Born: c. 1455
Gipping, Suffolk, England
Died: May 6, 1502
City of London, London, England (Age c. 47)
Tyrell in History
William Tyrrell, the father of Sir James Tyrrell was executed for his part in a plot against King Edward IV in 1462. Fortunately, the younger Tyrrell was not punished for his father's offenses and was able to ultimately inherit his lands. Tyrrell actually became an avid Yorkist supporter and fought for the Yorkists at Tewksbury, where they achieved a decisive victory against the rival Lancastrians. From this point on, Tyrrell was a loyal supporter of the Duke of Gloucester, youngest brother of Edward IV, and served with him as a protector in England's north, participating in the Scottish campaigns of the early 1480s. In 1483, Edward IV died and was succeeded by his young son as Edward V. Gloucester had been assigned the task of protector until his nephew came of age, but ultimately decided to claim the throne as his own. He executed a number of the king's maternal relatives and bastardized the king and his younger brother before imprisoning them in the tower, before crowning himself as Richard III. It is at this point that Tyrrell makes his mark in history. With Richard now on the throne it was no surprise that he would want to eliminate any competition there might be to keep him from remaining seated on said throne. For this reason, it should also be no surprise that the two "princes of the tower" were never seen again. It is claimed by a number of contemporaries and historians alike that it was James Tyrrell himself who murdered the princes under orders from Richard III. The most vivid account of these actions comes in the early sixteenth-century in Thomas More's History of Richard III.
Whatever the case may be, Tyrrell was a leading member of Richard III's court and was given a number of important positions as rewards for his loyalty. He did his part is suppressing the rebellion of the Duke of Buckingham shortly into the reign and remained faithful throughout the entirety of Richard's time on the throne. It is believed that Tyrrell was not present, however, at the Battle of Bosworth when Richard III was defeated and killed and the Earl of Richmond crowned himself as Henry VII. Unlike many of Richard III's former followers, Tyrrell was not punished to any great extent, but did not possess as much influence during the new king's reign. Although Tyrrell was able to attain a certain amount of favor with Henry VII, he was ultimately implicated in a plot involving the Earl of Suffolk (a nephew of Richard III) to depose the king and was executed for his supposed participation in the conspiracy in 1502. During the interval between Tyrrell's conviction and execution, he supposedly confessed to the murders of the princes in the tower. There is no real evidence to support Tyrrell's confession, but it seems to be the most likely explanation. Whether it is the truth or not, the supposed murder of the princes in the tower is the legacy that James Tyrrell holds even to this very day.
Tyrrell in Shakespeare
Appears in: Richard III
Tyrrell appears briefly in Richard III. At the king's coronation, Tyrrell is asked to murder Richard's two nephews, which he agrees to. He is seen once again just after he has committed the murders, and appears to be distraught over his despicable actions. Within the play, Richard and Tyrrell appear to be meeting for the first time at the former's coronation ceremony. Historically, the two men knew each other for several years before Richard became king.
Horrox, Rosemary. ‘Tyrrell, Sir James (c.1455–1502)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/27952, accessed 5 Jan 2010]