Sir Robert Tresilian
Died: February 19, 1388
Tyburn, Middlesex, England
Tresilian in History
There can be no debating that Robert Tresilian was a highly intelligent man and one of the best attorneys of his time. He had been serving as a lawyer in Berkshire, Oxfordshire and his native Cornwall since the mid-1350s, and it is no surprise that he would eventually receive royal patronage for his services. By 1378, during the early reign of the young King Richard II, Tresilian became a justice of the king's bench and was knighted. Tresilian then became chief justice after the death of Sir John Cavendish in the peasant's revolt of 1381. After the revolt was subdued, it was Tresilian who presided over the trials of the rebels and handed out brutal punishments to those convicted, including Parson John Ball, one of the rebel leaders. Over the next several years, Tresilian continued to act as the king's chief justice and made many powerful enemies. He made several attempts to take down John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and the king's uncle, which were all unsuccessful; he was brought up on a number of different corruption charges (of which he received no punishment); and, by the mid-1380s, had become one of the king's hated favorites at court, along with men such as Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, and Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford and Duke of Ireland.
By 1386, the lords were fed up with the king's favorites and the vast rewards they received and decided to take action. At the so-called Wonderful Parliament of that year, restrictions were set on the king, and Suffolk was impeached as chancellor. Tresilian, in turn, ordered to have the impeachment reversed. By late 1387, a group now known as the lords appellant (the Earls of Warwick, Arundel, Nottingham and Derby and the Duke of Gloucester) "appealed" the king's favorites, including Tresilian, to appear before Parliament to defend their misdeeds (basically, misleading the king). The result was an armed confrontation, led by de Vere, between the royal party and the appellants at Radcot Bridge. In the end, the appellants reigned supreme and brought all of the royal favorites who had not fled the country to trial. Tresilian attempted to go into hiding but was found in February 1388 and convicted of treason. He was subsequently stripped naked and hanged before his throat was slit, much to the delight of the commons. One cannot help but see the irony in the justice's gory death, considering the many harsh punishments he himself handed out over the years.
Tresilian in Woodstock
Sir Robert Tresilian is a major character within Thomas of Woodstock and is the king's chief justice and one of his hated favorites. It is he who comes up with the idea of sending out blank charters so that the people may be heavily taxed (though this practice did not occur until after Tresilian's death historically). In the end, Tresilian attempts to go into hiding when the lords rebel, but is betrayed by Nimble, his own servant. Though the last few pages of the play are lost, it can be assumed that Tresilian is executed under orders from the lords, just as he was historically. The character of Tresilian represents a prime example of the author's intertwining of the events of 1387-88 and 1397, considering the fact that, within the play, Tresilian is not captured until after Woodstock's death. Historically, Tresilian was executed in 1388, nine years before Woodstock's murder.