Thomas Le Boteller

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Thomas Le Boteller, or Thomas Butler, nicknamed Thomas Bacach or Thomas the Lame (before 1386 – 1420), was the illegitimate son of the 3rd Earl of Ormond, and a leading political figure in early fifteenth century Ireland. He held the offices of Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Lord Deputy of Ireland and Prior of Kilmainham. In his own time he was a highly unpopular statesman, who was accused of treason. He is now chiefly remembered as a professional soldier, who was present at the Siege of Rouen in 1418-19, and fought in the sanguinary encounter known as the Battle of Bloody Bank near Dublin in 1402.


He was the son of James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormond,[1] by the Earl's unnamed mistress; he was not, as is sometimes said, the son of the Earl's first wife Anne Welles. His date of birth is uncertain, but since he saw combat in 1402, was Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1406 and Prior of Kilmainham by 1410, it must have been well before his first legitimate brother was born in 1392, and most likely before his father's first marriage in 1386. Thomas' nickname Bacach, "the lame" indicates that he was crippled,[2] but this did not stop him from pursuing a highly successful military career. It is said that he had a son named John Beagh Botiller, who was born before 1420 and died in Kilkenny, County Kilkenny, although this cannot be verified with certainty.


He was Prior of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller at Kilmainham from sometime before 1410 until his death in 1420. He was made Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1412 but due to the pressure of other duties he usually acted through his deputy, Robert Sutton. He was made Lord Deputy of Ireland in the absence of Thomas of Lancaster, Duke of Clarence in 1406, in which office he is said to have exercised great political influence. O'Flanagan states that Parliament threw out a Bill to regulate the Irish Church on le Botellers sole objection. [3] Such conduct naturally led to complaints, and may explain the attack on him by his opponents in 1411-12.[4]

Bloody Bank[edit]

The Knights Hospitaller were a military order and Thomas was a military man. In 1402 he led an army of 1400 men against the O'Byrne clan of Wicklow, who frequently raided Dublin, and was joined by another force under John Drake, Lord Mayor of Dublin, in an encounter popularly known as the Battle of Bloody Bank.[5] However half of Thomas's force deserted to the enemy and he was forced to withdraw in good order. Although accounts of the battle are confused, it seems clear that Drake rallied his men and defeated the O'Byrnes on the banks of the River Dargle near Bray, County Wicklow. killing at least 400 of them (4000 by one account). So much blood poured into the Dargle that the spot was known for centuries as Bloody Bank. [6]

Complaints about his governance[edit]

Boteller's administration had by now become so unpopular that the Privy Council of Ireland sent an impressive deputation, including two archbishops, to England to complain of his misconduct, and he was summoned to London to answer the charges made against him. He appears to have simply ignored both the original summons and a second order to appear. On the death of King Henry IV of England, the Lord Lieutenancy of his son Clarence automatically lapsed, and Thomas' Deputyship lapsed with it.[7]

Boteller accused of treason[edit]

In 1417 and 1418 he was at war with the Burkes in Tipperary and Kilkenny. This led to a clash with John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who supported the Burkes, and whose feud with Thomas' brother James Butler, 4th Earl of Ormonde would dominate Irish politics for many years. Thomas was accused of treasonable correspondence with Gerald FitzGerald, 5th Earl of Kildare and Christopher Preston, 2nd Baron Gormanston, both of whom were briefly imprisoned. No action seems to have been taken against Thomas himself: he was repeatedly summoned to Parliament but, as he had done in 1411-2, he simply refused to appear. In the event his willingness to lead an army to France may have resolved the crisis. Preston and Gormanston were soon released and restored to favour: Otway-Ruthven concludes that they are unlikely to have been engaged in a treasonable conspiracy, and were simply opposed to what they saw as Shrewsbury's high-handed regime.[8]

Siege of Rouen[edit]

In 1418-1419 Thomas led a force to fight with Henry V of England at the Siege of Rouen; French and English sources agree that he was present although they differ greatly on the size of his force; the best estimate is about 700. According to one description there were:

"eighteen score men with red shields and eighteen score with pure white shields; and not often has so numerous and well born a host embarked from England".[9]

He is said to have given good service in France, and died there in 1420.


O'Flanagan[10] calls Thomas a man of great courage and considerable administrative ability, who overcame what were then the serious drawbacks of illegitimacy and physical disability to become a successful soldier and statesman. Otway-Ruthven, on the other hand, while praising his military ability, regarded him as an unsatisfactory character with a dubious record of loyalty to the Crown.[11]


  1. ^ O'Flanagan, J. Roderick Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of Ireland London 2 Volumes 1870
  2. ^ O'Flanagan Lives of the Chancellors
  3. ^ O'Flanagan Lives of the Irish Chancellors
  4. ^ Otway-Ruthven History of Medieval Ireland Barnes and Noble reissue 1993
  5. ^ O'Byrne, Dr. Emmet "O'Byrne was forced to make submission to the KIng" Irish Independent 18/04/2012
  6. ^ Harris, Walter " Annals of Dublin " 1766
  7. ^ Otway-Ruthven History of Medieval Ireland
  8. ^ History of Medieval Ireland
  9. ^ History of Medieval Ireland
  10. ^ Lives of the Chancellors
  11. ^ History of Medieval Ireland