Butler, Richard (1578–1652/3), 3rd Viscount Mountgarret , nobleman and soldier, was the eldest son of Edmund Butler (qv) (d. 1602), the 2nd viscount, and his wife, Grany MacGiollapadraig. He had seven brothers, James, Edward, Thomas, Theobald, John, Gilbert, and Piers, and at least seven sisters, Ellen, Elinor, Mary, Margaret, Anne, Joan, and Ellice. Nothing is known of Richard's childhood, save that he grew up in north Co. Kilkenny and formed a life-long friendship with the future catholic bishop of Ossory, David Rothe (qv), whose kinsmen were clients of his father. He was raised as a devout catholic.
Richard's first public act was to signal his family's rebellion. In October 1595, after months of secret negotiations involving James Archer (qv), the Kilkenny-born Jesuit, he was married to Margaret, daughter of Hugh O'Neill (qv), earl of Tyrone, the principal rebel in Ireland. Richard had little chance to prove his worth to Tyrone. Within a year he had been arrested by the head of the Butlers, Thomas (qv), 10th earl of Ormond, and was sent as a prisoner to Dublin. Later released, he tried to defend Ballyragget castle from crown attack, but after 1600, having elicited a cold response from the local population, he withdrew from Tyrone's rebel confederacy and made his peace with the crown. Because of this, when his father died in November 1602, the government did not prevent his succeeding as 3rd Viscount Mountgarret.
It is not entirely clear that his show of submission was genuine. In early 1604, less than a year after the surrender of Tyrone at Mellifont, Mountgarret met his father-in-law and other former rebels at an inn in Carlow, where, out of the hearing of government informers, they ‘had conference together’ (Cal. Carew MSS). Viscount Richard attracted further suspicion when it was discovered that he had given permission to his brother Thomas to serve under Tyrone's son, Henry O'Neill, in the regiment of Irish catholic exiles then being assembled by the Spanish in the Low Countries. Government officials feared that the viscount would soon rebel again.
Yet Mountgarret was careful to avoid too close an involvement in Tyrone's affairs, and he was not implicated in the botched conspiracy of 1606–7 that caused the earl to flee from Ireland. After Tyrone's flight, and the death a little later of Margaret O'Neill, his first wife, Mountgarret took the opportunity to sever his O'Neill connections, and began in earnest the difficult task of reestablishing his family's position among the loyalist catholic community of the south. He was greatly helped in this transition by David Rothe. Recently appointed vicar apostolic of Ossory by the pope, from about 1610 Rothe lived with Viscount Richard at Baleen castle in Co. Kilkenny. Sheltering such an important figure boosted Mountgarret's local and national standing. So too did his generally close relations with the heir-apparent to the earldom of Ormond, his brother-in-law, Sir Walter Butler (qv) (d. 1633) of Kilcash. Also important, however, was the viscount's second marriage, c.1612, to the English recusant Elizabeth Andrews, daughter of the Buckinghamshire knight Sir William Andrews. The marriage brought him not only property in Northampton, but also, apparently, contact with the powerful Howard affinity that then enjoyed great influence at the English royal court. It also necessitated regular travel to and from England, which became a marked feature of the viscount's life thenceforth.
In 1613 Mountgarret brought his new connections to bear in the Irish parliament. As the protector of David Rothe and friend of Walter Butler of Kilcash, he was at the forefront of constitutionalist catholic objections to election rigging by the protestant government. Trying to show that he was not just an oppositionist, as a Howard associate he soon attempted to negotiate a solution to the parliamentary troubles with government representatives. His overtures had little effect. He faced new problems after the parliament ended (1615). His English connections notwithstanding, his public catholicism and his continuing support for Walter of Kilcash in the Ormond succession crisis marked him out as troublesome. When eventually the government moved against the Ormond lordship, Mountgarret and his family were not spared. In the course of just one year – 1619 – his houses in Kilkenny were raided and his friend David Rothe, recently returned from Europe as bishop of Ossory, was forced into exile; the viscount himself was placed under surveillance on his arrival in England, while one of his wife's servants was arrested at Chester on suspicion of being a priest; and his brother Gilbert Butler was tried and punished in the court of castle chamber for failing to imprison a convicted recusant while sheriff of the liberty of Tipperary. Mountgarret refused to be intimidated, among other things continuing his recent policy of recruiting English catholics as tenants and estate agents on his Kilkenny lands.
When later the Jacobean government decided to relax its anti-recusant measures and seek the political support of Irish catholic leaders, Mountgarret responded slowly. In spring 1624 he demanded ‘satisfaction to the house of Ormond’ (NLI, MS 2302, f. 197) after unmasking as a fraud a pretender to the Ormond title, a minor landowner from Connacht. His discovery of the pretender's true identity caused considerable embarrassment to the duke of Buckingham and other senior members of the royal administration; the government's response was to summon him to London, there to be confined as an ex-rebel and pro-Spanish agent.
The accession of a new king, Charles I, in 1625, and his marriage to the French catholic princess Henrietta Maria excited the viscount's hopes of political improvements. As soon as Charles indicated his willingness to trade political and legal concessions to the catholics in Ireland in return for a grant of money and soldiers, Mountgarret was enthusiastic. In August 1626, using the Irish courtier Sir Piers Crosby (qv) as an intermediary, he offered to swear an oath of loyalty to the king, and by 1628 a levy of troops from Kilkenny commanded by his younger brother John Butler was serving in Crosby's regiment in the English expedition to the Île de Ré. Once the campaign was over, however, the prospect of gaining concessions withered. In April 1629 one of the viscount's servants was intercepted at Bristol bearing letters from senior catholic churchmen on the continent; in consequence, he was unable to move freely for some time, a situation exacerbated by his third marriage, in 1627, to Anne Tresham, a member of a leading recusant family in England. In 1630 he and his fourth wife, another Englishwoman, Margaret Branthwaite, were indicted for recusancy at Coventry. It took the personal intervention of the king to prevent the indictment from proceeding.
Hitherto, despite occasional solvency problems, Viscount Richard had managed to retain possession of the bulk of his ancestral lands. Indeed, twice before, in 1612 and 1619, he had gone through surrender and regrant proceedings, and had had his title to his lands confirmed by royal letters patent. Accordingly, it seemed that a mistake had been made when in April 1635 several thousand acres belonging to him in the territory of Idough were declared crown property by a court of inquisition convened by the master of the rolls, Christopher Wandesford (qv). Mountgarret appealed to Lord Deputy Wentworth (qv) only to have rights to ownership dismissed. He subsequently discovered that the judge who had presided over the forfeiture, Wentworth's friend Wandesford, had acquired his lands, and many more besides. Alone Mountgarret could do little to challenge the seizure, but when he learned that the earl marshal of England, Thomas Howard, earl of Arundel, had advanced a speculative claim to the territory, he lost no time in forming an alliance with the earl to have the seizure overturned in London. Though ultimately they failed to recover the lands, Mountgarret and Arundel did serious damage to Wentworth's Irish government. In particular, they succeeded in destroying the governor. When in 1641 Wentworth was arraigned of high treason and executed, one of the most damaging articles against him was that concerning his handling of Idough.
At the outbreak of the Ulster rebellion in October 1641 Mountgarret still counted himself a loyalist, and he hoped that having demonstrated his influence through his association with Arundel in England, he would be allocated a position of responsibility by the Dublin government as the rebels surged south. He was soon disappointed. Although theoretically second-in-command of the Kilkenny forces behind his protestant great-nephew James Butler (qv), 12th earl of Ormond, in fact he was allowed no authority and had to write to Ormond, absent in Dublin, for instructions on how to respond to the gathering crisis. By the time the government granted him powers to act, it was too late. In neighbouring Tipperary the lord president of Munster, Sir William St Leger (qv), had begun to massacre catholics. Mountgarret rebelled on 30 November. By 18 December all of Co. Kilkenny, except Castlecomer, was in his hands.
Within weeks dozens of catholic leaders from all over Ireland had begun to converge on Kilkenny to confer with the viscount, some urging negotiation with Dublin, others the slaughter of all English protestants. Towards the protestants he favoured restraint, and for the most part he succeeding in preventing widespread slaughter. However, following his disastrous defeat at the battle of Kilrush in April 1642 he temporarily lost control of the situation, and two massacres occurred in east Co. Kilkenny, at Graiguenamanagh and Gowran, for which posthumously he would be wrongly blamed. He ordered an investigation into the killings, and personally executed some of those responsible for these and other sectarian attacks, but a third outrage, perpetrated at Ballyragget by his son Edward, he seems to have left unpunished.
Even before he was elected its president, contemporaries associated the Catholic Confederation, founded at Kilkenny later in 1642, with the viscount. The earl of Cork on hearing of it referred to it as ‘my Lord Mountgarret's parliament’ (BL, Egerton MS 80, p. 99). Yet in truth the viscount's role was as much ceremonial as executive. An old man, he helped to formulate confederate policy, but he left the day-to-day task of its implementation to others. Politically, he wanted to negotiate a peace settlement in Ireland as quickly as possible so that a confederate army might intervene in the English civil war and defend the king from what he called ‘the puritan faction’, but he found peace very hard to make with the head of the king's Irish forces, his great-nephew, James Butler, 12th earl of Ormond, whom (with good reason) he greatly distrusted.
In the course of painfully protracted talks Mountgarret and his allies were prepared to make concessions over religion that other catholics found hard to stomach, not least the papal nuncio, GianBattista Rinuccini (qv), who arrived to impose greater Roman control over the confederation in 1645. Aware that Rinuccini opposed contact with Ormond, but determined to persevere all the same, the viscount conspired at the deliberate deception of the nuncio, pretending to abandon peace talks in February 1646 only to sign the Ormond peace a few weeks later, on 28 March. Rinuccini was livid. In response, he succeeded in large part in undermining Mountgarret, splitting the confederation in the process. By 1647 the viscount, now an old man, was a spent force. Although he remained tied to the royalist cause, writing secretly to Prince Charles (Charles II) c.1649, he took little part in the Irish war against Cromwell.
There is confusion about the precise date of Mountgarret's death. In the mid-nineteenth century a date of ‘anno 1651’ was added to his (unfinished) tomb at St Canice's cathedral. However, according to contemporaries, he was still alive at the time of the surrender of Galway to Cromwellian forces, on 12 April 1652. All that can be said is that he passed away between then and 31 January 1653, when he is referred to in a surviving document as the ‘late’ viscount. With his first wife Margaret O'Neill he had three sons and six daughters.