Black Tom

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Black Tom Sir Thomas Fairfax And The English Revolution by Dr Andrew Hopper

Yep, that’s Dr Andrew Hopper as in ‘Hoppy’ from Foxes regiment. The book follows on from his pamphlet The Readiness of the People’: The Formation and Emergence of the Army of the Fairfaxes, 1642–3 (University of York: Borthwick Papers, 92, 1997) which in his own words ‘...drew on my doctoral research which examined the extent of support for Parliament in Yorkshire during the first civil war, from which I developed some of the material for a new study of Parliament’s foremost general, Sir Thomas Fairfax...’.

From a social perspective, Hoppy’s earlier work looked into the interaction ‘...between the gentry and the people in the process of allegiance formation...’ and looked at how the Fairfax's were able to raise support and continue the war in the north although heavily outnumbered and subject to a divided Parliamentary command. This book seems to be the first biography of Fairfax since John Wilson’s Fairfax of 1985.

What do you get for your hard-earned money then? 262 well-researched pages, which not only chart the Fairfax's (by which I mean Tom and his father Ferdinado) course through the ECW in Part I, but follow Thomas into the Restoration. It contains some things I’d never heard of: one relative was called ‘Brian’ (good job he didn’t make Lord General); Tom being nominated as MP for Cirencester in 1647, but meeting ‘riotous local opposition’ and Lord Grey of Groby being considered as a possible alternative Lord General in 1649.

Part II covers Thomas Fairfax's place in the social and political culture of the times, which is a theme continued from Hoppy’s earlier booklet, and essential if you are to understand the connection between national and local politics and how this influenced people in their choice of ’side’ and role during the ECW. Tom’s religious views span both major parts of the book, and there is an interesting account of the family members' roles in the wars with the Spanish in the early C17th, which led Tom’s grandfather to write an essay on how to oppose them.

Despite this, Ferdinando is quoted as saying that ‘my greatest care… to breed my son a scholar’, and more in common with Roman Catholics, both were interested in antiquity. Humility is another feature of Tom's character, and this may have helped to endear him to the people and to the army and to not let his status as a gentleman be offended by the tumult and anarchy of a popular uprising.

Fairfax certainly comes across as popular with the soldiers, and the Levellers were aware of this, reserving most, but not all of their attacks, for Cromwell and Ireton,

Oddly though, when suppressing a mutiny in Whalley's regiment of horse in April 1649 (notorious radicals, who incidentally when they had been guarding Charles before his trial, were suspected of plotting to murder him), Cromwell wanted to let all six of those sentenced to death off, but it was Fairfax who insisted on one being shot as an example to restore army discipline.

All in all, it shows that Fairfax was a complex man, worthy of a read of this book. Recommended.

Reviewed by Ming the Merciless