Fairfax Who’s Who
The first name to be conjured with in any history of the Fairfax family is the little known name Skirpenbeck. He was alleged to be a descendant of the Danish invaders of the 10th century who had a liaison with an Anglo-Saxon female and produced a son who was the ancestor of Richard who, in the 12th/13th century took the surname Faeger Fax later changed to Fairfax.
Many early members of the family entered the military, the most famous being General Sir Thomas Fairfax who was the first person to actually train an army and who led the Parliamentary troops to victory in the English 17th century civil wars.
Other members of the family joined the navy, one of whom was Vice Admiral Sir William George Fairfax who took part in General Woolf’s capture of Quebec. Another Admiral, Robert Fairfax, played a prominent part in the taking of Gibraltar in 1704 and was richly rewarded by Queen Anne. He later became an MP.
In the 17th century William Fairfax and his family crossed the Atlantic to join Captain John Smith and “Princess” Pocahontas, the first settlers in Jamestown but all were later killed by Indians.
The 6th Lord Fairfax also made his way to Virginia in 1746 where he befriended the youthful George Washington and gave him his first job surveying part of his enormous estate of 5 million acres. Fairfax County was named after him. In the 19th century,
John Fairfax and his family from Warwickshire emigrated to Australia and became newspaper magnates some of whom were later knighted.
Mary Somerville nee Fairfax died in 1872 when she was 92 and sometimes referred to as “the Queen of Science”. For the time when women were expected to remain uneducated she wrote books on molecular and microscopic science, physical geography, etc and was also a talented painter and pianist. Following her death, Oxford University named a college after her. Another woman of distinction was Eve Fairfax who was known for her beauty and a model for Rodin before her death at the age of 106.
In the arts world Robert Fairfax (spelt at the time Fayrfax) was the musician/composer to Henry VIII and referred to as “the first gentleman”. He has been described as one of the least known but most influential of English musicians. His music has been recorded and is available on several CDs.
More recently, in an interesting contrast to medieval England, Frankie Fairfax, was a well known American jazz musician who played with Dizzy Gillespie. In another aspect of music, Andrew and Anneleen Fairfax are violin makers and restorers.
Fairfaxes have also featured in literature, particularly poetry, with Edward Fairfax, the translator of Tasso, and more recently John Fairfax, who died in 2009, a friend of Dylan Thomas and Ted Hughes who was responsible for creating the Avon Foundation. Other notable contemporary Fairfaxes include brothers Michael Fairfax and Jo Fairfax, both sculptors.
Family members have also achieved supporting success, most notably Alan Fairfax, who played cricket for Australia and Russell Fairfax, also Australian and a famous rugby league player. Closer to home, Ray Fairfax, played soccer for West Bromwich Albion (an English soccer team).
Royal associations with the Fairfax family continue to today, with Princes William and Harry being descendants of 16 th Century nobleman, Sir Nicholas Fairfax, through their mother Diana Spencer.
Today Fairfax achievements still hit the headlines. Our Patron, Nicholas 14th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, recently took part in a 7,500 mile motor-bike journey across Russia raising money for Russian children's charities. Fairfaxes can also be found in a diverse range of professions ranging from film directing, teaching, law and chartered accountancy, spread out across the globe. This is reflected in the make up of the Society, with members not only in the UK but also America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the West Indies. - Gerry Webb