FAIRFAX, Sir William (by 1531-97), 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. by 1531, 1st s. of Sir Nicholas Fairfax of Gilling Castle by his 1st w. Jane, da. of Guy Palmes of Naburn. m. (1) Agnes, da. of George, Lord Darcy, s.p.; (2) c.1572, Jane, aged 16, da. and h. of Brian Stapleton of Burton Joyce, Notts., 1s. Thomas II. suc. fa. 1571. Kntd. 1560.2

Offices Held

J.p. Yorks. (N. Riding) from c.1562, (E. and W. Ridings) from c.1579; chief steward of lands formerly belonging to St. Mary’s abbey, York and surveyor crown lands, Yorks. (N. Riding) 1571; sheriff, Yorks. 1577-8; member, council in the north from 1577; commr. musters 1596.3


Fairfax served with distinction in the Scottish wars at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign, taking part in the assault on Leith, being named among the captains who ‘best served in Scotland’ under Lord Grey of Wilton, and being knighted at Berwick in July 1560. He was, like his father, discreet about his religious sympathies. Sir Francis Knollys reported him to be unsound in religion, and Thomas Gargrave listed him as one of the ‘less evil sort’, but he was recommended for inclusion on the council in the north in 1577 by the president, the 3rd Earl of Huntingdon, who made no reference to his religion, and his loyalty was never questioned. He went to London for brief periods almost every year, and was frequently in York on business. He resided in turn at his fortified manor house at Gilling, a house at Walton and another at West Heslerton. Over a number of years he rebuilt the upper floors of Gilling, adding the great chamber, completed in 1585, and the fine stained glass displaying the Fairfax genealogy. Gilling was richly furnished, contained much plate, and in the library were copies of Plutarch, Holinshed, Machiavelli in French, Froissart, Chaucer, Tacitus and Caesar—the last two also in French—as well as works on religion, gardening, hawking and war. In 1588 Fairfax headed the list for Ryedale of those fit to lend the Queen £50. That same year he was desperately ill, so that Francis Alford offered Burghley 400 marks for the wardship of his son and applied for his job as collector of St. Mary’s abbey lands.4

Fairfax’s work in the county gave rise to the usual disputes. When he was sheriff, he quarrelled with Piers Pennant, one of the Queen’s gentleman ushers, refusing to allow him to exercise his office of keeper of York castle. The Privy Council intervened and ordered the president of the council in the north to arrange matters between them. As justice of the peace Fairfax challenged the council’s power to remove cases from the jurisdiction of the justices, for which he and his colleagues received some form of censure. After his death, an inquiry was held into his administration of the lands of St. Mary’s and of the crown lands in the North Riding. Bailiffs actually seized Gilling to distrain for debts which, it was alleged, he owed to the Crown.

Fairfax was returned for Yorkshire with Sir John Savile in the disputed election of 1597. He died on 1 Nov., a week after the session began and it is not known whether he took his seat.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N.M.S.


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Foster, Yorks. Peds. i; Gooder, Parl. Rep. Yorks. ii. 37-8; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xix. 133-4.
  • 3. CPR, 1560-3, p. 437; 1563-6, p. 123-4; 1569-72, p. 16; Egerton 2345, f. 14v; Gooder, loc. cit.; Lansd. 13, f. 127; 19, f. 208; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 336; 1595-7, p. 167.
  • 4. CSP Scot. i. 393, 438; Biog. Studies (now Recusant History), iii. 84, 85, 86; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xix. 145-6, 149; Archaeologia, xlviii; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 551.
  • 5. APC, x. 212, 279; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 117; West Riding Sessions Rolls (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. iii), 16 seq.; Reid, Council of the North, 336-7; Biog. Studies, 87.