James Tyrrell (c. 1450 - May 6, 1502) was an English knight, a trusted servant of King Richard III of England. His main claim to fame is that he is supposed to have confessed to murdering the Princes in the Tower on Richard's orders.
Tyrrell was the son of Sir William Tyrrell (c. 1415 - February 22, 1461) and Margaret Darcy (c. 1425), married in 1444. Like his father before him, a loyal Yorkist, James was knighted in 1471. He married Anne Arundell on March 9, 1483. They would later have a son also named James Tyrrell.
In the following year, he returned to England and was pardoned by King Henry VII, who reappointed him governor of Guisnes (in the English possession of Calais). However, in 1501, Tyrrell lent his support to Edmund de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, now the leading Yorkist claimant to the English throne, who was in voluntary exile. When Henry heard of this, Tyrrell was recalled, accused of treason, and tortured. Thomas More wrote that, during his examination, Tyrrell made his confession, implicating two other men, but, despite further questioning, was unable to say where the bodies were -- he claimed that they had been moved. He was beheaded on May 6, 1502, and his confession, if it happened, was never made public.
Although serious historians have never given much credence to the Tyrrell story, Ricardians have exploited the confusion over the date of the pardon in order to point the finger at King Henry.
Was there anything sinister about Tyrrell's pardon?
Thomas B. Costain and others have made much of Henry VII's pardoning Tyrrell in 1486, because he seems to have done so twice: There are records of a "general pardon" on 16 June (as was customary for someone clearing up his records when leaving office) and another one on 16 July. If that is not some clerical error and there really were two pardons a month apart, the question arises of what Tyrrell did during that month to make him want another pardon. It has been suggested that Henry made a deal to pardon Tyrrell and restore him to office if he would kill the princes, or that he pardoned Tyrrell again and held the knowledge of his guilt in reserve in case he ever wanted to use it against him later.
This explanation in itself begs several questions. Given that Henry was ruthless and clever enough to murder the princes, the question arises of why he would he have waited a whole year after his accession to do so, and why he would he have selected a dyed-in-the-wool Yorkist as his instrument.
Archbishop John Morton is said to have been the source of the information in Sir Thomas More's The History of Richard III, which is where the story of the "confession" of Tyrrell appears. According to More's account, King Richard first sent a man named John Green to Robert Brackenbury, keeper of the Tower, with a written order to kill the two princes. When Brackenbury refused, Richard sent Tyrrell to Brackenbury with a written order to deliver the keys to the Tower to Tyrrell for one night, which he did. Tyrrell killed the boys that night, and Brackenbury's priest moved the bodies from where Tyrrell buried them.
On the other hand, if Henry had murdered the princes, it is inexplicable that he should have missed the opportunity of making Tyrrell his scapegoat by publishing his confession at the time of his execution. More's account suggests that Henry's reason for suppressing the confession was that he feared that his earlier pardoning of Tyrrell would lead to his being blamed for the murder. Morton, apparently the source of this information, was dead by the time of Tyrrell's supposed confession, thus none of the content of More's book was contemporary with the events described. It is now accepted that More's book was an exercise in rhetoric and was never meant to be taken as historical fact; however, for a while, it became good propaganda for the Tudor dynasty.
- A genealogical profile of James Tyrrell