a b In the winter of 1642/43 Parliamentary victories were few and far between. One of the more notable was the capture of Leeds on 23 January 1643 by Parliamentary forces under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax. The London news broadsheets published the exploits and one of them suggested that Fairfax was "the Rider of the White Horse", the allegory was immediately clear to those of a Puritan leaning as it was a passage in the Book of Revelation 19:11 "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war", and hence implying to the Puritan supporters of Parliament that Fairfax was a hero doing God's work. (Hopper 2007, p. 174)


  1. ^ a b Plant 2005, Sir Thomas, Lord Fairfax 1612–1671.
  2. ^ Cotterill 2004, p. 110 footnote 22, cites Gibbs 1938, p. 4
  3. ^ Hall, George (2022). "Thomas Fairfax: The Forgotten Leader". The Cromwell Museum. Archived from the original on 16 January 2024. Retrieved 16 January 2024.
  4. ^ "Fairfax, Thomas (FRFS626T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Chisholm 1911, p. 131.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Chisholm 1911, p. 130.
  7. ^ Cooke, D. (2004). The Civil War in Yorkshire: Fairfax Versus Newcastle. Casemate Publishers. p. 52. ISBN 1844150763. Retrieved 3 August 2019. Sir Thomas Fairfax summed up the Battle of Seacroft Moor as 'the greatest loss we ever received'.
  8. ^ Hutchinson, A. (11 June 2019). "A - Z of Leeds". Yorkshire Evening Post. Retrieved 3 August 2019. B is for Beechwood - Ancestral home of a Leeds dynasty which has links to Kate Middleton and Sir Thomas Fairfax, who helped win English Civil War for Oliver Cromwell. Today the mansion is used as offices but it was once the family home of the Luptons.
  9. ^ a b Wedgewood, C. V. The Trial of Charles I
  10. ^ a b c Eales, Jacqueline. "Fairfax [née Vere], Anne, Lady Fairfax". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/66848. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  11. ^ a b c d Helms & Cruickshanks 1983
  12. ^ Fairfax & Reed 1909.
  13. ^ Firth 1889, p. 149.
  14. ^ Marvell, Andrew. "Upon Appleton House, to my Lord Fairfax". Luminarium. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  15. ^ Mosley 2003, p. 1373
  16. ^ "Henry Fairfax, 4th Lord Of Cameron". Harrison Genealogy Repository. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  17. ^ Chisholm 1911, p. 131 quotes Whitelocke
  18. ^ "To Kill A King". British Council. Retrieved 22 February 2024.
  19. ^ "Books by Rosemary Sutcliff". Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  20. ^ "55 Days". Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  21. ^ "Douglas Wilmer". The Sherlock Holmes Society. Retrieved 22 February 2024.
  22. ^ "Jerome Willis obituary". The Guardian. 26 January 2014. Retrieved 22 February 2024.
  23. ^ Arnold, Michael (2015). Marston Moor: Book 6 of The Civil War Chronicles. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-1848547643.
  24. ^ "God's Revolution". BBC. Retrieved 6 August 2017.



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.

7 Annotations

First Reading

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:…

Roger Miller  •  Link

Portrait of Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Baron Fairfax of Cameron
by William Faithorne, after Robert Walker from the National Portrait Gallery.…

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

When Cosmo, the future Grand Duke of Turin, visited England in the spring of 1669, he had a travelogue made of his impressions and experiences.

In it he included some thoughts on the religion of Oliver Cromwell and Thomas Fairfax. He did not consider them Puritans or Presbyterians, but a sect he called Independents.…

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

This article takes a look at nicknames, and how they were used to identify people -- as we've discovered, names were used in families in every generation, and led to much confusion. Safe to say "Black Tom" was an affectionate nickname 90 per cent of the time:…

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



  • Sep