FAIRFAX, Thomas, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron [S] (1612-71), of Nun Appleton, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



17 Feb. 1649

Family and Education

b. 17 Jan. 1612, 1st s. of Ferdinando Fairfax, 2nd Lord Fairfax of Cameron [S], by 1st w. Mary, da. of Edmund Sheffield, 1st Earl of Mulgrave. educ. St. John’s, Camb. 1626; G. Inn 1628; travelled abroad (Netherlands, France) 1629-32. m. 20 June 1637, Anne (d. 16 Oct. 1665), da. and coh. of Horace, 1st Baron Vere of Tilbury, 2da. Kntd. 28 Jan. 1640; suc. fa. 13/14 Mar. 1648.

Offices Held

J.p. Yorks. (W. Riding) by 1637-d., (E. Riding) 1648-50, 1652-Mar. 1660, liberties of Ripon, Sutton and Marston 1654; commr. for assessment (W. Riding) 1643-52, 1657, Jan. 1660-d., (E. and N. Ridings) 1644-52, 1657, Westminster Jan. 1660, 1663-d., York Jan. 1660-d., levying of money, Yorks. 1643, sequestration (W. Riding) 1643, northern assoc. 1645, martial law, London 1646, militia, Yorks. 1648, 1655, Westminster, Bristol and York 1659, Yorks. and Westminster Mar. 1660; gov. I. of Man 1649-50; commr. for scandalous ministers, Yorks. 1654; custos rot. (W. Riding) July 1660-d., commr. for oyer and terminer, Northern circuit July 1660, sewers Westminster Aug. 1660, (E. Riding) Sept. 1660.1

Capt. of dgns. 1639-40; gen. of horse (parliamentary) 1642-5; capt.-gen. New Model army 1645-50.

Constable of the Tower 1647-50; commr. for high court of justice 1649; Councillor of State 1649-50, May-Oct. 1659, 2 Jan.-25 May 1660; commr. for maimed soldiers Dec. 1660-1.2


Fairfax’s family had held manorial property in Yorkshire since the 13th century, first representing the county in 1324. Fairfax himself, a devout Presbyterian, served in the Low Countries under Sir Horace Vere, whose daughter he later married, and captained a troop of Yorkshire dragoons in the first Bishops’ war. He and his father were the staunchest supporters of the parliamentarian cause in Yorkshire, and his independence of faction, no less than his military expertise, was recognized by his appointment to command the New Model army. He was involved in a double return at Cirencester in 1647, which was not resolved in his favour until after Pride’s Purge. His indecisiveness made the King’s trial possible, though in the words of his wife’s famous outburst, he had more sense than to attend himself. He resigned his command in 1650 in protest against the war with the Scots, and never took his seat in the first Protectorate Parliament. He kept clear of royalist intrigues, even after the marriage of his only surviving daughter to the second Duke of Buckingham, and in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament sat with the republicans. After the second expulsion of the Rump he opened negotiations with George Monck for a free Parliament, and he led the Yorkshire rising which helped to overthrow the military regime.3

Fairfax was returned unopposed for Yorkshire at the general election of 1660, and marked as a friend by Lord Wharton. An inactive Member of the Convention, in which he usually sat next to Monck, he was named to the committee of elections and privileges and to only nine others. He was elected to the delegation from both Houses to attend the King, and served on the joint committees to draft their instructions and to prepare for the King’s reception. He took no part in the debates on the indemnity bill, though according to Edmund Ludlow he said in private that

if they would except any, he knew of one that was fit so to be, and that was himself, for that being then general he hindered it not when he might have done it.

He was among those appointed to consider the petition from the intruded Oxford dons on 25 June and to recommend an establishment for Dunkirk four days later. On 18 Aug. he stammered out a few unintelligible words in defence of his execution of two royalist officers taken at the surrender of Colchester in the second Civil War; but there seems to have been no serious threat of reprisals. Most of his remaining activity was concerned with the welfare of the men who had served under his command. He was appointed to the committee for the Dunkirk establishment bill on 1 Sept., and four days later urged that Monck’s Coldstream Guards and the regiments assigned to the Dukes of York and Gloucester should be retained. He was named to the committee for the bill to enable disbanded soldiers to exercise trades without apprenticeship, and added after the recess to the committee to consider a petition from the maimed soldiers pressed for the parliamentary army. His last committee was on the bill for levying arrears of excise.4

Fairfax characteristically deferred his decision to stand for re-election in 1661 until six days before the election. He then wrote to Edward Bowles, the most influential Presbyterian minister in the north, to use all honest means on his behalf, but without success. On the discovery of the Anabaptist plot in October 1663 he wrote to Buckingham to condemn those who ‘destroy unity by keeping up distinctions which both the King and Parliament in great wisdom have thought fit to bury in oblivion; and this I doubt not hath caused many to seem enemies which are real friends. But I shall plead for no man, but leave such to clear their own integrity.’ During the second Dutch war (Sir) William Coventry reported that Fairfax ‘was full of professions of loyalty, and is thought to be a man who does not make professions contrary to his thoughts’. He died on 12 Nov. 1671, and was buried at Bilbrough. Buckingham, despite his scandalous mistreatment of Fairfax’s daughter, inherited Nun Appleton and Bolton Percy; but the Denton estate and the Scottish peerage went to his cousin Henry Fairfax.5

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: M. W. Helms / Eveline Cruickshanks


This biography is based on M. A. Gibb, The Lord General.

  • 1. W. Riding Sess. Recs. (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. liv), 32-57; CSP Dom. 1655, p. 78; C181/7/37, 44.
  • 2. CJ, viii. 213.
  • 3. Her. and Gen. vi. 385; D. Underdown, Pride’s Purge, 48, 190-2; Add. 36992, f. 368.
  • 4. Bramston Autobiog. (Camden Soc. xxxii), 116-17; Ludlow, Voyce from the Watch Tower, 125; Bowman diary, f. 154; Old Parl. Hist. xxii. 473.
  • 5. Fairfax Corresp. ed. Bell, ii. 175-6; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 536; 1644-5, p. 506.