He was the eldest son of Robert Tanfield of Burford by his wife Wilgiford Fitzherbert and educated at Eton College and the Inner Temple. He was called to the bar by 1579.
Tanfield bought Burford Priory in 1586 and the manor of Burford and Great Tew estate in Oxfordshire in 1611, which he partially enclosed in 1622. He appears to have had a collection of paintings at Burford, some of which subsequently passed to William Lenthall and became part of the Lenthall pictures.
He married firstly Elizabeth, daughter of Giles Symonds of Cley, Norfolk, with whom he had a daughter, and secondly Elizabeth Evans of Loddington, Northants. He died in 1625 and left his estates to his grandson, Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland. His daughter Elizabeth married Henry Cary, 1st Viscount Falkland and became a writer and Catholic convert; this led to a breach with her father, and may explain his decision to leave his property to the next generation. Great Tew in the 1630s was the centre of a celebrated intellectual circle.
Sir Thomas Fleming
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Sir John Walter
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