Sir Nicholas FAIRFAX

Born: 1498

Died: 30 Mar 1571/2

Buried: Church in Gilling

Father: Thomas FAIRFAX (Sir Knight)

Mother: Agnes GASCOINE

Married 1: Jane PALMES


1. William FAIRFAX (Sir)

2. Nicholas FAIRFAX

3. Cuthbert FAIRFAX of Acaster Malbys

4. George FAIRFAX

5. Henry FAIRFAX

6. Edward FAIRFAX

7. Robert FAIRFAX


9. Margaret FAIRFAX

10. Anne FAIRFAX

11. Elizabeth FAIRFAX

12. Catherine FAIRFAX

13. Mary FAIRFAX


Married 2: Alice PARRINGTON

Married when only 18, to Jane the daughter of Guy Palmes (Esq.) of Lindley, Yorkshire. Sheriff of Yorkshire for the first time in 1531 and again in 1535. Mr Bilson says:

"Sir Nicholas is decidedly the most interesting of the 16th century Fairfaxes of the elder line. Though he seems to have done little or no building at Gilling his career exhibits much that is of interest and is typical of the attitude of Roman Catholic gentlemen towards religious chnges of the time. The name of Fairfax is associated in the popular mind so exclusively with the Puritan revolution of the 17th century (Civil War) that it is of interest to see how the head of the family a century earlier took an active part in opposing Henry VIII’s reforms, and even showed some sympathy with movements in favour of the "Old Faith" in Elizabeth’s reign."

The two-sided attitude is shown by an incident in which Sir William Gascoyne wrote to Thomas Cromwell begging his favour "touching the matter between Sir Nicholas Fairfax, my nephew, and me". He claims of me 5 marks rent of my mills called Thorpe Arche at "which I paid his grandfather 40 years ago". Yet in a few months uncle and nephew were involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace along with other Catholic nobility.

To quote from Bilson:

"The suppression of the monasteries limited at first to those under 200 a year in value produced a most serious disturbance in the social life of the country."

The effect was more so in the North of England. The canons of Hexham Abbey took up arms against the suppression of their monastery in 1536 and this started the ball rolling. In Oct of the same year a rising took place in Lincolnshire and 6 days later the rising in Yorkshire began with a great assembly in the East Riding. Fairfax was one of the Yorkshire gentlemen who received a letter from King Henry VIII commanding him to aid in repressing "certain traitors" and "suffer by dint and sword or else so yield that the ringleaders be committed to prison" to await trial. But Sir Nicholas was more inclined to join the "traitors" than to obey the King’s command. Sir Thomas Percy sent for Sir Nicholas Fairfax to attend a muster of 10,000 men at Malton.

William Stapleton, in his account of the rebellion, says that on Saturday 21st Oct he came to York and heard how Sir Thomas Percy and Sir Nicholas Fayerfax, with the Abbot of St. Mary’s York, had gone to Pontefract (Pomfret) with a goodly band the same day. Meanwhile the Duke of Norfolk was marching north against the rebels. It was obvious that the Duke was inclined to be lenient and begged that King not to reprimand him for any concessions he might make. However, on reaching Doncaster he met a deputation from Pomfret. It would appear that Norfolk was persuaded that he had the inferior force and on 27th Oct an agreement was made, the King’s pardon published and the rebels were dismissed to their homes. The King however demanded 10 ringleaders to be delivered to him.

Fairfax, notwithstanding their promise to the King, moved that the parishes of Dent and Sedbar might rise and raise both Lancashire and Cheshire. It was decided to rally the Abbots of the Yorkshire Abbeys, remembering that Gilling Church had been given to St. Mary’s Abbey, York many years before. On Dec 2nd the rebels held a gathering of lords, laymen, and clergy; the Archbishop of York preached. Among them were Sir Nicholas Fairfax, Sir William Fairfax of Steeton, Sir George Darcy (Nicholas’s brother-in-law), Sir Henry Gascoyne (Sir Nicholas’s cousin), and Mr Palmes (perhaps a cousin of Sir Nicholas’s wife). At this meeting they accepted the granting of a full pardon but no conditions as to the arrest of ringleaders. Sir Nicholas succeeded in making his peace with the King and was pardoned on 18th Jan 1537. He took no further part in a subsequent abortive rebellion: he had had enough.

The next 30 years of his life were comparatively uneventful. He received a pension of 20 per annum from the King; although for the first five years after his disaffection he was closely watched by the King’s spies, in 1539, 1561 and 1564 he sat on the Council for the North, which had been established after the rising to keep the people in order and to execute justice in the King’s name. He sat in Parliament for Scarborough in 33 Henry VIII and again for the county in 5 Elizabeth. He was Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1544 and 1561. In 1565 he had the custody of the lands of St. Mary’s Abbey, York.

In 1568 Mary Queen of Scots fled into England. This led to a plot to depose Elizabeth and acknowledge Mary as Queen. It was led by the Earl of Northumberland, who was a kinsman of Sir Nicholas. Sir Francis Knollys, who had been sent to Carlisle to meet the Queen, rebuked the Earl for attempting to take the Queen into his own custody and reprimanded Sir Nicholas for attending upon Mary. On 26th Mar 1569, Thomas Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex wrote to Cecil from York as follows: "Lord and Lady Herbert are here now.....I have sent for my Lords of Northumberland and Westmorland to meet us at Sir Nicholas Fairfax’s house, and so with horse races, hunting and hawking to make his lordship the best cheer we can, for the short time he tarries in the country".

In the autumn of 1569 the two earls had started their abortive and ill-fated rebellion, The Rising of the North. Although the North tended to favour the "old religion" many remained neutral. Sir Nicholas, although he sympathised with the movement, remained inactive, and so did his son William. But his second son, Nicholas, actively joined the rebels. On 4th Nov 1569 the Earl of Sussex summoned the two earls to York. One refused to come and the other deferred his coming. Thereupon Sussex called the Council of the North together - including Sir Nicholas Fairfax. This must have been a very difficult situation for Sir Nicholas as he had to judge rebels whom he had largely supported. The rebellion started openly on 15th Nov at Brancepeth. On the 17th young Nicholas Fairfax among others entered the house of Anthony Catterick on Stanwick. However the rebellion was crushed before Christmas, and young Nicholas was a prisoner in Carlisle. His father was on the Council of the North to receive the submission of all the offenders of the West Riding.

In 1538/9, in spite of his opposition to the closing of the monasteries, Sir Nicholas was not backward in coming forward and wrote to Cromwell asking for Newborough Priory or Whitby Abbey to be given to him. This was refused, Newborough being given to a Protestant family, the Bellasys, and Whitby to the Cholmonleys.

In 1554 it is recorded that Sir Nicholas had 30 to 40 servants, indoor and outdoor, and that he was worth more than 1000 per annum.

BEF he died, in 1571, he made arrangements in his will for the building of a free school in the Parish of Gilling, and bequeathed an annuity of 10 for the support of the schoolmaster. Where this school was we do not know, but it may have been on the site of the present Roman Catholic church, as the school was sited there before it was the village reading room in 1836. After quite an eventful life. He made provision for a monument to be erected in Gilling Church at a cost of 40. It is there now in the south aisle of the nave. His children were intended to be displayed round the sides of a plinth, but this has either disappeared or was never there. His first wife Jane Palmes is depicted at his side, with a hand at her feet being a pun on her maiden name. When his second wife died is not recorded, but she now lies on his left side with a lion at her feet. Sir Nicholas is shown in armour, his head resting on a helmet and at his feet a lion couchant. The altar tomb on which the effigies are now placed was provided by Mrs. Lavinia Barnes, who was virtually the last of this branch of the Fairfaxes.

Sir Nicholas’s will is published in Bilson’s paper on Gilling Castle in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal for 1907. It is interesting to see that by his will his grandson should be educated by his son Cuthbert of Acaster Malbys, who was a Roman Catholic. Cuthbert and his daughter Mary were reported as recusants.

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