Saturday, 6 May 2017

Rushton Triangular Lodge and Sir Thomas Tresham

In c16th Europe subjects were expected to follow the religion of their rulers, and those who did not were frequently persecuted. Initially Queen Elizabeth l was more tolerant than most rulers, and at the beginning of her reign in 1558 Catholics were financially penalised but otherwise spared ill treatment. They could hold public office, but had to pay a small fine if they did not attend Anglican service in their parish church on Sundays. Those who stayed away were known as recusants - many who made a  token visit but who remained Catholic became known as 'Church Papists'. However, later in her reign, and under pressure from the government all of this changed.
Rushton Hall home of the Tresham family and now a five star luxury hotel
A magnificent oriel window with curved glass



via
Thomas Tresham - the younger, was orphaned at the age of three, and sent by his grandfather Sir Thomas Tresham - the elder, to live with the prominent Throckmorton family at Coughton Court, Warwickshire. His grandfather was the Grand Prior of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and the owner of some of the countries wealthiest estates in Northamptonshire. Thomas, the younger, became heir to these estates at the age of 15 years.
Thomas was now rich, capable, clever, well educated and well connected. He married Meriel, the daughter of Sir Robert Throckmorton, and they had ten children. He was one of a group of gentry knighted by Queen Elizabeth l at Kenilworth Castle in 1575, and must have seemed set to become one of the leading figures in the country if he felt so inclined. Although his grandfather was a practising Roman Catholic, young Thomas was a lapsed Catholic, or at least appears to have conformed to Protestantism in early adulthood. However, after the Reformation, the Roman Catholic church sent a group of missionary priests to England to revive the Catholic religion, and Tresham was one of their most important converts. He became an ardent Catholic, one of the 'recusants' who refused to attend Anglican service. Later in Elizabeth's reign the government treated all Catholics as potential traitors and all priests enemy agents and stringent penal laws were passed. Many wealthy loyal Catholic families had secret 'priest holes' built in their homes where a visiting priest could hide away from danger. They also had secret places within the house - cabinets with concealed draws and doors, which could then be turned into an altar and used for Mass.  Although fervently and openly loyal to Elizabeth l Tresham was continuously sent to prison, subject to house arrest, or under surveillance.
Rushton Triangular Lodge was designed by Tresham himself in the 1590s following a long spell in prison. The building is a testament to his faith, and is dominated by references to the number three, symbolic of the Holy Trinity: it has three storys and three walls, each thirty-three feet long with three windows and three gables each. The upper storey is also 33 feet wide - 33 was the age at which it is said Christ died on the cross. The exterior also features trefoils and biblical quotations together with numbers, some of which still remain mysterious in their meaning.
view from the lodge - Rushton Hall is just about visible behind the trees on the lefthand side
The lodge stands on the edge of the parklands to Rushton Hall, and was built as a home for Tresham's Warrener (keeper of rabbits). It originally stood in rough open ground surrounded by hundreds of rabbits amongst the grass and bracken.

Over the entrance door is the Latin inscription 'Tres testimonium dant', and the numbers 5555. This phrase could mean either 'The number three bears witness' or Tresham bears witness' - his wife used to refer to him as 'Tres'. The first two 55 are probably a cryptogram for 'Jesus Maria', the words with which Tresham headed all his letters to Catholic correspondents: he liked coding words by the number of letters in them. The second 55 may just repeat this, or could represent the number of letters in 'Salus Mundi' (referring to Christ as the saviour of the world). Another interpretation, which does not rule out the first one (a double meaning really delighted Tresham) is that 5555 is a date. According to one contemporary computation 3962BC was the date at which the world was created. Counting the years from this date makes 5555 stand for AD1593, the year of the conception of the Lodge. The numbers 15 and 93 also appear in large metal letters fixed to the south-east and north fronts respectively.

On this south-west front is TT for Thomas Tresham, and 'Tres testimonium' 
The nine angels holding water spouts under all of the gables for draining water off the roof, are each inscribed with two letters, or with one letter and a triangle. These read sequentially around the building as SSSDDS and QEEQEEQVE. They have been convincingly interpreted as the initial letters of 'Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth' and 'Qui Erat et Qui Est et Qui Venturus Est' - Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Hosts', 'Who was, and who is, and who will be'. The first phrase comprises the opening of the hymn of praise that occurs in the most solemn part of the Mass, just before the round wafer of unleavened bread known as the Host is, according to Catholic belief, transformed into the body of Jesus Christ. 
It is not possible to describe all the numerous symbols and their meanings, but if you notice anything on these photos and would be interested to know more then I would be happy to try and give the answer.
If visiting it is well worth buying the little guide book from English Heritage who look after the lodge.
Inside the Lodge the circular and cross-shaped aperture windows create a striking pattern of light
There will be a further post showing another of Thomas Tresham's idiosyncratic Lodges
1st image Rushton Hall courtesy hotel website

31 comments:

  1. Hello Rosemary, I am not sure what the point is of all the 'hidden in plain sight' symbolism. It certainly would call attention to Tresham's religious views, even if the exact meanings were not universally understood. Certainly the meanings are more defiant than hidden.

    In Chinese areas the decoration of important buildings was densely packed with special meanings and rebuses, but these were mainly for good luck, and were meant to be understood by anyone who was literate, and who knew the myriad quotations and idioms behind the carvings.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - You have hit the nail on the head - it was all about defiance for Tresham. Being very interested in architecture and symbolism, he used this defiance and his time in prison to carry forward his obsession. He did this because he was unable to openly practice his faith.
      By the way I consider this to be a fascinating little building that has given scholars over the past four hundreds years cause to speculate on all the hidden meanings.

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  2. New slice of history for me. Beautiful buildings. I'm reminded I've not been to the east coast oilseed fields yet this year. Harvest will begin soon and the mellow yellow will be all gone :o(

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    1. The oilseed rape fields certainly brighten up the landscape at this time of year. I now use the extra virgin oil seed rape in preference to olive oil for cooking. I keep the olive oil for salad dressings.

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  3. What a story and so lovely pictures!!!
    Have a great weekend Rosemary...
    Titti

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    1. Thank you Titti - glad that you enjoyed reading the story and enjoyed the pictures

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  4. I have seen pictures of that lodge in Pinterest but there was no information explaining anything about the building. Someone had it in their garden folly board. I knew there was a great deal more to it than that.
    Rushton Hall is just beautiful. What fun it would be to spend a few days there.
    Thank you for another great post! I know how much time you must have spent sharing this one with us.

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    1. Dear Catherine - it was necessary to put some meat on the bones in order to convey the story properly, so I appreciate your generous comment very much - thank you.
      I was interested that you had actually come across this little building on Pinterest and remembered it - it is unlike any other little building that I have seen before.

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  5. Wow, what an interesting building. I'm always fascinated by people who are so devout that they'll face anything for their religion. It's fascinating and scary, I can understand why Elizabeth's Councillors didn't trust the the Catholics.
    Would love to stay in that hotel.

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    1. It is a compelling story, and the hotel is very grand

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  6. What a story - First time I've heard of this - Thank you.

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    1. I am pleased that I did not live 400 years ago.

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  7. Very clear beautiful pictures of a well preserved landmark..that has a most interesting history.

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    1. To understand this little lodge is was necessary to fill in the background story to it's history.

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  8. What an interesting history of this very well preserved Lodge. Thank you for informing me of another facet of the intriguing history of England.
    Rushton Hall, another beautiful building and gardens, reminds me a little of Lanhydrock.

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    1. It is the first time that I have visited the lodge myself Betty, somewhere that has intrigued me and which I have wanted to see for a long time.

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  9. What a captivating and intriguing little building is Rushton Lodge. Of course, I have never heard of it and it is a delight to see. Thank you for sharing it, and the background story Rosemary. They certainly were different times, when people went to such lengths to express their beliefs in a cryptic way lest they be caught by the authorities. The hotel looks wonderfully grand, and the oriel window is so beautiful.

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    1. In the end everything the family owned was eventually sacrificed due to Tresham's ardent convictions and faith, but that will follow next!

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    2. Dear Rosemary, You are amazing. The time and energy you put in to your blog posts is astounding. We are the beneficiaries of your prodigious research. Then, in addition, your beautiful photographs complete the scene. Thank you for bringing these most intriguing stories to us.

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    3. Dear Gina - I am really pleased that you enjoyed this intriguing story, but to be totally honest, I did actually enjoy the process of discovering the background and also the details to it, but still appreciate your kind comment very much♡

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  10. And you would think that life is complicated today.. ! Thanks for another great and interesting post !

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    1. It certainly does tend to put everything into perspective, you are right.

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  11. How beautiful a castle. We have nothing like this, so it's wonderful to look at your pictures. Small stone staircases are exciting. But I wouldn't like to live in this castle, there probably would not be a nice time for example in winter... hi

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    1. Yes, you are right Orvokki I suspect that it would have been very cold in the winter months 400 years ago.

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  12. Loved the photos Rosemary!
    Bex :D x

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    1. We loved visiting this little lodge last week - hope you are well♡

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  13. What a cool little building! Love all the symbology!

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    1. Some of the hidden meanings are just that - still hidden over 400 years later.

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  14. That's an amazing building and story. Thank you for sharing. Sarah x

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  15. Dearest Rosemary,
    What a sad life Sir Thomas Tresham lived in fact. Being orphaned at a young age, raised by the person whose daughter he would marry. Amazing also that he did follow in the footsteps of his Grandfather, being a Catholic and at what cost...
    Sad that in history so many have endured hardships for practicing their belief, against all rulers.
    He left a legacy as still, for 400 years people are guessing what his symbols in this Triangular Lodge were meaning. That is a very long statement made by one person in history!
    Thanks for always combining history with beautiful architecture and its meaning.
    Hugs,
    Mariette

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  16. As an Art Historian I am interested in the portrait and wonder where you sourced it. Thank you. Wonderful images of building.

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