Fairfax Family - Part 2.
Engraving of “Black Tom” depicting him after the Battle of Marston Moor. Note scar on his left cheek which he sustained during the battle.
Early in 1642 Tom and members of several other Yorkshire families signed petitions to the King, Lords and Commons calling for religious reforms to curb the influence of the Catholics in the country and in particular remove and to punish the King’s pro Catholic advisors, those “evil councillors.” They undertook to maintain an army of 300 cavalry and 3000 infantry in the county in the event of future conflict. The King attempted to enter the important port and arsenal of Hull in April 1642 but Sir John Hotham refused him entry and shut the gates in his face.
The Fairfaxes were both moderates by inclination supporting the Monarchy but a Monarchy controlled by Parliament working for the overall good of the country and not influenced by unelected councillors and advisors pursuing their own agendas.
Lord Fairfax and 4 other parliamentary commissioners had discussions with the King in York and obtained no satisfaction from him. King Charles’ demand that the Yorkshire gentry should raise a guard for his own person was not well received.
The King issued a proclamation requesting that the gentry of Yorkshire meet at Heworth Moor outside York on the 3rd June 1642. There a huge gathering was addressed by the King who explained to them his desire to uphold the laws of the land and defend the Protestant religion. The opposition had prepared a petition complaining about the King’s stay in Yorkshire away from Parliament, his attempts to raise an army in the country and the interruption the clothing trade. They chose Tom Fairfax to present it.
When Tom presented the petition King Charles refused to accept it. Tom was not easily discouraged and followed him, pushing his way through the crowd and finally thrusting the petition in front of the King onto the pommel of his saddle. Whether by accident or design the King’s horse plunged forward and pushed Tom to the ground.
The next time the 2 were to meet was on the battlefield at Naseby 3 years later when Tom had risen to the rank of Lord General of the New Model Army of Parliament and the King was commander of his own Royalist army. The result was a complete rout of the Royalists.
When war broke out, Ferdinando was appointed general of the Parliamentary forces in the north, the Northern Association. Tom was made lieutenant-general of the horse under the command of his father. Although most of the North supported the King certainly in the cloth manufacturing areas of the West Riding around Bradford and Halifax, which were mostly Puritan in nature, the Fairfaxes found great support. This became their heartland. The port and arsenal of Hull was also an important area of support and a base and refuge
The campaign waged by the Fairfaxes against the Royalists in the north was remarkable. Often considerably outnumbered the they took on the Royalists under the Earl of Newcastle at every opportunity throughout the area and fought with great resolve and determination. In spite of several severe reversals they had an incredible capacity to recover, move and swiftly strike again which must have infuriated Newcastle and his officers. The Fairfaxes ability to command the support and respect of their people and to recruit and raise new armies after setbacks meant that the Royalists were never allowed to rest for long.
The Royalist Earl of Clarendon later paid great tribute to the Fairfaxes during this period
“ It must be confessed, the enemy in those parts, with whom the Earl of Newcastle was to contend, in courage, vigilance and insuperable industry, was not inferior to any who disquieted His Majesty in any part of his dominion, and who pursued any advantage he got further, and recovered any loss he underwent sooner, than any other in the kingdom: So that there were more sharp skirmishes and more notable battles in that one county of York, than in all the kingdom besides. And Lord Fairfax and his son, with incredible activity reducing towns when they had an army, and when defeated in the field, out of small towns recovering new armies.”
During the Northern campaigns Tom proved himself a soldier of outstanding courage and ability time and time again. An expert horseman and every bit the daring and adventurous cavalry commander he was constantly in the thick of the action and leading from the front. It is said of Tom by a man who served with him that in the heat of battle he was "so highly transported that scarce any one durst speak a word to him.”
Tom took risks, some say he was impetuous on occasions. He moved decisively and quickly and wasted no time in exploiting any tactical advantage or weakness in his enemy that might present itself. He was loved and admired by his men, who referred to him as “Black Tom” because of his dark complexion, and feared and respected by his enemies. He showed great determination and resolve when beaten and an astonishing capacity to recover from setbacks and fight on. As the war progressed his reputation grew and he was instrumental, wholely or in part, in a number of important Parliamentarian victories in the North on an increasing scale culminating at Marston Moor in 2nd July 1644.
He was wounded on a number of occasions, notably in the left wrist at Selby during the fighting retreat from Bradford to Hull in July 1643. Far more serious was the wound Tom received at the siege of Helmsley Castle in July 1644. A musket ball shattered his left shoulder and arm. He was taken to his home at York and was very ill for some months. By December he was in action again at the siege of Pontefract Castle where he was wounded again.
As the Yorkshire and Northern campaigns drew to a close Tom was clearly destined for greater things and to become a major player on the national stage.