FAIRFAX, Robert (1666-1725), of Searle Street, Westminster; Bishop Hill, Micklegate, York; and Steeton and Newton Kyme, Yorks.
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Family and Education
bap. 23 Feb. 1666, 2nd s. of William Fairfax of Steeton and Newton Kyme by Catherine, da. of Robert Stapleton of Wighill, Yorks. m. 20 Nov. 1694, Esther (d. 1735), da. of Robert Bushell of Ruswarp, Yorks., wid. of Charles Tomlinson of Whitby, Yorks., 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. bro. 1694.1
Lt. RN 1689, capt. 1690, r.-adm. 1708; member, Admiralty council June–Oct. 1708.2
Freeman, York 1713, alderman 1714, mayor 1715–16.3
A grandson of Sir William Fairfax, a colonel in the Parliamentary army, Fairfax went to sea in 1681 on a merchant ship commanded by Captain Bushell, whose sister he later married. He then studied navigation in Marsh Yard, Wapping, Essex, under John Colson, regarded as the best naval instructor of the time. This brought him into contact with James II, most notably at royal fox hunts, of which events Fairfax wrote that ‘he wished many a time as he rode by him that he might have had the privilege to have uttered his mind to his Majesty’. Fairfax obtained a letter of recommendation to Sir Roger Strickland, a Roman Catholic who commanded the fleet, and entered the Royal Navy as a volunteer in January 1688, later serving under Lord Dartmouth (George Legge†), Strickland’s successor. No doubt helped in the Revolution by the services of his cousin Lord Fairfax (Thomas*), he obtained a commission as lieutenant under Thomas Hopson* and served at Bantry Bay in 1689. He subsequently took part in the battles of Beachy Head in 1690 and La Hogue in 1692. In the years 1698–1708 he kept a journal of operations under Sir George Rooke*, covering, inter alia, the capture of Gibraltar in 1703 (for which he received a silver cup from the Queen), and the battle of Malaga. In 1706 he was ordered to Spithead to serve under Sir Clowdesley Shovell* in an abortive descent on France. Although he was gazetted as vice-admiral in January 1708, the appointment was cancelled after Shovell’s death. Lord Berkeley (John*), who was by some way Fairfax’s junior, was appointed instead. In pique, Fairfax refused all further service. Prince George obtained for him half-pay as rear-admiral, and named him a member of his council, but after the Prince’s death on 28 Oct. 1708, Fairfax left the navy altogether.4
Retiring to Newton Kyme, Fairfax built a house there which became his chief residence. He was much concerned at the extravagance of his cousin, the 5th Lord, on whose death in 1710 he became one of the four trustees of the estates and the guardian of the 6th Lord Fairfax. His uncle, Thomas Fairfax of Steeton, wrote to him on 6 Aug. 1710:
now . . . that the times begin to alter, I hope there may be some hopes for men to come in play again, in order to which, if it were possible, I would have you see to get into the Parliament if you can. I am sure your estate qualifies you for it, and men who have served the crown so long as you have I am sure deserve it well, and that will be a good beginning to be doing.
Fairfax had decided by July 1712 to contest the next election at York. On the 12th he informed Lord Oxford (Robert Harley*) that he had ‘for some months prepared for a journey to York, in order to cultivate an interest there against the next election’. Ralph Thoresby assisted Fairfax in his campaign, during which he was associated with several Yorkshire Tories, such as Sir Arthur Kaye, 3rd Bt.*, and Sir Brian Staplyton, 2nd Bt.* At the 1713 election Fairfax was returned in a close contest, following which he was classed as a Tory in the Worsley list. He was not an active Member. In a re-run of the same contest at the York election in 1715, Fairfax was defeated. He did not sit in Parliament again. Fairfax died on 17 Oct. 1725 and was buried at Newton Kyme. By his will his heir was his eldest son, Thomas, who inherited all of the lordship of Steeton not previously settled by indenture on Fairfax’s wife and Alderman Charles Perrott. Fairfax’s will included a contingency with the requirement that any heir had to be a member of the Church of England and had to adopt the name of Fairfax. He also left £50 to the poor.5
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Ivar McGrath
Unless otherwise stated, this biography is based on C. R. Markham, Adm. Robert Fairfax.
- 1. DNB; York City Archs. list of civic officials ed. Skaife, f. 214.
- 2. DNB; Commissioned Officers RN, 149.
- 3. J. Malden, Reg. York Freemen, 157; List of civic officials ed. Skaife, f. 214.
- 4. DNB.
- 5. Add. 70197, Fairfax to Oxford, 12 July 1712; Thoresby Diary, ii. 195–6; York City Archs., E40/54–55, mins. concerning the election of MPs, 1713; Borthwick Inst. York, wills, prerog. ct. Sept. 1727.