Butler, Richard (1775–1819), 12th Baron Caher and earl of Glengall , was born 13 November 1775 in Cahir, Co. Tipperary, illegitimate son of James Butler, 11th Baron Caher (d. 1788), and a Co. Tipperary mendicant woman. His early life was shrouded in romantic intrigue: at an early age his relations removed him and his mother to France to prevent his ever learning of his noble lineage and claims to his family's title. His father succeeded his distant cousin Piers Butler as 11th Baron Caher in June 1788 but died suddenly the following month, making Richard the rightful heir to the title. Unaware of his inheritance, he grew up in poverty in a garret in Paris, where his mother was obliged to winnow corn and occasionally beg for subsistence. There he would surely have remained except for the fateful intervention of Arabella Jefferyes (qv), sister of John Fitzgibbon (qv), the lord chancellor of Ireland, and wife of James St John Jefferyes of Blarney Castle, Co. Cork. Passing through Cahir, she heard the astonishing tale of Richard Butler and, after briefing her brother, went to Paris to find the child and restore him to his title. She discovered him, dirty and unkempt, and at considerable expense to herself brought the family back to Ireland. Probably with the assistance of her brother, she brought the case before the courts and succeeded in having Richard declared the rightful heir of the Caher title and estate. A shrewd and manipulative woman, Jefferyes married her youngest daughter Emily to the newly discovered Lord Caher (13 August 1793), a union that secured both mother and daughter financially. Fitzgibbon was furious at her conduct – Butler was still legally under age when the marriage occurred – and threatened to jail his errant sister and niece. No action was taken, however, and Butler, for the remainder of his life, was obliged to follow the instructions of his dominant mother-in-law and of his domineering and controversial wife. Probably under pressure from his mother-in-law, he renounced catholicism and converted to the established church. Something of a celebrity in Tipperary because of his mysterious past, he was accepted readily into society. He became governor of Co. Tipperary and a trustee of the board of the linen manufacturers.
Politically he lacked any initiative of his own and followed the instructions of his in-laws. His one show of independence occurred (January 1799) when he declared his uncertainty about the proposed legislative union, although this was probably a play for better terms from government. A representative peer (baron) in the UK parliament from 1801, he was created Viscount Caher and earl of Glengall on 22 January 1816. He remained till his death a loyal supporter of government and regularly voted against any pro-catholic proposals. Denys Scully (qv), for example, blamed Butler for defeating the emancipation motion of Marquess Wellesley (qv) in 1812.
Another part of Butler's romantic legacy was the construction of a Swiss cottage on his estate, a charming building believed to be the work of the architect John Nash (1752–1835). Ostensibly this was intended as a token of love for his wife, but local rumour and legend suggest that it was built to accommodate a mistress. It is believed that, unable to escape his wife's control, he had no other way to achieve any measure of independence. He died of a fever (30 January 1819) at his home at Caher Castle, Co. Tipperary. He had one son and three daughters. His son Richard, Viscount Caher (b. 17 May 1794), who was elected MP for Tipperary county in 1818, succeeded him as 2nd earl of Glengall. Emily survived Richard by seventeen years, passing away (2 May 1836) in Grosvenor Square, Middlesex.