Hero or Villain

Sir James Tyrrell Knt
1455 – 6 May 1502

Hero or Villain
(Valiant Soldier or Murderer)

Few historical stories have captured the imagination of generations so well as the story of the Princes in the Tower. These two brothers were the the only sons of Edward IV of England and Elizabeth Woodville alive at the time of their father’s death. Then 12 and 9 years old, they were lodged in the Tower of London by the man appointed to look after them, their uncle, the Lord Protector: Richard, Duke of Gloucester. This was supposed to be in preparation for Edward’s coronation as king. However, Richard took the throne for himself and the boys disappeared.

Little evidence exists to what happened to the boys’ and it is generally assumed that they were murdered, it’s an age old ‘who done it’ with several suspects; Richard III, Sir James Tyrrell, Henry Stafford – Duke of Buckingham, Henry Tudor – Henry VII and Margaret Beaufort.

In this post I am going to concentrate on my connection to the Tyrrell Family and the life of Sir James Tyrrell and his confession of Murder.

The Princes in the Tower

My Relationship to Sir James Tyrell

Sir James TYRRELL Knt (1451 – 1502)
is my 15th great grand uncle

Sir William TYRRELL (1430 – 1471)
father of Sir James TYRRELL Knt and my 16th great grandfather

Sir Thomas TYRRELL (1470 – 1510)
son of Sir William TYRRELL and my 15th great grandfather

Sir Henry TYRRELL (1505 – 1588)
son of Sir Thomas TYRRELL and my 14th great grandfather

Elizabeth TYRRELL (1530 – )
daughter of Sir Henry TYRRELL and my 13th great grandmother

Anne DRAPER (1560 – )
daughter of Elizabeth TYRRELL and my 12th great grandmother

Anne BENNEFIELD (1589 – 1639)
daughter of Anne DRAPER and my 11th great grandmother

William OWEN (1633 – 1680)
son of Anne BENNEFIELD and my 10th great grandfather

Thomas OWEN (1666 – 1749)
son of William OWEN and my 9th great grandfather

Mary OWEN (1692 – 1739)
daughter of Thomas OWEN and my 8th great grandmother

Ann ANDREW (1721 – 1769)
daughter of Mary OWEN and my 7th great grandmother

Ann RUSBRIDGE (1757 – 1805)
daughter of Ann ANDREW and my 6th great grandmother

Napper CHALLEN (1782 – 1855)
son of Ann RUSBRIDGE and my 5th great grandfather

Martha CHALLIN (1806 – 1868)
daughter of Napper CHALLEN and my 4th great grandmother

Hannah HARRIS (1845 – 1925)
daughter of Martha CHALLIN and my 3rd great grandmother

William Richard TAYLOR (1873 – 1948)
son of Hannah HARRIS and my 2nd great grandfather

Doris Margery TAYLOR (1904 – 1999)
daughter of William Richard TAYLOR and my great grandmother

Joyce Margery PLASKETT (1934 – 2013)
daughter of Doris Margery TAYLOR and my grandmother

Sir James Tyrrell and my connection

Sir James Tyrrell was born circa 1455 in East Horndon, Essex he was the eldest son of Sir William Tyrrell of Gipping, Suffolk and Margaret Darcy, the daughter of Robert Darcy of Maldon, Essex.
James Tyrrell was Knighted on the 4th May 1471 by Edward IV. In the field of Grafton (Garton) beside Tewkesbury after the battle of Tewkesbury, on the field of battle. Then on the 24th July 1482 he received a knights banneret by the duke of Gloucester near Edinburgh.

I descend from the Tyrrels through my Sussex family history and my connection with the Owen Family, who in turn descend from Sir Owain Tudor, ancestor to the Tudor dynasty. William OWEN 1633 – 1680, was the son of Thomas Owen who held a manor in both Burwash and Brighton, Sussex his children were baptized in both of these parishes.
His mother Anne Bennefield was the daughter of a wealthy London Merchant named Eustace Bennefield he was married to Anne Draper who was daughter of William Draper and Elizabeth Tyrrell.
Through Elizabeth Tyrrell I connect to some very famous names and historical events, included one of our countries most famous ‘The Princes in the Tower’.

James Tyrrell (my 15th great grand uncle) is known for confessing to the murders of the Princes in the Tower under Richard’s orders. However, his statement may have been taken under torture, so the confession might not be genuine. William Shakespeare portrays Tyrrell as the man who organised the princes’ murder in Richard III.

Recently this story has been portrayed in the BBC mini series ‘The White Queen’, although James Tyrrell didn’t get a mention in this adaption.


Tyrrell’s career (Source Wikepedia)

Tyrrell’s father was beheaded on Tower Hill on 23 February 1462, together with Sir Thomas Tuddenham and John Montgomery. John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford, and his eldest son and heir, Aubrey, were beheaded on 26 February and 20 February, respectively, after the discovery of an alleged plot to murder Edward IV. No records of the trials of the alleged conspirators have survived to shed light on what part, if any, Tyrrell’s father played in the alleged conspiracy. He was not attained, and his eldest son and heir’s ward-ship and the custody of his lands were granted to Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, who sold them to William Tyrrell’s widow in March 1463 for £50.

James Tyrrell fought on the Yorkist side at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4 May 1471, and was knighted there by Edward IV. A few months later he entered the service of the future Richard III, then Duke of Gloucester. After Richard III assumed power, he was appointed High Sheriff of Cornwall in 1484. He was in France in 1485, and played no part in the Battle of Bosworth Field which signaled the end of the Yorkists and the start of the Tudor dynasty.

In the following year, he returned to England and was pardoned by King Henry VII, who reappointed him governor of Guînes (in the English possession of Calais). However, in 1501, Tyrrell lent his support to Edmund de la Pole, 3rd Duke of Suffolk, now the leading Yorkist claimant to the English throne, who was in voluntary exile. In the spring of 1501 Henry VII sent Thomas Lovell to Guines arrest Tyrrell and others, including Tyrrell’s son, Thomas

On a recent trip to the Tower of London I had the privilege of viewing this inscription (medieval graffiti if you like) made by a William Tyrrell in the Beauchamp Tower where he was held captive in 1541 – History is unsure as to which William Tyrrell this is.

In 1501 Tyrrell was charged with treason and tortured. Sir Thomas More wrote that during his examination Tyrrell confessed to the murders of King Edward V of England and his brother Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York. He also implicated two other men. Despite further questioning, however, he was unable to say where the bodies were, claiming that they had been moved.

Sir James, his eldest son Thomas, a Tyrrell retainer named Christopher Wellesbourne, Sir John Wyndham and “an unnamed sailor”, were charged with treason. Sir James and Sir John were tried at the Guildhall, convicted and beheaded on May 6, 1502. According to sources, he was not allowed, or declined, to make the customary final speech from the scaffold. Thomas Tyrrell and Wellesbourne were imprisoned, and the poor unnamed sailor was hanged, drawn and quartered.

Sir James’ body was taken from Tower Hill and interred in the church of the Austin Friars in London.

The murder of the Princes in the Tower

“Dem Bones”

The two skeletons found in 1674, upon the demolition of a staircase leading to the White Tower, has engendered great scholarly controversy. As yet, there is no unassailable evidence to prove they are the remains of the princes. The arguments against them being the boys are very convincing in their logic. Suffice it to say, the alleged bones belong to the sons of Edward IV, cannot attest any guilt on the part of Sir James Tyrrell.

Were the princes in the Tower murdered? What was Sir James Tyrrell’s role in all of this? The facts are inconclusive,
James Tyrrell was a Yorkist’ the princess in the Tower were the sons of Edward IV of York , his aid to Edmund de la Pole suggests, in spite of years of exemplary service to Henry, he was still a Yorkist at heart.

Could a man that holds the white Rose of York so close to his heart, really be able to murder the heirs to the Yorkist throne.

Probably not.



7 thoughts on “Hero or Villain

  1. Do you have the details of the Tower of London inscription that isn’t in Czech? As the translation of that bit reads – “This part of the prison could not afford to just anyone. Prisoners often left something to remember. Here the poet William Tyrrell” The inscription is actually – “Since fortune has chosen that my hope should go to the wind to complain, I wish the time were destroyed; my planet being ever sad and ungracious.”

    • I didn’t have the English inscription, so thank you very, very much. Beautiful words too.
      I love visiting the Tower of London, I visit as often as I can and always take my little girl with me. I’m hoping she will build up an interest in history 🙂 so we have an interest to share and explore together.
      Thank you again for that lovely translation.

      • You’re welcome. I found it on a Flickr group with photographs of inscriptions from the Tower of London. I looked at the image of the stone and thought to myself mmm that looks like it is in English as I could make out the word fortune and found the site that had the words in Czech which were just explaining about the fact he left an inscription rather than being the inscription itself!

        I haven’t been to the Tower of London for a very long time, probably not since a school trip!

      • The tower of London hasn’t changed much, but I am often in London. I love visiting the West End and often do something along the tourist trail in the day and a show in the evening.
        A big thank you. 🙂

  2. Much as we would like to know the truth of the matter, I can not see that there will ever be a final, factual resolution of the murders of the Princes. I do suspect Richard III had far less to do with it than is generally assumed. I’ve also wondered if the boys became ill and died of that, leaving their keeper in a wretched position. Too many possibilities and no facts.

    • I agree that Richard III probably had little to do with their disappearance, The Tudors were very good with their propaganda they even painted over his portrait to make him look more of a Rogue, all this to cement their own legacy which they had little rights too in the first place.
      The children may well have fallen ill, and the household covered it up. Margaret Beaufort for me though had more to gain from their deaths, it was her son who became Henry VII.

      • I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Margaret Beaufort had a had in the deaths. Although Henry VII certainly had no problems with such things either.

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