Portrait of Thomas Fairfax, Bowles collection

In 1642, Charles I came to York and summoned a general meeting so that he could promote his position to his people. The local protestants decided to use this opportunity to present a petition to the king on behalf of the people, especially the starving weavers of West Yorkshire. The petition begged the King to listen to Parliament and so restore order and unanimity – a climate in which commerce might recover. It is a mark of the prestige of the Fairfaxes that Thomas was chosen to present the petition.  From now on until the Restoration Tom not only acted in the centre of things, but he did so with a distinctive panache that made his personal history quite unique for the period.

It was a hot July day in 1642 on Heyworth Moor near York. The king arrived and spoke. The moor was crowded with people and in those days before public address systems he had to ride round to repeat his message. He tried to avoid him but in the end Tom – a striking figure, tall, lean with long dark hair which brought him his nickname of Black Tom – caught up with him and thrust the petition into his saddle pocket. Whether in alarm or deliberately the King’s horse reared up and threw Tom to the ground. A gasp went up from the crowd. Any good the king had achieved with his message was spoiled by this.

It was to be another two months before war broke out. Even then it was seen as a southern affair which would be resolved with a single battle. Forces did polarise in Yorkshire. Tom organised a peace conference at Rothwell. Many representatives – but not the two leaders – of the parties came together and agreed to remain neutral. This was to be the last sign of peace in Yorkshire for many years.

John Cockshott

John has been researching the Fairfax history, this exciting excerpt comes from a much longer piece of his research.  He is available to give talks on the subject, please contact him directly on: jcockshott@uwclub.net

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