‘Black Tom’ – Sir Thomas Fairfax, Creator and Commander of the New Model Army

Ask who was the Parliamentary general who created and commanded the all-conquering New Model Army during the civil wars and the most likely answer will be “Oliver Cromwell”. But in fact, it was Sir Thomas Fairfax – known to his enemies as “Black Tom” – who emerged as the most successful military commander of the 1640s.

So, why has Fairfax’s reputation and importance been overshadowed by that of Oliver Cromwell?

In this programme, Fairfax’s most recent biographer, Contributing Editor Professor Andrew Hopper of the University of Oxford, addresses this question and provides a balanced picture of the differing contributions and strengths of the two men. He talks to Mike Gibbs.

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The World Turned Upside Down
The World Turned Upside Down - The British Civil Wars 1638-1651
‘Black Tom’ - Sir Thomas Fairfax, Creator and Commander of the New Model Army
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Andrew Hopper

Andrew Hopper

Professor of Local and Social History

Andrew Hopper is Professor of Local and Social History in the Department for Continuing Education at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Kellogg College. He…

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Interactive Glossary





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Robert Bell (ed.), The Fairfax Correspondence: Memorials of the Civil War, 2 vols (London, 1849).
Brian Fairfax (ed.), Short Memorials of Thomas, Lord Fairfax (London, 1699).
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Places to Visit

York Castle Museum has Fairfax’s buff-coat on display.

The Chapter House of York Minster includes a memorial to Fairfax and his father Ferdinando Lord Fairfax for their role in safeguarding the Minster after the surrender of York to Parliament in July 1644.

An obelisk commemorates Fairfax’s role in the battle on the Tockwith Road at Marston Moor.

The National Civil War Centre, Newark, displays Fairfax’s wheelchair and other items loaned to the Museum by the Fairfax family.

Norwich Cathedral has a memorial to Fairfax’s cousin, Dean Henry Fairfax who was Dean of Norwich in the 1690s. The word ‘Nasebiani’ was later chiselled out of the text to assauge Tory anger.

St James’s Church, Bilbrough, contains Fairfax’s tomb and funerary monument, with a recently installed plaque celebrating his life. His father is buried in nearby All Saints Church, Bolton Percy, with a lengthy textual inscription in Latin.

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17 January 1612 Fairfax born at Denton Hall, near Otley in Yorkshire to Mary Fairfax, née Sheffield (d. 1619) and Ferdinando Fairfax (1584–1648).
1626 Fairfax attended St John’s College Cambridge.
1628 Fairfax attended Gray’s Inn, London.
1629 Fairfax attends the siege of Bois-le-Duc in the Low Countries.
20 June 1637 Fairfax marries Anne, daughter of Horace, Lord Vere.
28 August 1640 Fairfax among the English cavalry defeated by the Scots at Newburn Ford, west of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
28 January 1641 Fairfax knighted by Charles I.
3 June 1642 Fairfax presents a petition to Charles I on Heworth Moor, just outside York, and is nearly trampled by the king’s horse.
4 October 1642 Collapse of Yorkshire’s treaty of neutrality brokered by the Fairfaxes the previous month at Rothwell near Leeds.
21 October 1642 Fairfax defends Bradford from the royalists in his first civil-war action.
23 November 1642 Fairfax’s father, Ferdinando, 2nd Baron Fairfax commissioned at parliamentarian commander-in-chief in all counties north of the River Trent. Fairfax himself commissioned to command his father’s cavalry.
25 November 1642 Fairfax escapes with his life after a surprise raid on his headquarters at Wetherby.
6 December 1642 Fairfax participates in his father’s defence of Tadcaster from the Earl of Newcastle’s royalist army.
13 December 1642 Fairfax and John Hotham combine in a cavalry raid to beat up royalist quarters at Sherburn-in-Elmet.
18 December 1642 ‘Bradford Club-Law’: popular insurgency repels a royalist attempt to capture Bradford
29 December 1642 Fairfax joins the insurgents at Bradford with three troops of horse.
23 January 1643 Fairfax assaults and captures Leeds in a snowstorm.
30 March 1643 Most of Fairfax’s rear-guard are captured on Seacroft Moor covering Lord Fairfax’s retreat from Selby to Leeds.
April 1643 The Earl of Newcastle and the Queen besiege Lord Fairfax in Leeds.
21 May 1643 Fairfax storms and captures Wakefield in a surprise dawn attack, despite the garrison outnumbering his forces three to one.
30 June 1643 Fairfax commands the cavalry of his father’s army in a crushing defeat on Adwalton Moor by the Earl of Newcastle’s royalist army.
1 July 1643 Fairfax breaks out of Bradford with his wife and daughter, but Lady Fairfax is captured by the Earl of Newcastle.
2 July 1643 Surrender of Bradford. Fairfax wounded in the wrist crossing the River Ouse at Selby in his fighting retreat to Hull.
4 July 1643 Fairfax arrives in Hull after a 48-hour ride from Leeds.
26 September 1643 Fairfax ferries 20 troops of horse out of besieged Hull into Lincolnshire to conduct join operations with Oliver Cromwell.
11 October 1643 Fairfax and Cromwell combine to defeat a royalist force at Winceby in Lincolnshire. Earl of Newcastle raises the siege of Hull.
20 December 1643 Fairfax and Sir John Meldrum recapture Gainsborough.
29 January 1644 Fairfax defeats Lord Byron and relieves the siege of Nantwich.
11 April 1644 Fairfax and his father assault and capture Selby, defeating the Yorkshire royalists under Lord John Belasyse.
23 April 1644 The Fairfaxes join with the Scots Army of the Covenant to besiege York.
2 July 1644 Fairfax commands the right wing of cavalry in the allied army that defeated Prince Rupert at Marston Moor. His brother, Charles Fairfax, is mortally wounded.
August 1644 Fairfax dangerously wounded by a shot in the shoulder at the siege of Helmsley Castle.
18 September 1644 Fairfax’s cousin, Sir William Fairfax is mortally wounded in the relief of Montgomery Castle in Wales.
21 January 1645 Fairfax commissioned as commander-in-chief of the New Model Army.
April 1645 Fairfax and Skippon assemble New Model Army at Windsor.
May 1645 Fairfax besieges Oxford until released to bring the King’s army to battle after their sacking of Leicester.
14 June 1645 Fairfax commands the New Model Army in their decisive victory at Naseby.
10 July 1645 Fairfax and the New Model defeat Lord Goring’s royalist army at Langport in Somerset.
18 February 1646 Fairfax and the New Model defeat Lord Hopton’s royalist army at Torrington in Devon.
5 March 1646 Cornish gentry surrender to Fairfax at Millbrook in Cornwall.
1 June 1647 New Model Army troopers under Cornet George Joyce seize the King at Holdenby House, Northamptonshire.
6 August 1647 Fairfax leads the New Model Army into the city of London.
9 January 1648 Fairfax and his council of war agree no further addresses are to be made to the King.
15 March 1648 Fairfax attends the funeral of his father, Ferdinando, at Bolton Percy. Fairfax succeeds him as 3rdLord Fairfax of Cameron.
1 June 1648 Fairfax’s detachment of the New Model defeat the Kentish insurgents at Maidstone.
12 Jun – 27 Aug Fairfax commands the besiegers at the Siege of Colchester.
28 August 1648 Fairfax’s council of war execute Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle at Colchester Castle.
6 December 1648 Fairfax’s army orchestrate ‘Pride’s Purge’ to remove MPs opposed to the Army from the House of Commons.
22 and 27 January Anne, Lady Fairfax interrupts the King’s trial.
30 January 1649 Execution of Charles I.
17 February 1649 Fairfax returned to the House of Commons as MP for Cirencester and is appointed to sit in the Republican Council of State.
30 March 1649 Fairfax reappointed as commander in chief of all forces in England and Ireland.
14 May 1649 Fairfax and Cromwell combine to crush the Army mutiny at Burford in Oxfordshire.
26 May 1649 Fairfax meets Winstanley and the Diggers on George Hill in Surrey.
6 June 1650 Fairfax welcomes Cromwell’s return from Ireland.
25 June 1650 Fairfax refuses to comply with the Rump’s plan to launch a pre-emptive invasion of Scotland. Fairfax resigns and is replaced by Cromwell as Lord General.
August 1651 Fairfax participates in the defence of Yorkshire against the Scots’ invasion headed by Charles II.
15 October 1651 Fairfax appointed Lord of the Isle of Man by the Rump Parliament and he sends commissioners to establish godly government on the island.
July 1653 Fairfax refuses Cromwell’s invitation to sit in the Nominated Assembly.
August 1654 Fairfax elected to the House of Commons as MP for the West Riding of Yorkshire in the First Protectorate Parliament, but again refused to take his seat.
15 September 1657 Marriage of Fairfax’s only child, Mary, to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and favourite of Charles II, at All Saints, Bolton Percy.
9 October 1657 Buckingham arrested and imprisoned for royalist conspiracy.
August 1658 Fairfax and Cromwell part on bad terms owing to the imprisonment of Buckingham.
3 September 1658 Death of Oliver Cromwell.
3 February 1659 Fairfax ends his political retirement to take his seat as knight of the shire for Yorkshire in Richard Cromwell’s Third Protectorate Parliament.
21 February 1659 Buckingham released from imprisonment, Fairfax having provided £20,000 in bail.
7 May 1659 Fairfax reappointed to the Council of State with the recall of the Rump Parliament, but he declined to serve.
20 December 1659 Fairfax sends his cousin Brian from Nun Appleton to Coldstream to notify General George Monck that Fairfax would rise in Yorkshire on 1 January 1660.
1 January 1660 At the head of 1800 men, Fairfax appears outside Micklegate Bar and captures York without bloodshed from Colonel Robert Lilburne.
11-16 January 1660 Fairfax and Monck dine together in York and Nun Appleton.
18-26 May 1660 Fairfax joins the commission to the Hague to invite Charles II to return as King.
April 1661 Fairfax loses election to be knight of the shire for Yorkshire in what becomes known as the Cavalier Parliament.
23 April 1661 Coronation of Charles II. King rides to ceremony on foal of the mare Fairfax rode at Naseby.
25 August 1662 Fairfax’s uncle Henry ejected from his living at Bolton Percy by the Act of Uniformity.
16 January 1664 Sixteen conspirators, including several of Fairfax’s former officers and soldiers, known as the ‘Farnley Wood plotters’ are hanged, drawn and quartered at York.
16 October 1665 Death of Fairfax’s wife, Anne.
11 November 1671 Death of Fairfax at Nun Appleton, buried alongside his wife at St James’s Church, Bilbrough. He is succeeded by his cousin Henry as 4th Baron Fairfax.