Thomas Fairfax was a Parliamentary commander-in-chief during the English Civil War. Credited to have molded the Parliamentary army into a skilled and disciplined fighting force, he led them to several notable victories, the most important of them being the crucial battle of Naseby where his army crushed the Royalists. Born as the son of Ferdinando Fairfax, 2nd Lord Fairfax of Cameron, he was a brave soul who became interested in military affairs early on. After completing his studies, he volunteered to join Sir Horace Vere's expedition to fight for the Protestant cause in the Netherlands. His father too was a commander in the Parliamentary army in the English Civil War, and the father-son duo distinguished themselves with their bravery in the campaigns in Yorkshire. He played a very significant role in his army’s ultimate victory against the Royalists following which he was hailed as a hero. After the war, he became an MP for the newly created constituency of West Riding in the First Protectorate Parliament. He was a devout Christian with an interest in literature and while in retirement translated some of the Psalms and wrote poems on the Christian warfare
Childhood & Early Life
Thomas Fairfax was born on 17 January 1612 into an aristocratic family at Denton in North Yorkshire. He was the eldest son of Ferdinando Fairfax, 2nd Lord Fairfax of Cameron.
He studied at St John's College, Cambridge, before going to Gray’s Inn in 1626.
Hailing from a military background he too developed an early interest in military affairs. His grandfather further motivated him to embark on a career in the army.
In 1629, he volunteered to join Sir Horace Vere's expedition and fought for the Prince of Orange in the Netherlands.
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In the First Bishops' War in 1639, Thomas Fairfax raised a troop of Yorkshire dragoons to fight for the King Charles I against the Scots. The war, however, ended with the Pacification of Berwick before any fighting took place.
The First English Civil War broke out in 1642 and both Thomas and his father joined the Parliamentary forces. His father, Lord Fairfax was appointed as general of the forces while he was made lieutenant-general.
Both the men displayed brilliance in the battlefield and were commended for their discipline and bravery. Thomas played an important part in the defeat of Royalist forces at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644.
In spite of their victory at the Battle of Marston Moor, the Parliamentary forces were unable to maintain their admirable performance in the following battles. Thus the parliament decided to form a new, more professional army in early 1645. Thomas Fairfax was made commander-in-chief of the New Model Army with Oliver Cromwell as Lieutenant-General in charge of the cavalry.
The Battle of Naseby, the decisive battle of the first English Civil War, took place in June 1645. The Parliamentarian New Model Army commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell fought very courageously and destroyed the main army of King Charles I. Thomas Fairfax was given a hero’s welcome in London following his arrival after the victory at Battle of Naseby.
The Second English Civil War broke out in 1648. By this time Fairfax had succeeded his father in the barony and in the office of governor of Hull. His skillful leadership led to victories at Maidstone and Kent, and the successful siege of Colchester following which he approved the execution of the Royalist leaders Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle.
Fairfax was not in favor of the Pride's Purge in 1648. He also refused to serve as one of the judges at the trial of Charles I, and did not approve of the death sentence handed out to Charles I. He even tried unsuccessfully to prevent his execution.
He was elected Member of Parliament for Cirencester in the Rump Parliament in 1649. He served as the commander-in-chief for the last time at the suppression of the Leveller mutiny at Burford in May 1649. Disillusioned by now, he resigned his commission in 1650 and mostly withdrew from public life.
He was elected MP for the newly created constituency of West Riding in the First Protectorate Parliament in 1654 and MP for Yorkshire in the Third Protectorate Parliament in 1659.
Thomas Fairfax had an interest in literature and spent his later years writing poems on Christianity and in translating some psalms. He also wrote two Memorials which were later published.
Thomas Fairfax is best known for the role he played in the English Civil War that took place between the Parliamentarians and Royalists. He served as the Parliamentary commander-in-chief during the war and led his army to a resounding victory over the Royalists.
Awards & Achievements
Thomas Fairfax was knighted for his military services in January 1641.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Anne de Vere, daughter of Horace Vere, 1st Baron Vere of Tilbury and Mary Tracy, on 20 June 1637. The couple had one daughter.
He died on 12 November 1671, in Nunappleton, Yorkshire, at the age of 59.