Sir William FAIRFAX

Died: 1 Nov 1597

Father: Nicholas FAIRFAX (Sir)

Mother: Jane PALMES

Married 1: Agnes DARCY

Married 2: Jane STAPLETON


1. Thomas FAIRFAX (1 V. Emley)

Son of Sir Nicholas Fairfax and Jane Palmes, Sir William was a knight in his own right, being knighted at Berwick by the Duke of Norfolk in 1560. His first wife was Agnes, daughter of Thomas Darcy, Lord Darcy who was executed in 1537 for his prominent part in the Pilgrimage of Grace. Agnes must have died before William succeeded, and he must have married again within the next two years (1573). His second wife was Jane Stapleton, daughter and heiress of Brian Stapleton of Burton Joyce near Nottingham. Strangely there was a connection once more with Nottinghamshire, as Jane Stapleton’s mother came from Laxton which had once been claimed by the de Ettons. Jane must have been only about 16 years of age when she married Sir William, who was some 37 or 38 years older.

Like his father, William seems to have played a prominent part in the affairs of Yorkshire. In two letters of the state papers we learn how Queen Elizabeth’s ministers regarded him. A letter written by Sir Thomas Gargrave, Vice-President of the Council of the North, dated Sep 1572, mentions him. This letter is a list of persons recommended for appointment to the Council of the North, sent to Lord Burghley. The people mentioned are divided into various categories: (1) Protestant; (2) the worst sort; (3) mean or less evil; (4) doubtful or neutral. Sir William is listed as mean and less evil. His neighbour at Newborough Priory was Protestant. Of William’s other links William Hungate, Gabriel Fairfax and Vavasour are all doubtful or neutral; John Sayce and Sir Richard Stapleton are mean or less evil; while Martin Anne, presumably of Burghwallis, and Richard Gascoyne are of the worst sort.

The second letter was addressed to Walsingham by Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon in 1577, when he was the President of the Council of the North. The subject is the same as that of the first letter, and we find that Sir William was considered sufficiently sound to be on the Council.

Although Sir William considered his house at Gilling to be a poor one, his hospitality was on a generous scale. There is a fine series of house accounts kept by John Woodward, the house steward from 1571 to 1582. The weekly account was 7 to 8 plus the produce of the estate. At New Year this rose to 22 per week, and during Lent fell to 5. As a general rule there were 30 to 40 persons dining in the Hall, particularly on guest days. On 14 May 1579 there is a record of a supper held in honour of Edward Manners, Earl of Rutland. The guests named were the Earl of Rutland himself, Sir Robert Constable, Mr. Manners (perhaps a relation of the Earl’s), Sir William Bellasis, Mr Henry Bellasis and his wife, and many others. The food included mutton, beef, veal, calves’ feet, chicken, capons, moorcock, pigeon pie, and stewed rabbits - surely a feast fit for a King.

In 1572 sat as Member of Parliament for Yorkshire County. He was Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1577. In 1588 his name appears as a gentleman who would be able to loan the Queen 50 and 25. In 1588 he was seriously ill and not expected to recover. A Frances Alford wrote to Burghley regarding an offer of 400 marks for the wardship of William’s son, Thomas, and the permission, should William die, to collect the income from the late monastery of St. Mary York. But William recovered and lived another 9 years.

In the period from 1588 Sir William made considerable alterations to the now 200-year old Tower House built by the de Ettons in 1349. There is no doubt that such a house would not be the height of comfort and would not be in keeping with the status of such a knight as Sir William. He therefore set about a drastic modernisation and extension to the original tower. The most remarkable feature of this venture was the Great Chamber with its panelled walls, the upper portion being decorated with trees bearing the coats-of-arms of the gentry of Yorkshire. These were subscribed by his three daughters. The windows are ablaze with heraldry showing the family connections of the Fairfaxes. There was also a dining room which probably adjoined the Great Chamber.

Further additions included: a new lodging; an outer new lodging; school house new turret; pleasaunce, the old study and paradise all perhaps on the ground floor. Above a gallery, a lodging, the Green Chamber, Sir William’s chamber, and the Bishop’s chamber. In the basement were the low vault and kitchens. Over the middle gates, the porter’s lodge, and over the far gate the stable. Domestic buildings included the kiln, dairy, pastry house, ox house, wine cellar, pantry, two butteries, dry larder, wet larder, boot room and brew-house. Later (in 1624) the following are also mentioned: the walk, the inner and outer nursery, Barnard’s parlour, maids’ parlour, beef house (store), still house, laundry, and wash house. Bilson wisely considers that the original tower was flanked by other buildings containing many of the above amenities. Gill states that he learned that they were on the site of the present wings. Bilson in his "Gilling Castle" gives an exhaustive description of all this work.

Fairfax was returned for Yorkshire with Sir John Savile in the disputed election of 1597, with the support of Gilbert Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. He died on 1 Nov, a week after the session began and it is not known whether he took his seat.

Among Sir William’s papers is a list of his books "remaining at Gilling". 39 books are mentioned, half in English and the rest in French or Latin. There are works by St. Augustine, Tacitus, Plutarch, Machiavelli, Chaucer, Froissart and Holinshed, plus a book listing all the coats-of-arms displayed on the walls and windows of the Great Chamber.

His personal estate was valued at 1072 plus the plate and household goods at Gilling Castle; the plate was valued at 393–7s–7d.

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