TRESHAM, FRANCIS (c. 1567–1605), English Gunpowder Plot conspirator, eldest son of Sir Thomas Tresham of Rushton, Northamptonshire (a descendant of Sir Thomas Tresham, Speaker of the House of Commons, executed by Edward IV. in 1471), and of Muriel, daughter of Sir Thomas Throckmorton of Coughton, was born about 1567, and educated at Oxford. He was, like his father, a Roman Catholic, and his family had already suffered for their religion and politics. He is described as “a wild and unstayed man,” was connected intimately with many of those afterwards known as the Gunpowder Plot conspirators, being cousin to Catesby and to the two Winters, and was implicated in a series of seditious intrigues in Elizabeth’s reign. In 1596 he was arrested on suspicion together with Catesby and the two Wrights during an illness of Queen Elizabeth. In 1601 he took part in Essex’s rebellion and was one of those who confined the Lord Keeper Egerton in Essex House on the 8th of February. He was imprisoned and only suffered to go free on condition of a fine of 3000 marks paid by his father. He was one of the promoters of the mission of Thomas Winter in 1602 to Madrid to persuade the king of Spain to invade England. On the death of Elizabeth, however, he, with several other Roman Catholics, joined Southampton in securing the Tower for James I.
Tresham was the last of the conspirators to be initiated into the Gunpowder Plot. According to his own account, which receives general support from Thomas Winter’s confession, it was revealed to him on the 14th of October 1605. Inferior in zeal and character to the rest of the conspirators, he had lately by the death of his father, on the 11th of September 1605, inherited a large property and it was probably his financial support that was now sought. But Tresham, as the possessor of an estate, was probably less inclined than before to embark on rash and hazardous schemes. Moreover, he had two brothers-in-law, Lords Stourton and Monteagle, among the peers destined for assassination. He expressed his dislike of the plan from the first, and, according to his own account, he endeavoured to dissuade Catesby from the whole project, urging that the Romanist cause would derive no benefit, even in case of success, from the attempt. His representations were in vain and he consented to supply money, but afterwards discovered that no warning was to be given to the Roman Catholic peers. All the evidence now points to Tresham as the betrayer of the plot, and it is known that he was in London within 24 hours of the despatch of the famous letter to Lord Monteagle which revealed the plot (see Gunpowder Plot). In all probability he had betrayed the secret to Monteagle previously, and the method of discovery had been settled between them, for it bears the marks of a prearranged affair, and the whole plan was admirably conceived so as to save Monteagle’s life and inform the government, at the same time allowing the conspirators, by timely warning, opportunity to escape (see Monteagle, William Parker, 4th baron). Tresham avoided meeting any of the conspirators as he had agreed to do at Barnet, on the 29th of October, but on the 31st he was visited by Winter in London, and summoned to Barnet on the following day. There he met Catesby and Winter, who were prepared to stab him for his betrayal, but were dissuaded by his protestations that he knew nothing of the letter. His entreaties that they would give up the whole project and escape to Flanders were unavailing. After the arrest of Fawkes on the night of the 4th Tresham did not fly with the rest of the conspirators, but remained at court and offered his services for apprehending them. For some days he was not suspected, but he was arrested on the 12th. On the 13th he confessed his share in the plot, and on the 29th his participation and that of Father Garnet in the mission to Spain. Shortly afterwards he fell ill with a complaint from which he had long suffered. On the 5th of December a copy of the Treatise of Equivocation, in which the Jesuit doctrine on that subject was treated, was found amongst his papers by Sir Edward Coke (see Garnet, Henry). From the lessons learnt here he had evidently profited. On the 9th of December he declared he knew nothing about the book, and shortly before his death, with the desire of saving his friend, he withdrew his statement concerning Garnet’s complicity in the Spanish negotiations, and denied that he had seen him or communicated with him for 16 years. His death took place on the 22nd. His last transparent falsehoods had removed any thoughts of leniency in the government. He was now classed with the other conspirators, and though he had never been convicted of any crime or received sentence, his corpse was decapitated and he was attainted by act of parliament. Tresham had married Anne, daughter of Sir John Tufton of Holtfield in Kent, by whom he had two daughters. His estates passed, notwithstanding the attainder, to his brother, afterwards Sir Lewis Tresham, Bart.