Butler, James (c. 1496–1546), 9th earl of Ormond and 2nd earl of Ossory, lord treasurer of Ireland, was eldest son of Piers Butler (qv), 8th earl of Ormond and 1st earl of Ossory, and his wife Margaret Butler (qv), daughter of Gerald FitzGerald (qv), 8th earl of Kildare. In 1513 he took part in Henry VIII's invasion of northern France, was wounded in the leg and left with a lifelong limp. This did not deter him from soldiering on his return to Ireland, accompanying his father on military expeditions. In October 1520 a plan to marry him to a daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn was proposed, to end the controversy over the descent of the earldom of Ormond. Though nothing came of this, it led to his being at court for much of the 1520s, first in the household of Cardinal Wolsey, and then in the king's household; by 1527 he had risen to be esquire of the body. He proved a loyal courtier, while at the same time acting as a partisan for his father.
Returning to Ireland in February 1528, he was soon drawn into the Butler feuds with the Kildare FitzGeralds and their allies, and was briefly a prisoner of Brian O'Connor Faly (qv). In 1530 he married Joan, the daughter of James FitzGerald (qv), 11th earl of Desmond, probably in an attempt to foster better relations between the Butlers and the Geraldines of Desmond. He became increasingly embroiled in the Butler-Kildare feuds, raiding FitzGerald estates. When his brother Thomas was killed in Upper Ossory in 1532 by the MacGillapatrick allies of the FitzGeralds, the report Butler sent to the king may have been partly responsible for Henry's decision to summon Kildare to London. Henry demonstrated his trust in Butler by appointing him lord treasurer of Ireland. He remained firmly loyal to the crown during the Kildare rebellion, and played an important role in defeating the Kildare cause in the south. He was rewarded by the king with several offices, including the admiralty of Ireland (May 1535). The defeat of the Geraldines left Butler and his father, Piers, as the foremost Anglo-Irish magnates in Ireland. Created Viscount Thurles in January 1535 he continued to be referred to as Lord Butler.
Butler succeeded to the earldoms of Ormond and Ossory on his father's death (August 1539). He benefited greatly from the land grants of the 1530s, and emerged as the most powerful magnate in Ireland, with an increasingly strong grip over the Dublin government. He made clear to the king his unequivocal support for Henry's break with papal jurisdiction. He was central to the opposition to Lord Leonard Grey (qv), which resulted in Grey's dismissal from the office of deputy lieutenant and quite probably his eventual execution. Grey's successor, Anthony St Leger (qv), was at first well disposed to Ormond, who acted as his spokesman in the Irish parliament when the bill declaring Henry king of Ireland was being enacted. But by 1542 St Leger had come to distrust the extent of his power, seeing him as a potential threat to the stability of the kingdom in the same way that Kildare had been in the 1530s. Ormond, however, continued to be completely loyal to the king, and served in the Scottish campaigns of Henry VIII under the leadership of the earl of Lennox. The disputes between St Leger and Ormond grew increasingly heated with both men summoned to London, but a settlement was reached in England in the summer of 1546, in which Ormond retained much of his power in return for a few concessions.
Ormond died of food poisoning in October 1546, eleven days after attending a feast in London. He was succeeded in the earldom by his fifteen-year-old son Thomas Butler (qv). The unusual circumstances of his death, coming at the height of his power, caused many to suspect that he was poisoned by St Leger, but at the time it was accepted as an accident, and no inquest was held. His unexpected death created a power vacuum within Ireland, in much the same way as the Kildare rebellion had done a decade earlier, removing a traditional focus of authority within the kingdom, and leaving the Dublin administration with a relatively free hand to rule, something it had not had for centuries.