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Fairfax family Part 1

Sir Thomas Fairfax]
[Fairfax family Part 1]
Fairfax family Part 2]
Fairfax family Part 3]
Fairfax family Part 4]
Fairfax family Part 5]
Tom Fairfax armour]

Fairfax Family - Part 1.

The Fairfax family were well established in the county of Yorkshire over many generations and well respected members of the local gentry.

Tom’s grandfather, also named Thomas, founded the Denton and Nun Appleton branches of the house. He was hard, clever and a successful Elizabethan gentleman who fought under Sir Francis Vere in the Low Countries and later under the Earl of Essex. He was knighted at Rouen for his services to the Crown. Thomas senior married Ellen, daughter of Robert Aske, and they had 12 children, 2 of whom were to die abroad in the 30 Years War and 1 in the ill fated expedition to La Rochelle. A 4th son died mysteriously in Turkey.

His eldest son, Ferdinando, was young Tom’s father. Thomas senior described Ferdinando as a “Poltroon” and famously said of him.  

“ I sent him to the Netherlands to train him up a soldier, and he makes a tolerable county justice.”

Ferdinando became Member of Parliament for Boroughbridge in the last 3 Parliaments of James I and the first 4 of Charles I.

Early in the reign of King Charles I Thomas senior purchased the title of Baron Cameron for a down payment of 1500  when such baubles were readily available for sale to raise finance the depleted Exchequer.

Ferdinando married Mary, daughter of Lord Sheffield, in 1607 and they had 8 children, 2 sons and 6 daughters. Tom Fairfax was born in 1612. Mary Fairfax died in 1619 and is buried at Bolton Percy in East Yorkshire. Ferdinando was not to marry again until 1646 when he wed Rhonda Chapman.

At 14 young Tom attended St John’s Cambridge and spent his holidays at home in Yorkshire. From an early age he had developed a passion for horses and riding which he shared with his grandfather. Tom grew to be an outstanding horseman which stood him in good stead in years to come.

Tom then attended the Inns of Court to obtain a grounding in law but was never called to the bar. In his late teens he travelled to the Low Countries with John Hotham to join the English forces fighting for the Prince of Orange. Here he served with several other  volunteers who were later to become important figures in the English Civil Wars. Apart from John Hotham these included Philip Skippon and Jacob Astley.

He then moved to France where he lived for a while and at one point ran short of funds. Whilst in France he contracted small pox but recovered. At the age of 20 Tom returned to England and expressed a wish to travel to Sweden for further military service but this idea was firmly rejected by his grandfather. He had now finished his education and lived the life of a young Yorkshire country gentleman at Denton.

Tom married Anne Vere, daughter of Lord Vere, in 1637. Tom had fought briefly under Lord Vere at Bois-le-Duc. Anne was a lady of strong personality and intelligence and was devoted to Tom as he was to her. They were to have a strong relationship throughout their married life. Anne was never far from his side, notably in the dark days of the defeat at Adwalton Moor in June 1643 and the short siege of Bradford when she was captured during the break out.

In the early days of their marriage Tom was to suffer from fits and fevers and a “fit of the stone“ and was ill for some time. Ill health plagued Tom all his life which makes his subsequent achievements even more remarkable. His mother in law remarked that

“Stray fits seize upon his spirits. I perceive he hath a weak body, and more circumspection for the preservation of his health will be required, especially against melancholy, which is, I think, the ground of it all.”

Tom and his wife moved to Denton and lived with Thomas senior but life with a cantankerous 80 year old man was not to their liking and they soon moved Nun Appleton. Their daughter, Mary, was born in 1638 at Bishophill, the Fairfax family house in York.

The Fairfax family, like many others, now became actively involved in the political and religious conflict between King Charles I and the Scots. As England prepared for war Ferdinando was appointed colonel of a regiment of the Yorkshire trained bands and Tom raised a troop of 160 dragoons from the locality and became their captain.

Thomas senior was very fond of his grandson but doubted that he had the intellect and foresight to flourish in these difficult times and referred to him as a “flibbertigibbet.” It is said that he told his grandson,

“ Tom! Tom! mind thou the battle: thy father is a good man, but a mere coward; all the good I expect of thee.”

The old man passed away in 1640. It is a great pity he did not live long enough to witness the the achievements of young Tom. He would have been immensely proud of his grandson. The same could be said in respect of his much maligned eldest son, Ferdinando, who was not without some success in his own right, although on nowhere near the scale of young Tom.

In 1640 Anne gave birth to another daughter, Elizabeth. Tragically the baby died soon after and there were to be no more children.

Tom headed north with the army of King Charles I and took part in several cavalry actions around Berwick and was knighted by the King at the age of 28 in 1640. It is not clear if he took part in the second war against the Scots that year.

In 1641 the Fairfaxes, along with several other notable Yorkshire families, were becoming increasingly disillusioned over religious matters and with the conduct of affairs in the country and the region by the monarch and his close advisor, Thomas Wentworth, Lord Strafford.

The seeds of future conflict were being sown.


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