Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Butler, James (1665-1745)
BUTLER, JAMES, second Duke of Ormonde (1665–1745), was born in Dublin Castle, 29 April 1665, the second but eldest living son of Thomas, Earl of Ossory [q. v.], and of his wife Emilia, daughter of de Beverweert, governor of Sluys. In 1675 he was sent to France 'to learn the French air and language, the two things which' the first duke his grandfather 'thought the best worth acquiring in that country' (Carte). But his tutor, one de l'Ange, having 'in a manner buried' the boy among the tutor's relations at Orange, and having otherwise proved unsatisfactory, the duke summoned his grand-son home and entered him at Christ Church, Oxford, where he resided till Lord Ossory's death in 1680. From his father he seems to have inherited some of the personal qualities which afterwards helped to make him one of the most popular men of his age. The young Earl of Ossory now resided with his grandfather in Ireland till the duke's return to England in 1682. After this various matches were proposed for him, and he was married 15 July 1682 to Anne, daughter of Lawrence, Lord Hyde, afterwards Earl of Rochester. Her premature death, 25 Jan. 1684, no doubt helped to determine him in April of the same year to betake himself to the siege of Luxemburg, of which he witnessed the surrender in June. In July he was again summoned home by his grandfather, whom he accompanied to Ireland, where he had been appointed colonel of a regiment of horse. The duke was, however, recalled after a few months, and on his way back had to leave his grandson, who had been seized with small-pox at sea, to recover at Knowsley. Although the new king James II had treated the Duke of Ormonde with studied disrespect, Lord Ossory was soon after his recovery appointed a lord of the bedchamber, and served in the army despatched against Monmouth in the west. In the same year, 3 Aug. 1685, he married his second wife, Mary, eldest surviving daughter of the first Duke of Beaufort, by whom he had a son, who died in infancy, and five daughters. The death of the Duke of Ormonde, 21 July 1688, raised his grandson to the dukedom at a very critical moment; for three weeks previously the seven bishops had been acquitted, and the invitation to William of Orange despatched. In order at once to secure a chief whose loyalty to the church of England could be absolutely depended upon, the convocation at Oxford without delay elected by a majority the young Duke of Ormonde successor to his grandfather in the chancellorship of the university. As it proved, they only escaped Jeffreys by a couple of hours (Macaulay; and cf. Appendix to Diary of Henry, earl of Clarendon (1828), ii. 489–92).
Ormonde, who had no reason for loving James II, and was connected by family ties with the United Provinces, pursued an independent course during the brief remainder of the reign. After the landing of the Prince of Orange he joined in the petition of 17 Nov. which called upon King James to summon a free parliament. The king's ungracious answer may have finally determined his course. Together with Prince George he supped at King James's table at Andover 25 Nov., and then with Lord Drumlanrig accompanied the prince in his ride to the quarters of the Prince of Orange. In the House of Lords Ormonde afterwards voted in the minority which approved the proposal of a regency; but he must have readily acquiesced in the decision actually arrived at, for at the coronation of William and Mary he acted as lord high constable, and declared defiance against all who should deny the title of the new sovereigns. In return, he was gratified with a garter, together with the offices of gentleman of the bedchamber and colonel of the second troop of horse guards. His support was above all valuable on account of the position held by him in Ireland; and it was in his house in London that the Irish proprietors met to discuss the situation and to request King William if possible to come to terms with Tyrconnel. When the decision of arms was resorted to, Ormonde showed no hesitation. His name had been included in the great Act of Attainder passed at Dublin in May 1689, and his vast Irish estates, of which the annual income was valued at 25,000l., had been declared confiscate to the crown. In the following year he served in King William's army at the head of his life guards, and was present at the battle of the Boyne. Immediately afterwards he was despatched with his uncle Lord Auverquerque to secure Dublin; and 19 July he had the satisfaction of entertaining King William in his ancestral castle at Kilkenny, which he had been sent forward to recover. In January 1691 he accompanied William to the Hague, and in 1692 took part, though not as active a part as he desired, in the battle of Steinkirk. At the battle of Landen, 29 July 1693, after nearly losing his life amidst the terrible carnage of the day, he was taken prisoner by the French; but after a brief captivity at Namur, where he found opportunities of munificence towards his fellow-prisoners, he was exchanged for the Duke of Berwick. His name headed the list of those specially excepted from the hope of any future pardon in the declaration issued by King James in April 1692, on the eve of the battle of La Hogue (Clarke, Life of James II, ii. 485).
He had thus been consistently loyal towards William III, though, in accordance with the traditions of his house, he was reckoned among the tories. A certain independence of action marked his conduct on the occasion of the debates about Fenwick's attainder in 1696 (Macaulay, iv. 759–762); and he was in some measure identified with the popular sentiment of aversion to the foreigners in the service of the king. In 1699 William promoted his Dutch favourite Albemarle over the heads of Ormonde and Rivers to the command of the first troop of life guards. Ormonde then resigned his command of the second troop; whereupon not only did fifty members of parliament join in expressing to him their sympathy, but there was talk of bringing in a bill to exclude all foreigners from official employment. The affair was, however, arranged by a compromise, and Ormonde magnanimously withdrew his resignation (Klopp, viii. 341–2). It had been further hoped that of the Irish forfeitures resumed by parliament those in Tipperary would be bestowed upon him; but instead of this a proviso forgiving him the debts owed by him to persons whose property had been confiscated by the crown was introduced into the abnormal arrangements forced upon both king and lords by the spleen of the commons. These transactions, however, seem to have occasioned no personal estrangement between William III and Ormonde; for in March 1702 the latter was among the Englishmen who stood by the deathbed of the king.
Such was the popularity of Ormonde, that when in the new reign war had been actually declared, general satisfaction was caused by his appointment, 20 April 1702, to the command of the English and Dutch land forces which accompanied Sir George Rooke's fleet on the expedition against Cadiz (August). In June he was further gratified by being made lord-lieutenant of Somersetshire. His hope to prevail by pleasant words upon the governor of Cadiz, his former companion in arms in Flanders, proved as futile as his grandiloquent proclamation to the inhabitants. His plan for seizing the city by a coup de main having been outvoted, he assented to a counter-proposal that the troops should be landed midway between the towns of Rota and Puerto de Santa Maria. The former fell at once into the hands of the allies, and Santa Maria too was easily taken. Ormonde, whose headquarters were at Rota, failed to repress the excesses which followed on the part of his soldiery, though he held a court of inquiry into the conduct of his lieutenants. The attempt to capture Fort Matagorda failed, and discretionary powers having arrived, leaving it open to Rooke and Ormonde either to winter in Spain or to send part of the ships and troops to the West Indies and return home with the rest, a long series of bickerings ensued, which ended in the defeat of the general's wish to effect another landing in Spain. On 30 Sept. the fleet ingloriously weighed anchor; but a fortunate accident enabled the commanders before their return home to cover their discomfiture by a brilliant success. The land forces under Ormonde had a share in the operations, which, after the taking of the batteries at Redondela, ended in the destruction of many Spanish and French ships, and the capture of part of the treasure of the Plate fleet, in Vigo harbour (12 Oct.). After this victory Ormonde would gladly have attempted to seize Vigo and hold it during the winter, but Rooke refused his co-operation, and both returned to England. Here they were most warmly received, and their achievements joined with Marlborough's in the vote of thanks from the two houses, and in the thanksgiving ceremony at St. Paul's, where Ormonde was hailed with special acclamations. He, however, notwithstanding the objections raised by his friends, insisted upon and ultimately obtained a parliamentary inquiry into the Cadiz miscarriage. It ended honourably for Rooke, Ormonde generously abstaining from taking any part in the final decision. The queen had sought to soothe him by naming him a privy councillor; and in 1703 he was appointed to the government of Ireland, which his father-in-law, Rochester, the queen's uncle, had just wrathfully resigned. Ormonde had a kind of ancestral claim to the lord-lieutenancy, and the history of his house was closely bound up with the protestant and loyal interest in Ireland. It is therefore not wonderful that he should have been enthusiastically received by the Irish parliament, which he opened 21 Sept. and which speedily voted the necessary supplies. But the session after all proved an unfortunate one. The cruel intolerance of the act against popery was little to the taste of the lord-lieutenant, though he promised to do his best for it in England; here, however, much to the vexation of the Irish parliament, a clause devised on the principle of the Test Act was added which bore hardly upon the presbyterians. Furthermore, some of Ormonde's subordinates were believed to have cooked the public accounts, and he was supposed to have held but a slack rein over the cupidity of those who surrounded him. The parliament, which had become violently incensed against him, was abruptly prorogued. In 1705, when a dispute raged between the commons and the lower house of convocation, he twice resorted to the same expedient, and in June he embarked for England. He was in April 1707 superseded in the government of Ireland by the Earl of Pembroke. On the overthrow of the whigs in 1710 he was reappointed to the same post, but in less than two years he was called away from the exercise of its duties, and retired 22 Sept. 1713. In December 1711 Marlborough had been dismissed from all his offices, and soon afterwards Ormonde, besides being appointed colonel of the first regiment of foot guards, was appointed to succeed him in the post of captain-general and in the conduct of the campaign in Flanders, for which he took his departure in April 1712. Burnet declares that he was ‘well satisfied both with his instructions and his appointments; for he had the same allowances that had been voted criminal in the Duke of Marlborough.’ His instructions were to inform the States-General and Prince Eugene that the queen intended vigorously to push the war. The coldness of the reception, however, which he met with from Pensionary Heinsius, was speedily justified by the conduct of the government, which had selected an honourable man for the performance of a more than dubious task. Within a fortnight of his landing he was warned by St. John to be extremely cautious about engaging in any action, and at the end of May, just after he and Prince Eugene had reviewed the allied forces near Douai, arrived the orders, which were afterwards notorious as the restraining orders, but which he was instructed to keep secret, forbidding his joining in any siege or engaging in any action without further commands. The allies crossed the Scheldt, while Villars, whose position had seemed nearly desperate, at once found a pretext for entering into communications with Ormonde. They greatly embarrassed the British general, who, in reply to a pressing invitation from Prince Eugene, felt himself constrained to avow that he could not join in any operation before receiving further instructions from home. The true nature of his position was now an open secret, and as such was hotly discussed both at the Hague and in the houses of parliament at Westminster. When in June Prince Eugene gave orders for the siege of Quesnoy, Ormonde, in accordance with the declaration of ministers in parliament that such an operation was within his powers, consented to cover the siege in conjunction with the imperialist commander; but no sooner had the fall of the place become imminent than he informed Prince Eugene (25 June) that he was instructed to proclaim a cessation of arms for two months. Quesnoy, however, capitulated (10 July), and Ormonde failed to induce the commanders of the German troops in the queen's pay, headed by the hereditary Prince of Hesse-Cassel, to follow him to Dunkirk, which Louis XIV had agreed provisionally to give up to Great Britain. Instead of half the allied army, only the native British troops, 12,000 in number, now obeyed Ormonde's orders. Having proclaimed a cessation of arms, he withdrew at the head of these troops (16 July) and marched upon Ghent and Bruges, which were already in British occupation, and which nearly alone among the places in Flanders opened their gates to our forces. Here and hereabouts they spent the winter, while Dunkirk was also nominally in British occupation. When the spring came, peace had been made.
Humiliating as Ormonde's experiences had been during his command—for his own officers and soldiers had expressed their share in the indignation excited by the policy which he was doomed to carry out—it does not seem as if his personal credit had permanently suffered from these proceedings. A general impression, more complimentary to his integrity than to his intelligence, prevailed that he had been employed because he did not at first penetrate the motives of his employers. The government rewarded him for his services by conferring on him the wardenship and admiralty of the Cinque Ports and the constableship of Dover Castle, together with a pension of 5,000l. a year upon the Irish revenues, this last in compensation of the recent restoration to the crown of some royalties in Tipperary which had formerly been for a time in his family. Inasmuch as he still held both the lord-lieutenancy and the captain-generalship, he was during the last part of Queen Anne's reign one of the most important personages in the state, and one on whom a large share of responsibility rested as to the conduct and policy of its government. As lord-lieutenant he at least found occasion for an act creditable both to his sense of justice and to his moral courage; for it was to ‘his brother’ Ormonde, in whose gift the preferment lay, that Swift primarily owed his appointment to the deanery of St. Patrick by an arrangement concerted, as he relates, between the queen, the duke, and the lord treasurer Oxford (Journal to Stella, 18 April 1713). It is less easy to determine the more important question, to what extent Ormonde was prepared to further the Jacobite designs rife in the last years of the reign. He was not a man usually capable of acting for himself, and he seems to have followed the lead of Bolingbroke rather than that of the more cautious Oxford, though the former afterwards explicitly denied having been at any time ‘in his secret’ (Letter to Windham). As captain-general he co-operated in the purification of the army from the leaven of Marlborough; and though as lord warden of the Cinque Ports he was specially responsible for the safety of the south coast, he was actually engaged in correspondence with the Duke of Berwick (Mémoires du Maréchal de Berwick, cited in Macknight's Life of Bolingbroke, 392). When Bolingbroke had at last succeeded in ousting Oxford from office and intended to form an essentially Jacobite administration of his own, Ormonde was to have been included in it (Stanhope). Instead of this, his name together with Bolingbroke's figured among the signatures under the proclamation notifying the death of Queen Anne and the accession of King George. It was noticed that at the proclamation of the king, when Oxford was hissed and Bolingbroke met with a dubious reception, Ormonde was lustily cheered by the crowd (Ford to Swift, 5 Aug. 1714, cited by Wyon, ii. 529–30).
On the arrival in England of the new king, it seemed at first as if Ormonde were to be received into the royal favour. But 18 Sept. he was deprived of the captain-generalship; and though 9 Oct. he was named of the privy council in Ireland, he was a few days afterwards dismissed, being however apprised through Lord Townshend that the king would be glad to see him at court. When parliament met in March 1715, Stanhope, who in the debate on the address hinted at the willingness of ministers to call their predecessors to account, spoke of ‘a certain English general who had acted in concert with, if not received orders from, Marshal Villars.’ But Ormonde continued to maintain an attitude of dignity and even of defiance, holding receptions at Richmond to which Jacobites were openly admitted, and enjoying the huzzas of the London mob. To what extent he was at this time involved with the Pretender, who, according to Bolingbroke, had conferred upon Ormonde a commission ‘with the most ample powers that could be given’ for the conduct of a rising in England, will probably never be known. There seems even now to have existed among the whigs a wish to avoid prosecuting him with the other late tory leaders, and to induce him to recant his errors instead (see the letter from Cardonnel to Marlborough cited by Stanhope, History, i. 122 note). But it was ultimately determined otherwise. On 21 June Stanhope moved his impeachment, and after a protracted debate, in which several known friends of the protestant succession spoke in his favour, the motion was carried by a majority of forty-nine. Yet it was still hoped that an audience with the king might set matters right, and many of his Jacobite friends urged him to take a conciliatory course, which still seemed open to him. Others wished him to co-operate in the scheme for an insurrection in the west, to which he was already privy. But he refused to accept either advice, and once more following Bolingbroke's lead fled to France on 8 Aug. (for the story of his parting interview with Oxford in the Tower see Stanhope, i. 127). He arrived, if Bolingbroke is to be believed, ‘almost literally alone,’ and for a time the two exiles lived together in the same house. On 20 Aug. he was attainted, his estates were declared forfeited, and his honours extinguished, and on 26 June 1716 an act vested his estates in the crown. Another act, however, passed in 1721, enabled his brother the Earl of Arran to purchase them, and this was done.
Ormonde, who had not yet lost heart, and was still, in Bolingbroke's phrase, ‘the bubble of his own popularity,’ took a prominent part in the unfortunate enterprise of 1715. Trusting in the promises of the Jacobites in England and in the pretences of the regent Orleans or his agents, he embarked in Normandy for the neighbourhood of Plymouth, where the country was to rise for King James. But on his arrival he was soon convinced of the futility of his expectations, and speedily sailed back to France. He never again returned to this country. In 1719, when Alberoni had resolved to assist the Pretender with a Spanish armada sailing from Cadiz, the conduct of it was offered to Ormonde, who was to join the fleet at Corunna, and there assume its command, with the title of captain-general of the King of Spain. In Ireland a reward of 10,000l. and in England one of 5,000l. were proclaimed for his apprehension on landing, and about the same time his house in St. James's Square was sold by auction by the crown. He was himself altogether distrustful of the success of the expedition, which numbered not more than 5,000 soldiers (partly Irish), and wrote from Corunna to Alberoni requesting that it might be postponed, which was tantamount to its being abandoned. But the fleet was dissipated off Cape Finisterre by a hurricane which lasted twelve days, and only two frigates reached the Scottish shore. In 1721, St. Simon found him resident at Madrid, and in favour with the queen and the court; and either there or later the Spanish government acknowledged his services, or his distinction, by a pension of 2,000 pistoles. Many years afterwards—in 1740—he was again in the Spanish capital, where he and Earl Marischal hoped to take advantage for the Jacobite cause of the breach between Spain and England. He was once more disappointed; nor could he well have now participated in any military enterprise. The latter years of his life were spent chiefly at Avignon, where Lady Mary Wortley Montagu saw him in 1733, the year of his second wife's death. He died himself 16 Nov. 1745. His remains were brought to England and buried in the family vault in King Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey. With the death of his brother Charles, earl of Arran, in 1758 the titles of the family became extinct.
The second Duke of Ormonde, though in a sense born to greatness, certainly did not contrive to achieve it. The exceptional popularity which he enjoyed in England in the earlier half of his life is easily accounted for. Swift, describing the French ambassador to Stella, says that ‘he is a fine gentleman, something like the Duke of Ormonde, and just such an expensive man.’ He was not less munificent than he was wealthy, gracious in manner, and high-church in opinions. In other respects, too, he fell in with the then popular ideal of a patriotic English statesman, though really as little capable in the cabinet as on the battle-field, where, according to Prior (Carmen Seculare), his glory paled neither before that of his ancestors nor before that of King William himself. His loftiness of spirit was, however, not altogether for show, if St. Simon's anecdote be true, that he refused large domains offered to him in Spain as the price of conversion to the church of Rome, while we know that he declined to follow Bolingbroke in attempting to persuade the Pretender to abandon this faith. Except by virtue of his rank and position, he was as a politician throughout his life what Lady Mary Wortley Montagu says he was in 1733, quite insignificant. He never accomplished anything of importance except when by separating the British troops from those of the allies in Flanders he enabled his tory colleagues to conclude peace with dishonour.
There is a half-length portrait of the duke by Michael Dahl in the National Portrait Gallery.[A useful biographical sketch of the second Duke of Ormonde is given in Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, ed. Archdall, 1789, iv. 59–64 note. Several facts concerning his early days and family connections will be found in Carte's Life of [the first] James, Duke of Ormonde, vol. iv. ed. 1851. Of his proceedings immediately before and after his flight to France, Bolingbroke gives an untrustworthy account in the Letter to Sir William Windham. Other modern authorities are Lord Macaulay's History of England; Lord Stanhope's Reign of Queen Anne (1870), and History of England from the Peace of Utrecht (1858); Smollett's History of England; O. Klopp's Fall des Hauses Stuart (1875–1881); Coxe's Life of Marlborough; and, more especially, F. W. Wyon's History of Great Britain during the reign of Queen Anne (2 vols. 1876).]