Tyrell, Sir James

(1445–1502)
   Sir James Tyrell (or Tyrrell) was reputed to be RICHARD III’s agent in carrying out the murders of EDWARD V and his younger brother, Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York. The eldest son of a Suffolk GENTRY family, Tyrell fought for EDWARD IV at the Battle of TEWKESBURY in May 1471 and was knighted after the battle. By 1472,Tyrell was a trusted RETAINER of Richard, duke of Gloucester, the king’s brother. The duke made Tyrell his chief agent in WALES by appointing him sheriff of Glamorgan and constable of Cardiff. In 1482, Tyrell served in Gloucester’s Scottish campaign, being made a knight-banneret by the duke.
   Tyrell greatly benefited from Gloucester’s usurpation of the throne in July 1483 (see Usurpation of 1483). The new king showed his confidence in Tyrell’s loyalty and abilities by strengthening Tyrell’s control of the royal lands in Wales through the grant of various additional stewardships and castle constableships. Tyrell’s appointments as a knight of the body (i.e., one of the king’s closest personal servants), as Master of Horse, and as chamberlain of the Exchequer all indicated the position of trust he held with Richard III. In 1485, although retaining Tyrell in his Welsh commands, Richard III sent him to CALAIS to take charge of the key fortress of Guisnes after the previous commander’s defection to Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond. Because of his posting to Guisnes, Tyrell was not in England in August 1485 and was thus unable to oppose Richmond’s landing in Wales or to fight for the king at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD. After Richard’s defeat and death,Tyrell was one of the few supporters of the late king to also become a trusted servant of HENRY VII. Although he lost some offices and lands, Tyrell remained a knight of the body and sheriff of Glamorgan. He also took a prominent part in the ceremonies surrounding the signing of the Treaty of Etaples in 1492, the creation of Prince Henry as duke of York in 1494, and the reception of Catherine of Aragon in 1501. In August 1501, Tyrell was implicated in a plot led by Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, the Yorkist claimant to the throne (see Yorkist Heirs [AFTER 1485]). The conspiracy involved the surrender of Guisnes, then in Tyrell’s charge, and it led to Tyrell’s arrest and eventual execution for treason in May 1502.
   According to the later accounts of Sir Thomas More and Polydore Vergil, neither of whom were eyewitnesses, Tyrell, while lying under sentence of death in the TOWER OF LONDON, confessed to having murdered the sons of Edward IV there at the direction of Richard III in the summer of 1483. This alleged confession, the text of which has not survived, forms the basis of the murder story as we know it today. Although likely enough, the story as supposedly related by Tyrell cannot be conclusively proven and must remain only one possible explanation of the fate of the princes.
   See also Anglica Historia (Vergil); The History of King Richard III (More); Princes in the Tower
   Further Reading: Horrox, Rosemary, Richard III: A Study in Service (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991);“James Tyrell,” in Michael Hicks, Who’s Who in Late Medieval England (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1991), pp. 364–366; More, Sir Thomas, History of King Richard III, in Paul Murray Kendall, ed., Richard III: The Great Debate (New York:W.W. Norton, 1992), pp. 31–143; Ross, Charles, Richard III (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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