Butler, Elizabeth (c.1585–1628), countess of Desmond and Lady Dingwall , was the only daughter of Thomas Butler (qv), 10th earl of Ormond, and his English-born second wife Elizabeth Sheffield, daughter of John, Lord Sheffield, and Lady Douglass Howard. She had one sibling, a brother, James Butler, Viscount Thurles, who died aged six in 1590. She spent some of her earliest years in England, where her father was a major figure at the Elizabethan court. For a period she and her mother may have resided with him in his apartments overlooking the Thames, in Canon Row. At some time before February 1593 she returned to Ireland.
Little is known of this phase of her life except that she came to believe that one day she would return to England to be married to a great English lord. Everything changed, however, following the rebellion in 1596 of her Carlow cousins, the Butlers of Cloghgrenan. Before this date the succession to the earldom of Ormond had seemed settled. Entailed in the male line, it was supposed to pass to the eldest surviving son of Earl Thomas's brother (Elizabeth's uncle) Sir Edmund Butler (qv), the head of the Cloghgrenan line. To safeguard the Cloghgrenan succession and avert the danger of a successional war among other branches of the Butler dynasty, Earl Thomas decided to nominate Sir Edmund's youngest son, Theobald, as his heir-designate. Theobald was not implicated in his family's revolt because he was too young to have taken part; to render him more acceptable to the royal government, Earl Thomas hit upon the idea of seeking a royal dispensation for Theobald to marry his daughter. Elizabeth herself complied: instead of one day being an English countess, she would be countess of Ormond. And so it was that during Christmas 1602 she made her court debut at Whitehall Palace as a suitor for her own marriage. Coached by her grandmother, Douglass Howard, on being presented to Queen Elizabeth I she reportedly made a great impression. A few weeks later, on 22 January 1603, the dying queen agreed to the marriage. Soon after, Theobald was made Viscount Tulleophelim by the new monarch, James I.
Life with Theobald proved a great disappointment. Earl Thomas, despite old age and failing health, was reluctant to grant his nephew either authority or wealth to match his new-found status as his heir; frustrated, Theobald turned on his wife, reportedly abusing Elizabeth, so that the marriage foundered, childless. The viscount's death in December 1613 did little to improve Elizabeth's position. In the confident expectation that eventually he would inherit the vast Ormond estate, her late husband had run up many debts; the payment of these now passed to her, but without access to the Ormond revenues, which instead were to pass to Earl Thomas's new heir, Walter Butler (qv) of Kilcash. To make matters worse, Walter of Kilcash also inherited the Tulleophelim lands in Carlow, leaving Elizabeth with few means to satisfy her late spouse's creditors except a handful of properties earlier set aside for her by her father.
To escape her predicament Elizabeth had to find another husband. Between 1 October and 24 November 1614 she married the Scottish courtier and occasional ambassador to Venice Sir Richard Preston, Lord Dingwall. Her father, who died on 22 November, was opposed to the marriage, fearing the ambitions of her new husband. Supported by Buckingham, the royal favourite, Preston lost no time in advancing his wife's claims, as Earl Thomas's heiress, to the earldom of Ormond and all its lands. With the Jacobean government distrustful of the new earl of Ormond, Walter Butler, and King James eager to help Preston, the fact that the earldom was entailed was easily overcome by means of a royal arbitration. Announced on 3 October 1618, the arbitration awarded more than half the Ormond estate to Elizabeth and her spouse, including Kilkenny castle, all the Ormond manors bar one in Co. Kilkenny, all the earldom's former monastic possessions in the same county, and the lordship of Arklow in Co. Wicklow, besides many other properties in Co. Carlow and Co. Tipperary. The centuries-old dominance of the Ormond lordship in southern Ireland was shattered. In July 1619 Preston and Elizabeth were created earl and countess of Desmond and baron and baroness of Dunmore.
Yet their triumph was not all it seemed. Ormond's trustees and lawyers obstructed the implementation of the award, and it was several years before Lord and Lady Desmond were able to secure full possession of their estate or begin collecting rents. When Countess Elizabeth arrived to take up residence in Kilkenny castle in 1623 she found her old family home in a sorry state, lacking proper furniture and bedding, and had to retire to Dunmore. Her support for her husband's promotion of a pretender to the Ormond title seems to have been genuine, in that she believed a male heir of the Cloghgrenan line had been born, and brought up secretly in Connacht, but when the candidate was unmasked as a fraud by senior Butlers she shared in the social scandal that the case excited and lost face with the local community of the Ormond territories. She left Ireland in August 1624, sailing from Passage, and seems never to have returned.
Elizabeth died 10 October 1628. Her remains were buried at Westminster Abbey six months later, presumably as a reinterment, on 17 March 1629. Her husband Earl Richard died soon after her, about 28 October 1628, drowned at sea while sailing to Wales to attend to her funeral. The couple left only one child, a daughter, Elizabeth Preston (qv), the future duchess of Ormond.