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Thomas Fairfax

Thomas Fairfax
Portrait of Thomas Lord Fairfax (Guillaume-Philippe Benoist, 1757). Collection of Rosamund Paice.

Sir Thomas Fairfax is best known as Commander-in-Chief of the victorious Parliamentary Forces during the English Civil War, but his life has long been side-lined by Cromwell-focused history. That, of course, is what happens when one person rises to power over another. Yet Fairfax was at one time at least as likely as Oliver Cromwell to rule over England. In 1648, following the siege of Colchester, it was Fairfax to whom John Milton addressed his praise and his hopes: it was Fairfax "whose name in arms through Europe rings" and Fairfax that Milton called on to free "Truth, & Right from Violence" (Sonnet 15).

Ideological differences – first over the execution of Charles I and then over the Council of State's decision to send an army against the Scots Covenanters – led Fairfax to resign his commission in 1650. Fairfax's subsequent retreat to his Nun Appleton estate is famously the subject of Andrew Marvell's 'Upon Appleton House'.

By contrast, Fairfax's own poetry is virtually unknown and is largely unpublished, and yet it provides new insights into a key moment in English politics. My initial inspection of the manuscripts of Fairfax's poetry suggests that during the Interregnum literature, particularly translation, provided a conduit by which Fairfax could reflect on past political friendships and his current isolation.

This section of my website is dedicated to that unpublished body of work. Over time, I will produce an online selection of Fairfax's poetry, with the aim of building towards a future scholarly edition.



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