Butler, James (‘Sir James Ormond’; ‘Black James’) (c.1462–97), treasurer and joint governor of Ireland, was illegitimate son of John Butler (qv), 6th earl of Ormond, and Reynalda, daughter of Toirdhealbhach Bog Ó Briain. He rose to prominence in the lordship of Ireland in the 1490s when he was sent there as the representative of both Henry VII and Thomas Butler (qv), 7th earl of Ormond. His parents' relationship, though recognised under Gaelic law, was not a valid marriage according to canon law; therefore Sir James was considered illegitimate by the Anglo-Irish and barred from inheriting the earldom of Ormond. After Earl John went into exile (1464), Reynalda married Richard MacRichard Butler, and presumably James went with her to be raised among the earl's kinsmen. Earl Thomas seems to have taken an interest in him, and James Ormond became one of the few Irishmen admitted to Lincoln's Inn in the fifteenth century.
His involvement in Ireland came when he and Thomas Garth were sent with an army to face the threat of the pretender Perkin Warbeck (qv). Both Henry VII and Earl Thomas saw him as a possible way to rid themselves of two powerful subordinates – Gerald FitzGerald (qv), earl of Kildare, and Sir Piers Butler (qv), respectively. Sir James's heritage allowed him to draw on the support of the O'Briens and the minor Butler clans without threatening the position of the earl. The king appointed him as treasurer of Ireland and then joint governor (1492–3), in an attempt to reduce Kildare's hold on the Dublin government. He was also given extensive lands and powers as a counterbalance to the power of the earl. The main result of these appointments was a bitter dispute between the supporters of Kildare and those of Sir James Ormond. Using his relatives the O'Briens, and their allies the Clanricard Burkes, Sir James was successful for a period and forced Kildare and Piers Butler to retreat, but the conflict ended when Henry VII saw the limits of Ormond's power and withdrew his support, reappointing Kildare as deputy lieutenant (August 1496). Sir James also failed to dislodge Piers Butler from his position in the Ormond lordship, despite the support given to him by Earl Thomas. The matter was settled in the summer of 1497, when Piers murdered his rival and excused himself of the crime by claiming that Sir James had claimed the earldom for himself.
After considering the inherent biases of the surviving sources, the career of Sir James Ormond clearly underlines the limitations on the power and authority of any absentee lord in Ireland. Sir James Ormond was clearly a capable, forceful, and intelligent man, well able to confront the power of Kildare; but without lasting and consistent royal support, he was unable to supplant permanently either Kildare or Sir Piers Butler.