FAIRFAX, Sir Thomas II (1576-1636), of Walton and Gilling Castle, nr. Malton, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Family and Education

bap. 5 Feb. 1576,1 o.s. of Sir William Fairfax† of Gilling Castle and Walton and 2nd w. Jane, da. and h. of Brian Stapleton of Burton Joyce, Notts.2 educ. privately at Gilling; Caius, Camb. 1590.3 m. (1) settlement 17 June 1594 (with £1,000),4 Catherine (d.1626), da. of Sir Henry Constable* of Burton Constable, Yorks., 7s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da.;5 (2) settlement 1 Jan. 1627,6 Mary, da. of Sir Robert Ford of Butley, Suff., wid. of Sir William Bamburgh, 1st bt. of Howsham, Yorks., s.p. suc. fa. 1597;7 kntd. 17 Apr. 1603;8 cr. Visct. Fairfax of Emley [Ire.] 10 Jan. 1629.9 d. 23 Dec. 1636.10 sig. Tho[mas] Fairfax.

Offices Held

Capt. militia ft. Yorks. (N. Riding) 1599, col. by c.1635;11 j.p. N. Riding, c.1599-1629, 1633-d., E. Riding 1628-9;12 member, Council in the North 1603-d., v.-pres. by 1609-at least 1623;13 commr. sewers, N. Riding by 1604-d., W. Riding by 1623-at least 1628, swans, Yorks. by 1605-d., oyer and terminer, Northern circ. 1624-9, subsidy, N. Riding 1624;14 sheriff, Yorks. 1627-8;15 dep. lt. N. Riding 1633.16


The Fairfaxes provided a knight of the shire in 1324, and were deeply conscious of their ancestry, traced back to the thirteenth century in a frieze Fairfax’s father erected in the great chamber at Gilling. The MP’s grandfather, Sir Nicholas Fairfax†, was a member of the Council in the North and steward of the dissolved abbey of St. Mary’s, York, worth about £1,000 a year during the 1570s. He and his son improved their estates by purchase and enclosure, perhaps intimidating those who stood in their way: Sir William was accused on at least one occasion of failing to pay sums owed for one of his acquisitions.17

While suspected of Catholic sympathies, most of the family remained loyal during the 1569 northern rising, although the future MP’s cousin Henry Fairfax of Dunsley, a recusant from 1590, later assaulted two constables distraining his goods for arrears of recusancy fines. In 1594 Fairfax’s marriage brought his own loyalty into question, as his wife was Catholic and his mother-in-law was accused of harbouring priests connected with the exiled earl of Westmorland.18 Shortly before his death, Fairfax’s father incurred further official disapproval by pairing with Sir John Savile* to defeat the Council in the North’s candidates at the Yorkshire election of 1597. In retaliation, the Council declined to nominate Fairfax to the stewardship of St. Mary’s in succession to his father and grandfather. Fairfax eventually joined the Council in the North in 1603, on the recommendation of lord president Burghley (Thomas Cecil†). Returned to the Commons for Boroughbridge in 1601, presumably with Burghley’s support, he did not sit in 1604 or 1614, perhaps because Burghley’s successor, lord president Sheffield, who esteemed him as ‘a gentleman of good worth’, appointed him vice-president on several occasions during his absence at Court.19

Fairfax’s prospects were not affected by Sheffield’s removal from the presidency in 1619, as the new incumbent, Lord Scrope, was his wife’s second cousin. It was doubtless Scrope who recommended Fairfax as a partner for secretary of state (Sir) George Calvert* at the Yorkshire election of 1620, but Fairfax was apparently reluctant to challenge his father’s former partner Sir John Savile, and resigned his interest to Sir Thomas Wentworth* at the earliest possible opportunity. His return for Hedon on the interest of his brother-in-law Sir Henry Constable, Viscount Dunbar, was probably intended to salve his pride. His only mention in the records of the 1621 Parliament was as a member of the committee for a bill confirming copyhold tenures on Prince Charles’s manor of Kendal, in Westmorland (10 March).20

Re-elected at Hedon for the next three parliaments, Fairfax was never very active: he may have been the Member who supported Sir Robert Phelips’ motion for a grant of two subsidies without fifteenths in 1625, but this is more likely to have been his relative Sir Thomas Fairfax I*, who was closely involved in the politics of the session as Wentworth’s partner as knight of the shire. Neither man is recorded to have spoken on any other occasion, but the Hedon MP was named to 10 committees in 1624 and 1626, some of which were politically significant: the bill for an exchange of lands between the Crown and the archbishop of York (19 May 1624) confirmed the duke of Buckingham’s title to York House; while the committee to draft the preamble to the subsidy bill (25 May 1626) was actually intended to delay progress in voting supply until Buckingham’s impeachment had been resolved. Fairfax had a personal interest in the estate bill of his wife’s cousin Viscount Montagu (5 Apr. 1624), and his role as a militia officer gave him a stake in the bill to regulate the office of muster-master (28 Mar. 1626).21

In February 1626 Fairfax was named as a recusant officeholder in the Commons because of the Catholicism of his eldest son, Thomas. It was resolved to exclude him from censure when an unnamed Member vouched for him as ‘a good Protestant, and breeding up his children so in our religion’. This ignored the role of Lady Fairfax, a recusant convict since 1599, who had evaded punishment for employing Catholic maids, and had sent two of her sons to Catholic seminaries on the Continent; this omission suggests that she had recently died. Fairfax remained above suspicion himself: when appointed vice-president in 1609, Sheffield stated that ‘it is not usual for any to supply this place whose wives are recusants, yet my good opinion of yourself, and the hope I have of your own freedom from that sort will not suffer me to admit of that bar to your employment’.22 His aversion to popery does not appear to have been feigned: a Flemish servant who came to Walton in 1624 recorded that Sir Thomas, ‘taking disliking to his ... son for his popish recusancy would not suffer him to stay there’; Thomas passed the rest of his father’s life in various Catholic households in the north.23 Fairfax’s second wife was almost certainly a Protestant, and moreover Bishop Morton of Durham arranged for him to undertake the wardship of the heirs of two Catholic families in the 1630s. Sir John Hotham* later remembered that Fairfax ‘plainly foresaw the diminution of his house would follow both in state and otherwise’ if his descendants turned to Rome, and in a codicil added to his will six days before his death, Fairfax went to considerable lengths to ensure that his eldest grandson was ‘educated, instructed and brought up a Protestant according to the laws and church of this realm’ by Sir Thomas Wentworth and his second son Henry Fairfax.24

Fairfax’s appointment as sheriff of Yorkshire in November 1627 barred him from Parliament in 1628, but allowed him to block the government’s demand for Privy Seal loans aimed specifically at Forced Loan refusers shortly before the session began: the matter was allowed to rest after he reported to the Privy Council that collection of the Privy Seals had been halted following their recall in the Proclamation summoning Parliament.25 He presumably supported the election of Wentworth and his great-nephew Henry Belasyse* as knights of the shire. A week into the session he asked Wentworth to save him from censure for failing to release a debtor from York gaol who had been issued with a parliamentary protection by Francis Neville II*, which he suspected had been procured under some false pretext. He proclaimed himself loath ‘to violate or infringe the liberties of that honourable House whereunto I owe all duty and respect (myself having been divers times a Member thereof)’. He was later cited for a minor breach of privilege in selecting Sir William Alford, MP for Beverley, for a jury appointed to hear a case in Common Pleas. Fairfax also asked Wentworth to raise the issue of John Lepton’s patent for drafting bills before the Council at York, ‘so oft condemned by Parliament’, which had been revived by Sir Thomas Monson* in 1626; a petition on this subject from the York attorneys, whose fees had suffered in consequence, was considered by the committee of grievances in May 1628.26

Fairfax may have recruited Wentworth’s help in obtaining a peerage, as the award of the Irish viscountcy of Kilbarry was signed by the king on 19 July 1628, shortly after Wentworth joined the Court. The impetus behind this grant was undoubtedly the recent elevation of his relatives Sir Thomas Belasyse* and Sir Thomas Fairfax I to English and Scottish peerages. The title changed to Viscount Emley when the patent was issued in January 1629, but he thereby trumped the Denton Fairfaxes, who had paid £1,500 for a Scottish barony. Sir Ferdinando Fairfax* consoled himself by insisting that while Fairfax claimed to have purchased his title for £900, ‘it is most certain it cost him at least £1,300’. Belasyse, now Lord Fauconberg, went one step further and complained in the Lords about Fairfax’s precedence over English barons. Fairfax’s patent was consequently brought before the Lords, who petitioned the king. In June it was agreed that Irish and Scottish viscounts should retain their precedence over English barons, but be removed from public office in England. As a result, Fairfax was removed from the bench, and was not reinstated until 1633.27

Fairfax was subjected to another investigation in May 1628, when his cousin Francis Fairfax petitioned the Lords for relief in a long-running quarrel over the rectory of Acaster Malbis, a dispute which highlighted the unscrupulous methods Fairfax used to enlarge his estates. Francis and his brother Thomas had acquired a life interest in the rectory at the death of their father in 1606, when Fairfax, who already owned the manor of Acaster, became guardian of their interests. Sir Thomas, having obtained a reversionary lease of the rectory from the Crown in 1605,28 procured a sub-lease of Francis’s moiety of the rectory on favourable terms. However, this was technically invalid, as Francis was under-age when the lease was sealed. Fairfax then allegedly exploited his position on the Council in the North to bully his cousin into surrendering his remaining interest in 1619, and he probably also encouraged Francis’s sister-in-law to apply to the Council in 1621 to seize the estate for payment of part of her jointure. It was probably also Fairfax who arranged to have his cousin imprisoned for refusal to acknowledge the Council’s ruling. In 1628 the Lords referred the issue to the assize judges, who ruled in February 1629 that the jointure interest was invalid, as it had been granted during Francis’s minority, and criticized the Council in the North (and, by implication, Fairfax himself) for their impropriety.29 However, Fairfax was saved from the consequences of his actions by the dissolution of March 1629, and the case dragged on inconclusively in the courts until his death.30

Fairfax’s will of 22 Oct. 1634 made generous provision for his younger sons: Henry was to receive a total of £3,000 in cash and goods, William the manor of Coniston in Holderness and a life annuity of £120, Nicholas (a recusant) an annuity of £50; while the two youngest, apprenticed to London merchants, were given £1,000 apiece. His heir was not mentioned except in a codicil, which set aside £1,200 to provide for Thomas’s son William, on condition that he was raised as a Protestant. Fairfax died at Howsham, his wife’s jointure manor, on 23 Dec. 1636, and was buried at nearby Scrayingham.31 His instructions for his grandson’s education were never carried into effect: Wentworth proclaimed himself ‘a ready instrument’ to serve as guardian, but conceded that the child, then only six, should remain at school for another year before coming to Dublin. The 2nd Viscount refused to surrender custody in the following year, and, despite an order from the Privy Council, he retained control of his son’s education. After the death of the 2nd Viscount in 1641 wardship of the heir was granted to Ferdinando, Lord Fairfax, Henry Belasyse, Sir Matthew Boynton* and Sir Philip Stapilton†, who sent him to Felstead school.32 The boy died young in 1648 and the family remained Catholic, as a result of which none of its members sat in Parliament thereafter.33

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. H. Aveling, ‘Catholic Recusancy of the Yorks. Fairfaxes’, Biog. Studs. iii. 87; C142/254/5; N. Yorks. RO, Gilling par. reg. transcript.
  • 2. Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 39.
  • 3. Al. Cant.
  • 4. Yorks. ERRO, DDCC/133/10, 96-100.
  • 5. Vis. Yorks. 39; N. Yorks. RO, Gilling par. reg. transcript.
  • 6. Aveling, ‘Fairfaxes’, 112-13 (n. 74).
  • 7. C142/254/5; 142/255/127.
  • 8. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 101.
  • 9. CP.
  • 10. C142/554/74.
  • 11. Add. 28082, f. 80v; Add. 36293, ff. 31-2.
  • 12. C231/4, f. 225v; C231/5, pp. 13, 103.
  • 13. R. Reid, Council in the North, 497; HMC Var. ii. 111; C2/Jas.I/F4/59.
  • 14. C181/1, ff. 161, 201; C181/3, ff. 85, 110, 249, 262; C181/4, ff. 114, 121; C212/22/23.
  • 15. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 163.
  • 16. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 541.
  • 17. Aveling, ‘Fairfaxes’, 69-76, 84-6; N. Yorks. RO, mic 1189/1047-94; C24/351/93.
  • 18. Aveling, ‘Fairfaxes’, 74-6; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 210-1; SIR HENRY CONSTABLE.
  • 19. HMC Hatfield, vii. 412-17; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 19, 116-17; Wentworth Pprs. ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xii), 83; HMC Var. ii. 110-11.
  • 20. Reid, 488; Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. iii. 304-6; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 10; CJ, i. 548b.
  • 21. Procs. 1625, p. 275; CJ, i. 705b, 755a, 768a, 842b, 853b, 856a, 864a.
  • 22. Procs. 1626, ii. 138, 175; Aveling, ‘Fairfaxes’, 88-9, 96; HMC Var. ii. 111.
  • 23. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 336; Aveling, ‘Fairfaxes’, 93; H. Aveling, Northern Catholics, 282.
  • 24. Aveling, Northern Catholics, 225; Misc. Recusant Recs. ed. C. Talbot (Cath. Rec. Soc. liii), 414; Borthwick, Oversize Wills.
  • 25. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 13; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 83; Stuart Royal Procs. ed. J.F. Larkin and P.L. Hughes, ii. 187-8.
  • 26. Wentworth Pprs. 289-90; A.F. Upton, Sir Arthur Ingram, 164-8; CD 1628, iii. 345, 425.
  • 27. CSP Ire. 1625-32, p. 367; Fairfax. Corresp. ed. G.W. Johnson, i. 156, 158-9; Aveling, ‘Fairfaxes’, 91-2, 112; APC, 1629-30, pp. 69-70; C231/5, p. 103.
  • 28. C142/254/5; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 218.
  • 29. C2/Jas.I/F4/59; C2/Chas.I/F30/58; 2/Chas.I/F50/127; Lords Procs. 1628, v. 559.
  • 30. C2/Chas.I/F4/63; 2/Chas.I/F30/58; 2/Chas.I/F50/127; HMC Cowper, ii. 68; Aveling, ‘Fairfaxes’, 82-3, 91.
  • 31. Borthwick, Oversize Wills; C142/554/74; Borthwick, Reg. Test. 37, f. 506; Aveling, ‘Fairfaxes’, iii. 94.
  • 32. Misc. Recusant Recs. 413-15; C142/611/213; CSP Dom. 1639, pp. 257-8; Aveling, Northern Catholics, 282-3; WARD 9/220, f. 55v.
  • 33. Borthwick, Original Wills, Ainsty Deanery, July 1648; Aveling, Northern Catholics, 316.