Butler, James (1665–1745), 2nd duke of Ormond, soldier, lord lieutenant of Ireland, and Jacobite, was born 29 April 1665 in Dublin castle, second but eldest surviving son of Thomas Butler (qv), 6th earl of Ossory, and his wife Emilia, daughter of Lodewijk van Nassau, Heer van Beverwaert, Dutch envoy to England (and himself an illegitimate son of the former stadholder Prince Maurits). On his father's death vita patris (July 1680), James became heir apparent to his grandfather, the 1st duke (qv), whom he eventually succeeded (July 1688).
Youth and early career The young Lord James Butler (as he was known until his father's death) was a sickly child. To improve his health he was sent by his grandfather to France, ‘to learn the French air and language’. It was an unhappy experience: his tutor, the huguenot Peter Drelincourt (qv), kept him short of money and took him off to the principality of Orange, against his will and the duke's express instructions. Eventually relief came with Drelincourt's dismissal and a brief interlude spent in Paris, before Butler was summoned back to England (1679) to be entered at Christ Church, Oxford. His college tutor, Henry Aldrich, claimed to have detected ‘quickness and apprehension’ in the young nobleman, but to contemporaries what was most remarkable about him was his extravagance with money. He may already have begun to acquire the reputation of a rakehell, of which lampoonists were to make so much. Within a year, however, he had left the university, after his father's untimely death. In deference to his grandfather (who was chancellor of both universities) he was later awarded various degrees at both Oxford and Dublin, and was called to the bar at the Middle Temple. Although his health was still not robust, his earliest contribution to public life was to be in a military capacity. He received the colonelcy of a regiment of horse while not yet 19, and joined the French army as a spectator at the siege of Luxemburg (1686). His connections at court, which scarcely needed such reinforcement, had been strengthened still further by his marriage (15 July 1682) to Anne Hyde, daughter of Laurence, 1st earl of Rochester (qv), and a niece of the duke of York, the future James II (qv). After her death in January 1685 Butler (earl of Ossory since his father's death) quickly remarried (3 August 1685) into another powerful high-church family, his second wife being Lady Mary Somerset, a daughter of Henry Somerset, 1st duke of Beaufort. While still a minor, Ossory received a summons to James II's English parliament, where he sat in the lords as Baron Butler of Moore Park. He also held a post in the royal household as a gentleman of the bedchamber, and on his grandfather's death inherited not only the dukedom, but the cluster of honorific appointments that the 1st duke had enjoyed: as chancellor of TCD and of the university of Oxford (to which he was hurriedly elected in the summer of 1688 as a trustworthy anglican, by a convocation fearful for its own continued independence), high steward of the corporations of Westminster and Bristol, and governor of the Charterhouse. On 28 September King James invested him with the order of the Garter.
Williamite, 1688–1702 None of this was sufficient to retain his loyalty at the ‘Glorious revolution’, when he left James's court (in company with Prince George of Denmark), and took up arms under William (qv), prince of Orange. There are several possible explanations for this decision: simple opportunism; the personal attraction of Prince William, who had been a close friend of Ormond's father, and to whom he was in any case related through his mother; and political principle. Throughout the crisis Ormond behaved exactly as one would have expected a staunch tory to do, putting the interest of the established church before everything else, yet reserving some scruples over parliamentary interference with the royal line of succession. Early on he had signed the petition to James II for a ‘free parliament’, and in the convention (January 1689) he voted with other high tories in favour of a regency, before eventually acquiescing in the transfer of the crown. Once William and Mary were established on the throne of England, he began to reap the rewards of his change of allegiance. He attended the coronation of the new king and queen as lord high constable of England, and was named as a gentleman of the king's bedchamber. Later he became a privy councillor in both Ireland and England, added Exeter to his clutch of borough stewardships, and was made lord lieutenant of Somerset, the county in which the bulk of his English property was situated. It was in the army, however, that his career was to lie. Granted the colonelcy of the 2nd troop of Life Guards, he served in all of King William's Irish campaigns, in which he had a personal interest, having been attainted by James II's parliament in Dublin in 1689. He was present at the Boyne, and during William's stay in Ireland entertained the king in extravagant style at Kilkenny castle. Subsequently, he saw action in the Low Countries during the war of the league of Augsburg, spending every summer between 1688 and 1697 on campaign. Having made a particular impression on the king by his bravery at the battle of Walcourt (1689), he was soon promoted major-general. He distinguished himself again at Steenkerk in 1692, and the following year at the battle of Landen, where he was badly wounded and briefly taken prisoner. By 1697 he had added sufficient lustre to the already glittering reputation of his family to make him an influential figure in the political life of his native country. In the parliamentary session of 1697–8 he took his seat in the Irish house of lords, acting as a focus for tory sentiment among those members of parliament who adhered to the cavalier traditions of his grandfather's day, or who had contracted high-church enthusiasm from England. He was not a notable parliamentary performer, however, and may have been more of a figurehead than a leader of the emergent tory interest in Ireland. He also began to acquire some political importance in England. In 1699 William promoted the Dutch favourite Albemarle over Ormond's head to be first commander of the Life Guards. In pique Ormond resigned his commission, provoking a political storm that forced William to a compromise and enabled Ormond to withdraw his resignation. This episode seems to have had no lasting effects on personal relations between the two men. Ormond visited the king in his last illness, and was present at his deathbed (March 1702).
If Ormond had prospered in William's reign, he was to reach new heights of favour under Queen Anne, whose own high-church sympathies inclined her to the tories. In addition, Ormond could boast a family connection with the new monarch herself, through his first wife. However, the new reign did not begin auspiciously for him. In 1702 he commanded the land forces sent with Sir George Rooke's fleet to attack Cadiz, an expedition that not only failed in its strategic object but brought disgrace on the forces of the crown through the licentious behaviour of the troops who sacked Porta Santa Maria, and in the process alienated Spanish opinion at a crucial stage in the beginning of the war of Spanish succession. Rooke's subsequent capture and destruction of the Spanish treasure fleet at Vigo Bay, aided by a land assault commanded in person by Ormond, went some way towards glossing over the infamy of Cadiz, but the whole enterprise underlined Ormond's deficiencies as a military commander: for all his courage in action he had a poor grasp of strategy, and insufficient strength of character to assert himself in a crisis. It was to be a paradox of his public career, however, that his own failures, both military and political, did nothing to tarnish the glamour of the Butler name. So great was his personal and family prestige, in England as well as in Ireland, that he quickly went on from this unpromising beginning to greater public trusts, moving on from one high office to another, and retaining a unique influence among tories in both kingdoms.
Lord lieutenant of Ireland, 1703–07 In February 1703 Ormond was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland after the dismissal of his former father-in-law, Rochester, on the assumption that a popular Anglo-Irish magnate, with a substantial personal following in both houses of the Irish parliament, might be able to carry off a difficult and necessary parliamentary session. Anglo–Irish relations were, to say the least, delicate, as a result of the repeated interference of the English parliament in Irish affairs, beginning with the issue of the appellate jurisdiction of the Irish house of lords (in the case of the bishop of Derry v. the Irish Society), extending to the woollen act of 1699, and culminating in the resumption of William's grants of Irish forfeited estates. A general election would also be necessary at the outset of a new reign, and the outcome was uncertain. Ormond arrived in Dublin in June 1703, and opened the new parliament in September 1703. His first attempt at political management was always likely to be a trying experience. At the end of this first parliamentary session (March 1704) he could look back on some successes: a grant of ‘additional duties’ for two years, and the suppression of another manifestation of the dispute over appellate jurisdiction between the Irish and English parliaments (the cause célêbre on this occasion being Ward et al. v. the earl of Meath). On the other hand, his under-managers, led by his chief secretary Edward Southwell (qv), had not prevented the Irish house of commons from denouncing the forfeiture trustees, exposing corruption in the Castle administration, condemning grants of pensions to foreigners, and passing resolutions about the desperate state of the Irish economy. Not even the enactment of one of the most important and comprehensive of the penal laws, the ‘act to prevent the further growth of popery’, secured the government's popularity. Ormond's essential problem lay in the fact that he himself, as a tory, represented a particular party interest (in an Irish parliament in which ‘party’, in the sense of tory and whig, was becoming increasingly important), while presiding over a mixed administration that included several prominent whigs. This arrangement gave confusing signals to backbenchers as to the direction of government policy. In particular, one whig politician, the attorney general Alan Brodrick (qv), having been chosen speaker with Ormond's reluctant consent, proceeded to exploit his position to lead popular campaigns on ‘patriotic’ issues.
By the time Ormond returned to Dublin (November 1704) these difficulties were largely overcome. Brodrick's behaviour in 1703/4 provoked a purge of whigs from office in Ireland, and the reconstruction of the Castle administration on a more partisan basis. The after-effects of the imposition of the sacramental test in the 1704 popery act (an addition that Ormond himself had not sought), and the recall of the convocation of the Church of Ireland (for which Ormond could again claim no responsibility) created a political atmosphere in which Irish whigs were on the defensive. The passage of legislation in England to assist the nascent Irish linen industry conciliated Irish public opinion. Ormond's wife had also played a part in boosting the duke's popularity. She had remained behind in Ireland while he had returned to England in 1704, and had busied herself in philanthropic activities, including the encouragement of a proposed workhouse to provide employment and shelter for some of the Dublin poor. In the parliamentary session of February–June 1705 Ormond's tory under-managers were thus able to carry off their parliamentary duties more effectively, secure another subsidy, and avoid embarrassment at the hands of the opposition. How much of this was owing to Ormond himself is difficult to say. The lord lieutenant presided over the conduct of parliamentary affairs at a remote distance. He did not concern himself with the details of political management, but gave dinners and entertainments for peers and MPs when required to do so. His own personal following in the Irish parliament is also hard to estimate: he was able to nominate members for a few boroughs (though the number declined at each election, until in 1713 probably no more than four successful candidates owed their return directly to his recommendation), employed some in his household or in the offices of the palatinate of Tipperary, and recommended others for places in government and in the army. But he could probably claim far fewer direct dependants or clients than his grandfather had commanded, and seems to have relied as much on personal reputation and the fact that he embodied, through his inheritance and personal opinions, the tradition of cavalier loyalism in Ireland.
Lord lieutenant of Ireland, 1710–13 Despite the successes of the 1705 session, Ormond was removed from the viceroyalty in April 1707, as the balance of the parties changed at court, and the whig junto came to exercise greater influence. He was restored (October 1710) after the ministerial reshuffle that had brought Robert Harley to power in Britain at the head of a strongly tory government. In the meantime the whig Lord Wharton (qv) had reconstructed the Irish administration to admit a number of his own followers, and Ormond began his second term of office by insisting on a counter-purge. He set out upon the parliamentary session in July 1711 as the beneficiary of renewed tory enthusiasm in Ireland, and whig despondency. But as time went by the early tory majority disintegrated. The extremism of some tory officials in Dublin, especially the new lord chancellor, Sir Constantine Phipps (qv), alarmed Irish protestants with fears of Jacobitism in high places. During the summer of 1711 public attention became focused on the bitter and intractable conflict between the whig-dominated corporation of Dublin and the Irish privy council over the election of a new lord mayor. The corporation wished to bypass the high tory alderman Robert Constantine, but the council (exercising the power invested in them under the ‘new rules’ of 1672) refused to approve any other choice, leaving themselves open to accusations of a bigoted and arbitrary abuse of power. Once again, as at Cadiz in 1702, Ormond proved powerless to restrain his subordinates. While the English ministry urged a compromise, Phipps and fellow tories on the council dug in their heels, with disastrous results for parliamentary management in Ireland. The whigs found inspiration from the vigorous resistance of the corporators, while moderate men were alienated from what appeared now to be a violently partisan administration. The session ended in November 1711 with government and opposition neck and neck in commons divisions, and some significant bills lost.
Harley (now Lord Treasurer Oxford) blamed Ormond for losing control of the Irish parliament, and early in 1712 resolved on the duke's dismissal. But as yet there was no satisfactory replacement, and in any case Oxford depended on the support of high tories in England, to whom Ormond was no less a political hero than he was to tories in Ireland. So for the next eighteen months Ormond remained as viceroy, although he does not appear to have put much of his own stamp on government in Dublin, which instead came under the domination of Lord Chancellor Phipps (appointed a lord justice together with Archbishop Vesey (qv) of Tuam) and became ever more extreme and unpopular among Irish protestants at large. The vendetta against the whig aldermen of Dublin continued, and indeed spread to other corporations, as the council took a high hand in disapproving the election of chief magistrates in such boroughs as Coleraine, Trim, and Youghal. Jacobite writers, such as the newspaper and coffee-house owner Edward Lloyd (qv), were treated leniently by government for alleged sedition, while whigs who fell foul of the law were vigorously prosecuted. Phipps was also accused of favouring crypto-catholics, who had recently and opportunistically converted to protestantism, in appointments to office in central and local government, while at the same time undermining the protestant interest by neglecting the maintenance of the militia. In one area of policy, however, the Castle administration did take a strongly protestant line. Probably in order to forestall damaging whig criticism, Phipps and the privy council encouraged the prosecution of catholic bishops and regulars discovered in Ireland contrary to the provisions of the bishops' banishment act of 1697, even though these included a distant relative of Ormond, the newly arrived catholic archbishop of Cashel, Christopher Butler (qv), whose presence in the country was an embarrassment that the lord lieutenant seems to have been fully capable of ignoring.
In the meantime Lord Oxford had found another use for Ormond. At the end of December 1711 the duke of Marlborough (qv) was finally dismissed as captain-general of Queen Anne's armies and commander-in-chief in Flanders. Ormond would not have been the first choice to replace the great general had it been necessary to undertake any major campaign, but the ministers had other intentions. It fell to Ormond to replace Marlborough in somewhat ignominious circumstances. He was sent to the Continent in the spring of 1712, constrained by secret orders to ‘avoid engaging in any siege, or hazarding a battle’ if at all possible, for fear of jeopardising negotiations for a separate peace with France. In obedience to these commands, Ormond spent the campaigning season manufacturing flimsy pretexts for the refusal of action. His conduct was strenuously criticised; and although tories in England rushed to his defence and in May 1712 he secured a public vindication both from the ministry and from the Westminster parliament, the experience was to prove devastating for his later political career. In the first place it confirmed him in the disfavour of the protestant heir-apparent, Prince George of Hanover, who regarded the ministry as having betrayed their European allies in seeking a separate peace, and Ormond as having been their unworthy instrument; and secondly, by engaging in the deception of the ‘restraining orders' Ormond had left an opportunity for a future whig administration, under the incoming Hanoverian dynasty, to bring articles of impeachment against him.
The treaty of Utrecht (1713) left Ormond free to resume his duties as chief governor of Ireland, had Oxford wished him to do so; but instead a moderate whig, the duke of Shrewsbury (qv), was sent to Dublin in his place, in a vain effort to bring peace between the factions. Ormond was compensated with a further raft of largely honorific appointments: lord warden of the Cinque Ports, governor of Dover castle, lord lieutenant of Norfolk. He could also congratulate himself on the part he played in securing the deanery of St Patrick's, Dublin, for Jonathan Swift (qv). Evidently Ormond still hankered after the viceroyalty, however, and as the tory ministry disintegrated in 1714, and ministerial reshuffles were rumoured, he was several times spoken of as a possible lord lieutenant. Nothing came of this talk, even after Lord Bolingbroke dislodged the more moderate Oxford from the leadership of the ministry. Ormond was not the only Irish tory with designs on the viceroyalty, for Arthur Annesley, 5th earl of Anglesey, also saw himself in the role; and although Ormond was probably by this time closer in temperament and sympathy to Bolingbroke than to Oxford, the presence of a rival candidate for the viceroyalty prevented a conjunction between himself and Bolingbroke.
Jacobite, 1715–45 The Hanoverian succession proved a disaster for Ormond. Deprived of all his commands and appointments by the new king, and impeached by the whig-dominated parliament at Westminster (June 1715), he eventually threw in his lot with the Old Pretender. Exactly when he made the decision is unclear. Even while Queen Anne was alive he had flirted with Jacobite contacts, and some historians have allocated him to the Jacobite wing of the tory party in 1712–14. But in the confusion of Queen Anne's last years, all kinds of options could be kept open. Certainly when his impeachment was voted Ormond retired to Somerset and urged the pretender to embark for England. His own popularity with the mob, in London, in Dublin, and, indeed, wherever rioting or protesting Jacobites met together, may have encouraged him to gamble on a Jacobite invasion. But, hearing of a detachment of troops sent to arrest him, Ormond lost his nerve and fled to France in such haste that his wife and family were left behind, in the care of his brother-in-law Beaufort, and obliged to join him later.
By 1715 Ormond had little to lose by joining the pretender. The façade of the great magnate hid a desperate reality of debt and dependency, and the loss of his regimental pay and other official emoluments was devastating. His finances had been in disarray for many years. Indeed, he had inherited steepling debts from his grandfather, and a lavish lifestyle that made retrenchment impossible. In theory his vast estate should have yielded a rental income of between £20,000 and £25,000 Irish a year, greater than almost any other landowner in Ireland; but mortgages and other encumbrances, combined with the economic difficulties of the country at large and the chronic shortage of coin in post-revolution Ireland, meant a considerable shortfall. Towards the end of Anne's reign his agents were collecting less than £6,000 a year. Official salaries, even a pension of £5,000 granted him by Queen Anne, could not make good the deficiency. There was no lack of advice. Following a succession of superintending agents and commissions, an act of the English parliament (1701) placed overall responsibility for the management of Ormond's property in the hands of a group of trustees, mostly Englishmen, and headed by his father-in-law Lord Rochester and principal creditor Sir Stephen Fox, who held a portfolio of mortgages on the family's Irish and English estates, and claimed to offer disinterested assistance. The trustees continued and developed a policy, introduced by previous Irish commissioners, of raising ready cash in return for converting leases for terms of years into leases for lives or fee farms, and even in the last resort by selling the freehold, all of which required the passage of private acts of parliament in Dublin and at Westminster. In 1712 the trustees even obtained an English act to enable Ormond to return to the crown the regalities of the palatinate of Tipperary, though this was not exploited. There was also a purge of the personnel in the Irish estate office, and local management was entrusted to a series of able and experienced, even distinguished, lawyers, including the solicitor general, Francis Bernard, and a judge of queen's bench, Richard Nutley. But Ormond consistently failed to contain his expenditure within his increasingly restricted income. Conferences were held, and promises exacted of putting his finances on a sound footing, ‘to extricate your grace out of that confusion of debts and funds, with which you have been for many years past extremely perplexed’; and yet he continued to spend and to borrow. Despite extensive sales, which altogether had raised some £30,000, Ormond was still hopelessly in debt. Tradesmen were left unpaid. During 1711, when the duke himself was ensconced in Dublin castle presiding over great affairs of state and entertaining his friends and political cronies with lavish dinners, his wife was threatened with ‘visits from the bailiffs’ at her residence in Richmond park in Surrey. Four years later, as Ormond landed in France to offer his services to ‘James III’ the duchess found herself once again besieged by creditors, and lacking even sufficient plate from which to eat her dinner. At this point Ormond's debts totalled some £72,000, against an estate valued at over £274,000, but with an ever-diminishing rental income.
After his departure to the Continent in 1715 Ormond had been attainted by the British parliament, as a result of which his property was sequestered and all his English and Scottish honours declared forfeit. He was also degraded from the order of the Garter. The Irish parliament did not pass a similar attainder act, only legislating to extinguish the regalities of the palatinate of Tipperary. None the less Ormond's Irish property, as well as the English, was regarded as forfeit and administered by the crown until 1721, when his brother Charles, earl of Arran, was permitted by act of parliament to buy back the Irish estates. In spite of Ormond's acknowledged treason the administration of the forfeited estates had not been ungenerous, and his daughters, who had remained behind in England for some time, had been allowed substantial sums for their maintenance.
Ormond was to spend the rest of his life in the service of the Stuarts. The pretender appointed him captain-general and commander-in-chief of his invasion force (1715); and in 1719 he was captain-general of another, Spanish-financed, expedition. But he did not set foot on British soil on either occasion. After the fiasco of 1719 he spent some time in Madrid, living on a pension from the king of Spain, and it was here that he made preliminary arrangements for the abortive invasion in support of the so-called ‘Atterbury plot’ (1722), fitting out a flotilla to convey his small force of largely Irish soldiers, which had subsequently to be disbanded. Still a staunch protestant, he found the exiled court less congenial than did other Irish émigrés, and did not enjoy the influence there over strategy and diplomacy that he might have expected. On the other hand, he retained his status as the Jacobites' foremost military commander. Probably because of his international reputation, and his popularity among tories and Jacobites in Britain and Ireland, he was made commander-in-chief by the pretender in advance of the proposed invasions of 1732 and 1740. In his latter years he retired to Avignon. There he succeeded in maintaining the illusion of wealth on a modest income, and in continuing his amorous adventures, some details of which were recounted in his alleged ‘memoirs’, originally published in French and appearing for the first time in an English translation in 1738. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, visiting in 1742, found him ‘quite inoffensive, and seems to have forgot every part of his past life, and to be of no party’. Typically, he kept ‘an assembly where all the best company go twice in the week’.
Ormond died at Avignon 5 November 1745. In a remarkable display of magnanimity, the whig administration in Britain permitted his remains to be buried in Westminster abbey the following May. His wife had predeceased him, and his only surviving child, Lady Elizabeth Butler, died unmarried (1750). His brother Arran succeeded him in the Irish peerage de jure, but did not make good his claim to the dukedom before his own death (1758). Arran had no children, and his heir (a cousin, John Butler of Kilcash) inherited only the Irish earldoms of Ormond and Ossory and the viscountcy of Thurles, together with such property as remained to the family.
Assessment Throughout his career Ormond had achieved far more in terms of honours, dignities, and offices than his essentially modest talents had warranted. He was a bold and courageous soldier, and a man of great good nature and personal charm, whom Prince Eugene (ignoring the facts of both his ancestry and birth) considered ‘the finest cavalier and most complete gentleman that England bred’. But few observers detected in him the intelligence, assertiveness, and strength of character that would have made a success of high command or political leadership. The Jacobite court, into which he subsided after 1715, perfectly suited his talents: a world of illusion, of unrealised ambitions and futile display.