Edward Fairfax


Atterbury Correspondence

The Epistolary Correspondence…of the Right Reverend Francis Atterbury, D.D., Lord Bishop of Rochester, ed. John Nichols, 5 vols, (London, 1783-90).

Lea & Gang

Godfrey of Bulloigne: A critical edition of Edward Fairfax's translation of Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata, together with Fairfax's Original Poems, ed. Kathleen M. Lea and T.M. Gang (Oxford, 1981).



Edward Fairfax's reputation as a poet rests on Godfrey of Bulloigne or the Recoverie of Jerusalem (London, 1600), his much-admired translation of Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata. His other poetical works, perhaps of comparable quality, are either lost or preserved only in fragments. A text of Fairfax's twelve pastoral Eclogues has not been seen since 1789. The poet's own manuscript — one annotated by his son William in 1636 — was in the possession of his great-nephew Brian Fairfax (1633-1711) in 1705 (see Brian Fairfax's letters to Bishop Atterbury, 12 and 24 March 1704/5, in Atterbury Correspondence, III, 255-69). Mrs Elizabeth Cooper evidently saw this manuscript and edited from it the Fourth Eclogue (‘Whilst on the rough and heath-strewed wilderness’) in The Muses Library (London, 1737). Richard Gough saw the manuscript and quoted from it the two opening lines of the Fifth Eclogue (‘Upon Verbeia's willow-wattled brim’) in his edition of Camden's Britannia (London, 1789), III, 50. The manuscript then disappeared from view. No other copy of all twelve Eclogues is known to have existed apart from one transcribed for the Duke of Richmond and Lennox which perished in the great fire at Whitehall in January 1618/19 (see Atterbury Correspondence, III, 258-9). Apart from a recently identified manuscript of the Fourth Eclogue (FaE 1.2), otherwise known from a version published in 1737, the only other recorded eclogue texts are manuscript copies of most of the Eighth Eclogue (FaE 2) and of one other unnumbered Eclogue (FaE 1).

In his edition of The Fairfax Correspondence (2 vols, London, 1848) — in his not entirely reliable account of the Fairfax papers formerly preserved at Leeds Castle, Kent, and sold in 1822 — George W. Johnson claims that among them was ‘an autograph epitaph by Edward Fairfax on the late monarch’: the Epitaph upon King James beginning ‘All that have eyes now wake and weep’ (I, 2-3). Even if the copy was made by Edward Fairfax, however, this is no proof of his authorship. In fact, evidence is in favour of the authorship of George Morley (see MoG 1-54).

One notable item, formerly unrecorded, that came to light, however, in 1993, is what would appear to be an autograph verse presentation inscription by the author in a printed exemplum of the first edition of Godfrey of Bulloigne (*FaE 2.9). This volume is now in the library of Robert Pirie, New York.


Fairfax's most notable prose work is his account of the effects of ‘witchcraft’ on his family in Fuyston, Yorkshire, in 1621. There are a number of manuscript copies of this work (FaE 5-9.8), which was not published until the nineteenth century, but, contrary to some editorial speculations, none can be said to be in his own handwriting.

Lost Prose Works

According to Roger Dodsworth, in his manuscript Sancti et Scriptores Ebor (1631), Fairfax's unpublished works included a ‘History of Edward the Black Prince’ (Atterbury Correspondence, III, 262-3), a work also untraced (unless, perchance, it is the ‘History of the Black Prince’ in British Library, Cotton MS Nero D. II, f. 301 et seq.). Also lost is a series of letters on theological matters which, according to Brian Fairfax, who owned them in 1705, passed between Edward Fairfax and John Dorrell or Darrell, a Catholic priest imprisoned in York Castle. These letters, said Brian Fairfax, ‘deserve to be published’ (Atterbury Correspondence, III, 260).

Fairfax's lost works — and the ‘many valuable manuscripts’ which, according to Brian Fairfax, he ‘has left in the library of Lord Fairfax at Denton, both in verse and prose’ (Atterbury Correspondence, III, 257-8) — eluded the enquiries of a researcher as recently as 1954 (see Charles G. Bell, ‘Edward Fairfax — Base Son and Lost Eclogues’, N&Q, 199 (April 1954), 143-5), although a very few letters and documents relating to his life have been found: see, inter alia, Bell, ‘Edward Fairfax, a Natural Son’, Modern Language Notes, 62 (1947), 24-7; T.M. Gang, ‘The Quarrel between Edward Fairfax and his Brother’, N&Q, 214 (January 1969), 28-33); and Lea & Gang. It is however, by no means certain that the lost works have all been destroyed. The papers of the Fairfax family have been widely dispersed, but many survive in record offices and other repositories, chiefly in Yorkshire, and in institutions such as the Bodleian, the British Library, and Harvard. An account of the papers which might provide the impetus for a fresh search is W.J. Connor, ‘The Fairfax Archives: A Study in Dispersal’, Archives, XI, No. 50 (Autumn 1973), 76-85.

Peter Beal