Butler, Edmund (c.1548–1602), 2nd Viscount Mountgarret , nobleman, was the son of Richard Butler (qv) (d. 1571), 1st Viscount Mountgarret, and his fourth wife, Ellen, daughter of Theobald Butler of Neigham, Co. Kilkenny. He had five brothers, Piers, Thomas, James, John, and Theobald, and five sisters, Margaret, Ellis, Elinor, Katherine, and Ellen. He grew up at Ballyragget castle, Co. Kilkenny, the main family seat.
By 1566, as he approached maturity, Edmund was established by his parents at Baleen castle, not far from Ballyragget, where he took command of a small garrison of Butler retainers. The time was not propitious for a young Irish lord hoping to make his mark by conventional means through demonstrations of martial prowess over neighbours and rivals. Increasingly the English government was demanding that local nobles and leaders curtail their traditional military activities by placing their troops under direct crown control; moreover, since the appointment of Sir Henry Sidney (qv) as lord deputy in 1565, the Butler territories had become the main focus of the government's campaign against private armies. Edmund was soon in trouble, charged with some unrecorded offence, and he had to sue for a pardon from the new governor before May 1566. Significantly, he kept a low profile thereafter, cooperating with the reorganisation of local forces that his father negotiated with Sidney's agents in 1567–8, on behalf of the head of the Butlers, Edmund's cousin Thomas Butler (qv), 10th earl of Ormond. When three of Ormond's brothers subsequently repudiated these and other changes and rebelled in summer 1569, Edmund's brothers Piers and James joined them in the field; but Edmund held back, a decision that contributed to the failure of the revolt.
By the time he succeeded his father as 2nd Viscount Mountgarret in December 1571 Edmund had become important to Ormond. The Butler rebellion, though unsuccessful, had challenged the authority of the most senior Butler lords to make decisions affecting their territories. To the earl's manifest relief Edmund joined him in purging the Butler lands of soldiers unwilling to embrace military reform. In return Edmund was made the chief commissioner of muster and array for Co. Kilkenny in 1573, taking charge of the new crown-approved shire levy; he obtained a similar position in Co. Wexford. In 1576, before leaving for court, Ormond made Mountgarret deputy governor of all the Butler territories during his absence, and through the earl's influence Edmund received power of martial law to help him enforce his rule.
In time, however, his closeness to Ormond brought other problems. Earl Thomas was a favourite of Elizabeth I, and many English officials resented his growing power in Ireland. In May 1577, as part of a new anti-Butler drive by Ormond's enemies in government, and with the connivance of Mountgarret's greatest adversary, his brother-in-law Barnaby Fitzpatrick (qv), the viscount was arrested on charges of aiding and abetting rebels in Laois. The charges were later dropped for lack of evidence, but the experience unsettled him. So too did the treatment he received in 1580–81, during the Desmond and Baltinglass risings, when, despite serving the crown, he was still viewed as suspect, partly because of his ongoing feud with the MacGillapatricks of Upper Ossory, but also because of his catholicism. His growing alienation from the central government dates from this period.
Speaking many years later, Mountgarret criticised the Elizabethan government for treating noblemen such as himself with disrespect. He recalled that when the Kilkenny county court was assembled for the assizes, the judges from Dublin had not allowed him to sit in judgment with them, but rather had compelled him to sit below them among commoners. Likewise, it is known that at the time of his first arrest, in 1577, he had been irked when required to serve under an English commoner on a royal commission. He was also antagonised by the periodic imposition of anti-catholic measures. But it was not until the 1590s that his resentment peaked, when the government ignored his claims to the earldom of Ormond following the death of Earl Thomas's only son and heir. He also resented Ormond himself, for the earl was seemingly determined to have the succession to the earldom pass to the sons of his brother, Sir Edmund Butler (qv) of Cloghgrenan, who had been attainted for leading the Butler rising in 1569. Mountgarret was untouched by attainder; moreover, on his mother's side he had, he felt, an older and better claim to the earldom than anyone else, through the house of Neigham. In June 1595 Ormond, in poor health, named him as one of two deputy commanders of the local forces following the outbreak of the Nine Years War. Some of the earl's servants doubted the wisdom of this decision.
Mountgarret rebelled four months later, in October 1595 agreeing to the marriage of his son and heir, Richard (qv), to a daughter of Hugh O'Neill (qv), earl of Tyrone, the great Ulster rebel. Tyrone was delighted with the match, which he hoped might elicit greater sympathy for his cause among some of the disaffected, but as yet uncommitted, lineages of the south, and he is reported to have given Mountgarret the honorific title of second-in-command of all his forces. Militarily, however, the viscount was unequal to such a lofty position. Unable to raise a large force of his own (thanks to the military reforms of earlier years), he was only a serious threat if Tyrone came south. Accordingly, when it came to campaigning he proved no match for Ormond. Within a year the earl had captured him and his eldest son, and in February 1597 he was led away as a prisoner to Dublin. Subsequently freed on promise of good behaviour, Mountgarret bided his time, waiting for Tyrone's arrival; but when in 1600 the Ulster lord appeared in Tipperary, the viscount was of little use, having lost possession of the key strategic site of Ballyragget castle to Ormond and government forces. His rebellion petered out.
Edmund Butler died in November 1602 and was buried in his father's tomb at St Canice's cathedral, Kilkenny. His wife, Grany, daughter of Brian MacGillapatrick (qv), first baron of Upper Ossory, was still living in 1600; it is not known when she died. They had fifteen children, eight sons and seven daughters. He carried out various building works, including the 1591 remodelling of the great chamber at Ballyragget, the evidence of which remains visible. Edmund was the subject of an anonymous bardic praise poem written about 1590. Some time after 1602, near Graigue in east Co. Kilkenny, his daughter Anne erected a wayside cross to his memory.