FAIRFAX, Sir Nicholas (1498/99-1571), of Gilling Castle and Walton, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 1498/99, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Fairfax of Gilling Castle and Walton by Anne, da. of Sir William Gascoigne of Gawthorpe. educ. M. Temple, adm. 7 Feb. 1521. m. (1) c.1516, Jane, da. of Guy Palmes of Naburn, at least 8s. inc. William at least 4da.; (2) Alice, da. of (Sir) John Harington I of Exton, Rutland, wid. of Richard Flower (d.1540) of Whitwell, Rutland and of Sir Henry Sutton of Averham, Notts. suc. fa. 1 Dec. 1520. Kntd. by Dec. 1530.2

Offices Held

J.p. Yorks. (N. Riding) 1530-d., (E. Riding) 1561, (E. and W. Ridings) and Cumb. 1569, special commr. peace, northern circuit 1540, 1561, 1564; sheriff, Yorks. 1531-2, 1544-5, 1561-2; commr. musters (N. Riding) 1539, 1569, benevolence 1544/45, chantries, Yorks. 1548, relief (E. W. and N. Ridings), York 1550, goods of churches and fraternities (N. Riding) 1553, for offences against Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy, province of York 1561; other commissions 1527-65; member, council in the north Feb. 1548-Sept. 1553, May 1555-d.; chief steward, former lands of St. Mary’s abbey, York June 1557.3


Sir Nicholas Fairfax was head of the senior branch of an old but hitherto undistinguished county family which had held Walton since the mid 13th century. After an aberration at the time of the Pilgrimage of Grace he was to become ‘a personage of consequence in the county in a way that none of his forbears except the two lawyers of Steeton had been’.4

In 1536 Fairfax, who had already served his first turn as sheriff of Yorkshire, shared command of a large force of the rebels with Sir Thomas Percy, with whom he claimed kinship through his grandmother. At York he declared that as the Pilgrimage was a spiritual matter all churchmen should go forth on it: he himself exhorted the abbot of St. Mary’s to do so. By Christmas, however, he was on his way to court with a letter of recommendation from the 5th Earl of Northumberland to Cromwell. He made his peace with the King and later took part in the proceedings against Lords Darcy and Hussey. The 3rd Duke of Norfolk noted against Fairfax’s name in his list of jurors, ‘his son hath married Sir George Darcy’s daughter’, and in June 1537 recommended him for a pension of £20. Eighteen months later Fairfax approached Cromwell for the Byland demesnes, which would be ‘commodious’ for him, or failing Byland, either Newburgh or Whitby: he promised Cromwell £40 with which to buy a gelding. In the event Fairfax made few purchases of monastic lands, and those few at second hand. If he increased his fortune, it was through the fruits of office and the benefits of enclosure. His most lucrative office was the stewardship of the lands of St. Mary’s abbey, which he received on 24 June 1557 ‘in consideration of his service’.5

Fairfax’s return for Scarborough in 1542 is not readily explained: he had no evident connexion with the town or with the constable of the castle Sir Ralph Eure, who was his fellow-Member. He served on the Scottish expedition of 1544 under the Earl of Hertford, as captain of 88 men of whom he had been required to furnish 60 himself, and may have done so on the Pinkie campaign three years later: that campaign took Hertford, now Duke of Somerset, through Yorkshire shortly before the elections to Edward VI’s first Parliament and he may have used his influence on Fairfax’s behalf. Fairfax was related by marriage to his fellow-knight Sir William Babthorpe. Of the part Fairfax took in the proceedings of the Commons the only trace is his mention in connexion with Richard Musgrave’s bill to deprive the 2nd Earl of Cumberland of his hereditary shrievalty of Westmorland: Thomas Jolye reported to Cumberland on 7 Jan. 1549 that Fairfax was among the earl’s friends who ‘hath and will speak’ on the subject and that the earl’s lawyers believed ‘that it will be no further spoken of’. There is no other indication that Fairfax was a follower of the Cliffords or an opponent of Thomas Wharton I, 1st Baron Wharton, whom Jolye took to be the instigator of Musgrave’s bill, but his attitude may have been affected by the circumstances of his daughter Mary’s marriage about this time to Henry Curwen of Workington: Curwen had previously been contracted (if no more) to Wharton’s daughter Agnes, and Wharton may have resented the change of alliance. He was later to quarrel with Sir William Vavasour, the father of another of Fairfax’s sons-in-law.6

The fact that Fairfax was not to sit in Parliament again until the reign of Elizabeth suggests that he leaned towards Protestantism. In 1564 he was called a ‘favourer’ of religion by the archbishop of York and he was employed to enforce the Elizabethan settlement, but according to (Sir) Francis Knollys’s severe standards he was ‘unsound’ in his beliefs. Fairfax made his will on 7 July 1570 and died on 30 Mar. 1571: his eldest son William was then upwards of 40 years old.7

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Authors: L. M. Kirk / Alan Davidson


  • 1. Hatfield 207.
  • 2. Date of birth estimated from age at fa.’s i.p.m., Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xix. 185-7. Biog. Studies (now Recusant Hist. ), iii. 75-84; Vis. Yorks. (Harl. Soc. xvi), 118; Vis. Rutland (Harl. Soc. iii), 30; Vis. Notts. (Harl. Soc. iv), 143; Gooder, Parlty. Rep. Yorks. 5-8; LP Hen. VIII, iv.
  • 3. LP Hen. VIII, iv, x, xii-xv, xx; CPR, 1548-9, p. 136; 1550-3, p. 394; 1553, pp. 353-4, 361, 414; 1555-7, p. 387; 1560-3, pp. 170, 187; 1563-6, pp. 22, 123-4; 1566-9, p. 172; 1569-72, pp. 216, 223-4; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 336; R. R. Reid, King’s Council in the North, 492.
  • 4. Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xix. 123; Biog. Studies, iii. 74.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII, xi, xii, xiv, xx; Biog. Studies, iii. 75, 102-3; VCH Yorks. (N. Riding), i. 366, 449, 462; ii. 519; CPR, 1555-7, p. 387.
  • 6. LP Hen. VIII, xix; HMC Bath, iv. 58, 72; Clifford Letters (Surtees Soc. clxxii), 101-3.
  • 7. Cam. Misc. ix(3), 71; T. Wright, Q. Eliz. and her Times, i. 273; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xix. 188-92.