Thomas Dubh BUTLER

(10th E. Ormonde)

Born: 1531

Acceded: 1546

Died: 22 Nov 1614, Carrick

Buried: St. Canice, Kilkenny, Ireland

Notes: Knight of the Garter.

Father: James BUTLER (9° E. Ormonde)

Mother: Joan FITZGERALD (C. Ormonde/C. Desmond)

Married 1: Elizabeth BERKELEY ABT 1559 SEPARATION 1563

Married 2: Elizabeth SHEFFIELD (C. Ormonde) 9 Nov 1582, London, England


1. Elizabeth BUTLER

2. James BUTLER (1° V. Thurles)

Married 3: Helen BARRY Jun 1601


3. Piers FitzThomas BUTLER of Duisk

4. Thomas BUTLER (Sheriff of Tipperary) (d. 17 Jan 1605)

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Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormonde

by Stephen Van Der Meulen

Known as "Black Tom". Chief Butler of Ireland. 3° Earl of Ossory.

In 1543, James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormonde, had requested Henry VIII to grant a place at court to his heir Thomas, whom he despatched to court the next year. Already at court were two of Thomas’ first cousins, Lady Elizabeth Fitzgerald, daughter of the 9th Earl of Kildare – immortalised by the poet Thomas Surrey as ‘The Fair Geraldine’ – and Barnaby Fitzpatrick, son of the baron of Upper Ossory. Thomas and Barnaby joined group of ten or twelve noble youths whom Henry VIII had selected to be educated with his son Edward. While most of the other pupils changed in the course of the years, the two cousins remained until the school group was formally disbanded in autumn 1552, five years after Edward had come to the throne. Upon the accession of Edward VI, Thomas was made a Knight of the Garter. Ormonde actually participated in the Christmas festivities that year disguised as an ‘Almain’, or German. By 1552 Thomas had reached his majority and succeeded to earldom of Ormond, his father having died of food poisoning in London in 1546.

When Edward VI died in Jul 1553, his catholic sister Mary came to the throne, and Ormonde appears to have had no difficulty in accommodating himself to the changed regime. Black Tom won his spurs and possibly his nickname when suppressing the rebellion against Queen Mary of Sir Thomas Wyatt, whom some called White Tom. Mary retained the Earl at court for a further year, allowing him to return to Ireland in Oct 1554, along with Barnaby Fitzpatrick and Gerald Fitzgerald, 11th Earl of Kildare. Throughout the rest of his long life, Ormonde maintained his family’s tradition of unswerving loyalty to the crown, spending long periods at court, where he exploited the powerful connections his early education had given him.

Thomas Butler lived a considerably long life for his time, and gained a respect that no other man in Ireland would be able to obtain. He was considered to be an honest and upstanding peer by those in Ireland and England. Queen Elizabeth considered him to be a good friend and companion and trusted his opinion. Thomas made many enemies because of his honesty, candor and the fact that the Queen favored him.

He was a great strategist who had a standing army of Scot mercenaries called gallowglass. These incredible soldiers where popular in Ireland and were often used like a common commodity. Their brute strength and courageous tactics made them a formidable enemy against the English at Cashel, and Killroe, serving O’Neil and massacred an army of lanskanechts at the siege of Caracfergus. The Ormondes had kept an army of these men for over a hundred years and found them to be very useful in defending against the gallowglass of other factions. The MacSweeneys were in the Ormonde’s employ and cost a great deal of money to maintain. One thing was for sure: they were worth the money as almost every English noble that came with their armies to wipe out Irish rebels called upon Ormonde for the support or protection of his armies.

A very proficient diplomat, Thomas was responsible for swaying a great many rebels, including Hugh O’Neil, to swear to treaties of loyalty to the Crown. Ormonde was not the only person responsible for that act; O’Neil followed the suggestions of both Henry Sidney and the Earl Ormonde for they were the two English men for whom he held the highest respect. Thomas held a seat on the Privy Councils of both England and Ireland, and worked hard at stimulating the economy on his lands. He even went so far as to grant right of travel for young Irish boys to Bristol as apprentices in the hopes that they would return to Ireland as master tradesmen.

Ormonde, like his father continued to harbor aggressions with his neighbor and fellow countryman the Earl Desmond, as part of a hostile four-generation feud between the Geraldines (Desmond and kin) and the Butlers (Ormonde and kin). After the death of his mother, the Countess of Desmond, the old feud between the Butlers and Geraldines broke out again and Black Tom defeated the Earl of Desmond at the Battle of Affane in 1565, the last private pitched battle fought on the soil of the British Isles. These disputes ranged from issues of Loyalty to those of property right, boundary lines, policy, strategy and anything else that they could use to make peace a difficult solution. Finally in 1568, Desmond is thrown in the tower and must stay there for six years. In 1574 he is released and is to turn himself in to the jail in Dublin where he is allowed to escape and turns Rebel. Thomas, however, is not too distraught over this as he is in control of a fair amount of it in Desmond’s absence.

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Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormonde

Detail of Elizabeth in procession to Blackfriars in 1600
In the style of Peake
In a private collection

Ormonde and Queen Elizabeth met in London as children; Thomas the "son of an Irish Earl" and Elizabeth the "illegitimate daughter of Henry" shared a common ground as neither was well treated by the other young nobles in court. They were related through her mother Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth called him her ‘black husband’. In 1588 the Queen bestowed on Ormond what an Irish poet described as 'áirdchéim Ridireacht Gáirtéir, / ainm nár ghnáth é ar Éirionnach' (‘the high honour of Knighthood of the Garter, a title rare on an Irishman’).

Ormonde built a Tudor style castle (Carrick on Suir) along the river Sui, which he decorated lavishly and even had red brick chimneys built on, which, at the time, were very expensive. All of this was for one reason; to provide Elizabeth with a suitable palace at which to stay when she traveled to Ireland. Thomas lived eleven years after Elizabeth died and during her entire reign she never once set foot in Ireland.

Married three times, Thomas produced four children, three boys and one girl. One boy died at birth; the other two die as young adults and his daughter Elizabeth lived to be in her fifties. He had had at least 12 illegitimate children. Ormonde spent most of his time in England in the presence of the Queen and many rumors were issued as to the matter.

In 1614 Thomas died in his bed shortly after Christmas, in the Elizabethan manor he had built at Carrick, with the blue ribbon of the Order of the Garter around his neck, as it was every night since it was given to him. He was buried in St Canice's. His Will so favoured his eldest illegitimate son, Piers, as to suggest that the mother of Piers of Duisk was someone of great importance. Indeed, there is not lacking circumstantial evidence to support the persistent and rather startling rumor that the Virgin Queen bore him Piers Butler of Duiske, the father of Edmund, 1st Viscount Galmoy. Towards the end of 1553 she had the opportunity to conceive Piers Butler; in Feb 1554 she was said to be pregnant at Ashridge. In May, when offered physicians at Woodstock, she announced: "I am not minded to make any stranger privy to the state of my body but commit it to God".

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