FAIRBORNE, Sir Stafford (1666-1742), of St. Anne’s and St. James’s, Westminster

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1705 - 1710

Family and Education

b. 1666, 1st s. of Sir Palmes Fairborne of St. Anne’s by Margery, da. of one Devereux, and wid. of Mr Mansell.  m. (1) 24 June 1694, Dorothy Fane (d. 1707), 3s. (d.v.p.) 1da.; (2) 20 Oct. 1708 (with £10,000), Rebecca, da. of Hon. Thomas Paston (6th s. of Robert, 1st Earl of Yarmouth), 1s. (d.v.p.) 1da.  suc. fa. 1680; kntd. 3 Nov. 1701.1

Offices Held

Ensign, 2 Tangier Ft. 1678–85 (Queen’s Ft. 1684–5, Queen Dowager’s Ft. from 1685, later 2 Ft.), lt. 1685–Sept. 1687, 2nd lt. grenadier coy. in same regt. 1687–9, capt. by Oct. 1689–1700; lt. RN by 1685, capt. Sept. 1688, r.-adm. 1701–Feb. 1703, v.-adm. May 1703–8, adm. June 1708, adm. of the fleet Dec. 1708–Dec. 1709; commr. forts, Newfoundland 1700 (not taken out), disbanding marines 1713 (not taken out); one of council of ld. high adm. Feb. 1706–June 1708.2

Freeman, Portsmouth 1702, Great Grimsby by 1705, Rochester 1705.3


Fairborne’s father was a soldier who spent most of his career in the defence of Tangier. In 1680, while serving as governor, he was killed during a Moorish attack. By that date Fairborne was himself embarked on a military career, having been commissioned in 1678 as an ensign in a Tangier regiment. Like many military men in Restoration England he held commissions in both the army and the navy, serving as lieutenant aboard the Bonadventure in 1685. Evidence suggests that he became a client of Admiral Arthur Herbert† (later Earl of Torrington) the naval commander at Tangier, 1679–83. Thus, in 1689–90, Phineas Bowles, secretary to both Herbert and the Admiralty, informed Fairborne that ‘the commissioners are jestingly pleased (sometimes) to call you my captain’. Fairborne was also on hand to discredit the evidence of his own ship’s master at Torrington’s court martial after Beachy Head. Finally, his mother’s will of 1694 shows that a house in Lisle Street, Westminster, intended for Fairborne was in fact sold to Torrington in return for an annual payment of £100 p.a. to Fairborne for life. This may explain how Fairborne was able to borrow money from Torrington in later years. Although he was promoted to captain in September 1688, Fairborne’s loyalty to James II must have been sorely tried by his mother’s attempts to obtain the pension of £500 granted to her in 1681 for her husband’s service and to provide for her large family. As the payments were already £1,500 behind by the time of Charles II’s death, Lady Fairborne was forced in 1687 to surrender it and to renounce most of her arrears in order to obtain any funds at all. Needless to say, prompt payment was not resumed under the new regime, but the treatment of his mother must have coloured Fairborne’s attitude to the Revolution of 1689.4

Fairborne was employed at sea during much of William III’s reign, being described in a list of captains of 1691 as ‘a young man, but a very good man’. His mother’s death in June 1694 allowed him to marry later the same month. The precipitate nature of this event suggests that Fairborne was not a rich man, which may in turn explain his sensitivity as regards precedence and promotion. For example, in May 1696, Secretary Shrewsbury attempted to pacify him on the occasion of Admiral Benbow’s appointment with the assurance that ‘one of your character and service need not doubt that his claims shall be considered’. Fairborne attained his flag in June 1701, being knighted the following November. Queen Anne’s reign saw renewed attempts to obtain the arrears for his mother’s pension, a total of over £1,000, if calculated at £200 p.a. for five years and 40 days from 13 Feb. 1689 until her death; over £6,000 if calculated at £500 p.a. since 1680. Although ‘generally esteemed a bold and brave man’ Fairborne proved difficult to manage. In February 1703 he surrendered his flag rather than command a squadron in the West Indies under conditions he felt unfavourable. This refusal gave rise to newsletter reports that he had ‘managed his affairs with that haughtiness and indiscretion as to be entered upon the Admiralty books never to serve her Majesty more’. In response, Fairborne waited outside the Admiralty in order to challenge the first commissioner he came upon. George Churchill* accepted, and a duel in Hyde Park was narrowly averted by the arrest of both men. Fairborne was soon back in favour, however, being appointed vice-admiral of the red in May 1703. The Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) informed his duchess on the 17th that ‘I have always had so much good of Sir Stafford Fairborne that I am very glad he is restored’. Further problems occurred the following year when Fairborne clashed over seniority with Vice-Admiral Graydon, the man who had succeeded him in the West Indies command.5

By May 1704 Fairborne was beginning to press for an administrative post to supplement his naval duties. In August he asked the Duke of Ormond (under whom he had served at Cadiz) to speak on his behalf to Prince George and Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) to obtain ‘some additional employment, either as a commissioner of the navy, Admiralty or else a pension extraordinary’, such as many other flag officers possessed. Fairborne based his case upon his need to support ‘the character her Majesty has been pleased to honour me with’, the sufferings he had by loss of pay when put out of office in 1703, the expenses attendant upon his being driven into a foreign country in the great storm of 1703, and finally the claims of his family, his mother’s unpaid pension and his own zealous services. To further his ambitions Fairborne stood for Parliament, targeting Rochester since the naval interest usually controlled one seat there. As he informed Ormond on 15 Mar., his electoral strategy was to persuade the voters that Sir Clowdesley Shovell* should be accounted a country gentleman, so that he could come in as ‘the sea officer’. By 13 Apr. Fairborne was anxiously writing to Arthur Moore*, comptroller of army accounts, about his fear of being ordered to sail before the election. He needed to stay in Rochester to ‘keep my friends fast together’. Having secured his election Fairborne wrote from shipboard to Robert Harley* pressing his claims for a place on the ‘Prince’s Council’ in order ‘better to support the flag I wear’. Preferment was not forthcoming immediately. Contemporary assessments of his political stance varied: one list classed him as a ‘High Church Courtier’, but the more reliable Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) thought his election in place of Edward Knatchbull* a gain for the Whigs. Fairborne was still absent at sea when the Commons divided on 25 Oct. 1705 over the choice of Speaker. He had returned by 9 Jan. 1706 when he was given leave by the Commons to attend the Lords’ committee considering more effective methods of manning the fleet. Although tipped for a place on the Prince’s council in succession to Richard Hill in December 1705, he had to wait until 8 Feb. 1706 to be appointed. He then loyally supported the Court on 18 Feb. over the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill. His name also appears on two lists of 1708, on both occasions as a Whig, and he was duly returned again for Rochester at the general election of that year.6

Although he had been reappointed on 19 Apr. 1708, Fairborne was dropped from Prince George’s council on 20 June in return for a commission as admiral of the white, dated so as to give him seniority over Sir John Leake*. October 1708 saw Fairborne, aged 41, marry Rebecca Paston, whose uncle Jasper Paston had married Fairborne’s mother 25 years previously; her portion was reportedly £10,000. Further honour followed in December when the new lord high admiral, the Earl of Pembroke (Thomas Herbert†), made him one of the admirals of the fleet. In the Commons Fairborne continued to support the Whig ministry, voting in 1709 for the naturalization of the Palatines and a year later for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. However, if Fairborne had benefited from the changes attendant upon the death of Prince George, the Queen’s decision in December 1709 to employ as lord high admiral the Earl of Orford (Edward Russell*) ruined his career. Whether because of some ancient grudge or a more recent professional rivalry, Orford obtained an order in council setting aside both Fairborne’s recent appointments, and allowing him half-pay only as a vice-admiral. Although not a poor man (he had over £500 in Bank stock in 1710), Fairborne saw this as unjust, and appealed in June 1710 to Marlborough to ‘become my advocate to my Lord Orford’ that ‘I should be allowed the half-pay of an admiral of the fleet, till I am employed again at sea’, or that he should have an office ‘which does not prevent my serving in the House of Commons’. With Fairborne at odds with Orford, the advent of Robert Harley* to power must have given him fresh hope of securing some preferment or a recall to active duty. Arthur Maynwaring* reported rumours that Fairborne would be included in a new Admiralty commission to be headed by the Earl of Peterborough. However, Fairborne was not named in the new commission issued on 4 Oct. nor was he returned to the Commons, being defeated on the 7th at Rochester. He did not give up hope of employment or of a generous pension under the Tories, soliciting Harley at the moments he judged most opportune to stress his ‘33 years’ service and 45 commissions in the service from the lowest to the highest’. Harley relented in 1713, appointing him a commissioner for disbanding the marines, but Fairborne refused to take out his commission, holding out for a place in the Admiralty. With the accession of George I and the return of Orford at the head of an Admiralty commission, Fairborne appears to have settled into retirement. In 1718 Thomas Hearne reported the birth of a son, but little information survives of his other activities. He died on 11 Nov. 1742, aged 76, ‘the oldest admiral in the navy’. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 468; London Mag. 1742, p. 569; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 268–9; IGI, London; Westminster Abbey Reg. ed. Chester, 362; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 364; Top. and Gen. iii. 40.
  • 2. Charnock, Biographia Navalis, ii. 144; CSP Dom. 1699–1700, p. 398; Post Boy, 8–11 Aug. 1713; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvii. 409.
  • 3. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 373; Univ. Kansas Spencer Research Lib. Moore mss 143 C1, Henry Vincent I* to Arthur Moore, 1 May 1705; info. from Medway Area Archs.
  • 4. DNB (Fairborne, Sir Palmes); Charnock, 144; Navy Recs. Soc. lx. 249–50; J. Ehrman, Navy in War of Wm. III, 293; Mariner’s Mirror, lxxvi. 345–6; PCC 121 Box; Cal. Treas. Bks. vii. 100, 1495; viii. 1305; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1702–7, p. 185.
  • 5. Folger Shakespeare Lib. Rich mss Xd. 451(98), list of capts. 1691; CSP Dom. 1696, p. 175; 1702–3, p. 709; Cal. Treas. Bks. xvii. 958; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1702–7, p. 185; HMC Portland, viii. 302; Add. 70075, newsletters 13, 20, 23 Feb. 1703; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 272, 295; DZA, Bonet despatch, 19 Feb. 1703; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 187; HMC Ormonde, n.s. viii. 57; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 12, f. 127.
  • 6. HMC Portland, viii. 117, 175, 183; iv. 94; HMC Ormonde, n.s. viii. 110, 147; Moore pprs. mss 143 cd, Fairborne to Moore, 13 Apr. 1705; Bull. IHR, xxxvii. 23; Spencer Research Lib. Methuen– Simpson corresp. mss C.163, Simpson to Methuen, 11 Dec. 1705; Luttrell, v. 622.
  • 7. Add. 61164, f. 161; 61116, f. 69; 57861, f. 151; 70292, Fairborne to Harley, 20 June 1711; 70317, same to same, 7 Aug., 8 Sept. 1712, 9 June, 21 July 1713; 70311, same to same, 19 Aug. 1713; Luttrell, vi. 364; Egerton 3359; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1545, 1557; HMC Portland, x. 54, 246; Hearne Colls. vi. 246; London Mag. 1742, p. 569; Westminster Abbey Reg. 362.