A life of struggle for beliefs
Lyveden New Bield was planned and financed by Sir Thomas Tresham. Born into a wealthy Northamptonshire family in 1543, he inherited the family estates at 15. He studied at Christ Church, Oxford, and became a lawyer, aged 17. His Catholic faith informed every aspect of his life, despite the risks this entailed. Queen Elizabeth I’s position was threatened by the Catholic powers of Europe, led by Spain and her imprisoned cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. As a result, non-conformists were the target of constant surveillance and persecution. Sir Thomas was imprisoned almost continuously between 1581 and 1593, and fined for practising his faith. Over his lifetime, he would have paid out the modern equivalent of £1 million. In 1593, he was released from house arrest, and during 10 months of freedom, he planned the project which had taken shape in his mind during his captivity. Work began in 1595, but Tresham was imprisoned again from 1596 to 1600. He was able to manage the project remotely, via detailed letters to his keeper John Slynne. These documents have survived. State penalties left Tresham’s finances in ruins after his sudden death in 1605. Embittered by his father’s suffering, Tresham’s eldest son Francis joined the notorious Gunpowder Plot. After it was uncovered, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, but died before he came to trial. As a traitor, his head was placed on a spike at the gates to Northampton. His reckless younger brother Lewis took on the estate, but ran up more debts. By 1668, the houses and land were sold and passed out of the family.