Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tyrrell, James (d.1502)
TYRRELL or TYRELL, Sir JAMES (d. 1502), supposed murderer of the princes in the Tower, was the eldest son of William Tyrell of Gipping, Suffolk, by Margaret, daughter of Robert Darcy of Malden. Sir John Tyrrell [q. v.] was his grandfather. James Tyrell was a strong Yorkist. He was knighted after the battle of Tewkesbury on 3 May 1471, was appointed to conduct the Countess of Warwick to the north of England in 1473, and served as member of parliament for Cornwall in December 1477. An order to pay 10l. signed by him and dated 1 April 1478, has been preserved and is in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 18675, f. 1. In the war with Scotland he fought under Richard, then Duke of Gloucester, and was by him made a knight-banneret on 24 July 1482. The same year, when the office of constable, held by Richard, was put into commission, Tyrell was one of those appointed to execute it. At the coronation of Richard III he took part in some capacity. His brother Thomas was master of the horse, and he just afterwards was made master of the henchmen; and, no doubt on his brother resigning what was meant to be a temporary office, also master of the horse.
The whole interest of Tyrell's career centres round the murder of the two sons of Edward IV. The story, as told by the author of the ‘Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde,’ makes Richard send John Green to Sir Robert Brackenbury, the constable of the Tower, with orders that the deed should be done by him. This was while Richard was on his progress to Gloucester. On Brackenbury's refusal, Green returned to Richard at Warwick, and while the king was in a state of anxious uncertainty, a page suggested that Tyrell would do what was wanted. The writer explains that Tyrell had been kept in the background by Ratcliffe and Catesby, and was therefore likely to stick at nothing that could secure his advantage. Tyrell was then sent to the Tower with a letter to Brackenbury, commanding him to give up the keys for a night. The two princes were accordingly smothered by Miles Forest, one of their keepers, ‘a felowe fleshed in murther before time,’ and John Dighton, Tyrell's horsekeeper, ‘a big, brode, square, strong knaue.’ Tyrell, having seen that the murder was carried out, ordered the bodies to be buried at the stair foot, and rode back to Richard, ‘who gave hym gret thanks, and, as som say, there made him knight.’
This account contains much matter for dispute and involves a larger question, the character of Richard III. Sir Clements Markham has attempted to fix the guilt of the murder on Henry VII, but his contentions have been opposed by Mr. Gairdner, whose view is accepted by Professor Busch. In either case Tyrell is admitted to have been the instrument (see English Historical Review, vi. 250, 444, 806, 813; Busch, England under the Tudors, p. 319).
Tyrell's reward was certainly not in proportion to his service. He became a knight of the king's body, and on 5 Nov. 1483 received commissions to array the men of Wales against Buckingham. He was also a commissioner for the forfeited estates of Buckingham and others in Wales and the marches. On 10 April 1484 he benefited at the expense of the traitor Sir John Fogge. On 9 Aug. 1484 he was made steward of the duchy of Cornwall for life, and on 13 Sept. 1484 he became sheriff of the lordship of Wenlock, steward of the lordships of Newport Wenlock, Kevoeth Meredith, Lavenitherry, and Lanthoesant, for life. He also was allowed to enter on the estates of Sir Thomas Arundel, a relative of his wife. At some time in the reign he was made one of the chamberlains of the exchequer.
He is said to have wavered in his allegiance to Richard III towards the end of his reign, but of this there is no proof, and Richard seems to have employed him in some unknown capacity in Flanders. Just before Bosworth he was clearly in the king's confidence, as, though holding a command in Glamorgan and Morgannock, he was sent to Guisnes, certainly no place for trimmers.
Henry VII, however, took him into favour, or at all events employed him. He lost the post of chamberlain of the exchequer and his Welsh offices, but on 19 Feb. 1485–6 he was made sheriff of Glamorgan and Morgannock, with all it involved, including the constableship of Cardiff Castle, for life, at a salary of 100l. a year. He received a general pardon on 16 June 1486, another on 16 July following. These two pardons are important, as Sir Clements Markham considers that it was between their dates that the murder of the princes took place.
On 15 Dec. 1486 Tyrell is mentioned as lieutenant of the castle of Guisnes in a commission appointing ambassadors to treat with those of Maximilian, and on 30 Aug. 1487 he received the stewardship of the lordship of Ogmore in South Wales. A curious commission of 23 Feb. 1487–8 recites that for his services he is to be recompensed of the issues of Guisnes for property he had held in Wales at the beginning of the reign, and a schedule is annexed showing what that property had been. He is also here mentioned as a knight of the body. Tyrell was present at the battle of Dixmude in 1489 and took a prominent part in the ceremonial attending the making of the peace of Etaples in 1492; he was also present at the creation of Prince Henry as Duke of York in 1494.
In the summer of 1499 Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk [q. v.], fled from England, and, on his way to the Netherlands, he stayed some time with Tyrell at Guisnes. Henry was merciful or politic, and sent in September 1499 Sir Richard Guildford [q. v.] and Richard Hatton to persuade the earl to return, and, though he had left Guisnes, he did so; Tyrell was ordered to come with him. He may have been regarded with suspicion, but nevertheless he was one of those prominent in 1501 at the reception of Catherine of Aragon. About July or August 1501 Suffolk fled again, and Tyrell was induced to surrender Guisnes by a trick, which is alluded to in a letter of Suffolk written just after Tyrell's death, and long afterwards in a letter from Sandys to Cromwell of 19 Jan. 1536–7 (cf. Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, xii. i. 151). With his son he was imprisoned in the Tower. He had helped in the first flight, and doubtless through his agents Henry had certain knowledge of his treason. He was beheaded on Tower Hill on 6 May 1502, and attainted 1503–4.
Knowing that he was to die, Tyrell made, it is said while in the Tower, a confession of his guilt as to the princes; Dighton, his accomplice, was also examined and confessed. It is the substance of this confession that forms the history of the murder as we know it, though the text has not been preserved. He had by his wife Anne, daughter of Sir John Arundel of Cornwall, three sons; Thomas, his heir, who was restored in blood; James, and William. One pedigree given by Davy mentions a daughter Anne and does not give William (cf. Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 5509, f. 41).[For genealogy see Davy's Suffolk Pedigrees (Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 19152); Visitations of Essex, Harl. Soc. pp. 100–11; Gairdner's Richard III, Ramsay's Lancaster and York (vol. ii.), Bacon's Henry VII, and Busch's England under the Tudors, supply the historical part of Tyrell's life. On the murder in the Tower, the articles in the English Historical Review, Archæologia (i. 361 &c.), Kennett's History of England (i. 552, notes on Sir George Buc, one of the early apologists for Richard III), the History of Richard III's reign (attributed to Sir Thomas More), the Continuator of Croyland in Gale's Hist. Angl. Script. (i. 568), Polydore Vergil, Rous, and the French evidence in Commines, and the Proceedings of the States-General at Tours in 1484 are the most important. The grants in Richard III's reign are to be found in App. ii. 9th Rep. Deputy-keeper of Public Records. See also Return of Members of Parliament, i. 363 (no returns have been preserved for the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII); Metcalfe's Knights, pp. 3, 6; Rolls of Parliament, vol. vi.; Letters and Papers of Richard III and Henry VII, and Campbell's Materials for the Reign of Henry VII, both in Rolls Ser.; information furnished by A. P. J. Archbold, esq.]