A fairy is a native inhabitant of Faerie, a land connected only magically to England. Fairies are of an ancient and remarkably long-lived race, but one in which the rational power is weak while the aptitude for magic is very strong. The author Richard Chaston wrote that "men and fairies both contain within them a faculty of reason and a faculty of magic. In men reason is strong and magic is weak. With fairies it is the other way round: magic comes very naturally to them, but by human standards they are barely sane."[25]

This deficiency of rational power puts fairies at a disadvantage in all matters which require organization, prolonged consideration or sustained effort. They generally lack that firm purpose and strength of will which cannot be deflected by disappointments or reverses: their moods and interests quickly change. They are also considered (by 'Christians', as they refer to mortal beings) to be "irredeemably indolent". Consequently it is difficult for fairies to agree a course of action among themselves, and hence it is often found that they will allow 'Christians' to take complete charge of their affairs. John Uskglass, Stephen Black and Alessandro Simonelli all became rulers of fairy kingdoms [68]. When led by active, effective kings the fairies can become formidable, as was shown by the successful invasion of Northern England in 1110 by the Fairy Host under the young Uskglass.

Conversely, the great abilities of fairies in matters of magic have laid them open to exploitation, especially by Christian magicians who often profited from their services (see below, Fairy-servants). In times past, any fairy who came into England could expect to forcibly baptized [43]: and though generally granted the highest rank among servants, they seem never to have been accepted on equal terms by the magicians they served.

A traditional view among Englishmen is that fairies are naturally wicked. Jonathan Strange quotes the common opinion in his History: "They were lascivious, mendacious and thieving; they seduced young men and women, confused travellers, and stole children, cattle and corn."[45] In the same passage he mentions "the cruelty for which their race is famed" (though in this instance only to say that the Daoine Sidhe in fact showed little sign of it). But it is a very difficult matter to say whether fairies can be called "good" or "evil". Certainly they can do great harm, but however old they grow it appears that, like children, they cannot truly be said to have attained the age of reason. In such circumstances it may be terms like "good" and "evil" simply do not apply. (Certainly Jonathan Strange appears to share this reservation, when he exclaims about the fairy who has stolen his wife:"Wicked, wicked! And then again, perhaps not so wicked after all- for what does he do but follow his nature?"[56].) In a description of the rivalry between magicians and the clergy, a footnote describes that both parties believe in the existence of angels, demons, and fairies, and that they are "divinely good", "infernally wicked" and "morally suspect" respectively, meaning that like mankind itself, fairies are neither good nor bad, but have natures alien to humans that are difficult to comprehend based on their differing values and perceptions.[43] As for the Gentleman, though in our judgments he may justly stand condemned as vengeful, bloodthirsty, neglectful of other people's feelings and flatly dismissive of such of their opinions as do not agree entirely with his own - he nevertheless appears at all times convinced that he grants those he favours great services and kindnesses, and seems never to entertain the slightest doubt that they take them as such. In brief, the 'wickedness' with which fairies are taxed may perhaps be considered a result of their child-like natures, and inability to think the way that humans do; with reason and logic.

In looks fairies are generally extraordinarily beautiful, with refined features and elegant dress. Their appearance however is very much at their own command, to the extent that they can change their faces almost as easily as their clothes [5],[68].

Daoine Sidhe (pronounced "deena shee") : an expression used in the old Celtic tongues to describe the fairy folk in general, and meaning "people of the mounds". Often also used to describe the Fairy Host.

Fairy rulers: see
The gentleman with the thistle-down hair
Cold Henry
John Hollyshoes
The Lady of the Castle of the Plucked Eye and Heart
Mrs Mabb
Thomas Fairwood

Fairy-servants: Aureate magicians often worked magic with the aid of fairy-servants, that is to say fairies whom they had enticed, persuaded or obliged into their service. (According to Gilbert Norrell, Dr. Martin Pale had so high an opinion of his fairy-servants that he referred to them as "his greatest treasures"[25]). The gentleman with the thistle-down hair, despite being the proud ruler of a land in Faerie, mentions having formerly been a fairy-servant to Uskglass and others[8]. Col Tom Blue is another ruler of a fairy brugh who consents, admittedly somewhat reluctantly at first, to act as fairy-servant to the Aureate magician Ralph Stokesey.

Col Tom Blue
Coleman Gray
Master Fallowthought
Meadowlace, Robin Summerfly and Buttercup, allegedly (but perhaps not in reality) the fairy-servants of a pseudo-magician called Dreamditch.

Assorted fairies: see
Fairy woman in a dress like a winter sunset

Alleged fairy fossil, found in Driffield, and a curious attempt to make the world of Faerie tangible (note the wings that seemingly seem to sprout out of this specimen's elbows - poor Tinkerbell)