Thomas Butler

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Butler, Thomas, 10th Earl of Ormond, Earl of Ossory, surnamed the "Black Earl," born about 1532, was but fourteen at his father's death. He was brought up at the English court with Edward VI. who took delight in his company. Serving as a volunteer under the Duke of Somerset in Scotland, he distinguished himself by his bravery at the battle of Musselborough. In Queen Mary's reign he was made captain of a troop of horse, and gave distinguished proofs of fidelity and courage in the suppression of Wyatt's rebellion.

In 1554 he entered into possession of his estates; and within the next three years more than once marched under the Lord-Lieutenant against the Scots in Ulster. Soon afterwards he relieved the Earl of Thomond, besieged by the native septs at Bunratty. He stood high in the good graces of Queen Elizabeth, who made him Lord-Treasurer, and added to his estates out of the confiscated church lands.

In 1564 and 1565 Munster was wasted in conflicts between him and the Earl of Desmond. Ultimately Desmond and Sir John of Desmond were sent over to London and imprisoned; whereupon several of the southern chieftains, aided by the Earl of Ormond's brothers, Sir Edmund and Sir Pierce Butler, took the field against the Government. Ormond, in England at the time, was sent over to help to quell the insurrection. He landed at Waterford, 14th August 1569, and hastened to join the Lord-Deputy at Limerick. There his two brothers submitted and were pardoned. In consequence of the Desmond insurrection, he was, in 1578, made governor of Munster; and in 1580, in conjunction with Lord-Justice Pelham, made an expedition into Desmond. Carrigfoyle, Askeaton, and other fortresses were taken, and their garrisons put to the sword. In 1581 the Baron of Lixnaw, one of Desmond's chief followers, submitted to the Earl of Ormond, who interceded for and obtained his pardon.

In 1583 he obtained supplies of men, money, and ammunition from England, and made a determined effort to capture the Earl of Desmond, to this end carrying on a war of plunder and devastation in Munster. Within the space of a few months he cut off, of Desmond's party, "46 captains, 800 notorious traitors, and 4,000 common soldiers." Before long nearly all the great lords of the south submitted to him at Cork, and the Earl of Desmond was left a wanderer with but a few companions. It is much to Ormond's credit that he positively refused to accede to Burleigh's directions that he should disregard the protections he had accorded to the native chiefs. He wrote: "I will never use treachery to any man, for it will both touch Her Highness's honour and my own credit too much; and whosoever gave the Queen advice thus to write, is fitter to execute such base service than I am." The wars that desolated Munster were at length ended by the capture and death of the Earl of Desmond (11th November 1583).

In the ensuing confiscations, Ormond was given 3,000 acres in Tipperary, and a "great tract of poor land" in Kerry — less than he considered his fair share after the part he had taken on the Queen's side in the war. In the operations against O'N eill he commanded in different parts of the country. On 10th April 1600 he accompanied Sir George Carew and the Earl of Thomond to a parley near Kilkenny with Owney O'More. The parley resolved itself into a skirmish. Ormond was taken prisoner — Sir George and Thomond escaping with difficulty. At the instance of O'Neill, the Earl was released in June, giving Owney hostages for the payment of £3,000, should he thereafter seek revenge for the treacherous injuries he had received. After Elizabeth's death, he was confirmed in his office of Lieutenant-General by King James. He was blind the last twelve years of his life, and died at his house at Carrick, 22nd November 1614, and was buried at St. Canice's. Carte styles him "a man of very great parts, admirable judgment, great experience, and a prodigious memory; . . very comely and graceful, . of a black complexion which gave occasion to the Queen (in her way of expressing kindness to such as she favoured) to call him her ' black husband.'" This favour doubtless occasioned the undying hostility between him and the Earl of Leicester, whose ears he on one occasion boxed, and was therefor sent to the Tower. He repaired and beautified Kilkenny Castle, built an hospital at Kilkenny, and castles at Holycross and elsewhere. Thrice married, he left no heir. This Earl was a Protestant.


271. Ormond, Duke of, Life 1610-'88: Thomas A. Carte, M.A. 6 vols. Oxford, 1851.

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