James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond

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Portrait study by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1533. The portrait was previously thought to be that of his cousin, Thomas Boleyn, but it has been officially identified as the 9th Earl of Ormond.[1][2]

James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond and 2nd Earl of Ossory (1496 – 28 October 1546), nicknamed The Lame, was the son of Piers Butler, 8th Earl of Ormond and Margaret Fitzgerald, Countess of Ormond. He was created, in 1535, Viscount Thurles,[3] and was confirmed by Act of Parliament, 6 November 1541, in the Earldom of Ormond, as 9th Earl with the pre-eminence of the original earls. His death by poisoning remains an unsolved mystery.

Marriage and issue[edit]

About 1520 James joined the household of Cardinal Wolsey, who praised him as a young gentleman " both wise and discreet". In early 1522, it was proposed by King Henry VIII that he marry his cousin Anne Boleyn, who was the great-granddaughter of Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond. This was to resolve a dispute her father Thomas Boleyn had with James' father Piers over the Ormond inheritance and title: Wolsey himself supported the proposal. The marriage negotiations, however, came to a halt, for unknown reasons.[4] He subsequently married Lady Joan Fitzgerald some time before 21 December 1532. Lady Joan was the daughter and heiress of the 10th Earl of Desmond, by his wife, Amy O'Brien. Together James and Joan had seven sons:


During the early 1540s he gradually regained the Butler dynasty's former influence, leading to quarrels with the formidable Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir Anthony St Leger. Perhaps in an attempt to conciliate Ormond, St. Leger gave him command of the Irish forces in the Anglo-Scottish War of 1544. This led to further conflict when allies of Ormond accused St. Leger of deliberately sending Ormond into danger.[5] Ormond himself demanded an inquiry into claims that St Leger had planned his murder, and the matter was thought to merit a Privy Council investigation: St. Leger was exonerated and he and Ormond ordered to work together amicably.[6] Key Government allies of Ormond like John Alan and Walter Cowley were removed from office, and Ormond was struggling to maintain his standing when he was poisoned.


On 17 October 1546, James went to dine at Ely Palace in Holborn, London. He fell victim of a mass poisoning along with his steward and 16 of his servants.[7] He eventually died on 28 October, leaving Joan a widow in her thirties. The poisoning remains a mystery, since, surprisingly in view of Ormond's high social standing, no proper investigation seems to have been carried out.[8] The host at the dinner, John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, though ruthless enough, is not known to have had any quarrel with Ormond. A recent historian remarks that it would be a quite extraordinary coincidence if St. Leger had no part in the sudden and convenient removal of his main Irish opponent.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Royal Collection Trust Online. James Butler, later 9th Earl of Ormond and 2nd Earl of Ossory (c.1496-1546), Royal Collection
  2. ^ David Starkey, Holbein's Irish Sitter, The Burlington Magazine, May 1981
  3. ^ Wills, James, ed. (1840). Lives of illustrious and distinguished Irishmen, from the earliest times to the present period 1. Dublin: MacGregor, Polson & Co. pp. 471–473. Retrieved 2011-12-10. 
  4. ^ Antonia Fraser, The Wives of Henry VIII, pp. 121–124
  5. ^ Robert Dudley Edwards Ireland n the Age of the Tudors Croom Helm London 1977 p.58
  6. ^ Dudley Edwards pp.58-9
  7. ^ Emerson
  8. ^ Dudley Edwards p.58
  9. ^ Murray, James Enforcing the English Reformation Cambridge University Press 2009 p.192

Further reading[edit]

Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
Piers Butler
Earl of Ormond
Succeeded by
Thomas Butler