Butler (le Botiller), Edmund (d. 1321), justiciar of Ireland and magnate, was the second son of Theobald Butler (qv) (d. 1285) and Joan, daughter of John FitzGeoffrey (qv), justiciar of Ireland. After the death of his brother Theobald on 14 May 1299 he became heir to the Butler lordship and the title ‘chief butler of Ireland’, and in July 1300 he travelled to Ireland. The following month he was in Scotland, probably serving as part of the small Irish contingent there under the justiciar, John Wogan (qv), and did homage to Edward I at Carlaverock (30 August) for all the lands formerly held by his brother. By February 1301 he had returned to Ireland, and as a reward for his service in Scotland was granted the concession that his enormous debt of £3,000 to the king might be paid in annual instalments of only £30. Twelve months later he was summoned to Scotland; as an inducement the king ordered pardons to be issued for many of his retainers and tenants in Ireland together with a remission of their debts. In 1302 he married Joan, daughter of John fitz Thomas FitzGerald (qv), with whom he had two sons and one daughter.
Early in 1303 Butler was appointed to the king's Irish council; in July he brought a large contingent of armed men to Dublin to serve in Scotland, but it was decided by the justiciar and council that he and his forces should remain in the lordship to keep the peace. Described as being of full age on 13 January 1304, he inherited, through his mother, half of the large estate of Richard fitz John FitzGeoffrey, which included lands in England as well as Ireland; the other half went to his cousin Richard de Burgh (qv), the earl of Ulster. On 4 November of that year he was appointed custos and acting justiciar of Ireland during Wogan's absence. He retained the justiciar's office until 23 May 1305 and the rolls provide details both of his itinerary and the proceedings of the justiciar's court, over which he presided. He spent much of his appointment in the midlands, though he campaigned reasonably successfully against the Irish of Wicklow. He also settled, in his favour, a long-standing dispute with the archbishop of Dublin concerning the ownership of a valuable manor in Co. Dublin. In 1307 he was active in Connacht, probably at the behest of the administration, and brought a number of recalcitrant local Anglo-Irish nobles to the peace; he campaigned in Offaly with his father-in-law, John fitz Thomas FitzGerald, and was paid a large sum for killing the leader of an Irish raiding party in the Wicklow mountains. In 1308 he made an indenture with William Liath de Burgh (qv), who promised to serve him with an armed retinue in return for the grant of some lands in Longford. He was finally knighted by Edward II in London in 1309, and for his continuing service to the crown a large annual rent and all arrears accruing for lands held at fee farm in Ossory were remitted. In February 1309 he was pardoned by the king for procuring, without royal licence, the extensive Pipard estates in England and in May further pardons were issued for his retainers.
Butler was again made acting justiciar on 7 August 1312. His tenure was spent travelling throughout Leinster and Munster and, after an expensive campaign against the Irish at Glenmalure, he was lauded by contemporary sources for ‘pacifying Ireland’. At a sumptuous feast at Dublin in September 1313 he created thirty knights. After his term ended on 18 June 1314 he remained an important member of the council and in October was ordered to consult with Richard de Burgh over the appointment of a custos during the absence of Theobald de Verdon (qv) in England. He was requested to assume the office of justiciar of Ireland on 4 January 1315 by the king, though he acted in that capacity only from 28 February.
The following three years were spent trying to deal with the threat posed to the lordship by the Scottish army of Edward Bruce (qv). After the Scottish landing at Larne on 26 May 1315 Butler hurried from Cashel, where he was holding court, and spent the following weeks recruiting for the royal service and negotiating a clerical subsidy to finance an expedition. On 22 July, at Ardee in Co. Louth, he met Richard de Burgh and his army drawn from his lands in Ulster and Connacht; they agreed that the earl would proceed alone to engage the Scots, who until then had displayed no willingness to join battle. This decision is the source of much unfair criticism levelled at Butler's conduct as justiciar. It proved catastrophic; de Burgh's army was annihilated at the battle of Connor and the one opportunity swiftly to end the Scottish threat was lost. The army, once disbanded, would take time to reassemble; meanwhile Bruce laid waste to Ulster and prepared an incursion into Leinster. Edward II, shaken by the invasion and anxious to ensure the absolute loyalty of his justiciar, created an earldom for Butler on 1 September: this centred on his caput at Carrick-on-Suir and included the manor and castle of Roscrea and the valuable franchise of return of writs extending over three cantreds. Despite this reward, his independence as justiciar was circumscribed by the appointment on the same day of John de Hotham (qv) as a special envoy. A clear division of labour was planned: Hotham would take responsibility for all financial and administrative affairs and Butler was to concentrate on defeating the Scots in combat.
Butler successfully raised another army, which included most of the Anglo-Irish lords of Leinster and Munster, and met Bruce at Ardscull near Skerries on 26 January 1316. Butler's forces were fresh and well supplied and outnumbered the Scots, but they were forced from the field after a bloody encounter; the Dublin annalist knew exactly where to apportion blame for such a defeat, caused as it was by factional fighting and a tangible lack of leadership. Suspicions concerning the allegiance of the leading magnates were openly voiced and oaths of loyalty to the king were extracted and hostages were taken by the envoy from those seen to be at fault, including Butler. The Scottish victory sparked off Irish uprisings, particularly in Leinster, which Butler spent the remainder of the year stamping out. In February 1317, anticipating Bruce's march into Munster, he left Dublin to fend for itself and hurried to Cork once more to levy an army. Sensibly preferring not to risk an open battle, Butler contented himself with harrying the Scottish army, allowing the appalling weather and terrible famine to take their course. Despite a mandate from Roger Mortimer (qv), who had been appointed lieutenant of Ireland on 23 November 1316, not to act until his arrival in Ireland, Butler raised the forces of his own lordship and attacked the Scots’ rearguard and ordered a contingent to shadow Bruce back to Ulster.
After Mortimer landed at Dublin in April, Butler quickly faded into the background, relinquishing virtually all his responsibilities to the lieutenant, and he was replaced as justiciar on 4 April 1318, some six months before the defeat of Bruce at Faughart. Despite his withdrawal from leadership, his reputation continued to suffer – so much so that in January 1320 the king issued a general declaration to clear his name of any hint of treason. The Scottish war also prevented him from fulfilling his long-standing commitment to make a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela; the papacy was willing to commute the vow in return for a generous contribution to the holy land subsidy. Shortly afterwards he seems to have returned to England, and in March 1321 he and Roger Mortimer concluded a marriage alliance: for a considerable dowry Butler's daughter Joan was to marry Mortimer's son Roger. Butler died in London on 13 September 1321 and on 9 November was buried at the collegiate church he had founded at Gowran in Co. Kilkenny. He was succeeded by his eldest son, James Butler (qv), who was created earl of Ormond in October 1328.
Butler's career before the Bruce invasion was an unmitigated success; his consistent loyalty to the crown and his willingness to serve in the administration and, when necessary, in Scotland led to his rapid advance and the king's favour. Whatever the reservations of historians towards his justiciarship between 1315 and 1318 (some of which are defensible), the opprobrium heaped upon him by contemporaries is unjustified. His task in attempting to oppose the Scots was not helped by the limited nature of royal authority in Ireland, the disastrous state of finances, and the factionalism prevalent among the Anglo-Irish nobility. The high point of his career, the creation of an earldom of Carrick for him in 1315, was never realised: though sporadically styled ‘earl of Carrick’ in official documents, he was never made earl. Presumably Edward II intended Butler to go to England to receive his title, but by the time the crisis in Ireland was over, his record of defeats had led to a loss of confidence in him and the idea was quietly dropped (G.E.C., Peerage, XX, appx B).