LONDON — A whole lifetime of planning and meticulous work ended with the death of Sir Thomas Tresham on 11 September 1605. He had been working on a beautiful hill-top house in Northamptonshire and the lavish gardens surrounding it. A pious Catholic in a Britain that was only settling into Anglicanism, he hid his piety in quiet symbolism around the property.
A little more than a month after inheriting the half-built house and property at Lyveden New Bield, Sir Thomas’ son Francis Tesham was drawn into the Gunpowder plot. Organisers wanted him to pay for the gunpowder — so a fairly important role — with his new-found riches.
Francis wouldn’t be the first unsophisticated son of a successful man to show poor judgement.
But when the plans to blow up the House of Lords on the state opening of parliament on November 5 1605 were discovered, a poor sop named Guy Fawkes was dragged out and all the conspirators were found. Francis Tresham was sent to the Tower of London where he was dead by 23 December 1605.
Barely three months after Sir Thomas Tresham’s death the house, the gardens, the family and everything they had ground to a halt. When my family visited it a few years ago it was almost as it was 400 years ago.
Recent reviews of Luftwaffe aerial surveillance photos of Britain have shown the outline of a decorative Tudor garden than hadn’t been seen before. The current owners of Lyveden New Bield, the admirable National Trust, are therefore setting about restoring that piece too, to further support the property’s peak back 400 years.
Meanwhile my family here in London have just headed out to the local bonfire night. Where a life-size effigy of poor Guy Fawkes, the dreaded papist conspirator will be marched across the park with torch bearing children chanting behind him, and promptly tossed on a 35 foot bonfire.
“Remember, remember, the 5th of November…” all young children here are taught at their parent’s knee.
How tossing a Catholic on a fire can be a nationalistic or civic duty is lost on those of us who visit or emigrate to this country. But there’s a small truth in this that can be relevant to lots of us and lost of what we do.
It is conflict, not peace that creates the greatest need for progress. Out of competition and the dire need for innovation come most of our most important inventions. Out of large acts great families and reputations are built and lost. What the Tresham’s lost stands 400 years later as a great study for people of today.