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The Rushton Rebus

Rushton Lodge – better known as the Triangular Lodge – is considered by many to be a folly – a building without a real purpose. But the history of the structure is more than interesting, inviting the question whether it might not actually contain a veritable secret message, so far not uncovered.

Philip Coppens


What happens when you release a Catholic from jail? The answer in the case of Sir Thomas Tresham is: the Triangular Lodge. The small building near Rushton, at the edge of his estate, is a folly, built to serve as a very enigmatic home for the rabbit warden and was referred to in the Rushton estate documents as “The Warryners Lodge”.
Tresham was released from prison – held because he was a Catholic – in 1593 and it is said that his prison cell already contained drawings and material that would find their way into the design of the Triangular Lodge. And it is said that while he was in prison at Ely in 1590, they were reading a treatise on the proofs of the existence of God when, apparently, all of a sudden, there were three loud knocks. Hence why the lodge was so three-orientated.
The political history of the Tresham family is interesting. In 1559, Thomas became one of the biggest estates owners in the country. The family were supporters of Mary Tudor (later Mary I) and while Henry VIII suppressed the Order of St John of Jerusalem, when it was reinstated in 1557-8, Thomas Tresham the elder – the grandfather of the lodge builder – became Grand Prior. Thomas “the builder” was knighted by Elizabeth I at Kenilworth Castle in 1575. About 1566, he had married into another Catholic family, to Meriel, the daughter of Sir Robert Throckmorton, of Coughton Court in Warwickshire. Together, they would create one of the most impressive libraries in Elizabethan England.
However, in 1570, Pope Pius V launched a bull declaring Elizabeth deposed and released her Catholic subjects from their allegiance. When Spain launched the Armada against England in 1588, English Catholics were thought to assist, but few felt “called upon”. Penal laws against Catholics were passed in 1581, 1585 and 1593. As a consequence, Thomas was continuously in prison, subject to house arrest or under surveillance between August 1581 and April 1593. Afterwards, he would find himself in prison again for a few months in 1594 and again in the winter of 1597-8.
Work on the lodge stared on July 28, 1594 and it was completed by 1597. It is not the only enigmatic building Tresham created. He also built New Bield at Lyveden, which he started in 1594 and which was left unfinished at the time of his death in 1605. Here, he commemorated the Crucifixion rather than the Holy Trinity, with a cross-shaped plan and a frieze of carvings of the Instruments of the Passion.
But what is specific about the lodge, is that it is all about the number three. Seeing that Tresham was a Catholic, Triangular Lodge is seen as a symbolic hymn to the Trinity. However, few have noted that the trinity is not specifically Catholic as such, and hence, the question is whether Tresham’s devotion to the number three might be far more than “merely” Catholic.

At a basic, mathematical and visual level, the entire structure is about three. Each of the three exterior walls is 33.3 feet long, each has three triangular windows, and is surmounted by three gargoyles. The inside has three floors. Decoration-wise, there are three Latin texts, each 33 letters long, which run around the building. They read: Aperiatur terra & germinet salvatorem (Let the earth open and … bring forth salvation, Isaiah 45:8); Quis seperabit nos a charitate Christi (Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?, Romans 8:35); Consideravi opera tua domine et expavi (I have contemplated thy works, O Lord, and was afraid, a paraphrase of Habakkuk 3:2).
Though three is the common denominator, there is great variation within the details. The windows all have different designs. The largest is a trefoil, the family emblem; the basement windows are small trefoils with triangular lights. Around the windows on the first floor are plaques for the family emblems, some of them left empty, no doubt to be filled in by future generations – which never accomplished that particular task.
Above the entrance door is the Tresham coat of arms and the Latin inscription: “Tres testimonium dant”, meaning “The number three bears witness” or “Tresham bears witness”. Such pun was precisely what such “Elizabethan follies” tended to incorporate: several layers of meaning.

So far, so good, but above the door is also the number 5555. Some experts have speculated that this originally might have been 3333, which would indeed fit nicely with the three-theme, but where to go from there? Hence, others argue that 5555 could be the year 1593, for according to the Reverend Bede, it was in 3958 BC that the biblical Flood occurred. Others, however, see 55 as a reference to “Jesus Maria” (each containing 5 letters), though others see it as “Salus Mundi”, “Saviour of the World”. The beauty of such follies is that one might not necessarily have to choose which one is correct; all solutions could be correct. The important question however is: is it all quite benign, or is there far more to this, and might the monument contain a secret code, a layer that so far no-one has cracked? Is this building a rebus?

Continuing our exploration of the building, the principal room on each floor is hexagonal, thus leaving the three corner spaces triangular; one of these spaces contains a spiral staircase, the remaining two are small rooms. The building is crowned by three steep gables each surmounted by a three-sided obelisk at the apex. But as soon as the devotion to the number three is once again apparent, the emblems on the gables begin to pose deep and interesting questions. There is a seven-branched candelabrum; another depicts the seven eyes of God; a Pelican picking her own chest; a hen and chickens; a dove and serpent and the hand of God touching a globe. Finally, the triangular chimney is adorned with the holy monogram “IHS”, a lamb and cross, and a chalice. Confused? Or indeed nothing more than a folly, and not to be taken seriously?
Carved in the gables are the numbers 3509 and 3898, which some have argued should be taken as dates: that of Creation and the calling of Abraham. But there are also other dates, like 1580, which is thought to have been the date of Tresham’s conversion to the Catholic faith – by Edmund Campion, a missionary priest, though no-one can be sure of the date.
Others have continued the numerical path, arguing that all of them are divisible by three, and that, when one subtracts 1593 from them, they end up given 33 and 48 as dates, which is the alleged date of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. Numerical coincidence, or evidence that there is indeed a clever rebus encoded into this building? And again the question whether it is merely a puzzle, or whether there is an even deeper layer, one that might lead to some important message which Tresham could only encode within the fabric of a building. The Lodge is indeed an Elizabethan device, and Tresham himself said that the harder a device was to interpret, the more commendable it was “so long as it be perspicuously to the purpose”. The question is therefore: what is the purpose?

Alan Moore has featured the lodge in his novel “Voice of the Fire”, which tackles Tresham’s son Francis, who was one of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators. Moore takes the story into magic, but historians believe that the Lodge was indeed a sacred building. Treshem leased a deer park at Brigstock, which contained a small lodge, where it is believed Mass was said. Historians believe that the Triangular Lodge was equally used as “chapel” and an inscription in the upper room, SSSDDS, “Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth”, hints this was indeed “hallowed ground”.
That the Triangular Lodge is a reference to the number three is obvious. Furthermore, Tresam means “I am three”. And seeing the Treshams were Catholic, the obvious conclusion people jump to is that it is all about the Trinity. But is it? Again, the trinity is not specifically Catholic. Furthermore, the family’s involvement with the Gunpowder Plot is highly intriguing, for we know that several of the plotters had a rather “magical mission” in mind, which is why the entire episode is so captivating to the likes of the magically minded Alan Moore.
The Treshams were one of England’s most important families, and they had fought the Catholic cause. And it is known that the Catholic cause had several “magical” dimensions at that moment in time, including the presence of Giordano Bruno on English soil, when he spent two years living with Sir Philip Sydney, a man instrumental not only in the creation of the Shakespearean literature, but on so many other levels.
Specifically, Bruno was a student of the Corpus Hermeticum, the Hermetic tradition, which had been popularised during the Renaissance, and which in the 16th century was more popular than ever. Bruno had studied from the best: the writings of Ficino, whom had helped the de Medici family of Florence shape the Renaissance, with artists like Donatello and Botticelli.
And within this wider context, we need to ask the question whether the reference to “three” is not to a magical person, who was specifically identified with the number three: Hermes Trismegistus, Hermes Thrice Great. The “father” of the Corpus Hermeticum, a religious book that has as many levels as an Elizabethan device.

Though there are numerous references to three, there are also numerous references to three times three, which is underlined by the fact that there are a total of nine angels holding water spouts under the gables, for draining water off the roof, each inscribed with two letters, or with one letter and a triangle. These give: SSSDDS and QEEQEEQVE, or “Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth, Qui Era et Qui Est et Qui Venturus Est”, or “Holy Holy Holy Lord of God of Hosts, Who was, and who is, and who will be.” It could be a reference to the Trinity, but if we read this on the magical layer, then nine is an important number, as it are the nine principles that surround the creator father – a Hermetic concept, if only because the Florentine Academy founded by the de Medici contained nine – and only nine – members. Coincidence, or design? And though historians are quite open to the possibility that Mass was said in the lodge… could it be a slightly different type of Mass than the traditional one?

Thomas was succeeded by his son Francis, who died imprisoned as a traitor in the Tower of London for his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot. The main instigator of the plot was his first cousin, Robert Catesby, though it is Guy Fawkes who is popularly associated with the failed blowing-up of Parliament.
On October 26, 1605, Tresham’s brother in law, Lord Monteagle, received an anonymous letter warning him not to attend meetings at the Houses of Parliament. The letter almost certainly came from Francis Tresham. Monteagle communicated his concerns to the government, which uncovered the plot in time. Though Francis died in prison of natural causes, his corpse was decapitated, and his head was set up over the town gate of Northampton. Opinion now has it that he had known of the plot, but was not directly involved.
And with that, the Treshams have gone down into history as good Catholics; the Lodge itself has gone down as an Elizabethan folly. But perhaps the decodation of some of the more bizarre numbers on the walls might lead us into an even more esoteric dimension, one given to the Lodge by the likes of Alan Moore, but so far not converted into hard historical facts that what the Treshams were up to, was far deeper than a puzzle to occupy one’s mind. A man who had worked on this building in prison, did he do so merely to entertain his mind? Or did he instead use it as a means to encode certain knowledge, which he subsequently set out to realise, as soon as he was set free? Perhaps the truth of Rushton Lodge might one day set every visitor coming to look at it free too.

This article appeared in Atlantis Rising (November - December 2011).