Thomas Butler, 6th Earl of Ossory

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Thomas Butler, 6th Earl of Ossory : biography

8 July 1634 – 30 July 1680

The Earl of Ossory.

Vice-Admiral Thomas Butler, 6th Earl of Ossory, KG, PC, PC(I) (8 July 1634 – 30 July 1680) was an Irish politician. He was born at Kilkenny Castle, the eldest son of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde and Lady Elizabeth Preston.

Marriage and issue

Ossory had eleven children, some prominent including:

  • James Butler became the 2nd Duke of Ormonde in 1688.
  • Charles Butler, 1st Earl of Arran became the de jure 3rd Duke of Ormonde, following his elder brother’s attainder for treason in 1715 and his death in 1745.
  • Lady Elizabeth Butler, whose grandson, John, succeeded as 15th Earl of Ormonde.

Life and career

His early years were spent in Ireland and France. He was an accomplished athlete and a good scholar. Having come to London in 1652 he was rightly suspected of sympathizing with the exiled royalists, and in 1655 was put into prison by Oliver Cromwell. After his release about a year later he went to the Netherlands and married Emilia von Nassau. He accompanied Charles II to England in 1660.

In 1661 Butler became a member of both the English and the Irish Houses of Commons, representing Bristol in the former and Dublin University in the latter House. In 1662 he was called to the Irish House of Lords under a writ of acceleration as Earl of Ossory. His father held the title "5th Earl of Ossory" as one of his subsidiary titles, which made Thomas Butler the 6th Earl of Ossory by courtesy. He held several military appointments;

  • lieutenant-general of the army in Ireland (appointed in 1665)
  • created an English peer as Lord Butler (in 1666). Almost as soon as he appeared in the House of Lords he was imprisoned for two days for challenging the duke of Buckingham.
  • Lord of the Bedchamber to Charles II (appointed in 1660), a post he held until his death.

In 1665 a fortunate accident had allowed Ossory to take part in the Battle of Lowestoft against the Dutch, and in May 1672, being now in command of a ship, he fought against the same enemies in the Battle of Solebay, serving with great distinction on both occasions. The earl was partly responsible for this latter struggle, as in March 1672, before war was declared, he had attacked the Dutch Smyrna fleet, an action which he is said to have greatly regretted later in life. Whilst visiting France in 1672 he rejected the liberal offers made by Louis XIV to induce him to enter the service of France, and returning to England he added to his high reputation by his conduct during the Battle of Texel in August 1673. From 1677 until 1679, he served alongside his father as a Lord of the Admiralty.

The earl was intimate with William, prince of Orange, and in 1677 he joined the allied army in the Netherlands, commanding the British section and winning great fame at the siege of Mons in 1678. He acted as deputy for his father, who was lord-lieutenant of Ireland, and in parliament he defended Ormonde’s Irish administration with great vigour. In 1680 he was appointed governor of English Tangier, but his death prevented him from taking up his new duties.

One of his most intimate friends was John Evelyn, who eulogizes him in his Diary.