The Fairfax family suffered the sad loss of 2 notable members in the Civil war to date. Tom’s brother, Colonel Charles Fairfax was killed at Marston Moor and cousin, Sir William Fairfax, killed at the moment of victory at Montgomery Castle.
Ferdinando Fairfax had been made Governor of York in 1644 after the city surrendered and continued in command of the Northern Parliamentary forces as they mopped up the remaining Royalist strongholds one by one.
In 1645 he resigned his command in compliance with the Self Denying Ordnance but continued as a member of the committee for the government of Yorkshire. A long time widower he married Rhonda Chapman in 1646. He died in an accident on the 14th March 1648 and is buried at Bolton Percy in East Yorkshire.
The Self Denying Ordnance passed by the Commons in December 1644 and the Lords in April 1645 deprive members of Parliament from holding command in the army or the navy of the Parliamentary forces. This was done to promote a totally professional army which would prosecute the war against the King with more effect. Earls Essex and Manchester were the main losers in this. Oliver Cromwell however was exempt and was appointed Lieutenant General of Horse It was Cromwell who recommended Tom as the commander in chief of the new force. He was clearly the outstanding candidate with the best military record and he had not been involved in any of the previous squabbles and politics between senior Parliamentarians in other parts of the country. Religion was not an issue as nobody knew for sure whether he was Presbyterian or Independent. Although Tom was the son of a peer and could have been expected to sympathise with the Lords he was also a personal friend of the likes of Oliver Cromwell and John Lambert and was respected and indeed loved by all who served with him, even the most common soldiers.
Tom had been briefed by his friend John Lambert about the possibility of this appointment. He was at first nervous about assuming command of the new army and being projected into the limelight in the national arena. He was a reserved and modest man and did not seek personal fame. He was however reluctant to disobey an order of Parliament and was eventually persuaded to accept by close friends. He had not been in good health and troubled by his wounds and also a “fit of the stone.” however, in early April 1645, he headed south arriving in Windsor without fuss or celebrations and set about organising his new charge from the best of the old. In this he was ably assisted by Philip Skippon, the Major General of Foote and also a very capable and proven general. The reorganisation was carried out quickly and with great efficiency and the result was one of the finest armies that this country has produced which swept all before it for over a decade..
Tom had full powers over the New Model and appointed all his own officers. He had regular councils of war with his senior commanders but the final decisions were always his and not always in line with the opinions of his subordinates. He introduced a strict code discipline amongst his men which was enforced to the letter. He issued a firm declaration against plundering which his troops would do “at their peril.”
In May he took his new army into the field for the first time although he was still not well and suffering from an “ ague.” During the coming months he routed King Charles at Naseby in June, after a fast march defeated Goring at Langport in July (interestingly considered by Tom his greatest success) and took Bristol from Prince Rupert in September. Quite a good summer’s work.
In 1646 during his winter campaign he began by with the capture of Dartmouth in January, the defeat of Hopton at Torrington in February and finally accepting the surrender of the main Royalist stronghold at Oxford in June 1646. The First English Civil War was concluded.
In the next 2 years Tom became embroiled in the politics of the period. He greatly sympathised with the plight of his soldiers over their many and justified grievances against Parliament but remained respectful of the authority of his political masters. In January 1647 the King was delivered up by the Scots to the commissioners of parliament. Fairfax met the King beyond Nottingham, and accompanied him during the journey to Holdenby treating him with the utmost consideration in every way. "The general," said King Charles, "is a man of honour, and keeps his word which he had pledged to me."
However in 1647 he led his army in a peaceful occupation of London as he was concerned at the possibility of a second war.
In March 1648, on the death of his father, Tom succeeded in the barony and in the office of governor of Hull. The summer brought with it an new outbreak of hostilities and the start of the 2nd Civil War with the invasion of the Scots in support of the King and Royalist rebellions in Wales and the South East. Tom took part of the army into Kent and defeated a large Royalist force under the Earl of Norwich at Maidstone. The fighting was severe, in Tom’s own words “ four or five hours hot service.” Bulstrode Whitelocke records that “every street in the town was got by inches.” and says of Tom, who as suffering badly from gout at the time, “with his foot wrapped up he mounted on horseback, led on his men in the greatest danger and was one of the first in all this action.”
After their defeat the Royalists fled into Essex finally to take refuge in Colchester. There followed a particularly messy and unpleasant siege which started on the 13th June and became increasingly bitter and was conducted largely in pouring rain. Tom’s offer of generous surrender terms was rejected by the Royalist commanders. The Royalists were finally starved into submission and surrendered on the 28th August.
In the aftermath of the surrender Tom ordered 2 of the most senior Royalists to be shot. This was considered controversial and a stain on his record, by the Royalists anyway. Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle died bravely, shot to death by firing squad. Sir Bernard Gascoyne was spared when it was discovered he was Italian by birth. Lords Norwich and Capel were sent to London for Parliament to deal with.
The execution of Lucas and Lisle was certainly not something of which Tom could have been proud. He may have been influenced by Henry Ireton in this. The decision was made against the background of a difficult and bloody siege and an equally bloody and pointless 2nd Civil War.