Ferdinando Fairfax, 2nd Lord Fairfax, 1584-1648

Leader of the Yorkshire Parliamentarians during the English Civil War

Portrait of Ferdinando, Lord FairfaxFerdinando was the eldest son of Thomas Fairfax of Denton in Yorkshire (1560-1640), who in 1627 was created Baron Fairfax of Cameron in the Scottish peerage. Ferdinando succeeded to the title in 1640. After gaining military experience in the Netherlands, he served as a Justice of the Peace from 1611 and sat as MP for Boroughbridge, Yorkshire, during the six parliaments from 1614-29 and during the Short Parliament of 1640. He commanded a regiment during the Bishops' Wars but joined the opposition to the King's policies on his election to the Long Parliament in November 1640.

On the outbreak of the First Civil War, Fairfax was proclaimed leader of the Yorkshire Parliamentarians in September 1642. He signed a treaty of neutrality with the Yorkshire Royalists which was fiercely opposed by Sir John Hotham and his son, who regarded themselves as rivals for leadership of Parliament's forces in Yorkshire.

In December 1642, the Earl (later Marquis) of Newcastle advanced towards York, forcing Fairfax to withdraw to Selby. After Sir Hugh Cholmley, governor of Scarborough, defected to the Royalists in March 1643, Fairfax withdrew to Leeds; his rearguard was defeated by Lord Goring at Seacroft Moor. Fairfax and his son Sir Thomas held off Royalist attacks on Leeds during the spring of 1643, but they were severely defeated at Adwalton Moor near Bradford on 30 June, which left the Royalists in control of the whole of Yorkshire except for the port of Hull. The Fairfaxes withdrew to Hull from where they directed raids on Royalist strongholds in Yorkshire, which prompted the Earl of Newcastle to abandon his march south and return to besiege Hull. The siege was unsuccessful and was abandoned in October 1643, enabling the Fairfaxes to begin recovering the East Riding for Parliament.

Lord Fairfax recaptured Selby in April 1644 and joined the Earl of Manchester and the Army of the Covenant at the siege of York. He was one of the Allied commanders at the battle of Marston Moor but fled the field after his infantry were routed, believing the battle to be lost. In July 1644 he was appointed governor of York and ordered to mop up Royalist resistance in Yorkshire. In December 1644 he captured the town of Pontefract, but was unable to secure the castle. He resigned his command with the adoption of the Self-Denying Ordinance in April 1645, but remained an influential member of the parliamentary committee that governed Yorkshire. He died in March 1648.

Lord Fairfax was twice married. By his first wife, Mary, he had six daughters and two sons: Thomas, who succeeded him as 3rd baron, and Charles, a cavalry colonel, who was killed at Marston Moor.


A.H. Burne & P. Young, The Great Civil War, 1959

A.J. Hopper, Ferdinando, second Lord Fairfax of Cameron, Oxford DNB 2004