Sir Thomas Tresham II (1545-1605) occupied a place at the very top of Elizabethan society. At the age of fifteen he inherited a huge estate from his grandfather, Sir Thomas Tresham I. He knew the most powerful courtiers in the kingdom – William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, and Sir Christopher Hatton, the Lord Chancellor, both of whom had seats within a few miles of Tresham’s estate at Rushton, Northamptonshire. Lady Tresham was a daughter of the Catholic Sir Robert Throckmorton, who withdrew from public life as soon as Queen Elizabeth took the throne. One of their sons was implicated in the Gunpowder Plot and died (of natural causes) in the Tower of London.
Brought up a Protestant, Tresham appears to have undergone a conversion to Catholicism in 1580. Despite his wealth and status, his uncompromising allegiance to the Catholic faith for the latter part of his life drained his fortune and often restricted his freedom. When he had his freedom, he spent freely. His lasting legacy consists of three buildings he created, with much ingenuity.
The earliest of these, though it wasn’t roofed until the nineteenth century, is the Market House, Rothwell, begun in or shortly after 1578. Apparently entirely secular, it is cruciform in shape, ostensibly built as a covered market and meeting room to celebrate and carry the heraldic emblems of himself and his neighbours. Its classical proportions are remarkably correct for a building of its period. The design of the Market House is credited to William Grumbold, but it seems extremely likely that the decorations were tightly specified by Sir Thomas.
Its Latin inscription records that it was built “to the perpetual honour of my friends” and “as a tribute to [my] sweet fatherland and County of Northampton, but chiefly to this town [my] near neighbour”.
It’s unclear whether building-work was never completed or whether it had at some point been partly dismantled: Sir Thomas was described as “more forward in beginning than finishing his fabricks”.
Finally completed by the Victorian architect John Alfred Gotch, it continues to serve the community, as Sir Thomas wished, as the council chamber for Rothwell Town Council: http://www.rothwelltown.co.uk/rothwelltowncoun.php.