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Sir Thomas Tresham

Early Years
Thomas Tresham was born into a wealthy and respected Northamptonshire family. His ancestors had come to Northamptonshire from Gloucestershire and became leading courtiers under the reign Henry V and VI. The family acquired large estates in Northamptonshire including the manor houses of Rushton and Lyveden. Sir Thomas inherited the estate from his grandfather in 1559, aged only 15.

Sir Thomas was clever and well educated and moved in the highest social circles. He was acquainted with William Cecil - Secretary of State to Queen Elizabeth, and Sir Christopher Hatton, Lord Chancellor who secured valuable positions at Court for members of the Tresham family. Tresham was knighted at the Queen's progress at Kenilworth in 1575 at the same time as Robert Cecil, future Earl of Salisbury and builder of Hatfield.

In 1566, Tresham married into the Throckmorton family, a wealthy and respected Catholic family from Coughton Court in Warwickshire. The couple had nine children - three sons and six daughters of which four were married at generous expense to peers or future peers.

His ruthless and efficient farming methods funded this expense. By 1590 Tresham was receiving at least 1000 annual income from tenants and a further 1000 from his sheep. He sold horses at Market Harborough, hogs at Kettering, and oxen at Coventry and Banbury. He sold corn, hops, cheeses, pigeons, hides, timber and lime. Under normal circumstances this level of income would have supported a knight's family very adequately, even without the profits of state office. But his efficiency in managing his estates was not matched by similarly ruthless management of his family or personal affairs.

His faith
Sir Thomas enjoyed an expensive and lavish lifestyle, frequently entertaining vast numbers of friends and acquaintances. But it was his religion that burdened him most frequently with debt. At a time when Queen Elizabeth was anxious about the Catholic threat posed by Spain and by her cousin Mary Queen of Scots, nonconformists were targets for perpetual persecution.

The penalty
Between 1581 and 1605, Tresham paid penalties totalling just under 8,000. In spite of his income, these heavy financial demands created spiraling debts, with borrowing as his only resource. Tresham's credit never fully recovered.

Furthermore, for twenty-five years Tresham lived as a hostage, seized by the government whenever the machinations of Catholics abroad sought to menace the safety of the realm. For a landowner who sort personally to direct all matters of estate management, this was a grave disability.

In spite of this unrelenting harassment, when Sir Thomas died on 11 September 1605 he was still a considerable landowner, but he left reduced estates and a debt of over 11,000 behind him.

His elder son Francis inherited the estate as well as the debt, and then became embroiled in the Gunpowder Plot later that year along with his cousins Catesby and Wintour. Imprisoned for his actions he met an early death in December 1605.

While the estate now passed to Francis's younger brother Lewis, Lady Tresham shouldered the debt. For ten years she devoted the profits of Sir Thomas's property and even her own goods and chattels to repay the burden. Just before her death in 1615, she acknowledged debts of only 1000 and for the payment of which she conveyed to Sir Thomas Brudenell of Deene her 1,092 sheep and the corn and hay on her Lyveden grounds.

Lewis was as reckless as his older brother, and despite becoming a baronet in 1611, his rise in rank was combined with rapid financial descent as his debts grew larger and larger.

All that survives of his work at Lyveden is the remaining portion of the Old Bield, which was probably built by Lewis as an addition to the older manor. Lewis's son William who died childless in 1643 was the last of the main line of the Treshams. Lyveden may have been inherited by a junior line, but had been sold by 1668.

Looking back it is remarkable that anything was built at Lyveden at all, yet even more amazing that it remains today.

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