1506: James Tyrrell, Princes in the Tower murderer?

Add comment May 6th, 2020 Thomas More

(Thanks to Sir Thomas More, himself an eventual Executed Today client, for the guest post on the knight Sir James Tyr(r)ell — originally from More’s The History of King Richard the Third. Tyrrell was executed on May 6, 1506, for treason, for supporting the exiled royal pretender Edmund de la Pole; according to More, Tyrrell had previously proved his loyalty to the Yorkist house to the extent of orchestrating the murder of the Princes in the Tower. All-in-the-family detail for House Tyrell: the man’s father had been executed in 1462 with John de Vere, Earl of Oxford. -ed.)

I shall rehearse you the dolorous end of those babes, not after every way that I have heard, but after that way thay I have so hard by such men & by such meanes, as me thinketh it wer hard but it should be true. King Richarde after his coronacion, takyng his way to Gloucester to visit in his newe honor, the towne of which he bare the name of his old, devised as he roode, to fulfil that thing which he before had intended. And forasmuch as his minde gave him, that his nephewes living, men woulde not recken that hee could have right to the realm, he thought therfore without delay to rid them, as though the killing of his kinsmen, could amend his cause, and make him a kindly king. Whereuppon he sent one John Grene whom he specially trusted, unto sir Robert Brakenbury constable of the Tower, with a letter and credence also, that the same sir Robert shoulde in any wise put the two children to death. This John Grene did his errande unto Brakenbery kneling before our Lady in the Tower, who plainely answered that he would never putte them to death to dye therfore, with which answer Jhon Grene returning recounted the same to Kynge Richarde at Warwick yet in his way. Wherwith he toke such displeasure and thought, that the same night, he said unto a secret page of his: Ah whome shall a man trust? those that I have brought up my selfe, those that I had went would most surely serve me, even those fayle me, and at my commaundemente wyll do nothyng for me. Sir quod his page there lyeth one on your paylet without, that I dare well say to do your grace pleasure, the thyng were right harde that he wold refuse, meaning this by sir James Tyrell, which was a man of right goodlye parsonage, and for natures gyftes, woorthy to have served a muche better prince, if he had well served god, and by grace obtayned asmuche trouthe & good will as he had strength and witte. The man had an high heart, and sore longed upwarde, not rising yet so fast as he had hoped, being hindered and kept under by the meanes of sir Richard Ratcliffe and sir William Catesby, which longing for no moo parteners of the princes favour, and namely not for hym, whose pride thei wist would beare no pere, kept him by secrete driftes out of all secrete trust. Whiche thyng this page wel had marked and knowen. Wherefore thys occasion offered, of very speciall frendship he toke his time to put him forward, & by such wise doe him good, that al the enemies he had except the devil, could never have done him so muche hurte. For upon this pages wordes king Richard arose. (For this communicacion had he sitting at the draught, a convenient carpet for such a counsaile) and came out in to the pailet chamber, on which he found in bed sir James and sir Thomas Tyrels, of parson like and brethren of blood, but nothing of kin in condicions. Then said the king merely to them: What sirs be ye in bed so soone, and calling up syr James, brake to him secretely his mind in this mischievous matter. In whiche he founde him nothing strange. Wherfore on the morrow he sente him to Brakenbury with a letter, by which he was commaunded to deliver sir James all the kayes of the Tower for one nyght, to the ende he might there accomplish the kinges pleasure, in such thing as he had geuen him commaundement. After which letter delivered and the kayes received, sir James appointed the night nexte ensuing to destroy them, devysing before and preparing the meanes. The prince as soone as the protector left that name and toke himself as king, had it shewed unto him, that he should not reigne, but his uncle should have the crowne. At which worde the prince sore abashed, began to sigh and said: Alas I woulde my uncle woulde lette me have my lyfe yet, though I lese my kingdome. Then he that tolde him the tale, used him with good wordes, and put him in the best comfort he could. But forthwith was the prince and his brother bothe shet up, and all other removed from them, onely one called black wil or William slaughter except, set to serve them and see them sure. After whiche time the prince never tyed his pointes, nor ought rought of himselfe, but with that young babe hys brother, lingered in thought and heavines til this tratorous death, delivered them of that wretchednes. For Sir James Tirel devised that thei shold be murthered in their beddes. To the execucion wherof, he appointed Miles Forest one of the foure that kept them, a felowe fleshed in murther before time. To him he joyned one John Dighton his own horsekeper, a big brode square strong knave. Then al the other beeing removed from them, thys Miles Forest and John Dighton, about midnight (the sely children lying in their beddes) came into the chamber, and sodainly lapped them up among the clothes so be wrapped them and entangled them keping down by force the fetherbed and pillowes hard unto their mouthes, that within a while smored and stifled, theyr breath failing, thei gave up to god their innocent soules into the joyes of heaven, leaving to the tormentors their bodyes dead in the bed.

Whiche after that the wretches parceived, first by the strugling with the paines of death, and after long lying styll, to be throughly dead: they laide their bodies naked out uppon the bed, and fetched sir James to see them. Which upon the sight of them, caused those murtherers to burye them at the stayre foote, metely depe in the grounde under a great heape of stones. Than rode sir James in geat haste to king Richarde, and shewed him al the maner of the murther, who gave hym gret thanks, and as som say there made him knight. But he allowed not as I have heard, the burying in so vile a corner, saying that he woulde have them buried in a better place, because thei wer a kinges sonnes. Wherupon thei say that a prieste of syr Robert Brakenbury toke up the bodyes again, and secretely entered them in such place, as by the occasion of his deathe, whiche onely knew it could never synce come to light. Very trouthe is it & well knowen, that at such time as syr James Tirell was in the Tower, for Treason committed agaynste the moste famous prince king Henry the seventh, bothe Dighton an he were examined, & confessed the murther in maner above writen, but whither the bodies were removed thei could nothing tel. And thus as I have learned of them that much knew and litle cause had to lye, wer these two noble princes, these innocent tender children, borne of moste royall bloode, brought up in great wealth, likely long to live to reigne and rule in the realme, by traitorous tiranny taken, depryved of their estate, shortly shitte up in prison, and privily slaine and murthered, theyr bodies cast god wote where by the cruel ambicion of their unnaturall uncle and his dispiteous tormentors. Which thinges on every part wel pondered: god never gave this world a more notable example, neither in what unsuretie standeth this worldy wel, or what mischief worketh the prowde enterprise of an hyghe heart, or finally what wretched end ensueth such dispiteous crueltie. For first to beginne with the ministers, Miles Forest at sainct Martens pecemele rotted away. Dighton in ded walketh on a live in good possibilitie to bee hanged ere he dye. But sir James Tirel dyed at Tower hill, beheaded for treason.


Although the veracity of More’s account cannot be proven — the purported original confessions do not survive and are not attested elsewhere — Tyrrell’s reputation as the agent of this notorious outrage earned him a bit part in Shakespeare’s Richard III.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Assassins,Beheaded,England,Guest Writers,Nobility,Other Voices,Public Executions,Treason

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