FAIRFAX, Thomas, 5th Ld. Fairfax of Cameron [S] (1657-1710), of Denton and Cookbridge Hall, Yorks.

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



1685 - 1687
1689 - 1702
1 Jan. - 1 May 1707

Family and Education

b. 16 Apr. 1657, 1st s. of Henry Fairfax†, 4th Ld. Fairfax of Cameron [S]; bro. of Hon. Henry Fairfax*.  educ. Magdalen Coll. Oxf. 1675.  m. c.1685, Catherine (d. 1719), da. and h. of Thomas, 2nd Baron Colepeper, of Thoresway and Leeds Castle, Kent, 3s. 4da.  suc. fa. 9 Apr. 1688.1

Offices Held

Capt. indep. tp. 1685–7; lt.-col. 2 Horse Gds. 1689–94; col. 3 Drag. Gds. 1694–5; brig.-gen. 1701–2.

Commr. Aire and Calder navigation 1699.2


As colonel of the Yorkshire militia in 1688 Fairfax had been active with the Earl of Danby (Sir Thomas Osborne†) in the rising in the north. In February 1690 he was returned unopposed for Yorkshire. Various lists compiled by the Marquess of Carmarthen (as Danby had become) on the eve of the new Parliament and in December 1690 classed Fairfax as a Tory and Court supporter, while similarly, in April 1691, Robert Harley* had no doubts about his Court sympathies. During 1692–5 he was included in further lists of Court supporters and placemen in the Commons. He had previously been inactive in the Convention and continued to be away a great deal, being granted leave of absence on 19 Dec. 1691, 28 Jan. 1693, 19 Feb. 1694 and 7 Mar. 1695.3

Returned unopposed once again for the county in the 1695 election, Fairfax was forecast as likely to support the government in the divisions on the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696. On 10 Feb. he was granted leave of absence for ten days. He signed the Association promptly, but in March was absent from the division on the price of guineas. In the 1696–7 session he voted on 25 Nov. for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. On the 30th John Pershall*, whose wife was the sister of Fairfax’s wife, petitioned the House with a claim that Fairfax was using his privilege to obstruct payment of Charlotte Pershall’s portion from the Colepeper estate. The House thereupon resolved nem. con.

that no Member of this House during the continuance of this Parliament, have any privilege, except for his person only against any commoner, in any suit or proceedings in courts of law or equity for any longer time than the House shall be actually sitting for dispatch of business in Parliament.

Fairfax was granted leave of absence once again on 22 Dec., while on 12 Feb. 1697 a bill was brought in to enable him to sell part of his lands in order to pay the portion and discharge other legacies under Colepeper’s will. The 3rd Lord Colepeper, Fairfax’s uncle by marriage, objected to the bill and on 9 Apr. Fairfax ‘at his own desire’ waived his privilege in the case. However, the bill itself had already been carried up to the Lords on 17 Mar. In the 1697–8 session he played a leading role in managing two bills, one for making the Aire and Calder navigable and the other for supporting the merchant adventurers’ trade to Germany, both of which failed to reach the statute book. On 3 Mar. he was granted leave of absence for one week. Another petition from Colepeper during this session was rejected by the House.4

Returned for the county in a contested election in 1698, Fairfax was classed as a Court supporter in a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments. At this time he was included in two lists of placemen. In January 1699 he was involved in managing another bill for making the Aire and Calder navigable, and a bill (which later failed) for preventing the export of wool, while in April a bill was passed in the Commons for confirming the grant and settlement by William Forster* of manors and lands in Durham and Northumberland to Fairfax and others, for certain trusts and uses. In the 1699–1700 session Fairfax managed a bill through the House for the repair of Dover harbour. In an analysis of the House into interests in that year he was noted as a placeman.5

Before the first general election in 1701 Fairfax agreed at the York assizes to combine his candidacy with Sir John Kaye, 2nd Bt.*, in order to exclude his former partner Lord Downe (Henry Dawney*). By early December 1700 Downe had decided against contesting the election, at which time it was also reported from Yorkshire that Fairfax ‘continues here expecting with a Christian application the sentence of dissolution’, and that he would ‘sooner quit the ten commandments than the strongest side or the prospect of advantage’. At the election Fairfax and Kaye were returned unopposed. In the 1701 Parliament Fairfax played a leading role in managing two bills, one for the relief of poor debtors in prison, which failed, and the other for establishing a corporation for the poor in Halifax, which did reach the statute book. When first delivering the report for the bill for relief of poor debtors Fairfax gave the report ‘by word of mouth which was wrong’. His concern for debtors was not altogether disinterested, since he had himself wasted his Yorkshire estates and been obliged to mortgage Leeds Castle. However, his financial problems were alleviated to some extent in July when he was granted a pension of £600 p.a.6

Prior to the second 1701 election Ralph Thoresby, the Yorkshire antiquarian who had been a supporter of Fairfax in the past, wrote to Fairfax deploring his failure to attend a county meeting, because,

as the world goes, notwithstanding the great services your lordship has been so eminent for, there seems to be a necessity to let your friends know that your lordship is willing to stand for the county. I humbly beg your lordship’s pardon for this freedom, but I cannot bear that your truly ancient as well as honourable family should be excluded.

Fairfax certainly wished to stand and made a belated (and successful) application to the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†) on 15 Nov., claiming that he had not expected ‘so sudden a dissolution of this Parliament’. Although for a while it looked as if there would be a contest for the county seats, Kaye decided in November not to stand on grounds of ill-health, thereby ensuring that Fairfax would be returned unopposed along with Lord Irwin (Arthur Ingram*). In the new Parliament Fairfax played a leading role in the management of a failed bill for encouraging an invention for fixing colours in cloth, and he also reported and carried up two bills, one for navigation of the Derwent, and the other for reversing the outlawry of Charlotte Talbot. Before the 1702 election it was reported that Irwin, ‘as well as others, wonder Lord Fairfax has not intimated his intentions to friends in the county for his resolution to stand again, which many complain they cannot hear from his lordship nor his agents here’. Despite the fact that many of the Yorkshire gentry wanted him to stand, Fairfax eventually desisted in favour of Lord Hartington (William Cavendish*).7

While out of Parliament Fairfax lived in Kent or in London. In order to recoup his finances, he took an interest in a Spanish galleon wrecked off the West Indies, said to be worth £2 million. He obtained a grant of an eighth part from Queen Anne, and then chartered a ship and provided diving equipment and a crew. The venture proved to be a financial disaster, and supposedly ‘never brought in one farthing’. However, when a by-election came up for Yorkshire in January 1707, Fairfax was persuaded by Newcastle and Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) to stand for election. He was returned in a contest, and during the remainder of the 1706–7 session he managed two private estate bills through the House, telling on 29 Mar. for the engrossment of the second of these measures. In an analysis of the House in early 1708 he was listed as a Whig. However, he had already lost his place in Parliament as a result of the Union, which barred peers of Scotland from sitting in the Commons. Fairfax died in London on 6 Jan. 1710. The servant attending him robbed him of what little money he had left. Fairfax was buried on the 10th at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. In order to save Leeds Castle and her Kent estates, his widow had to sell Denton and other properties in Yorkshire, but did so on very poor terms. Their son, the 6th Lord, went to settle on his mother’s extensive plantations in Virginia.8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Ivar McGrath


  • 1. Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ed. Clay, ii. 191–2.
  • 2. HMC Lords, n.s. iii. 204.
  • 3. Boyer, Anne Annals, ix. 403; Cheshire RO, Shakerley mss, Fairfax to Peter Shakerley*, 15 Dec. 1688; N. Yorks. RO, Worsley mss ZON 13/1/32, Henry Fairfax to [Thomas Worsley I*], 11 Feb. 1689[–90].
  • 4. Stowe 746, f. 124.
  • 5. Cocks Diary, 26.
  • 6. BL, Althorp mss, Halifax pprs. box 4, Gervase Eyre* to Mq. of Halifax (William Savile†), 19 Aug. 1699; box 10, Ld. Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†) to same, 28 Aug. 1699; Huntington Lib. Stowe 58(1), pp. 17–18; Foxcroft, Halifax, ii. 327; Cocks Diary, 83; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1697–1702, p. 511; E. D. Neill, Fairfaxes of England and America, 44.
  • 7. Add. 70501, f. 31; W. Yorks. Archs. (Leeds), Temple Newsam mss TN/C9/160, James Blythman to Irwin, 1 Dec 1701; Glos. RO, Newton mss D.1844/C/10, Timothy Kiplin to Sir John Newton, 23 May 1702; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Whildon pprs. William Grosvenor to James Whildon, 21 July 1702; Thoresby Diary, i. 373.
  • 8. Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 242, 437; Add. 37682, f. 155; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 433; W. Yorks. Archs. (Leeds), Vyner mss 5781, ‘contested elections’; Boyer, 403; C. R. Markham, Thomas, Ld. Fairfax, 31; Neill, 40.