Butler, Sir Edmund (c.1534–1602), Irish lord and rebel, was the second son of James Butler (qv), 9th earl of Ormond, and his wife Joan, daughter of James fitz Maurice Fitzgerald (qv), 10th earl of Desmond. Following his father's death in 1546, he received lands at Dullough in Co. Carlow; he resided at his castle at Cloughgrennan and had another castle at Tullow. In the decade after he came of age (c.1556), he expanded aggressively into Carlow, pushing back the Kavanaghs, and into Kilkenny, where he subdued the O'Brennans of Idough. He also regularly conducted raids against traditional Butler enemies, such as the Fitzpatricks of Upper Ossory and particularly the Fitzgeralds of Desmond in Munster, earning a formidable military reputation. These raids were a necessary means of acquiring the resources to maintain the large armed retinues that were the source of his power. Another means was to levy black rents on smaller landowners and townsmen within the Butler lordship. He also used his forces to assist the royal government in fighting the Gaelic Irish who resisted the plantation of Laois and Offaly. These services gained him a knighthood on 2 January 1560 and a reward of £40 in 1564.
During the 1560s the government began to pressure Edmund's older brother and head of the Butler family, Thomas (qv), 10th earl of Ormond, to demilitarise his lordship. Ormond attempted to comply with these demands by abolishing the levying of private taxes, known as coign and livery, by local warlords to maintain their armies; in this he was fiercely and successfully resisted by his siblings, particularly Edmund. Ormond could not move too boldly against his brothers because of their military power and his reliance on them to protect the Butler heartlands from his enemies, principally the Fitzgeralds of Desmond, with whom the Butlers had been locked in a destructive feud since 1559. The Butlers rallied together against this threat and won a crushing victory over the Fitzgeralds at the battle of Affane in Co. Waterford on 1 February 1565, during which Edmund flung the Fitzgeralds’ leader, Gerald (qv), 15th earl of Desmond, from his horse and captured him, after shooting him in the thigh. When Ormond departed for London soon afterwards, he installed Edmund as his deputy. Any gratitude Ormond felt towards Edmund was quickly eclipsed by the queen's anger at this outbreak of private warfare. Ormond's suddenly shaky position continued to be undermined by his inability to control his brothers, who pursued their attacks on the Fitzgeralds throughout 1565–7. Further, in late 1566 Edmund refused to travel to London at Ormond's behest to testify against Desmond, thereby ruining Ormond's chances of destroying his arch-rival.
Although the queen, who had an affection for Ormond, was prepared to indulge the Butlers, her servants in Ireland were less accommodating. In April 1566 the lord deputy, Sir Henry Sidney (qv), went to Kilkenny, where he indicted Edmund and eighty-eight of his men on charges of robbery and extortion. However, in June, the queen ordered Sidney to drop the case, and Edmund and his men were pardoned on 10 July. Stung, Sidney returned to Kilkenny and proclaimed the abolition of coign and livery, outlawed Gaelic poets, and installed Englishmen to positions of local government (these posts having previously been the exclusive preserve of the Butlers and their clients). Edmund responded by continuing to use coign and livery and by attacking royal officials, forcing the English sheriff of Kilkenny to flee. Sidney duly reappeared at Kilkenny in early 1567, where he arrested Edmund's brother Piers and forced him to plead for mercy in chains and on his knees. At Tipperary, Sidney again indicted Edmund, but thought better of arresting him.
In late 1567 Ormond dismissed Edmund as his deputy in Ireland and began negotiations with Sidney for the abolition of coign and livery in his territories; by November 1568 it was common knowledge that they had reached an agreement. In defiance of both the government and Ormond, Edmund recruited more men and paraded an army of 1,400 troops in Wexford, before attacking Shillelagh in Co. Wicklow. Edmund soon had further cause for anger. In 1568 the English adventurer Peter Carew (qv) arrived in Ireland to resurrect his family's 300-year-old title to the barony of Idrone in Carlow, where Edmund's lands were situated. Carew's claim to the Dullough was weak, as the territory had not been part of the barony of Idrone in the medieval period. However, Sidney refused Edmund's request that the case be brought in the court of chancery and had the case heard by himself and the Irish privy council. On 7 December Idrone and the Dullough were awarded to Carew by government decree. This was a highly provocative step and of extremely dubious legality. Edmund refused to hand over his lands and applied, unsuccessfully, for permission to see the queen in London.
In January 1569 Edmund sat as an MP in the Irish house of commons in Dublin, where he was a prominent member of the strong opposition to Sidney's legislative programme. On 31 January he declared unlawful Sidney's ruling that MPs who did not live in Ireland could nonetheless sit in the Irish house of commons. After the government confirmed its decision in favour of Carew regarding Idrone on 7 February, he raged against a speech made by one of Carew's agents, John Hooker, in the commons. Hooker had compared the catholic Queen Mary to the pharaohs and made slighting references to the Irish. Edmund ominously declared that had such words been spoken anywhere but in parliament both he and others present would rather die than suffer to hear them.
Butler withdrew from parliament and began planning a rebellion with his brothers. The Kavanaghs of Idrone (who had also been dispossessed by Carew), Turlough Luineach O'Neill (qv), and James fitz Maurice Fitzgerald (qv), who was captain of Desmond, all promised aid. Carew had been installed as constable of Leighlin in the heart of Edmund's lands and in March there were armed clashes between Edmund's men and Carew's forces. Order began to break down in the Butler lordship with attacks on government officials and Ormond's agents. Edmund refused to meet royal commissioners sent to Kilkenny in April, and finally, on 16 June, Sidney proclaimed Edmund and his brothers Edward and Piers as outlaws.
The Butlers mustered a force of 1,000 men, complemented by another 2,000 led by fitz Maurice from Munster, and launched a series of attacks on crown officials and loyalists within the Butler lordship and also on English settlements in Laois. They had earlier disarmed the local population, thereby neutralising any internal opposition. Edmund claimed that both Ormond and the queen had been killed and that his was a royalist uprising, a ruse which was initially quite successful; by early July, however, his deception was exposed and support for the rebellion among the gentry of Kilkenny and Tipperary evaporated. Many were shocked that the Butlers would ally themselves with the hated Fitzgeralds. In mid-July, the rebels besieged Kilkenny, but were driven off by the English garrison there. Soon afterwards Carew took Cloughgrennan, while Sidney marched into Kilkenny with a small army of 600 men. Edmund shadowed him with a larger army of his own, but failed to stop his passage, and Sidney moved on to Munster in pursuit of fitz Maurice, who had retreated to his home province. Ormond returned to Kilkenny in mid-August, at which Edmund, Edward, and Piers launched a series of attacks on the earl's manors and servants. As their revolt gathered momentum throughout 1568–69 and in a marked departure form the norms of Irish warfare, Edmund and his cohorts had shown an increasing propensity to kill non-combatants including women and children. This trend reached a bloody apogee in August 1569 when he presided over the brutal sack of Enniscorthy where a large contingent of merchants (and their families) had congregated for a fair. His men plundered, murdered and raped with abandon.
On 1 September Edmund met Ormond, who granted him protection. Unsurprisingly, Edmund was wary of his older brother's motives and fearful for his own life, but Ormond set aside his anger and worked to secure his brothers’ pardon and to discredit Sidney. His cause was not helped by their defiant behaviour: they failed to fulfil a promise to meet Sidney at Limerick later that month, and caused a number of disturbances. On 18 October Edmund and Piers came before the privy council in Dublin, where they refused to submit to the crown and claimed that under the terms of the protection granted to them they could leave the city. The council refused to accept this and summoned them to appear again on 20 October, but was met with another refusal to submit. Sidney declared that they could not leave Dublin and committed them to Ormond's custody until the council decided on appropriate action. During these encounters Edmund argued fiercely with Sidney, despite Ormond's attempts to subdue him. After Piers's escape from Ormond's custody on 21 October, Edmund was immediately imprisoned in Dublin castle. In November he escaped by letting down a rope from his cell; although the rope broke and he fell into the castle moat, he survived unscathed and made his way south to Wicklow, where Fiach MacHugh O'Byrne (qv) sheltered him. During this time Edmund began a relationship with O'Byrne's wife Sadhbh; she later divorced her husband and became Edmund's concubine.
In January 1570 Edmund, Piers, and Edward tried to restart their rebellion, but attracted no support. Edmund and Piers consequently submitted to Ormond on 28 February. During Ormond's absence on a military campaign in Thomond that summer Sidney convinced the queen to allow him to imprison Edmund and Piers in Dublin castle and to try them for treason. The queen, though she assented, denied Sidney permission to execute the brothers if they confessed their treason, which they did; they were not, as has often been asserted, attainted by act of parliament, but Edmund's conviction for treason left him and his sons technically disinherited.
Sidney's triumph was shortlived as Ormond succeeded in casting the blame for the Butler revolt on him and Carew, which led to Sidney's dismissal in early 1571. By May 1571 Edmund and Piers had been transferred from Dublin castle to Kilkenny castle and they were probably freed soon afterwards. Carew was forced to drop his claims to the Dullough and Edmund appears eventually to have recovered Cloughgrennan from him. During 1572–3 Edmund served alongside the royal forces in Munster against his former ally James fitz Maurice. His rehabilitation was complete in March 1574 when the queen formally pardoned him. The 1569 revolt and its aftermath greatly enhanced Ormond's authority in the Butler lordship, while correspondingly diminishing Edmund's; he continued to maintain a private armed retinue and engage in raids, but he did so in a more circumspect fashion and never again openly defied either his older brother or the crown.
Following his reappointment as lord deputy in 1575, Sidney tried to repeat his earlier strategy of undermining Ormond by provoking Edmund. In that year he accused Edmund of raiding Wexford, but eventually had to drop this charge; then in November 1576 he secured Edmund's indictment for levying coign and livery in Tipperary. On both occasions Edmund did not allow himself to be provoked, and Sidney was again dismissed from office in 1578. Following the outbreak of the Desmond rebellion of 1579–83, Edmund apparently considered rebelling in 1580, but instead served the crown against the rebel Fitzgeralds, receiving a command in the royal army. In summer 1582 he and his forces were routed at Knockgraffon by a raiding party led by the earl of Desmond. In early 1582 his company of kerne was disbanded from the royal army as a cost-cutting measure, but Edmund was later granted command of a troop of horse.
During the mid–1580s, Ormond sought to expand his lordship into Wicklow at the expense of Fiach MacHugh O'Byrne, and Edmund and his sons led this largely successful campaign. In the 1590s, however, Edmund's relationship with Ormond deteriorated once more. His sons Piers (qv) and James became increasingly embittered by Ormond's failure to restore them in blood, following their father's conviction for treason, which meant that they could not inherit the earldom from their childless uncle; in 1596 they fell to plotting rebellion and though Edmund's role in their plans is unknown Ormond arrested him in October 1596. Later that year Ormond hunted down and killed his two nephews. Edmund was probably released soon afterwards. He died shortly before 4 December 1602 and was buried at St Canice's cathedral in Kilkenny.
Edmund Butler married Eleanor Eustace, daughter of Roland Eustace, lord Baltinglass, with whom he had three sons. His youngest and only surviving son, Theobald, was created Viscount Tulleophelim and recognised formally as Ormond's heir, but he predeceased the earl. Edmund also had children with other women: one son, Thomas, was created a baronet in 1628 and gained an estate at Cloughgrennan.