National Civil War Centre

Object of the Month March 2022 - Fairfax's Sword

Fairfax's sword

This is a swept hilt broadsword with a double edged blade. The grip is covered with leather. The blade has extensive nicks and is pitted from use in battle. This sword belonged to Sir Thomas Fairfax, commander of Parliament’s New Model Army. Fairfax was an experienced cavalry officer who played a major role in the Civil Wars. He had also fought in the Thirty Years War on the continent, prior to the Civil Wars.

Thomas FairfaxThomas Fairfax was born at Denton Hall, near Otley, Yorkshire, on 17 January 1612, the eldest son of Ferdinando, 2nd Lord Fairfax. In 1628 he volunteered to join Sir Horace Vere's expedition to fight for the Protestant cause in the Netherlands. In 1639, Fairfax fought for Charles I against the Scots in the Bishops' Wars and was knighted for his services in January 1641. He became known as "Black Tom" for his dark complexion.

At the outbreak of civil war in August 1642, Lord Ferdinando Fairfax took command of Parliament's small northern army, with Sir Thomas as second-in-command. He gained a reputation as a gallant and courageous commander. At the battle of Winceby (October 1643) he co-operated for the first time with Oliver Cromwell. Following further successes at Gainsborough and Nantwich, the Fairfaxes joined forces with the Scots Covenanters and the Eastern Association to besiege York, in the campaign that culminated in the decisive victory at Marston Moor (2 July 1644).

By January 1645, Fairfax's military reputation had grown to the extent that Parliament voted to appoint him commander-in-chief of the newly-formed New Model Army. Fairfax quickly moulded the New Model into an efficient, disciplined fighting force before confronting the Royalists at the deciding battle of the English Civil War at Naseby (14 June 1645). Following further campaigns in the West Country on 24 June 1646, the Royalist headquarters of Oxford capitulated to Fairfax, bringing the First Civil War to an end.

Under Fairfax's leadership, the New Model Army did not lose a single battle or siege. But the rigours of his years of campaigning, and the many wounds he sustained, had a detrimental effect on his health. At various times, he suffered from rheumatism, kidney stones and gout.

When the Second Civil War broke out in the spring of 1648, Fairfax marched to crush the Royalist uprising in Kent. Although suffering badly from gout, Fairfax defeated the Earl of Norwich at Maidstone, before besieging the Royalists at Colchester, in what became a long and bitter siege.

Fairfax remained in England during Cromwell's invasion of Ireland in 1649. He declined to lead an invasion of Scotland against Charles II and the Covenanters in 1650, and subsequently resigned his commission as commander-in-chief.

Fairfax's sword pommel

Throughout these campaigns Fairfax may have used this sword. The illustration from the frontispiece of Anglia Revivida, showing Fairfax on horseback, shows a sword with a pommel very similar to this sword. Compared with some of the other swords we have, which show little sign of use, this sword shows the nicks from being used in battle. You can picture him wielding this sword at the battles of Marston Moor or Naseby, whilst leading his troops to victory.

The sword and other objects belonging to Sir Thomas Fairfax are loaned from the Fairfax family and we are very grateful for their continued generosity.