Thomas Fairfax

Thomas Fairfax

Thomas Fairfax, the son of Ferdinando Fairfax, was born in Denton, Yorkshire, in 1612. A soldier, he served under Baron Vere in the Netherlands.

Fairfax was knighted by Charles I in 1641. However, when the Civil War broke out in 1642 he took the side of Parliament and played an important in the defeat of Royalist forces at Marston Moor in 1644.

In February 1645, Parliament decided to form a new army of professional soldiers. This army of 22,000 men became known as the New Model Army. Its commander-in-chief was General Fairfax, while Oliver Cromwell was put in charge of its cavalry.

Members of the New Model Army received proper military training and by the time they went into battle they were very well-disciplined. In the past, people became officers because they came from powerful and wealthy families. In the New Model Army men were promoted when they showed themselves to be good soldiers. For the first time it became possible for working-class men to become army officers.

The New Model Army took part in its first major battle just outside the village of Naseby in Northamptonshire on 14 June 1645. The battle began when Prince Rupert led a charge against the left wing of the parliamentary cavalry which scattered and Rupert's men then gave chase.

While this was going on Oliver Cromwell launched an attack on the left wing of the royalist cavalry. This was also successful and the royalists that survived the initial charge fled from the battlefield. While some of Cromwell's cavalry gave chase, the majority were ordered to attack the now unprotected flanks of the infantry. Charles I was waiting with 1,200 men in reserve. Instead of ordering them forward to help his infantry he decided to retreat. Without support from the cavalry, the royalist infantry realised their task was impossible and surrendered.

By the time Prince Rupert's cavalry returned to the battlefield the fighting had ended. Rupert's cavalry horses were exhausted after their long chase and were not in a fit state to take on Cromwell's cavalry. Rupert had no option but to ride off in search of Charles I.

The battle was a disaster for the king. About 1,000 of his men had been killed, while another 4,500 of his most experienced men had been taken prisoner. The Parliamentary forces were also able to capture Charles' baggage train that contained his complete stock of guns and ammunition.

Fairfax was politically a conservative was opposed to the trial of Charles I in 1648. However, he willingly suppressed the Levellers in the army.

Fairfax was elected to the House of Commons (1654-1658) but did not attend proceedings. Fairfax supported the recall of the monarchy in 1660 but played no role in politics during the reign of Charles II. Thomas Fairfax died in 1671.

Primary Sources

(1) John Milton, General Fairfax at the Siege of Colchester (1648)

Fairfax, whose name in arms through Europe rings

Filling each mouth with envy or with praise,

And all her jealous monarchs with amaze

And rumours loud, that daunt remotest kings;

Thy firm unshaken virtue ever brings

Victory home, though new rebellions raise

Their Hydra heads, and the false North displays

Her broken league, to imp their serpent wings.

O yet a nobler task awaits thy hand;

For what can war but endless war still breed,

Till truth and right from violence be freed,

And public faith clear'd from the shameful brand

Of public fraud? In vain doth Valour bleed,

While Avarice and Rapine share the land.