FAIRFAX, Thomas I (1560-1640), of Denton and Nun Appleton, 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. 1560, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Fairfax of Denton and Nun Appleton by Dorothy, da. of George Gale, ld. mayor of York. educ. Queens’, Camb. 1577; L. Inn 1579. m. 1582, Ellen, da. of Robert Aske of Aughton, 9s. 3da. Kntd. 1591 or 1592; suc. fa. 28 Jan. 1600; cr. Lord Fairfax, Baron of Cameron [S] Oct. 1627.1

Offices Held

J.p. Cumb., Westmld. from c.1583, Yorks (W. Riding) from c.1592; commr. musters, Yorks. (W. Riding) 1598-9; member, council in the north from 1599.


Fairfax was born at Bilborough, which stood on a hill near his uncle’s castle at Steeton. The first we hear of his career is a mission to Scotland—he is said to have been sent there five times—in the summer of 1585, for which Edward Wotton had recommended him to Walsingham. The mission was brief and its purpose is unknown, but it was evidently successful, and on 4 Sept. that year, Wotton wrote to Leicester regretting that Fairfax would not be returning because he had found his company ‘very delightful’, and it had helped him to endure the miseries of being in Scotland. He added that Fairfax had

carried himself very discreetly toward all men, and very honestly toward your lordship, and did not omit the doing of any good office whereby he might imprint in the King’s mind a good opinion of your lordship. In these two points I think him not inferior to any servant your lordship has.

Fairfax returned to Scotland in the spring of 1588, to help suppress the rising of the pro-Spanish Lord Maxwell. He was one of the first to go to Scotland to swear fealty to the King as James I of England, and it was a Scottish peerage that he acquired in 1627, at a cost of £1,500.2

In 1586 Fairfax was returned to Parliament for Lincoln, presumably through the standing of his father and the good offices of his relative the 3rd Earl of Rutland. Rutland died before the next election, and Fairfax came in for Aldborough, no doubt through his family influence. On 4 Nov. 1586 he was appointed to a conference with the Lords concerning Mary Queen of Scots, and on 11 Feb. 1589 he was named to the subsidy committee.3

Probably it was shortly after the dissolution of the 1589 Parliament that Fairfax went to serve in the Netherlands under Sir Francis Vere. He also served in France under Essex, by whom he was knighted. He was one of those appointed by the Queen in 1602 to make a report, under the direction of the archbishop of York, upon the position of vice-president of the council in the north.4

After serving in the foreign wars, Fairfax settled down to the life of a country gentleman at Denton, where he built a large family mansion. He apparently attended the 1597 county election in place of his father who was ill, supporting the unsuccessful Stanhope faction. He himself sat in Parliament twice more, as knight of the shire for Yorkshire. Although he is not mentioned by name in the extant parliamentary journals for 1601, as knight for Yorkshire he would have been eligible to attend committees concerning the main parliamentary business (3 Nov.) and monopolies (23 Nov.). He retained a predilection for soldiering, caring most for those of his sons who entered military service, and, in time, taking an especial interest in his grandson Tom—later the great Lord Fairfax—because he believed him to have the makings of a good soldier. According to ‘The Order for the Government of the Household at Denton’, specifying the exact duties of each servant, he required his own establishment to be run with almost military precision. He wrote, too, a number of treatises, including Conjectures about Horsemanship, The Militia of Yorkshire, The Militia of Durham, and a tract on the Yorkshire cavalry. Described as a man of great ability, a valiant soldier and a tolerable scholar, his portraits show him to have had ‘a genial, honest face, with a great, square, white beard’. He died on 1 or 2 May 1640, and was buried next to his wife in the south transept of Otley church. His will, made in May 1635, with a codicil of 12 Apr. 1640, was proved at York in the month of his death.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N.M.S.


  • 1. CP; Lansd. 121, ff. 70, 71; APC, xxix. 491; Reid, Council of the North, 399, 496; APC, xlii. 244.
  • 2. T. Widdrington, Analecta Eboracensia, 144; CSP Scot. 1585-6, pp. 10, 90; A. Gooder, Parl. Rep. Yorks. (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. xcvi), 38; DNB.
  • 3. Neale, Commons, 204; CP, xi. 259; D’Ewes, 394, 431.
  • 4. HMC Hatfield, ix. 242; CSP Dom. 1601-3, pp. 156, 194.
  • 5. HMC Hatfield, vii. 416; D’Ewes, 624, 649; Markham, Life of Fairfax, 6-34; DNB; York Wills (Yorks, Arch. Soc. rec. ser. iv), 67.