BUTLER FAMILY, the name of a family famous in the history of Ireland. The great house of the Butlers, alone among the families of the conquerors, rivalled the Geraldines, their neighbours, kinsfolk and mortal foes. Theobald Walter, their ancestor, was not among the first of the invaders. He was the grandson of one Hervey Walter who, in the time of Henry I., held Witheton or Weeton in Amounderness, a small fee of the honour of Lancaster, the manor of Newton in Suffolk, and certain lands in Norfolk. In the great inquest of Lancaster lands that followed a writ of 1212, this Hervey, named as the father of Hervey Walter, is said to have given lands in his fee of Weeton to Orm, son of Magnus, with his daughter Alice in marriage. Hervey Walter, son of this Hervey, advanced his family by matching with Maude, daughter of Theobald de Valognes, lord of Parham, whose sister Bertha was wife of Ranulf de Glanville, the great justiciar, "the eye of the king." When Ranulf had founded the Austin Canons priory of Butley, Hervey Walter, his wife's brother-in-law, gave to the house lands in Wingfield for the soul's health of himself and his wife Maude, of Ranulf de Glanville and Bertha his wife, the charter, still preserved in the Harleian collection, being witnessed by Hervey's younger sons, Hubert Walter, Roger and Hamon. Another son, Bartholomew, witnessed a charter of his brother Hubert, 1190-1193. That these nephews of the justiciar profited early by their kinship is seen in Hubert Walter's foundation charter of the abbey of West Dereham, wherein he speaks of "dominus Ranulphus de Glanvilla et domina Bertha uxor eius, qui nos nutrierunt." Hubert, indeed, becoming one of his uncle's clerks, was so much in his confidence that Gervase of Canterbury speaks of the two as ruling the kingdom together. King Richard, whom he accompanied to the Holy Land, made him bishop of Salisbury and (1193) archbishop of Canterbury. "Wary of counsel, subtle of wit," he was the champion of Canterbury and of England, and the news of his death drew the cry from King John that "now, for the first time, am I king in truth."
Between these two great statesmen Theobald Walter, the eldest brother of the archbishop, rose and flourished. Theobald is found in the Liber Niger (c.1166) as holding Amounderness by the service of one knight. In 1185 he went over sea to Waterford with John the king's son, the freight of the harness sent after him being charged in the Pipe Roll. Clad in that harness he led the men of Cork when Dermot MacCarthy, prince of Desmond, was put to the sword, John rewarding his services with lands in Limerick and with the important fief of Arklow in the vale of Avoca, where he made his Irish seat and founded an abbey. Returning to England he accompanied his uncle Randulf to France, both witnessing a charter delivered by the king at Chinon when near to death. Soon afterwards, Theobald Walter was given by John that hereditary office of butler to the lord of Ireland, which makes a surname for his descendants, styling himself pincerna when he attests John's charter to Dublin on the 15th of May 1192. J. Horace Round has pointed out that he also took a fresh seal, the inscription of which calls him Theobald Walter, Butler of Ireland, and henceforward he is sometimes surnamed Butler (le Botiller). When John went abroad in 1192, Theobald was given the charge of Lancaster castle, but in 1194 he was forced to surrender to his brother Hubert, who summoned it in King Richard's name. Making his peace through Hubert's influence, he was sheriff of Lancashire for King Richard, who regranted to him all Amounderness. His fortunes turned with the king's death. The new sovereign, treating his surrender of the castle as treachery, took the shrievalty from him, disseised him of Amounderness and sold his cantreds of Limerick land to William de Braose. But the great archbishop soon found means to bring his brother back to favour, and on the 2nd of January 1201-2 Amounderness, by writ of the king, is to be restored to Theobald Walter, dilecto et fideli nostra, Within a year or two Theobald left England to end his days upon his Arklow fief, busying himself with religious foundations at Wotheney in Limerick, at Arklow and at Nenagh. At Wotheney he is said to have been buried shortly before the 12th of February 1205-6, when an entry in the Close Roll is concerned with his widow. This widow, Maude, daughter of Robert le Vavasor of Denton, was given up to her father, who, buying the right of marrying her at a price of 1200 marks and two palfreys, gave her to Fulk fitz-Warine. Theobald, the son and heir of Theobald and Maude, a child of six years old, was likewise taken into the keeping of his grandfather Robert, but letters from the king, dated the 2nd of March 1205-6, told Robert, "as he loved his body," to surrender the heir at once to Gilbert fitz-Reinfrid, the baron of Kendal.
Adding to its possessions by marriages the house advanced itself among the nobility of Ireland. On the 1st of September 1315, its chief, Edmund Walter alias Edmund the Butler, for services against the Scottish raiders and Ulster rebels, had a charter of the castle and manors of Carrick, Macgriffyn and Roscrea to hold to him and his heirs sub nomine et honore comitis de Karryk. This charter, however, while apparently creating an earldom, failed, as Mr Round has explained, to make his issue earls of Carrick. But James, the son and heir of Edmund, having married in 1327 Eleanor de Bohun, daughter of Humfrey, earl of Hereford and Essex, high constable of England, by a daughter of Edward I., was created an Irish earl on the 2nd of November 1328, with the title of Ormonde.
From the early years of the 14th century the Ormonde earls, generation by generation, were called to the chief government of Ireland as lords-keeper, lords-lieutenant, deputies or lords-justices, and unlike their hereditary enemies the Geraldines they kept a tradition of loyalty to the English crown and to English custom. Their history is full of warring with the native Irish, and as the Sun stood still upon Gibeon, even so, we are told, it rested over the red bog of Athy while James the White Earl was staying the wild O'Mores. More than one of the earls of Ormonde had the name of a scholar, while of the 6th earl, master of every European tongue and ambassador to many courts, Edward IV. is said to have declared that were good breeding and liberal qualities lost to the world they might be found again in John, earl of Ormonde. The earls were often absent from Ireland on errands of war or peace. James, the 5th earl, had the English earldom of Wiltshire given him in 1449 for his Lancastrian zeal. He fought at St Albans in 1455, casting his harness into a ditch as he fled the field, and he led a wing at Wakefield. His stall plate as a knight of the Garter is still in St George's chapel. Defeated with the earl of Pembroke at Mortimer's Cross and taken prisoner after Towton, his fate is uncertain, but rumour said that he was beheaded at Newcastle, and a letter addressed to John Paston about May 1461 sends tidings that "the Erle of Wylchir is hed is sette on London Brigge."
To his time belongs a document illustrating a curious tradition of the Butlers. His petition to parliament when he was conveying Buckinghamshire lands to the hospital of St Thomas of Acres in London, recites that he does so "in worship of that glorious martyr St Thomas, sometime archbishop of Canterbury, of whose blood the said earl of Wiltshire, his father and many of his ancestors are lineally descended." But the pedigrees in which genealogists have sought to make this descent definite will not bear investigation. The Wiltshire earldom died with him and the Irish earldom was for a time forfeited, his two brothers, John and Thomas, sharing his attainder. John was restored in blood by Edward IV.; and Thomas, the 7th earl, summoned to the English parliament in 1495 as Lord Rochford, a title taken from a Bohun manor in Essex, saw the statute of attainder annulled by Henry VII.'s first parliament. He died without male issue in 1515. Of his two daughters and co-heirs Anne was married to Sir James St. Leger, and Margaret to Sir William Boleyn of Blickling, by whom she was mother of Sir James and Sir Thomas Boleyn. The latter, the father of Anne Boleyn, was created earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde in 1529.
In Ireland the heir male of the Ormonde earls, Sir Piers Butler - "red Piers" - assumed the earldom of Ormonde in 1515 and seized upon the Irish estates. Being a good ally against the rebel Irish, the government temporized with his claim. He was an Irishman born, allied to the wild Irish chieftains by his mother, a daughter of the MacMorrogh Kavanagh; the earldom had been long in the male line; all Irish sentiment was against the feudal custom which would take it out of the family, and the two co-heirs were widows of English knights. In 1522, styled "Sir Piers Butler pretending himself to be earl of Ormonde," he was made chief governor of Ireland as lord deputy, and on the 23rd of February 1527/8, following an agreement with the co-heirs of the 7th earl, whereby the earldom of Ormonde was declared to be at the king's disposal, he was created earl of Ossory. But the Irish estates, declared forfeit to the crown in 1536 under the Act of Absentees, were granted to him as "earl of Ossory and Ormonde." Although the Boleyn earl of Ormonde and Wiltshire was still alive, there can be no doubt that Piers Butler had a patent of the Ormonde earldom about the 22nd of February 1537/8, from which date his successors must reckon their peerage. His son and heir, James the Lame, who had been created Viscount Thurles on the 2nd of January 1535/6, obtained an act of parliament in 1543/4 which, confirming the grant to his father of the earldom, gave him the old "pre-eminence" of the ancient earldom of 1328.
Earl James was poisoned at a supper in Ely House in 1546, and Thomas the Black Earl, his son and heir, was brought up at the English court, professing the reformed religion. His sympathies were with the Irish, although he stood staunchly for law and order, and for the great part of his life he was wrestling with rebellion. His lands having been harried by hit hereditary enemies the Desmond Geraldines, Elizabeth gave him his revenge by appointing him in 1580 military governor of Munster, with a commission to "banish and vanquish these cankered Desmonds," then in open rebellion. In three months, by his own account, he had put to the sword 46 captains, 800 notorious traitors and 4000 others, and, after four years' fighting, Gerald, earl of Desmond, a price on his head, was taken and killed. Dying in 1614 without lawful issue, Thomas was succeeded by his nephew Walter of Kilcash, who had fought beside him against the Burkes and O'Mores. But Sir Robert Preston, afterwards created earl of Desmond, claimed a great part of the Ormonde lands in right of his wife, the Black Earl's daughter and heir. In spite of the loyal services of Earl Walter, King James supported the claimant, and the earl, refusing to submit to a royal award, was thrown into gaol, where he lay for eight years in great poverty, his rents being cut off. Although liberated in 1625 he was not acknowledged heir to his uncle's estates until 1630. His son, Viscount Thurles, being drowned on a passage to England, a grandson succeeded him.
This grandson, James Butler, is perhaps the most famous of the long line of Ormondes. By his marriage with his cousin Elizabeth Preston, the Ormonde titles were once more united with all the Ormonde estates. A loyal soldier and statesman, he commanded for the king in Ireland, where he was between the two fires of Catholic rebels and Protestant parliamentarians. In Ireland he stayed long enough to proclaim Charles II. in 1649, but defeated at Rathmines, his garrisons broken by Cromwell, he quitted the country at the end of 1650. At the Restoration he was appointed lord-lieutenant, his estates having been restored to him with the addition of the county palatine of Tipperary, taken by James I. from his grandfather. In 1632 he had been created a marquess. The English earldom of Brecknock was added in 1660 and an Irish dukedom of Ormonde in the following year. In 1682 he had a patent for an English dukedom with the same title. Buckingham's intrigues deprived him for seven years of his lord-lieutenancy, and a desperate attempt was made upon his life in 1670, when a company of ruffians dragged him from his coach in St James's Street and sought to hurry him to the gallows at Tyburn. His son's threat that, if harm befell his father he would pistol Buckingham, even if he were behind the king's chair, may have saved him from assassination. At the accession of James II. he was once more taken from active employment, and "Barzillai, crowned with honour and with years" died at his Dorsetshire house in 1688. He had seen his great-great-uncle the Black Earl, who was born in 1532, and a great-grandson was playing beside him a few hours before his death. His brave son Ossory, "the eldest hope with every grace adorned," died eight years before him, and he was succeeded by a grandson James, the second duke of Ormonde, who, a recognized leader of the London Jacobites, was attainted in 1715, his honours and estates being forfeited. The duke lived thirty years in exile, chiefly at Avignon, and died in the rebellion year of 1745 without surviving issue. His younger brother Charles, whom King William had created Lord Butler of Weston in the English peerage and earl of Arran in the Irish, was allowed to purchase the Ormonde estates. On the earl's death without issue in 1758 the estates were enjoyed by a sister, passing in 1760, by settlement of the earl of Arran, to John Butler of Kilcash, descendant of a younger brother of the first duke. John dying six years later was succeeded by Walter Butler, a first cousin, whose son John, heir-male of the line of Ormonde, became earl of Ormonde and Ossory and Viscount Thurles in 1791, the Irish parliament reversing the attainder of 1715. Walter, son and heir of the restored earl, was given an English peerage as Lord Butler of Llanthony (1801) and an Irish marquessate of Ormonde (1816), titles that died with him. This Lord Ormonde in 1810 sold to the crown for the great sum of £216,000 his ancestral right to the prisage of wines in Ireland. For his brother and heir, created Lord Ormonde of Llahthony at the coronation of George IV., the Irish marquessate was revived in 1825 and descended in the direct line.
The earls of Carrick (Ireland 1748), Viscounts Ikerrin (Ireland 1629), claim descent from a brother of the first Ormonde earl, while the viscounts Mountgarret (Ireland 1550) spring from a younger son of Piers, the Red Earl of Ossory. The barony of Caher (Ireland 1543), created for Sir Thomas Butler of Chaier or Caher-down-Eske, a descendant in an illegitimate branch of the Butlers, fell into abeyance among heirs general on the death of the 2nd baron in 1560. It was again created, after the surrender of their rights by the heirs general, in 1583 for Sir Theobald Butler (d. 1596), and became extinct in 1858 on the death of Richard Butler, 13th baron and 2nd viscount Caher, and second earl of Glengall. Buttler von Clonebough, genannt Haimhausen, count of the Holy Roman Empire, descends from the 3rd earl of Ormonde, the imperial title having been revived in 1681 in memory of the services of a kinsman, Walter, Count Butler (d. 1634), the dragoon officer who carried out the murder of Wallenstein.
See Lancashire Inquests, 1205-1307; Lancashire and Cheshire Record Society, xlviii.; Chronicles of Matthew Paris, Roger of Hoveden, Giraldus Cambrensis, etc.; Dictionary of National Biography; G.E.C.'s Complete Peerage; Carte's Ormonde papers; Paston Letters; Rolls of parliament; fine rolls, liberate rolls, pipe rolls, etc.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)