Born: ABT 1567/8
Father: Thomas TRESHAM (Sir)
Mother: Muriel THROCKMORTON
Married: Anne TUFTON (dau. of John Tufton and Christian Browne) 1593
1. Elizabeth TRESHAM
2. Thomas TRESHAM (b. ABT 1598 - d. in infancy)
3. Lucy TRESHAM
Francis Tresham was the first son, and oldest of eleven children of Sir Thomas Tresham of Rushton, Northamptonshire and Muriel Throckmorton, daughter of Sir Robert Throckmorton of Coughton, Warwickshire. Francis was descended from a long line of respected ancestors. His great-grandfather, Sir Thomas Tresham, was appointed by Queen Elizabeth I as the Prior of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. Francis was educated at either St John's College or Gloucester Hall, or both, but the religion of his father and himself prevented his graduation. As early as 1586 he is mentioned as frequenting the French Ambassador's house with Lady Elizabeth Strange, Lady Compton, and other Catholics.
Sir Thomas Tresham, his father, at this stage had begun to suffer extreme persecution for his stubborn adherence to the Catholic Faith. In Aug 1581, he was arrested for the first time, committed to the Fleet prison and tried in Star Chamber for the harboring of Father Edmund Campion, along with his brothers-in-law William, Lord Vaux of Harrowden and Sir William Catesby of Lapworth. He spent the next seven years incarcerated in the Fleet, under house arrest at his home in Hoxton, and at Ely. Released on bail on 29 Nov 1588, he was later imprisoned again for unpaid recusancy fines in 1597 and 1599. With a penchant for building, Sir Thomas eventually left a legacy of some of the finest buildings in England, another factor that contributed to the dwindling finances of his family.
The young Francis Tresham, deprived of parental control, grew up embittered by the treatment meted out to his father; a perpetual malcontent, with none of his father's constancy and forbearance, and so ready to join in any desperate scheme against the government. The consequences of his disaffection further impoverished the family.
In Jun 1591 Tresham was arrested and committed to the Fleet prison 'for the abusing of the authority of a warrant from their Lordships'. Apparently he had altered a Privy Council warrant for the summons of one Barnewell, clothier, and replaced his name with a tenant of the Tresham's who owed them a great sum of money. Francis, and a group of henchmen ransacked the tenant's property, and violently assaulted his pregnant daughter. Eventually on 4 Dec 1591, Francis was released, although no apparent reason for this is forthcoming.
In 1593, Tresham married Anne, daughter of Sir John Tufton of Hothfield, Kent, and by her had three children, Elizabeth, and twins Thomas and Lucy. Thomas died in infancy, Lucy became a nun, and Elizabeth married Sir George Heneage of Hainton, Lincolnshire.
Francis Tresham's reckless and unstable character must be reckoned a major cause of Sir Thomas's financial difficulties. He lived an extravagant and restless life in London; by 1593 he was already one of the circle at Essex House, young men of fashion, 'hunger-starved for innovations'. In this year his debts were such that he was in danger of great losses unless he could have 1000 pounds immediately.
Father John Gerard indicates Tresham was arrested again in 1596 along with Robert Catesby, John Wright and his younger brother Christopher Wright in the infamous 'poisoned pommel' conspiracy. This measure taken by the government was an attempt to round up known Catholic malcontents in order to avert any possible action during the Queen's illness.
In 1601 he participated in the Essex Rebellion, and only escaped a charge of treason by a bribe of 1000 pounds to Lady Catherine Howard. In addition, some payment was probably given to Egerton and the Lieutenant of the Tower, Lord Thomas Howard (later Earl of Suffolk), before the pardon could be procured. Records of Sir Thomas Tresham indicate the reverberation of Francis' incarceration. He was forced to sell a number of properties in order to come up with the 2000 pound fine. It has also been questioned whether he assisted in paying some of Robert Catesby's fine also.
Tresham's involvement in the Rebellion of the Earl of Essex was much to the disgust of his Jesuit advisors, one of whom declared if 'Tresham had had so much witt and discretion as he might have had, he would never had associated himself amongst such a damnable crew of heretics and atheists'.
Left in Essex House with two others to guard Egerton on 8 Feb 1601, while the rest of the Essex supporters marched through London, Tresham was imprisoned first in the White Lion, Southwark, then in the Tower. His release was effected on 21 Jun 1601. Tresham was in Newgate in 1601 probably during the course of his arraignment where he contracted a dangerous sickness, but we have only Salisbury's word that Tresham had been "a long time subject to the natural sickness of which he died".
In 1602, Tresham, Catesby and Thomas Wintour consulted with Father Henry Garnet at White Webbs as to the propriety of sending someone to the Spanish Court and inducing Felipe II to attempt an invasion of England, presumably on the Queen's death. Known more popularly today as the Spanish Treason, Christopher Wright was sent on their behalf to attend the court of Felipe. While in Spain, he renewed his acquaintance with an old schoolfellow, Guy Fawkes.
Francis Tresham appears to have led a dissatisfied and not very creditable life. His father had allowed him the use of the manor of Hoxton, but he was not above entering into a conspiracy with one of his father's servants to deceive him about the extent of some lands they were to exchange. His father, in spite of his own political loyalty to James I, evidently suspected by Oct 1603 that Francis was going far beyond what such loyalty could normally permit. Francis was defaming his own father to the King. He was also spying for the court on his Catholic relations either then or sometime later.
Sir Thomas Tresham died intestate on 11 Sep 1605. Francis, his heir was already 'much subject and in danger for debts by judgement, executions and outlays'. He had inherited the estate but found himself liable for most of his father's debts since he had been bound with him for their repayment. Sir Thomas had entailed all (including Rushton, and the Lyvedon estates) but a few of his properties in 1584 as a precautionary measure against the escalating tide of recusancy fines and even though his properties were confiscated upon the arrest of Francis, Muriel Tresham successfully petitioned the government to have them returned to the family. In time they passed to Francis's brother Lewis (created a Baronet in 1611, and knighted in 1612), who was not liable for his father's debt, although Muriel took it upon herself to spend the rest of her life trying to clear her husband's debts.
On his father's death however, Francis Tresham secured at least a 400-pound annuity from the Lyvedon properties, as well as a number of other income sources. Even though it was estimated the estate of Sir Thomas was in debt to almost 11500 pounds, the gunpowder plotters had a great need for money, and their lack of it prompted them to involve additional men, including the cousin of Robert Catesby, Francis Tresham. Tresham certainly had access to some funds, but the exact amount he promised, and whether this amount was ever paid are in question.
According to the written confession of Francis Tresham, he was drawn into the plot on 14 Oct 1605 at his brother-in-law Lord Stourton's house in Clerkenwell. Although the government claimed he was made privy to it in May 1604, the other plotters, namely Guy Fawkes and Thomas Wintour, declared in their confessions that Tresham was the last to be admitted into the group.
He at first tried to discourage Catesby and the plan he had formulated, even going so far as to offer him money to leave the kingdom. He was then most vocal in outlining his support for warnings being sent to certain Catholic peers, including his two brothers-in-law William Parker, Lord Monteagle, and Lord Stourton.
Soon after news of the Monteagle Letter broke, the conspirators immediately suspected Tresham. As a consequence of this, they summoned him to come without delay to meet Catesby and Thomas Wintour at White Webbs. The meeting occurred on 1 Nov. Tresham exonerated himself with such oaths and emphatic asseverations of innocence that his companions were convinced, at least for the time being, of his basic fidelity.
On 2 Nov, Tresham was still trying to convince the other conspirators that the plot was discovered and that they should all take safety in flight. According to Tesimond, Tresham's argument appeared to indicate to them that he knew more than he was prepared to say. On the same day Tresham received a licence to travel abroad for two years "with two servants, three horses or geldings, and 50 pounds in money, with all other his necessaries". This in itself has fueled speculation over the years that Tresham seems to have become the principal double agent in the piece. Edwards claims 'The Writer's [Tesimond] reserve with regard to Francis Tresham is surely significant. Alone of the plotters, his character receives no eulogy', implying the popular, and generally accepted theory that Tresham was the author of the letter, and the plot's betrayer.
When news of Fawkes' capture spread through London, all the conspirators, except Tresham, left with haste. There is also reason to believe that far from attempting to hide, Tresham offered his services to the government. Nonetheless, he had time to return to Northamptonshire and hide his personal papers. The first news of Tresham's complicity is mentioned in a letter from Sir William Waad dated 8 Nov 1605, in which he spoke of Tresham as "long a pensioner of the King of Spain, and a suspicious person".
Tresham was arrested on 12 Nov. The following day, he wrote a long five page statement in his own hand of his relations with the conspirators, including his introduction to the plot by Catesby, and that he had been guilty of concealment, but had tried to have the plot postponed until after the present sitting of parliament to see how the Catholic's would fare under the new recusancy laws. On 29 Nov 1605, he confessed his own and Father Henry Garnet's complicity in the Spanish Treason.
In the end, Tresham died in the Tower without having ever been publicly examined. It is not known if he died of a strangury (an acute and painful inflammation of the urinary tract resulting in retention of fluid), or that he was helped on to his death by the hand of those who, after forcing him to do what he did for them, did not wish that he should say anything more, or to reward him as he deserved. Certainly he was attended in his last days by a number of physicians, all of whom corroborated the governments statement as to his death, and his wife Anne. Knowing he was about to die, he dictated to William Vavasour, his servant, a declaration denying Garnet's knowledge of Wintour's mission to Spain. Vavasour had also transcribed a copy of Blackwell's "Treatise of Equivocation" for Tresham, an issue that Garnet was confronted with at his own trial.
Although he had not been indicted, he was treated as a traitor; he was attainted with the other conspirators, and his goods and land forfeited.
Speculation still surrounds the death of Tresham even to this day. Francis Edwards, S. J., is one of several leading scholars who support the theory that Tresham did not perhaps die in the Tower, and was allowed to escape to Spain, where he travelled under the alias Matthew Brunninge.
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Dictionary of National Biography, 1895
Edwards, Francis, S.J., The Gunpowder Plot: the narrative of Oswald Tesimond alias Greenway, trans. from the Italian of the Stonyhurst Manuscript, edited and annotated, 1973
Edwards, Francis, S.J., Guy Fawkes: the real story of the Gunpowder Plot?, 1969
Finch, Mary E., The Wealth of five Northamptonshire Families 1540-1640,
Strype, J., Annals of the Reformation
Fraser, Antonia, Faith & Treason - The Story of the Gunpowder Plot, 1996
Stow, John, Annales, or A Generall Chronicle of England
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