Butler, James (1420–61), 5th earl of Ormond and earl of Wiltshire, was eldest son of James Butler (qv), 4th earl of Ormond, and his first wife, Joan, daughter of William Beauchamp, Lord Abergavenny. He was sent by his father to live with his grandmother in England while still an infant, in order to enhance the family's English connections. Butler was knighted by Henry VI at the Leicester parliament of May 1426, probably as part of an attempt to defuse the Talbot–Ormond feud in Ireland. By Christmas 1427 he had been summoned to court as a suitable companion for Henry VI, and so began his lifelong friendship with the king.
At court the young James seems to have followed a standard career, indenting for service in France with the king (1430), the duke of Bedford (1435), and the duke of York (1441). He also became a significant landholder in the west country through the inheritance of his wife Avice Stafford, whom he married sometime before August 1438. Butler accompanied the marquess of Suffolk to the proxy marriage of the king to Margaret of Anjou. He was created earl of Wiltshire (July 1449), and was more than willing to use his friendship with the king to his own benefit. He used his knowledge of the court and his royal patronage to amass great wealth, and increasingly came to be identified with the court faction in Lancastrian politics.
Wiltshire's inheritance of the earldom of Ormond (August 1452) made him even more important to the court faction. He was made a royal councillor before 1453, and was appointed lieutenant of Ireland in May 1453, but was unable to remove Richard (qv), duke of York, from the office and was removed as lieutenant during York's first protectorate. Wiltshire also held the office of treasurer of England (March–May 1455), but was removed from office by York's second protectorate. He was active in the various campaigns of the wars of the Roses and became one of the leading figures of the court faction opposed to Richard of York. After the death of his first wife, he married Eleanor Beaufort, sister of the duke of Somerset, and was elected as a knight of the Garter in 1459. He was again appointed lieutenant of Ireland (December 1459), but as before could not remove Richard of York. He fled to Flanders in early 1460, fearing a Yorkist invasion, but may have returned in time to join the battle of Wakefield (December 1460), in which the duke of York was killed.
Wiltshire and the earl of Pembroke were defeated (2 February 1461) at Mortimer's Cross by York's son, Edward, the future Edward IV. He fought at the battle of Towton (March 1461), and fled the field only to be captured and executed at Newcastle (1 May 1461). His lands in England and the earldom of Ormond passed to his brother John (qv), but were seized by the king (November 1461) after both men were attainted by the English parliament.