Sir James Tyrell – reputed murderer of the Princes in the Tower.

Princes in towerFor those of you who like your history traditional – boo hiss!  For those of you who like your history revised – poor maligned soul!  I’ve blogged about Sir James before.  Depending on your interpretation of the sources and your historical affiliations, he either murdered the princes in the Tower, has been framed for the deed or for those of you who like happy endings there is a story that he removed them from the Tower and shuttled them to obscurity in the Suffolk countryside – I’ll get to that in another post.

Sir James is the chap who worked for Richard III – no problem with that, plenty of facts to support it.  It looks like he started on the Plantagenet career ladder in 1471 which would coincide with Richard getting his mitts on the Neville inheritance – remember he was married to Anne Neville, widow of Prince Edward of Lancaster and daughter of the Kingmaker. This would account for how Tyrell from Gipping in Suffolk came into Gloucester’s employment. We know he served in the Scottish war in 1492.

Once Richard was in power he was rewarded with a number of prominent positions across the country- which may have been tricky when it came to actually doing the jobs so presumably from Cornwall to Wales he had a number of deputies to help out.

He turns up in the Paston Letters in 1473 when he is identified as the employee who transported the Countess of Warwick, Anne Neville’s mother, from her sanctuary in Beaulieu to Middleham and Richard’s custody – Edward IV having conveniently declared the unfortunate countess dead for the purposes of the legal system so that brothers Richard and George could inherit estates which properly should have belonged to the countess.

In 1483  he helped carry Edward IV’s body to its final resting place and the same year Bishop Rotherham, the chap who’d helpfully rushed the Great Seal of England along to Westminster Abbey where he handed it into the care of Elizabeth Woodville on realising that Richard of Gloucester had taken charge of the young king, found himself in the custody of Sir James Tyrell. – Nothing unpleasant happened and the bishop died in his bed in 1500, just in case you were wondering.

It was in 1483, if Sir Thomas More and Polydore Vergil are to be believed Tyrell arrived in the Tower late one evening with a letter from Richard III, Brackenbury – the Constable of the Tower handed over the keys and Tyrell got rid of the princes by having them smothered.  Clearly More who was only five at the time wasn’t watching events unfold through a telescope and  Vergil- Henry VII’s official historian- wasn’t hiding in a convenient trunk, quill and parchment in hand to record events as they unfolded. Tyrell, inconveniently, didn’t keep a diary nor did he hand himself in to the authorities immediately after the event. Furthermore he couldn’t even find the bodies,  More says it was because Brackenbury removed them from where Tyrell had put them.

At the beginning of 1485 Tyrell was given command of Guisnes, a fortress in the Pale of Calais where he was in August and where he stayed when the Plantagenet dynasty became the Tudor dynasty. He was not attainted. On the 16th June 1485 Tyrell was issued with a pardon from Henry VII for anything and everything (well it was certainly unspecified). And then the pardon was issued again.  Two pardons in swift succession tends to make some folk think that Tyrell may have been doing work on behalf of the Tudors prior to Bosworth – bringing a whole new meaning to the concept of being a double agent. I would merely point out that whilst this is possible that in order to inherit Henry Tudor would have had to kill off rather a lot of people before the family tree perched the crown on his bonce…think Alex Guiness in Kind Hearts and Coronets for the general idea (spoiler alert – a distant relation stages a series of unlikely accidents wiping out an entire family in order to inherit). Historians have argued both sides of the equation eloquently and with passion with the same basic evidence.  It tends to come down to whether they are pro-Richard or pro-Henry.

What we can be sure of is that up until 1501 Tyrell was a man of influence and power.  Then he helped Edmund de la Pole, possible Plantagenet heir, avoid Henry VII’s wrath.  Next thing you know he’s under arrest on charges of treason and there is apparently a confession – allegedly made under torture- to the effect that it was him who topped Eddie and Richard. Quite honestly, I think most of us would agree that we would fess up to having committed the murders under those circumstances.  Unfortunately the paper copy of the confession seems to have been poorly filed and hasn’t yet turned up – meaning that it possibly never existed if you’re that way inclined.  Henry VII executed Tyrell for treason but failed to mention the murder of two members of the royal family  which you think he might have done, even in passing, as it would have scotched rumours of pretenders which bubbled up throughout his reign. It was pointed out to me that Richard ought to have paraded the princes in order to douse the rumours of 1483- and so he should.  But equally so should Henry have announced that Tyrell had confessed and executed him not just for treason but for murder…did he? No – he didn’t.   Maybe he didn’t want to draw attention to the princes  because it would, after all, have reminded his citizens that his general claim to the throne was a tad shaky – and yes I know he was the last Lancastrian standing, was married to Elizabeth of York and had won the Battle of Bosworth but Henry spent most of his reign bolstering up his claim one way or another so to draw attention to the correct albeit missing claimants might have been a bit counter productive in his mind.  Do I know that for sure? No – I don’t.  Sadly, Henry VII didn’t keep a personal diary, it’s just his financial accounts that are pretty nifty. Am I bearing in the general direction of sarcasm?  Quite possibly. There is only a basic amount of evidence and as any decent lawyer will tell you any story can be worked from both ends.

Tyrell was not, apparently, permitted to make a speech before being executed. Three years later the attainder against Tyrell was reversed and his son inherited Tyrell’s property.

Did Tyrell murder the princes? Quite probably  based on the evidence in hand but until such time as more evidence is forthcoming – like a DNA test on the bones purported to be the princes-  History’s biggest mystery will keep folk passionate and partisan not to mention keeping book sales buoyant.

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9 Comments

Filed under Fifteenth Century, The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses

9 responses to “Sir James Tyrell – reputed murderer of the Princes in the Tower.

  1. There are numerous reasons why Richard did not ‘parade’ the princes in 1483, apart from the oft-cited theory that it was because they were dead. He could have not yet been aware of the rumours himself, he may have thought it was beneath him to have to disprove them in this way, the rumours may not have been that widespread so not necessary to refute, He may have moved the princes for their own safety (in which case the last thing he would have wanted to do would be to reveal where they were),
    Also I don’t believe Henry was ‘the last Lancastrian standing’ – Richard was trying to arrange a marriage for himself with Joana of Portugal who was of Lancastrian descent, as were other members of her family – and they were legitimate heirs, unlike Henry. Whether they would have wanted the throne is another matter.
    As for those bones, my archaeologist friends have told me that they are most unlikely to be the princes, at the depth they were found, but more likely to have been roman or iron age – I wish they could be tested to rule them out once and for all.

    • Firstly that’s a lot of ifs whats and maybes – all without evidence…and incidentally the rumours are recorded in Bristol in 1483 which is fairly widespread. Secondly – I’m not entirely sure that the population would have welcomed Joanna of Portugal as their monarch with open arms and her mother wasn’t in England quietly promoting her cause and thirdly I doubt whether the average caroligean workman dug a foot more than he needed to – so going 10 foot down seems a bit excessive (another if what and maybe) and there was a piece of velvet discovered between the two bodies – in which case they can’t have been older than 14th century. Again with ifs whats and maybes attached they may not be the bodies but you would agree it would be helpful to rule them out – but I do think that there’s no other story in history which produces so many people so prepared to to think of every possible scenario to exclude Richard from the deed – may be he did it in order to keep the peace. Children grow into adults and the Wars of the Roses would have resumed. if he wanted to keep the throne and his son after him then those boys had to die and had he reigned for more years and had a dynasty to follow after him they would have been a footnote and no one would think any the less of him. Medieval kings were required to do nasty things…more ifs whats and maybes…

    • Sir Kevin Parr, Baronet .

      If this was the case that bones not Princes , which i agree could be the case just how did More know the exact position under a great pile of stones under said staircase. More overheard this from Morton whilst employed as boy at table servant to Mortons household. how did Morton know that exact location ? Unless he had had a hand in things.

  2. Sir Kevin Parr, Baronet .

    Deluded no. Lawyer retired yes. History just one of my degrees but love it. Morton is the key to this singular case. Study he. Tyrell did not do the killing of that I am satisfied I am right. The Princes missing Paston reported from London to his wife on the farm back home. Yes of course all shouted abuse at Richard but what could he say in his defense. He was unsure of his reign and now missing nephews. his care of those boys at the castle of Middleham was reported as loving. He bastardized them later to safegaurd their being.. He had too many in front of him to kill all. We know no Salic law exists to stop women climbing to the throne so why kill just the princes? It makes no tangible sense. Now if i wanted Richard stuffed and mounted on my mantle I would have thought just how to finish him behind the curtain of power. what better just yards away two Royal disposables and full blame on the man of blood. Bring on the French army the German soldiers of fortune and desert Richard and easy passage to power unimaginable. Once the nation knew Richard was a vile monster the rest was childs play.Remember Morton had crossed Richard before. Morton had a lawyers brain and a bishops education he was clever tricky and dangerous without scruples as seen in his Morton fork LAW. He cared for none but himself and found the future Kings mother more than an friend. Margaret no stranger to power play was more than willing sex partner to nay who could help her put her bastard son Henry the accountant on Richards throne.Many had a hand in this to some base degree as if all knew it was Richard who had killed the boys how easy that plan to change kings could be, My hat off to Morton for his guile but why hide the bodies of both boys.? I spent some time searching this builder boy who had a store of books in his hut and could read in English and Latin. Not proved but I think also in Greek. Was he Richards love child or Prince of England? For me he was more than we know of him? Richard was no saint but he was loyal to his family Neville my own mothers family. Paint him as you will he was never the monster as told .his body know proves that. He was a good king if you manage to see his works. Houses for the people, post office that was made Royal later by Charles 11. Drains in the mud streets of London. In just two years this king did more for the people than all the years on most Kings. Blackened by Mortons plan to change Kings on our throne we ended with the Tudors the thugs who robbed us of tax committed every sin in the book and invented far more than existed just to have power grandly on a shaky frame. Call me any name you wish dear you, my back is broader than that to care over. It is as you say at the end; after lambasting out that we are merely giving our opinions, as no one was there to witness events. With what we have to win the case we work but win we always will.

    • I never said deluded! I think you could be a good medieval king and still do away with your nephews in the interests of political stability. Having seen the events of the Wars of the Roses at first hand Richard would perhaps have acted to avoid a repeat performance as little boys tend to grow into hulking great warriors with sharp weapons. I’m quite happy to be proved wrong though.

      • Sir Kevin Parr, Baronet .

        Not I murder is a way to stop my passage back to God. I pray always for forgiveness for what sins i have admitted and do not wish to commit more. Having always been fair I would not have wished to rule a nation. I am more the monk in deep harmony with life. I love ancient churches and latin writings taking me back in time. I truly love God above all else if he took it all away again from me I would still worship him. To take a life is a sin in bible black ink. I love my nephews my dear sister who survived cancer unlike our other sister aged 36. My sister lives as always an accountant in Cumbria to this day. We are not Cumbrian by birth but by loyalty I was born in Southport myself. Mother had birthing problems Liverpool was the only qualified baby factory around when I was being farrowed. Liverpool was blocked so Southport not bombed was my destination. Back to Kendal only later mother in hospice for another six weeks ill with child birth. She had been a wren on hms Hood fighting Hitlers war.scarlet fever and in the sea for six days had made her weak. father was back from the war injured at the Bridge too far in Holland. My aunt had me christened Kevin much to my mothers distain later. You see my ant being Catholic thought I could die and must be christened first. Asked for the name she improvised. My name James but in the middle name owing to aunts handy work. On being asked why Kevin, in my hearing aged six, i heard her say her Irish friend had converted her and was sent to Africa as a priest. He was killed by a lion attack .So that was it for me.

      • You can’t say you come from a dull family! Lions – goodness me.

  3. Sir Kevin Parr, Baronet .

    Not what this article is about but I have remembered that church in Hereford city market side street that is but a sad ruin now. It was the gift Of Edward 111 when he went back from Crecy he and his son Edward the Black Prince helped even build this church as gift to God for victory. Sad it fell into ruins so close to the heart of that city. Almost amazing as no one even knew until I told the Council and year later i saw a plaque telling all pointed to church ruins about to pulled down then. It is still there and for just the feel of what it was in the mind seeing Edward and his son shirts off laying stone it is worth the visit as it is just that.

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