Butler, Charles (1671–1758), 2nd earl of Arran , 3rd titular duke of Ormond, soldier and Jacobite, was born 4 September 1671 in Dublin, second son of Thomas Butler (qv) (1634–80), earl of Ossory, and his wife Lady Amelia, eldest daughter of Louis, lord of Nassau, baron of Beverweart, La Leeke, Odyke, and Averquerque, and governor of Sluys, a natural son of Maurice, prince of Orange, and Madam de Beverweart, countess of Mecklin. Having attended the University of Oxford, the young Charles embarked on a grand tour of Europe with Samuel Waring (1660–1739) of Co. Down and Maximilian Mission, a Frenchman who later published an account of their trip.
Butler took the Williamite side in the Jacobite war. While campaigning in Ulster he spent a year in the house of his friend Samuel Waring at Castlewaring, Co. Antrim. In a letter, Samuel's father William described his guest Charles Butler as a ‘very hopeful gentleman, free from the vices too common amongst soldiers’ (William Waring to William Layfield, c.September 1691, Waring papers). Like his brother, Charles reaped great rewards for his adherence to the Williamite cause. In January 1694 William III (qv) created him Baron Butler of Weston in the English peerage, and two months later earl of Arran in the Irish peerage. Lord of the bedchamber to William III (1699–1702), he rose steadily through the ranks of the British army: colonel of the 6th Regiment of Horse (1697–1703), colonel of the 3rd Troop of Horse (1703–15), brigadier-general, major-general (1704), and lieutenant-general (1708). In 1713 he replaced Lt-gen. Richard Ingoldsby (qv) as master of the ordnance of Ireland (June) and was made governor of Dover castle and deputy-governor of the Cinque Ports (July). He resigned these three posts on Queen Anne's demise. After the impeachment (1715) of his brother James (qv), 2nd duke of Ormond, he succeeded him as high steward of Westminster and as chancellor of Oxford University, two posts which he held until his death.
Although Arran's Jacobitism is suggested as early as 1692 by his association with the abortive contemporary invasion plot, he found himself among the leading English Jacobites in the aftermath of his brother's flight in 1715. The Stuart papers in Windsor castle for the period 1715–22 show his pivotal role in Jacobite affairs and the esteem in which he was held by Jacobites on both sides of the Channel, including the Old Pretender, James III. Despite his Jacobite sympathies, in 1721 he obtained a private act of the English parliament permitting him to purchase the 2nd duke's forfeited Irish estates, which had been vested in the crown.
An absentee, he had little direct influence on his Kilkenny estates. Alex Clayton, sent to examine the earl's affairs in Dublin and Kilkenny c.1723/4, drew up a detailed forty-point survey covering surviving rent rolls, Arran's credit and debt, arrrears and leases, and the state of Kilkenny castle and the manor houses of Dunmore and Carrick-on-Suir. The earl continued to pay curacies, proxies, and the salaries of the teachers in the Ormond school founded by his grandfather. More importantly he used his political influence in England to protect his catholic relatives, the Plunkett earls of Fingall, from religious persecution in the aftermath of the Hanoverian succession. He also acted on behalf of the Brownes of Kenmare, and when the 3rd Viscount Kenmare (qv) had to sell off part of his estate to pay his creditors, Arran became one of the trustees of his estate. When Kenmare died (1736), Arran, his closest protestant relative, became the guardian of his 10-year old son Thomas Browne (qv), the 4th Viscount Kenmare; he had him brought back from the English seminary at Douai and placed under the tutelage of the vice-chancellor of Oxford, Dr King.
Arran continued his association with Jacobitism in the 1720s and 1730s. Created duke of Arran by the titular James III (1722), he did not employ this title, nor, on his brother's death (1745), that of 3rd duke of Ormond . He was party to secret meetings between the exiled Stuart king and Lord Cornbury (great-grandson of his grandfather's old ally, the 1st earl of Clarendon), which sought a Stuart restoration by offering places to the leading whigs and tories in opposition, a plot that had the support of the French foreign minister, Chauvelin. In the aftermath of the upsurge of Jacobite activity that preceded the 1745 rebellion, a concerted attempt was made to divest him of the chancellorship of Oxford. Only an ‘agreed coalition’ with George II's estranged son Frederick, prince of Wales, and the threat of widespread unrest finally thwarted the threat to his chancellorship.
Arran died in his eighty-eighth year at his lodgings near the tilt yard, Whitehall, and was buried 23 December 1758 at St Margaret's, Westminster, with all the honours (both of England and Ireland) conferred on him, along with the dukedom and marquessate of Ormond (as the sole remaining male heir of his grandfather, the 1st duke (qv)). The dukedom and marquessate became extinct on his death. The claims to the titles of Ormond and Ossory and the viscountcy of Thurles devolved on to his heir male, his cousin John Butler of Kilcash, who died childless in 1766 and was succeeded by his cousin Walter, who moved from Garrylicken to the castle, where he resided until his death (1783).
In 1715 Thomas Herne described Arran as ‘a person of middle size (much the same height as his brother the duke) and is of a sanguine complexion, and seems to be as modest as he is good-natured’. Bishop Burnet deemed him ‘a man of good sense though he seldom shows it, of a fair complexion. of middle stature and about forty years of age’. Swift commented that he was ‘most negligent of his own affairs’. In later years Horace Walpole described Arran as ‘an inoffensive old man, the last male line of the illustrious house of Ormond, much respected by the Jacobites, who have scarce any partizans whom they might venerate’ (G.E.C., Peerage, i, 226–7).
Arran's greatest indirect contribution to Irish history was his patronage of Thomas Carte (qv), whom he engaged to write a biography of his grandfather, the 1st duke of Ormond. He delivered 153 bundles of letters to Carte and authorised him to search in the evidence room at Kilkenny castle. These papers form the bulk of the Carte collection in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The rest of Arran's papers, including his will (dated 19 January 1757 and two codicils), are in the Ormond MSS in the NLI.