From Irish Family Histories
Copyright © 1993 Ida Grehan
Reprinted by permission.
|The tomb of Piers and Margaret Butler
0 Mahony (q.v.), a Cork lawyer and inimitable raconteur who popularized
Irish family history in his lively broadcasts from Radio Eireann, said
of the Butler family: "Numerically and historically the Burkes, FitzGeralds
and Butlers are the three Norman families outstanding in the moulding of
the history of Ireland following the invasion of 1169. They have been remarkably
consistent in producing able churchmen, soldiers and administrators. Their
history brings them to the forefront of Irish history for 800 years".
They are also a very well-documented and
close-knit family. The Butler Society girdles the world, and this accounts
for the success of their international rally held in their castle at Kilkenny
every few years.
Butler is a common name in both England and
Ireland. In fact, there has usually been a Butler in both camps. The Butlers
came to Ireland when Theobald Fitzwalter (d. 1205), whose brother
was Archbishop of Canterbury, landed in Waterford in 1185 with Prince John
(later to be King). Theobald was awarded generous grants of land in counties
Limerick, Tipperary and Wicklow and Henry II gave him the hereditary title
of Le Boitiler-the king's chief butler, a title of function.
Theobald was a popular family name. A later
Theobald (d. 1285) was the Butler who was awarded the Royal grant
of the "prisage of wines", which meant he was entitled to "about
one tenth of the cargo of any wine ship that broke bulk in Ireland".
In 1810, this rewarding office was declared redundant and Walter Butler,
Marquess of Ormond, fell heir to 2l6,000 pounds in compensation.
Consolidating their position, the Butlers
ringed the country with castles, married noble Irish ladies, fervently
built churches and abbeys and went on the Crusades. Because of their closeness
to the English court, the Butlers collected at least 25 patents of nobility,
so that branches of the house of Ormond-the main Butler designation--included
such titles as Dunboyne, Cahir, Mountgarrett, Galmoy, Ossory. There have
been a number of Butler bishops, including Edmund, Prior of Athassel
Abbey in Tipperary for fourteen years until 1537, when Thomas Cromwell
deposed him. The Butlers fell victim to the Cromwellians, who feared their
power in Ireland. They were strong military men, who took part in all the
main battles from Agincourt in France to the Boyne and Aughrim.
Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond
(d. 1515), was grandfather to Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, who,
although she lost her head, provided him with the daughter who was to become
Queen Elizabeth I. This fearsome queen features in voluminous Butler records.
Her cousin, the 10th Earl of Ormond, Thomas Butler (d. 1614), who
had been reared at the English court, built a magnificent Tudor manor at
Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, expecting her to visit him, which she
failed to do. Lord Dunboyne, the present Butler family historian, writes
in his Butler Family History: "The Butlers bred like rabbits immune
from myxomatosis". Black Tom, as the 10th Earl of Ormond was nicknamed,
was a prime example. Three times married, he had, apart from his legal
offspring, twelve known illegitimate children. One of his natural sons
who received considerable estates from his father, Piers Fitzthomas
Butler, according to a strong local tradition, was the fruit of Thomas'
affection for the Virgin Queen!
The Butlers and the FitzGeralds, the mighty
Earls of Kildare, despite intermarrying, were constantly feuding. Between
them they alternated the administration of Ireland.