Acclaimed local author publishes new book charting history of the famous Butlers of Ormonde

John Kirwan's work to be launched in House of Lords

Brian Keyes

Reporter:

Brian Keyes

New  book on the Butlers

New book on the Butlers

Local author, historian and archivist John Kirwan will publish a new book next month on the history of one of the most famous Irish families - the Butlers of Ormonde.
Kirwan has produced some outstanding works on local history and his work - Kilkenny Families in the Great War - was an outstanding success.
The Anglo-Norman Butlers of Ireland arrived in Ireland in the retinue of Prince John, the youngest surviving son of Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Acquitaine, who endowed him with the Lordship of Ireland. Some time before
1192, Theobald Walter, a knight, was granted the hereditary office of Chief Butler of Ireland, from which his numerous descendants took their surname.
With the Fitzgeralds of Kildare and Desmond, the Butlers of Ormond became one of the three most important Anglo-Norman or Old English families of the Irish Lordship, and later of the Kingdom of Ireland. In time they became more Irish than the Irish. Accompanying the office was the prisage of wines, which secured for the family the right to about one-tenth of the cargo of any shipment of wine that broke bulk in Ireland.
Theobald fitz Walter and his senior male descendants, the earls of Ormond (cr. 1328), enjoyed this right until the crown bought it back in 1811 (by Act of Parliament) for the very large sum of £216,000, from the heavily indebted Walter Butler, 18th earl, who was also first marquess of the second creation. In the medieval period it was often a bone of contention between other great Irish and Anglo-Norman lords and the Butlers particularly the Fitzgeralds of Desmond and Kildare.
In October 1328, Edward III created James Butler, the 7th Hereditary Chief Butler of Ireland, the eldest son of Edmond Butler, earl of Carrick (cr. 1315), the first earl of Ormond, under which derivation in the peerages of Ireland, England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom his senior agnatic descendants advanced and waned, depending on their personal abilities and their particular services to the English crown. As well as being created an earl, James was married to the king’s first cousin, Eleanor de Bohun – herself a daughter of the Plantagenet, Princess Elizabeth, who was full sister to Edward II, and a daughter of Edward I – which bound him closer to the English crown. With the bride and the earldom came the palatinate of Tipperary, both of which were marks of great distinction. These came with extensive land grants. Eleanor, who was to live on until 1363, possibly lies buried in Gowran, where a magnificient memorial to a man and woman of rank survives from the fourteenth century.
The first five earls, all of whom bore the personal name of James, were pivotal political figures both here and in England. The 2nd earl, who was but six when he inherited, held many state offices. He used his daughters to create alliances with Gael and Anglo-Norman alike and by the time of his death in 1382, had secured the pre-eminence of his family in the south of Ireland, while at the same time shifting the focus of Ormond interest eastwards.
James the 3rd earl (a.1360–1405) successfully served Richard II and Henr IV, the latter in the French wars. In 1391, he purchased Kilkenny castle and its lands from the absentee Despensers. He maintained close relations with the royal court but had no difficulty in using Gaelic law and adopting elements of Gaelic culture when it suited him, and this despite the Statutes of Kilkenny enacted in 1366–7. The Anglo-Norman Butlers were well on the way to becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves.
Thomas, the 7th earl (c.1424–1515) spent the greater part of his life in England.
Hankford (1445) brought him extensive English estates, which, however, were not destined to give the succeeding earls of Ormond an English base, as these lands were inherited by his heirs-general – his daughters, the Lady Margaret Boleyn (grandmother of the unfortunate Queen Anne Boleyn the second wife of Henry VIII) and the Lady Anne St. Leger. When he died in 1515, he was chamberlain to Henry VIII’s first queen, Catherine of Aragon.
Sir Piers Butler (c.1467–1539) of the gaelicised Irish branch known as the MacRichard Butlers then came forth as the senior male claimant to the Ormond titles and lands. He was known generally as ‘Piers Ruadh’ Butler, no doubt because of his red hair, a characteristic he shared with his eldest son and successor, James ‘Lord Butler’. His magnificent tomb can still be seen in the south transept of St. Canice’s Cathedral.
Of the later earls of Ormond, the greatest were perhaps the Tudor Thomas Butler known as Black Tom the 10th earl of Ormond and his great-nephew, James Butler the 12th earl who was created 1st duke of Ormond by a grateful Charles 11 on his restoration to the Crown of England, Ireland Scotland and Wales in 1660. Subsequently during the time of the second duke the family became Jacobits and for a time lost lands and titles but were eventually restored to the latter in 1791. Later they were created marquess of Ormond at least twice. Charles Butler the last earl-marquess died in 1997 aged 98 years having spent most of his adult life in the USA. His immediate predecessor, Arthur Butler 6th marquess and 24th earl presented Kilkenny Castle initially to the people of Kilkenny who subsequentally vested it in the Irish state. With the land came about 16 acres of land the personal gift of the 6th marquess who had to compensate the Ormonde Trust Settlement to the tune of £16,000 which in 1967 would have bought a very good farm in county Kilkenny.
The book is being published by Irish Academic Press and should be in the local bookshops in May. A formal launch of the book will take place in London – in the House of Lords - during this year’s International Butler Rally which will take place from July 5-8. It’s only the third international Butler rally to be held outside Kilkenny since the society was founded in 1967.
The book will also give Butlers and their descendants throughout the world genealogical signposts to help them with their own family trees. Descendants include many an American president notably George Washington, and Queen Elizabeth 11 and her children which descent is through the Queen’s own mother, who was born Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon a direct descendant of James Butler 12th earl of Ormond (died 1688), who upon her marriage into the royal family became Duchess of York and later still Queen Consort of King George VI. Published by Irish Academic Press of Newbridge, Co. Kildare.