Tag Archives: Guisnes

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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Sir Thomas Lovell – Tudor lawyer and henchman.

sir thomas lovell.jpgI’ve arrived at today’s metaphorical advent in a rather circuitous way. My story starts with John Billesdon’s will. He wrote it on the 18th of December 1522 and left rather a lot of money to chantries being built for the repose of Sir Thomas Lovell’s soul.  The image on the left comes from the National Portrait Gallery. Here’s the will:

Billesdon (John),”grocer.”—To the Wardens of the Commonalty of the Mistery of the Grocery of London he leaves certain messuages, comprising “the Weyhouse,” (fn. 2) in Cornhill in the parish of S. Michael, held by him in trust, so that the said wardens maintain two chantries, in the chapel erected by Sir Thomas Lovell on the south side of the priory church of Halywell without Bysshoppisgate, for the souls of the said Sir Thomas when dead, Isabell, late wife of the same, and others, with observance of an obit, &c., in manner as directed. The sum of three hundred pounds he declares to have handed over, on behalf of the said Sir Thomas Lovell, to the wardens aforesaid, for repairing the above messuages. In case of default made in carrying out the terms of the devise the property is to go over to the Master and Wardens of the Marchaunte Taillours of the Fraternity or Guild of S. John Baptist of London under like conditions, with further remainder to the Mayor and Commonalty of the City of London. Desires that his will be enrolled of record before the Mayor at the Guildhall, there to remain for ever. The will made tripartite: one part to remain with the Wardens of the Commonalty of Grocers, another with the Prioress of Haliwell, and the third with Sir Thomas Lovell and his heirs. Dated 18 December A.D. 1522.

Roll 240 (54).

 

‘Wills: 21-38 Henry VIII (1529-47)’, in Calendar of Wills Proved and Enrolled in the Court of Husting, London: Part 2, 1358-1688, ed. R R Sharpe (London, 1890), pp. 634-651. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/court-husting-wills/vol2/pp634-651 [accessed 10 December 2016].

Why was I perusing  wills?  Well, for a start wills are an insight into the medieval/Tudor hereafter and the way ordinary people perceived themselves.  In this particular hereafter it was important, somewhat unexpectedly, for Mr Billesdon not to care for the repose of his own soul but to fulfil a debt to Sir Thomas Lovell.  Lovell would die two years after our grocer made his will but it is clear he was already concerned with his immortal soul – and further exploration suggests he may have had cause for concern.

The specific purpose of a chantry was to say prayers for the dead so that their souls would spend less time in Purgatory before heading off to Heaven – think of Purgatory not so much as God’s waiting room but God’s sauna for the soul where you had to go in Catholic ideology until such time as your soul was sufficiently cleansed in order to be admitted to Heaven. The prayers offered by the monks and nuns who prayed in the chantries weren’t necessarily ‘get out of Purgatory free cards’ but definitely ensured that you would arrive at your destination sooner than otherwise.

And who was Sir Thomas Lovell? The name Lovell is suggestive of someone with strong white rose sympathies – think Francis Lovell of Minster Lovell in Oxfordshire- but this particular Lovell came from a Norfolk family and was not related to Richard III’s friend, chamberlain and most loyal supporter. Sir Thomas, a Lincoln’s Inn trained lawyer, was strongly Lancastrian in sympathy, so Lancastrian in fact that he’d had to flee to Brittany to join Henry Tudor during the reign of Richard III in 1483 having become involved with Buckingham’s rebellion. His brother-in-law was Henry Tudor’s standard bearer at Bosworth.

Sir Thomas returned with Henry and after Bosworth was elected to Henry’s first parliament. Sir Thomas was the chap who asked that Henry should honour the arrangements made between Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville and marry Elizabeth of York – of course, Henry was going to do it anyway but by having Parliament make the request dressed the whole thing up as the will of the people. The logic is rather like a succession of falling dominoes: if the people want something to happen anyone reacting against it or Henry in particular was essentially not only a traitor to the Crown but also a traitor to the country…a nice piece of Tudor spin.

Lovell continued in his support for Henry not only politically but militarily at the Battle of Stoke in 1497 where he was knighted and also in terms of his financial policies.  Henry’s best known money men were Empson and Dudley but records show that Lovell was also a signatory to the forced loans that much of the nobility were required to make during this period, thus ensuring they didn’t have money to plot against Henry and were finically reliant upon the Tudors. Empson and Dudley were the sacrificial tax collectors executed by Henry’s own son when he became Henry VIII in 1509 in a bid for popular acclaim. It should be noted he also cancelled most of the outstanding loans.

Lovell may well have felt that he was lucky not to join Empson and Dudley, not least because as Chancellor of the Exchequor ( an appointment for life) as well as master of wards for a time, he’d successfully feathered his own nest during the reign – the Magnificat Window at Great Malvern was part funded by his donations which is why his image once featured in it.  Lovell even lent Elizabeth of York money.  The debt was secured against her plate.  A clue as to where this younger son gained his wealth can be gleaned from William Worseley,  Dean of St Paul’s.  The dean kept careful accounts which reveal that he paid Reginald Bray and Thomas Lovell ‘fines of allegiance’ on a regular basis.  Lovell was perhaps fortunate in 1909 that he was one of the executors of Lady Margaret Beaufort’s will along with Reginald Bray, Henry VII’s own shady ‘Mr Fix-it.’

Lovell could bear looking at a little more closely.  He was appointed Constable of the Tower and was present at the time when the Earl of Warwick and Perkin Warbeck made their ‘escape’ in 1499. This very foolish not to mention convenient action allowed them to be executed, leaving the way clear for Katherine of Aragon to marry Prince Arthur.

It was Lovell who arrested Sir James Tyrell at Guisnes near Calais  in 1501 where he’d served since 1485 with only a brief interlude to change allegiance from Richard III to Henry VII who pardoned him not once but twice from all possible crimes he might have committed whilst in the service of Richard III (you can just feel the conspiracy theory thickening nicely can’t you?)

Tyrell’s arrest and eventual execution was precipitated from having become involved with the doings of the de la Pole family. Tyrell had given Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, shelter at Guisnes then waved the earl merrily on his way rather than arresting him on the spot. Lovell turned up, offered Tyrell safe conduct and then promptly arrested him. Tyrell rather belatedly made his confession as regards to the killing of the two princes in the Tower but claimed not to know where the bodies were on account of the fact they’d been moved.  He also named another person who was alive at the time – oddly Lovell didn’t feel the need to have words with the chap.  No one has ever clapped eyes on Tyrell’s confession (That’s not to say it doesn’t exist of course because things can get put on the proverbial safe place only to turn up five hundred or so years later but none the less circumstantially very suspect whatever Thomas More may have thought on the subject). Thomas Penn, Henry VII’s award winning biographer, notes that ‘strange things tended to happen’ in Lovell’s vicinity. It’s also worth noting that Tyrell was attainted two years after his death but at no point does the bill against him mention slaughtering the princes in the Tower – which in the circumstances you might think it should. Tyrell’s son was arrested at the same time as his father but was granted his freedom and after a sufficient time had elapsed regained his father’s estate…make of it what you will. There will be more posts on the topic in 2017.

And how does our grocer fit into this rather shady picture? Further exploration reveals that  Billesdon was one of a number of merchants sent to negotiate with Lovell on behalf of the Mercers’ Company in relation to subsidies and rates (Watney:349). His name also turns up on the Calendar for Payment of Fines. This together with the will suggests that palms had been greased and favours exchanged in the cut throat world of Tudor politics.

Lovell is one of Henry VII’s new men. These men were appointed for their ability rather than their bloodline and because since Henry had made them, Henry could break them. This did not necessarily win friends and influence people at the time but it ensured that the Tudor administrative system was much more effective than anything that had come before. I’ve posted about Bray earlier in the year.  Double click on his name to open a new page for the earlier post.

anne_ashby_largeIn an interesting aside, Sir Thomas featured in another of the History Jar’s posts. He and his wife had no children. He left his estate at East Harling in Norfolk to his nephew Francis. Francis married Anne Ashby who turns out to be Hans Holbein’s ‘Lady with the Squirrel.’ I told you the Tudor world was a small one! Double click on Anne’s image to open the post on a new page if you want to read further.

Penn, Thomas. (2012) Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England. London:Penguin

 Watney, Frank D and  Lyell Laetitia. (2016) Acts of Court of the Mercers’ Company 1453-1527 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Wroe, Ann (2003) Perkin A Story of Deception. London: Jonathon Cape

‘London and Middlesex Fines: Henry VIII’, in A Calendar To the Feet of Fines For London and Middlesex: Volume 2, Henry VII – 12 Elizabeth, ed. W J Hardy and W Page (London, 1893), pp. 16-68. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/feet-of-fines-london-middx/vol2/pp16-68 [accessed 28 November 2016].

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/lovell-sir-thomas-i-1450-1524

 

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