Butler, Piers (‘Piers Ruadh’) (c.1467–1539), 8th earl of Ormond and 1st earl of Ossory , was third son of Sir James Butler (qv), and his wife Sadhbh, daughter of Domhnall Riabhach Kavanagh. He is perhaps the best exemplar of the use of naked ambition and political skill to achieve personal goals in late medieval Ireland. Although the third son, he was the first legitimately born after the papal dispensation for his parents’ marriage arrived in Ireland, and took precedence over his elder brothers, although they had been legitimised by an act of the Irish parliament in 1468. Little is known of his early life before the accession of Henry VII (1485), besides the fact that he was fostered into the household of Gerald FitzGerald (qv), 8th earl of Kildare. He married (1485) Margaret (qv), a daughter of Kildare, but this alliance had more to do with securing Piers's support for Kildare than with Kildare's attempts to forge good relations with the absentee earl of Ormond (qv). Piers joined with his father-in-law and supported the pretender Lambert Simnel (qv), receiving the office of sheriff of Kilkenny in a grant from ‘Edward VI’. His father James Butler had acted as deputy to the absentee Thomas Butler (qv), 7th earl of Ormond, and after his father's death (1487) Piers assumed the office, regarding it as a hereditary prerogative of his family. His assumption was not challenged by the earl, but neither was he confirmed in the position. In December 1491 Earl Thomas's illegitimate nephew, Sir James Butler (qv) (d. 1497) of Ormond was sent to Ireland by Henry VII, and Earl Thomas appointed him as his deputy in Ireland, removing Piers from an office that he felt was his by right. Most of the Butlers supported Sir James, and Piers was forced into submission, but he emerged victorious in the summer of 1497 when he murdered his rival, excusing it as self-defence and an execution of a traitor who dared to usurp the earl's position. Piers Butler proceeded further to establish his position in the Ormond lordship, using the support of his father-in-law, the earl of Kildare, and by June 1505 Earl Thomas capitulated and appointed Piers as his deputy in Ireland.
For the next ten years Piers secured his hold on the Ormond lordship in preparation for Earl Thomas's death. When the earl died (August 1515) a dispute over the disposition of his lands and titles arose between Piers, who claimed them as the earl's heir male, and Earl Thomas's grandchildren, led by Sir Thomas Boleyn, as the heirs general. Piers had possession of the Irish lands and the general support of the Anglo-Irish nobility and custom, while Sir Thomas had the backing of English custom and the increasing support of the king. Piers's brother-in-law, Gerald FitzGerald (qv), 9th earl of Kildare, was caught between the sides, and his inability to pursue Piers's claims led to a breach between the two. Piers relinquished his claim to the earldom of Ormond to Boleyn in February 1528 and was in return created earl of Ossory by Henry VIII; the lands of Earl Thomas were divided between the claimants. Despite the king's growing animosity, Piers maintained good relations with Cardinal Wolsey and the earl of Surrey (qv), served as Surrey's deputy (1521), and was appointed deputy lieutenant (March 1522) when Surrey was recalled to England. He held that office till August 1524, when he was succeeded by Kildare. However, he retained the position of lord treasurer in an attempt to balance Kildare's authority. Piers's period as deputy saw a rapid escalation of tensions between the Butlers and both branches of the Geraldines, which continued throughout the decade. He and Kildare were summoned to England in the summer of 1526 to settle the matter. Piers, now earl of Ossory, served as deputy lieutenant again from October 1528 to (at the earliest) October 1529, yet he could barely defend his own lands, let alone the Pale. But in the 1530s his loyalty to the crown during the Kildare rebellion and the Boleyns’ fall from grace allowed him to emerge as one of the foremost magnates of his day. He even regained the title of earl of Ormond in February 1538 after the death of Thomas Boleyn, holding it till his own death (August 1539).
Through drive, determination, and ability he advanced himself from being the third son of a minor lord to the earldom of Ormond and Ossory, overcoming huge obstacles and reconstituting the authority of the earls of Ormond, so damaged by the absentee earls of the fifteenth century. The ability and skills of his wife Margaret were vital to this process, and neatly complemented his own. Butler showed an almost uncanny innate ability to navigate through the dangers of Tudor Ireland. His understanding that good relations at the English court were vital for future advancement is shown by his sending his son James Butler (qv) to be educated there. He also repeated the policy used by the Great Earl of Kildare and created a large network of supporters, through the judicious use of marriage alliances between his children and the nobility of Ireland. Although his own position was not secure till less than a year before his death, he left his son a strong position and a powerful legacy within the Irish nobility.