||22 December 1605 - The Tower of London
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 August 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
November 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
(including the Triangular Lodge in Northamptonshire), 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
In June 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 December 1591, Francis was released, although no apparent reason for this is
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 Katherine 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 been questioned whether he assisted
in paying some of Robert Catesby's fine also.
Tresham's involvement in the Essex Rebellion 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 February 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 June 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 Phillip 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 Phillip. 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 October 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 September 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 October 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 November . 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
On 2 November, 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 November 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 November. 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 November
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, SJ, 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 traveled under the alias Matthew Brunninge .
 "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
 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"