Remembering (and Forgetting) Thomas Fairfax

As every school pupil thinks they know, the English Civil War (1642-51) was fought between King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell – except that such a view is an all-too-common misconception. Until 1650 Cromwell led the Parliament’s cavalry while the overall commander of the New Model Army was Sir Thomas Fairfax, from 1648 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron. A new book, England’s Fortress: New Perspectives on Thomas, 3rd Lord Fairfax, ed. Andrew Hopper and Philip Major (Ashgate, 2014), seeks to evaluate the role and importance of Fairfax not only as a soldier and statesman, but also in his roles as husband, horseman and scholar. Contributions range widely over his career, examining Fairfax as lord of the Isle of Man, as well as his later image as represented in modern literature and film, from the sensitive portrayal of Fairfax in the 1976 classic Winstanley to the overshadowing of his character in films such as Cromwell (1970) and To Kill a King (2003). Further essays include analyses of Fairfax’s relationship with the poet Andrew Marvell, tutor to his daughter; Fairfax’s own poetic output; and Fairfax as a horse breeder, with the likelihood that the lineage of modern thoroughbred racing horses can be traced back to a horse from Fairfax’s own stud.

England's Fortress

Two chapters are contributed by Keele historians. Rob Barcroft, a postgraduate research student in History, examines Fairfax not as a battlefield commander but as a highly successful conductor of siege operations. This is not only a new approach to Fairfax’s generalship, it is also way of shifting historians’ focus from the battles to the sieges of the English Civil War. Ian Atherton takes the commemorative turn, looking at the ways in which the battlefields with which Fairfax was associated, including famous battles such as Marston Moor (1644) and Naseby (1645) as well as lesser known encounters – defeats and victories – such as Adwalton Moor (1643) or the relief of Taunton (1645) have been remembered, commemorated and forgotten between the seventeenth and the twenty-first centuries. As with Fairfax’s reputation in popular history as well as on film, a significant factor is the way in which Fairfax’s memory has been overshadowed by that of Cromwell. The 1939 monument at Marston Moor ascribed the parliament’s victory to Oliver Cromwell and made no reference to Sir Thomas Fairfax, whose name was only added later. While 151 British streets bear the name Fairfax (not all of them associated with Sir Thomas), 392 carry the name Cromwell. In addition, Atherton shows that the ways in which Fairfax’s battlefields have been remembered and forgotten have been shaped by long-standing practices of the re-absorption of battlefields into the agrarian landscape and more recent traditions of the commemoration of conflict.


Anthony Kauders discusses the reception of ‘Der Freud Komplex’

Freud Komplex book coverUsually it is literary theorists who concern themselves with the reception of texts: how they are constructed, reconstructed and deconstructed, how there is no stable meaning, how readers ignore, question, and undermine the author’s intentions (whatever these may be). “Is there a text in this class?”, Stanley Fish famously asked, and I myself had to ask a similar question in the course of three book presentations in Frankfurt, Vienna and Berlin this summer. The text in question was The Freud Complex. A History of Psychoanalysis in Germany, which I had recently published. As a historian, I used the encounter with Freud in the 20th century as a backdrop to examine the way in which Germans (psychiatrists, anarchists, expressionists, students, philosophers, pedagogues, lawyers, politicians) wrote about sexuality, the unconscious, childhood and history, amongst other things. But during my talks, I noticed that “my” Freud Complex was not “their” Freud Complex. They (by and large psychoanalysts) were primarily interested in the present—not the past: Would psychoanalysis survive in Germany? How did our current economic system create psychic problems? Was I going to offer a new “critical theory”? Why did so many people persist in their hatred of Freud? I came to realize (not for the first time, really) that many psychologists have an altogether different approach to the “psyche” than most historians. Whereas the former tend to search for laws and regularities, the latter tend to call these into question in an attempt to historicize the past. In Frankfurt, Vienna and Berlin I learned to appreciate once more how what we as historians consider to be obvious—context, being in time, relativity—is an interpretation others are likely to deny.

Medical Misadventure in New Zealand – Alannah Tomkins on her new research.

I have spent most of my career trying to wedge the disciplines of History and English closer together, and recently I’ve had some success in integrating the two more decisively in my teaching.  My third-year History modules are partly assessed by creative writing.  Now, though, I’m investigating the scope for integrating creative writing into historical research, and this will underpin a big grant application I make this year.

The Leverhulme Trust pays for international fellowships, whereby academics can spend between three months and one year in a partner institution abroad to foster new lines of research through overseas collaboration or to encourage ‘discipline-hopping’.  I’ll be applying in late autumn 2014 for a grant to spend three months in New Zealand attached to the University of Waikato.  If I’m successful I’ll be working with historian Catharine Coleborne and creative writer Sarah Shieff to look at the history of middle-class and professional migrants from Britain to New Zealand in the period 1840 to 1907.


I will be hoping to look at the experiences of migrant professionals in two ways.  First, I’ll be analysing familiar historical records to uncover stories of turbulent careers.  I’m confident that information like this exists, because I undertook a preliminary research trip to New Zealand in 2012 and found a number of professional men who were, for example, admitted to Auckland’s first insane asylum as patients in the second half of the nineteenth century.  Second, I’ll be using some of the mini-biographies I uncover to complete some creative writing about the experience and challenges of such long-distance migration.  My first idea is that I’ll use the outline details of real men and their families to imagine a series of letters, either by the men themselves or by the people nearest to them, about their disappointments and struggles.  I’m particularly interested in the way that, even in an era well before air travel, some men regarded the world as their oyster and undertook a series of global moves; some men’s careers saw them working in Canada, Australia and elsewhere, in addition to Britain and New Zealand.  In some ways this initial confidence makes later professional struggles all the more poignant.Victorian men who were solicitors, doctors, clergymen and holding other professional positions (and they were almost always men) travelled to New Zealand in some numbers in search of lucrative opportunities to practice their skills.  All of New Zealand’s doctors, for example, had to come from somewhere else before 1887 because there was no medical school on site that was graduating students until that year.  But not all of them were entirely successful, or suffered the same sorts of fate as unsuccessful men in Britain and elsewhere.  The Reverend Mr Hodgkinson, for example, sailed for New Zealand on the Steadfast in 1851 but sadly suffered mental ill health and died shortly after the ship’s safe arrival.

This work will sit alongside my current historical research, on British doctors whose careers were either temporarily or permanently derailed by misfortune or error.  My forthcoming book Medical Misadventure in an age of Professionalisation will consider British medical men who either went bankrupt, were accused of neglect or violent crime, who were ill and admitted to hospital or who committed suicide.

If the grant application is successful, it will almost certainly mean that in future New Zealand will become a new regular among the topics covered by my undergraduate modules, and my attempts to bring history and creative writing together will be significantly enhanced: wish me luck!