Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tresilian, Robert
TRESILIAN, Sir ROBERT (d. 1388), chief justice of the king's bench, was no doubt a native of Cornwall, in which county he held the manors of Tresilian, Tremordret, Bonnamy, Stratton, and Scilly. He was elected fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, about 1354, and payments were made to him as legal adviser of the college in 1354, 1357, and 1358 (Boase). He represented Cornwall in the parliament of 1368, and his name appears as an advocate at the Cornish assizes in 1369. Before he became a judge he was steward of Cornwall, and on 2 July 1377 was on the commission of peace for the county (Cal. Pat. Rolls, Richard II. i. 77, 276). At the beginning of the reign of Richard II he was one of the king's serjeants, and on 6 May was appointed justice of the king's bench, where he sat as the only puisne judge for three years. During the early years of Richard II Tresilian appears on various judicial commissions (ib. i. passim). He presided at the trial of Sir Alan Buxhull in November 1379 (ib. i. 479), and on 12 April 1380 was going on the king's service to Ireland (ib. i. 458). In 1380 he was a commissioner to inquire into certain disturbances at Oxford (Wood, Hist. and Antiq. i. 497, ed. Gutch).
On 22 June 1381 Tresilian was appointed chief justice of the king's bench, and, after the suppression of the peasants' revolt, was employed in the trial of the insurgents. He first sat at Chelmsford for the trial of the Essex prisoners, and then went on to St. Alban's, where on 14 July he tried and sentenced John Ball (d. 1381) [q. v.] William Grindecob and other St. Alban's rioters were brought before him at the same time, but their actual trial did not take place till October. The jury at first refused to make any presentation, but, under pressure from Tresilian, indicted the ringleaders in accordance with a list drawn up by him. To the list thus obtained the assent of a second and third jury was afterwards procured, and Grindecob and his chief associates were thus eventually condemned (Walsingham, Hist. Angl. ii. 35–6). Walsingham, through his natural prejudice, speaks with favour of Tresilian's conduct; but Knighton (ii. 150) represents him as acting with great severity, and says that whoever was accused before him, whether guilty or not, was sure to be condemned. It is not improbable that Tresilian had somewhat strained his office, for when parliament met in November a special indemnity was obtained for those who had acted in the suppression of the rebellion ‘without due process of law.’
Tresilian refused to try John de Northampton [q. v.] in 1384, as jurisdiction belonged to the lord mayor, though he was present at the examination of the prisoners before the seneschal (Malverne ap. Higden, ix. 97–8). Such a show of independence did not keep Tresilian from winning the favour of the court party, and he was one of Richard's advisers in calling the assembly at Nottingham in August 1387. He sealed the indictments that were then prepared, and took a foremost part in framing the opinions of the judges, declaring that the commission appointed in the previous year was unlawful, as impinging upon the royal prerogative (Chron. Angl. 1328–88, pp. 378–9). On 17 Nov. the commissioners appealed Tresilian, Robert de Vere, Suffolk, and Nicholas Brembre of treason, and forced the king to summon a parliament to meet in February 1388 to deal with the charge. Tresilian, like others of the king's chief advisers, took refuge in flight, and on 31 Jan. 1388 Walter de Clopton was appointed chief justice in his place. Parliament met on 3 Feb., and the lords appellant presented thirty-nine articles of impeachment against the accused, and Tresilian, De Vere, and Suffolk were condemned in default on 13 Feb. (Rot. Parl. iii. 229–37). While the trial of Nicholas Brembre was still proceeding, Tresilian was taken prisoner. According to the story somewhat differently related by Froissart (ii. 617) and by Knighton (ii. 292–3), Tresilian had come to London to watch what was going on. Having grown his beard and disguised himself as a poor countryman, he took up his dwelling in an alehouse, or, as Knighton says, in an apothecary's near the palace at Westminster. There he was recognised by a servant of the Duke of Gloucester, who betrayed him to his master. Malverne (ap. Higden, ix. 167, 271) gives a different story, according to which Tresilian was discovered in sanctuary at Westminster, and forcibly removed by order of Gloucester. Tresilian was arrested on 19 Feb., and on the same morning brought before parliament. When asked to show reason why the sentence already passed on him should not be carried out, he could make no reply. He was ordered to be removed to the Tower, and the same afternoon was drawn through the city and hanged at Tyburn (Knighton, ii. 293; Rolls of Parliament, iii. 238; Froissart incorrectly states that he was beheaded). His body was buried at the Greyfriars Church. All Tresilian's Cornish estates, besides property which he held at Oxford, were confiscated. The attainder against Tresilian was reversed in the parliament of September 1397, but again revived under Henry IV (ib. iv. 425, 445).
He married Emmeline, daughter of Richard Hiwishe of Stowford, Devonshire, and had by her a son, John, and a daughter, Emmeline. His widow married as her second husband Sir John Colshall, who obtained a grant of Tremordret; she died in 1403. His daughter married John Hawley of Dartmouth, a pirate-merchant (d. 1408), who purchased his father-in-law's lands at Tresilian.[Walsingham's Historia Anglicana, Knighton's Chronicle, Malverne's Continuation of Higden (all in Rolls Ser.); Vita Ricardi II by the Monk of Evesham, ed. Hearne; Froissart, ed. Buchon (in Panthéon Littéraire); Rolls of Parliament; Calendar of Patent Rolls, Richard II; Boase's Register of Exeter College, Oxford; Foss's Judges of England.]