FAIRFAX, Sir Nicholas (1498/9-1571), of Gilling Castle and Walton, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 1498/9, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Fairfax of Walton by Agnes or Anne, da. of Sir William Gascoigne of Gawthorpe. educ. M. Temple 1521. m. (1) c. 1516, Jane, da. of Guy Palmes of Naburn, at least 8s. inc. Sir William, at least 4da.; (2) Alice, da. of Sir John Harington of Exton, Rutland, wid. of Richard Flower of Whitwell, Rutland, and of Sir Henry Sutton of Averham, Notts. suc. fa. 1 Dec. 1520. Kntd. by Dec. 1530.1

Offices Held

J.p. Yorks. (N. Riding) by Dec. 1530, (E. Riding) 1561, (E. and W. Ridings) and Cumb. 1569; member of special commissions of the peace 1540, 1561, 1564; sheriff, Yorks. 1531-2, 1544-5, 1561-2; commr. musters 1539, 1569; member, council in the north Feb. 1548-Sept. 1569, from May 1555; commr. for church goods 1548, 1553; chief steward of lands late of St. Mary’s abbey, York 1557; commr. to inquire into offences against the Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy 1561.2


Fairfax was head of the senior branch of a county family connected to the Percys, earls of Northumberland. Elected to one Elizabethan Parliament, he is not known to have played any active part in its proceedings. If his religious views were conservative, Fairfax was evidently discreet about them. In 1564 the archbishop of York listed him among the favourers of religion, but four years later, the puritan Sir Francis Knollys, when he went north to receive Mary Queen of Scots, reported to Cecil that Sir Nicholas and his son Sir William were unsound in religion. They had both accompanied the Earl of Northumberland to meet Knollys, and the latter told Sir Nicholas that ‘he would be taught to attend upon her Highness’s pleasure before he should attend upon the Queen of Scots or my lord of Northumberland in such cases’. Whether from discretion or merely old age, Fairfax was found at the council table in York when the northern rebellion broke out the following year. His second son Nicholas joined the rebels and was imprisoned at Carlisle, while he himself received the submission of offenders, from the West Riding.

Fairfax was a great encloser. Over the years he bought up lands in Grimston and Yearsley, adjoining Gilling, which brought him into conflict with his neighbour Sir William Bellasis. Fairfax wanted to ‘improve’ 1,000 acres of the common at Yearsley, whereas Bellasis, who bought the manor, claimed that he had ‘beast gates’ there. The dispute lasted until the end of James I’s reign, when it was finally settled out of ‘the love the Bellasis owed the house of Gilling’. When he died, Sir Nicholas held at least nine manors, over 140 houses, including three in the city of York, cottages, windmills and extensive lands. In his will he required his executors to raise him a ‘convenient tomb according to my degree’, to the value of £30-£40. He made provision for his second wife, whom he married late in life, leaving her four manors and household goods which subsequently passed with the house at Gilling to his heir Sir William. He also made provision for his children, three sisters, and his servants. He wished a free school to be erected and maintained in Gilling, with a £10 annual salary for the master to be found from his lands in Grimston. His wife, his sons Sir William, Nicholas and Cuthbert, together with Thomas Hungate, Sir William Bellasis and Roger Dalton were executors, each receiving a gelding. Fairfax died 30 Mar. 1571 and was buried in Gilling church. On his tomb he is represented in plate armour, his head resting on a helm, his feet on a lion.3

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N.M.S.


  • 1. Vis. Yorks. (Harl. Soc, xvi), 118; Gooder, Parl. Rep. Yorks. ii. 5-6; LP Hen. VIII, iv. g. 6803(12).
  • 2. Gooder, ii. 6, 7; CPR, 1548-9, pp. 135-6; 1547-53, app. p. 414; 1557-7, p. 387; 1560-3, pp. 170, 187.
  • 3. Johnson, Fairfax Corresp. pp. xiii-xvi; Biog. Studies (now Recusant History ), iii. 69, 103, 131; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, p. 261; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xix. 132, 188-91, 192.