Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron (17 January 1612 – 12 November 1671), also known as Sir Thomas, Lord Fairfax, was an English nobleman, peer, politician, general, and Parliamentary commander-in-chief during the English Civil War. An adept and talented commander, Fairfax led Parliament to many victories, notably the crucial Battle of Naseby, becoming effectively military ruler of the new republic, but was eventually overshadowed by his subordinate Oliver Cromwell, who was more politically adept and radical in action against Charles I. Fairfax became unhappy with Cromwell's policy and publicly refused to take part in Charles's show trial. Eventually he resigned, leaving Cromwell to control the republic. Because of this, and also his honourable battlefield conduct and his active role in the Restoration of the monarchy after Cromwell's death, he was exempted from the retribution exacted on many other leaders of the revolution. His dark hair and eyes and a swarthy complexion earned him the nickname "Black Tom".
Thomas Fairfax was born at Denton Hall, halfway between Ilkley and Otley in the West Riding of Yorkshire, on 17 January 1612, the eldest son of Ferdinando Fairfax, 2nd Lord Fairfax of Cameron (his family title of Lord Fairfax of Cameron was in the peerage of Scotland, then still independent from England, which was why he was able to sit in the English House of Commons after he inherited it). He studied at St John's College, Cambridge, and Gray's Inn (1626–1628), then volunteered to join Sir Horace Vere's expedition to fight for the Protestant cause in the Netherlands.
In 1639 he commanded a troop of Yorkshire dragoons which marched with King Charles I against the Scots in the First Bishops' War, which ended with the Pacification of Berwick before any fighting took place. In the Second Bishops' War the following year, the English army was routed at the Battle of Newburn. Fairfax fled with the rest of the defeated army but was nevertheless knighted in January 1641 for his services.
The Fairfaxes, father and son, though serving at first under King Charles I, were opposed to the arbitrary prerogative of the Crown, and Sir Thomas declared that "his judgment was for the Parliament as the king and kingdom's great and safest council". When Charles endeavoured to raise a guard for his own person at York, intending it, as the event afterwards proved, to form the nucleus of an army, Fairfax was employed to present a petition to his sovereign, entreating him to hearken to the voice of his parliament, and to discontinue the raising of troops. This was at a great meeting of the freeholders and farmers of Yorkshire convened by the king on Heworth Moor near York. Charles attempted to ignore the petition, pressing his horse forward, but Fairfax followed him and placed the petition on the pommel of the king's saddle.
When the civil war broke out in 1642, his father, Lord Fairfax, was appointed general of the Parliamentary forces in the north, and Sir Thomas was made lieutenant-general of the horse under him. Both father and son distinguished themselves in the campaigns in Yorkshire.[a]
Sometimes severely defeated, but more often successful, and always energetic, prudent and resourceful, they contrived to keep up the struggle until the crisis of 1644, when York was held by the Marquess of Newcastle against the combined forces of the English Parliamentarians and the Scots, and Prince Rupert hastened with all available forces to its relief. A gathering of eager national forces within a few square miles of ground naturally led to a battle, and Marston Moor (2 July 1644) proved decisive for the struggle in the north. The younger Fairfax bore himself with the greatest gallantry in the battle and, though severely wounded, managed to join Oliver Cromwell and the victorious cavalry on the other wing. One of his brothers, Colonel Charles Fairfax, was killed in the action. But the Marquess of Newcastle fled the kingdom, and the Royalists abandoned all hope of retrieving their affairs. The city of York was taken, and nearly the whole of the north submitted to the Parliament.
In the south and west of England, however, the Royalist cause was still strong. The war had lasted two years, and the nation began to complain of the contributions that were exacted of and the excesses that were committed by the military. Dissatisfaction was expressed with the military commanders and, as a preliminary step to reform, the Self-denying Ordinance was passed. This involved the removal of the Earl of Essex from the supreme command, along with other Members of Parliament. This was followed by the New Model Ordinance, which replaced the locally raised Parliamentary regiments with a unified army. Sir Thomas Fairfax was selected as the new Lord General, with Cromwell as his Lieutenant-General and cavalry commander. After a short preliminary campaign, the New Model Army justified its existence, and "the rebels' new brutish general", as the king called him, proved his capacity as commander-in-chief in the decisive Battle of Naseby (14 June 1645). The king fled to Wales. Fairfax besieged Leicester, and was successful at Taunton, Bridgwater and Bristol. The whole of the west was soon reduced.