1902 Encyclopedia > James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde

James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde
Anglo-Irish statesman and soldier
(1610-88)




JAMES BUTLER, TWELFTH EARL AND FIRST DUKE OF ORMONDE (1610-1688), was born at London on or about 19th October 1610. He was grandson of Walter, earl of Ormonde, and eldest son of Thomas, Yiscount Thurles, and Elizabeth Poyntz. His father having been drowned (15th December 1619) during the lifetime of Earl Walter, he became heir to the title and estates. By some legal artifice the boy was made a royal ward, and James I. at once removed him from his Catholic tutor and placed him in the household of Abbot, archbishop of Canterbury, with whom he stayed until 1626, after which he resided with his grandfather. In 1629, by his marriage with his cousin Elizabeth, the daughter of the earl of Desmond, he put an end to the long-standing quarrel between the families. In 1630 he accompanied the old earl to Carrick, and in 1632 succeeded him in the earldom.

He was already noted, as had been many of his race, for his fine presence and great bodily vigour. His active career began with the arrival of Strafford in 1633. In all ways he was forward in assisting the deputy, but showed such independence and masterfulness of character, along with considerable capacity, that Strafford was for a while doubtful whether to crush or to favour him. Reflecting that Ormonde was one of the richest and probably the most influential of the Irish nobility, he decided to secure his interest ; and Ormonde was throughout his government his chief friend and support. Such was the confidence felt in him that in April 1640, when Strafford was with Charles, he was made commander-in-chief of the forces. In August he was appointed lieutenant-general of the kingdom by Strafford, who, upon the death of Wandesford in Decem-ber, urged Charles to make him deputy. His loyalty to his chief was shown by the vehemence with which he defended him against the attacks of the Irish House of Commons. Upon Strafford's death, and, it is said, at his request, Ormonde was offered the vacant Garter, but refused it for reasons characteristic of the man (Carte). On the arrival of the news of the rebellion in 1641 he received another commission as lieutenant-general from Charles him-self, and, though much hampered by the lords justices, he did admirable service in the expedition to the Naas, and in the march into the Pale in 1642, after the rebellion had drawn in the Roman Catholic gentry of English descent. In both of these expeditions the ferocious traditions of Irish warfare were but too faithfully followed. So highly were his ser-vices regarded that he was publicly complimented by the English Parliament, who, along with their letter of thanks, sent him a jewel of the value of £620. On 15th April 1642 he gained the battle of Kilrush against Lord Mount-garret, and on 18th March in the following year that of Ross against Preston. In September 1643, the civil war in England having meanwhile broken out, the opposition between Ormonde, who always stood much upon his dig-nity, and the lords justices became more open and acute. Ormonde, seeing that the large army of Scots in Ulster was both unable to cope with the rebels and was ill-disposed to the king, and that the rebels had been successful at many points, concluded on 15th September the "cessation" with the latter, having power from Charles to treat with the recusants. He had previously, on 16th September 1642, been made a marquis by the king, and had been offered the lord-lieutenantship. This, however, he declined; but his command was made independent of Leicester. Ormonde now threw himself unreservedly into Charles's cause, and at his command sent a body of troops into England, having first exacted an oath of loyalty from the officers (see MONK); it, however, was shortly afterwards routed by Fairfax at the raising of the siege of Nantwich. On the arrival of the news of the " cessation " Charles, anxious to be quit of the Irish problem, which was complicated by the refusal of the Ulster Scots to concur in the "cessation," and desirous at the same time to see the country in safe hands, again offered Ormonde the supreme post, which he now accej>ted, receiving his commission in January 1644, with special instructions to do all in his power to keep the Scotch army occupied. In all the complications of Scots, Old Irish, Catholic Irish of English race, and Protestants, and in face of the intrigues of the Pope's nuncio as well as of the attempts of the Parliament's commissioners to Ulster to ruin his power, he showed firmness and ability, and especi-ally did his utmost to assist Antrim in his expedition into Scotland. He kept his post until the ground was cut from beneath him by Glamorgan's treaty with the Catholics in 1646, and until it was clear that he could not long hope to hold Dublin against the Irish rebels. He thereupon applied to the English Parliament, gave Dublin into their hands upon terms which protected the interests of both Protestants and Roman Catholics so far as they had not actually entered into rebellion, and sailed for England at the beginning of August 1647. He attended Charles during August and October at Hampton Court, and, after the king's escape to the Isle of Wight, appears to have been his agent in the preliminary negotiation regarding the "engagement" with the Scots. Having good reason to fear that the Parliament intended to secure his person, he hurriedly left England and joined the queen and prince of Wales at Paris in March 1648, where he was of great service in dealing with the agents of the revolted Irish. In September of the same year, the pope's nuncio having been expelled, and affairs otherwise looking favourable, he returned to Ireland to endeavour to unite all parties for the king. He concluded a peace with the rebels on the basis of the free exercise of their religion, proclaimed Charles II., and upheld the royal cause with great vigour though with slight success. He was meanwhile urgent with Charles that he should come in person, but was out-witted and overborne by the Scots and their friends at the king's court. Cromwell having become irresistible, and Charles, under the influence of Argyll, having annulled the peace just concluded, Ormonde returned to France in 1650. He had meanwhile, in September 1649, received the Garter from Charles II.

Ormonde now, though in great straits for want of money, resided in constant attendance upon Charles and the queen-mother at Paris, and accompanied the former when, on his dismissal from France, he went to Aix and Cologne. He appears to have incurred the queen's enmity by frustrating the attempts which she made to induce the duke of Gloucester to become Catholic. In 1658, at great risk, he went upon a secret mission into England, to gain trust-worthy intelligence as to the chances of a rising. He attended the king at the treaty of Fontarabia, and was actively engaged in the secret transactions immediately preceding the Restoration. In the distribution of honours which followed he had a considerable share: he was at once made lord steward of the household, a privy councillor, lord-lieutenant of Somerset, high steward of Westminster, Kingston, and Bristol, chancellor of Dublin University, Baron Butler of Llanthony, and earl of Brecknock; and on 30th March 1661 he was created duke of Ormonde in the Irish peerage and lord high steward of England. At the same time large grants, in recompense of the fortune he had spent in the royal service, were made by the king, while in the following year the Irish parliament presented him with ¿630,000. His losses, however, according to Carte, exceeded, his gains by a sum almost incredibly enormous. On 4th November 1661 he once more received the lord-lieutenantship of Ireland, and was busily engaged in the settlement of that country until 1664, His heart was in his government, and he vehemently opposed the bill prohibiting the importation of Irish cattle, which struck so fatal a blow at her trade; and, when it was passed, in order to lessen, as he thought, the misfortune, he prohibited the import of Scotch linen, and, further, obtained leave for a certain number of Irish vessels to trade with the foreign enemies of England. He encour-aged Irish manufactures and learning to the utmost, and it was to his efforts that the Irish College of Physicians owes its incorporation.





Ormonde's personality had always been a striking one. He had been noted for purity of life and purpose, and for generous and unswerving devotion to the royal cause, when purity and devotion, stimulated by the great argu-ment, were not rare in the court of Charles I. In the court of Charles II. he assumed a still more noteworthy character. At a time when every form of baseness had free course, he figured as almost the sole representative of the high-toned virtues of a nobler generation. Where everything was little he, by force of what is emphatically called " character " far more than by any special ability, was great. The friend and comrade of Strafford, one who had in the royal cause ungrudgingly spent a princely fortune, we see him standing aloof while persons like Bennet intrigued and lied for office or money. Of strict purity of life, he was a living rebuke to the Sedleys and Castlemaines who turned the court into a brothel. Com-pelled to see the councils of the king guided by dishonour, he acquired over him the influence which Charles was always ready to concede to greatness {e.g., Pepys, 19th May 1668). Proud of the loyalty of his race, which had been unspotted through five centuries, he bore with silent self-respect calumny, envy, and his seven years' loss of court favour, waiting until his master should be shamed into an acknowledgment of the wrong.

He soon became the mark for attack from all that was worst in the court. Buckingham especially did his utmost to undermine his influence. In his almost irresponsible government of Ireland during troublous times Ormonde had no doubt acted now and then in a way which offered advantage to men eager for his overthrow. He had billeted soldiers on civilians, and had executed martial law. The impeachment, however, threatened by Buckingham fell through. Nevertheless, by 1669, constant importunity had had its usual effect upon Charles, and Ormonde was removed from the government of Ireland and from the committee for Irish affairs. He made no complaint, insisted that his sons and others over whom he had influ-ence should retain their posts, and continued to fulfil with dignified persistence the duties of his other offices. The compromise made by Charles with his conscience was marked by a public declaration that, in spite of what had happened, Ormonde had in no degree lost his confidence.

By way of recompense, unsought honours came to him and his family. At the suggestion of Sheldon, Oxford chose him as her chancellor, while Dublin, ignoring Roberts, the new lord-lieutenant, gave to his eldest son Ossory the freedom of the city.

In 1670, while driving through London, he was attacked and dragged out of his carriage by the well-known ruffian Blood, who had been deeply concerned in the attempt upon Dublin Castle in 1663. By whom he was set upon this deed is not known, though Ossory publicly laid it to the charge of Buckingham. Nothing appears to have saved Ormonde's life but the whim of Blood to hang him at Tyburn. The delay thus caused, and Ormonde's vigorous resistance, gave time for rescue. What was the mysterious connexion between Blood and the court has never been discovered; but it is certain that Charles, when Blood was captured, himself asked Ormonde to pardon him.

In 1671 Richard Talbot came over from Ireland in order, if possible, to secure the repeal of the Act of Settlement in favour of the dispossessed Irish gentry. Ormonde was placed on the committee of investigation, and did his utmost to frustrate Talbot's endeavours.

The return of Ormonde to favour, and his appointment to the government of Ireland in 1677, were characteristic both of the times and of Charles himself (Carte). It appears probable that it was the result in a great measure of the desire of James to set up a rival to Monmouth, for whom Shaftesbury had requested the lord-lieutenantship. On his arrival in Ireland he was for a considerable time occupied in placing the revenue and the army upon a proper footing. Upon the outbreak of the Popish terror in England he at once took the most vigorous and compre-hensive steps, though with as little harshness as possible, towards rendering the Catholics, who were in the pro-portion of 15 to 1, powerless (Carte), So mild, however, did his measures appear that they served, in spite of the fact that Ireland was kept in perfect peace, as a reason for an attack upon him in England, which was led by Shaftesbury, and from which he was defended with great spirit by his son Ossory, He kept his course, giving even justice to both religious parties, and Charles had the good sense to refuse to remove him.

Hitherto Ormonde had been singularly fortunate in his family life. But in 1680 he lost his eldest son Ossory, a pure and gallant man, and this was but the beginning of his private sorrows. In 1682 Charles summoned Ormonde to court, and from that time retained him about his person. His first duty was to answer, at the king's request, the memoirs published by the earl of Castlehaven, in which he had reflected upon Charles I. His vigour also during the election of aldermen and during the disputed election of sheriffs for the city after Shaftesbury's acquittal was of the greatest service to the court, On 9th November 1683 an English dukedom was conferred upon him, and in June 1684 he returned to Ireland; scarcely, however, had he set out when intrigues against him once more proved suc-cessful, and he was recalled in October, Before, however, he could give up his government to Rochester, Charles II. died, and Ormonde's last act as lord-lieutenant was to pro-claim James II, in Dublin. On his return to London he was met with all the pomp and ceremony which, while him-self of simple tastes, he had always practised as befitting his office and name. He now lived much in retirement at Cornbury (Oxfordshire), signalizing, however, his loyalty to Protestantism and the Church of England by opposing the attempts of James to assume the dispensing power, in spite of which James to his credit refused to take away his offices, and continued to hold him in respect and favour to the last. On Saturday, 21st July 1688, he died quietly of decay, not having, as he rejoiced to know, "outlived his intellectuals." He was buried in Westminster Abbey on the 1st of August.

The principal authorities for Ormonde's life are Carte's Life and the Carte papers in the Bodleian, the article "Butler" in the Biographia Britannica, Cox's and Leland's Histories of Ireland, and the diaries and memoirs of the period. (O. A.)






The above article was written by: Osmund Airy.



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