Skip to main content

Sir Robert Tresilian: The Secret Witch of King's Bench

Sir Robert Tresilian was a chief justice of the King's Bench in England during the late 1300s. During the height of his life he was a wealthy banker, lawman and fierce loyalist to King Richard II. He was notably executed due to his allegiance to the abdicated king, and his involvement in conflicts with the Lords Appellant. However, few know that his execution was carried out in a particularly violent way due to a discovery made after his conviction in court. It turned out, to the surprise of the King's Bench, Sir Robert was a witch.

On February 19, 1388, Sir Robert Tresilian was led to the Tower of London by armed guards to be executed by hanging -- a standard mode of execution, which was usually quick and efficient. However, once he was knelt before his captors, Tresilian is said to have uttered a brazen confession as his final words.

“While I carry a certain something around me, I am not able to die.” 

This piqued the suspicion of those around him, and he was immediately held down, stripped of all of his clothing, and searched. According to historical documents, Rober Tresilian was wearing a number of amulets underneath his clothing; Some with astrological symbols, and some with what appeared to be demonic figures or symbols. He was outed as a witch on the spot, and instead of merely hanging the man, his throat was also deeply slashed with a sword, nearly to the point of decapitation, to assure that he would indeed die.

Genealogy of Sir Robert Tresilian

At the time of his execution in 1388, Robert Tresilian had a wife and multiple children: At least one natural son, more than one natural daughter and at least one stepson. As of right now, documents name a daughter named Emma and a son named John. 

Emma Tresilian married John Hawley, birthing daughter Elizabeth, who married John Coplestone. This marriage produced two sons: Philip and John Copelstone. Through his daughter Emma, Sir Robert Tresilian likely has thousands of living descendants throughout Europe and the United States. When researching to see if you're a descendent of Robert through his daughter Emma, the following surnames are of interest: Bodley, Towbridge, Davy, Priest, Glanville, Ledger, Cook, Cottell, Gayer, Palmer, O'Brien, Wardell, Duntze, Erskine -- and many, many others.

John Tresilion, son of Sir Robert, is a mysterious figure -- as are the other presumed children of the executed witch of King's Bench. It is not known if John married or had children, but there are records of a John Tresilian as late as 1450, who was a talented metalworker and associate of King Edward IV. This could not be the son of Robert Tresilion, but it is possible that this could be his grandson. Nonetheless, there are no available documents -- at this time -- which confirm the connection. For this reason, it is not yet possible to confirm descent from the son of Robert.


European Witch Trials (RLE Witchcraft): Their Foundations in Popular and Learned Culture, 1300-1500


Popular posts from this blog

Grace Sherwood of Colonial Virginia

Grace Sherwood is a name that many Americans haven't heard -- outside the state of Virginia, at least. That's because, when most people think about witchcraft in early American history, they more-often-than-not think of the Salem Witch Trials, which took place in 1692. However, there were quite a few other isolated witch trials throughout the United States following the iconic Salem Trials -- some of which ended in the deaths of the accused. Grace Sherwood escaped death, but she was convicted and imprisoned in the year 1706. She spent eight years in jail for practicing witchcraft, before she was ultimately released. She died at the age of 80, on her property in Princess Anne County, Virginia.  Prior to her 1706 conviction, Grace Sherwood was accused of witchcraft multiple times. First, she was accused of causing a bull's death by use of supernatural enchantment. This 1697 case ended in a dismissal, but she was again accused the following year by her neighbors, who accused h

Marigje Arriens: The Mysterious Genealogy of a Dutch Witch

Marigje Arriens is noted as among the last woman to be executed for witchcraft in Holland (although this is a highly contested "fact"). She was, at one point in her life, a respected practitioner of medicine during the 1500s, before she was executed in 1591. Little is actually recorded of this woman, considering she continues such an historic place in the history of witch trials. Even though she was a noted medical practitioner, she fell from grace when she was allegedly accused of bewitching a child. It's also been written that a so-called "unsatisfied customer" accused her of witchcraft. At any rate, she was executed by strangulation, and then her body was burned -- as was the custom way of "disposing of witches" in Holland at the time.  The genealogy of Marigje Arriens is incredibly vague and difficult to trace -- and nothing is written about a husband or children. However, This woman lived into her 70s -- which makes it highly likely that she marri