Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Butler, Thomas (1634-1680)
BUTLER, THOMAS, Earl of Ossory (1634–1680), was the eldest son of James, first duke of Ormonde [q. v.], and was born in the castle of Kilkenny on 9 July 1634. Here he remained, and was carefully educated, throughout the Irish rebellion, until Ormonde surrendered Dublin to the parliamentary commissioners in 1647, when he accompanied his father to England, and shortly afterwards, in February 1647–8, to France. He stayed with his brother Richard at Paris until Ormonde's return to Ireland in September. They were then placed in the house of a French protestant minister at Caen for a year, and were subsequently sent to the academy of M. de Camp at Paris, where Ossory distinguished himself, as he did throughout his life, by his skill in all manly exercises. Evelyn's friendship with Ossory dates from this time, and on 16 March 1650 he writes that he ‘saw a triumph here [i.e. at Paris], where divers of the French and English noblesse, especially my lord of Ossorie and Richard, sons to the Marquis of Ormonde, did their exercises on horseback in noble equipage.’ In another entry, on 7 May, Evelyn gives an early instance of Ossory's display of temper. In December 1650 the youth returned to Caen, where his mother was now residing, and in August 1652 accompanied her to England, whither she went to petition parliament for part of the Ormonde estates. Having succeeded in her object, she went to Ireland in the following year, leaving Ossory and his brother in London, and only returned to England after two years' absence. The two passages in Carte upon this point are contradictory (cf. iii. 631 and iv. 596). The place of residence of the brothers during these two years is uncertain, but after Lady Ormonde's return to London they lived with her at Wild House. Ossory's character at this time is thus given by Sir R. Southwell: ‘He is a young man with a very handsome face, a good head of hair, a pretty big voice, well set, and a good round leg. He pleaseth me exceedingly, being very good natured, talking freely, asking many questions, and humouring the answers. He rides the great horse very well; is a good tennis player, fencer, and dancer. He understands music, and plays on the guitar and lute; speaks French elegantly, reads Italian fluently, is a good historian, and so well versed in romances that if a gallery be full of pictures or hangings he will tell the stories of all that are there described. He shuts up his door at eight o'clock in the evening, and studies till midnight. He is temperate, courteous, and excellent in all his behaviour.’ The heir of a great house, with such endowments, soon became the darling of society. As late as 20 Feb. 1655 he was at full liberty; on that day he was at the Swedish ambassador's (Whitelocke, p. 621). But his unconcealed sympathies with the royal cause roused the jealousy of Cromwell, who, in March 1655, sent a guard to secure him. He was out at the time, but Lady Ormonde promised that he should wait upon Cromwell next morning. This, though offers were made to assist him in escaping, he did, and was sent to the Tower, although Cromwell had shortly before given him a pass to travel through Italy and the Holy Land. Ossory remained in the Tower eight months, during which his mother in vain appealed to Cromwell for his release or for information as to his crime. In October he fell ill of ague, and was partially released, but not finally freed until the following spring, when he accompanied Lady Ormonde to Acton in Gloucestershire, and later went with his brother to Flanders, apparently in disguise. Thence he went to Holland, and avoided the refugee court of Charles, lest he should give Cromwell a pretence for taking away his mother's estate. Here he stayed four years, became acquainted with the Lord of Beverwaert, the governor of Sluys, a nobleman allied in blook to the Prince of Orange, and married his eldest daughter Emilia on 17 Nov. 1659. Ormonde himself was present at the wedding, and approved the match. He hoped that by its agency he might induce De Witt, a great friend of Beverwaert, to enter heartily into the design of the king's restoration. To secure this marriage, Ossory's mother was compelled to give up 1,200l. a year out of the 2,000l. a year settled upon her by Cromwell. The father of the bride gave 10,000l. dowry, with which Ormonde's sister was to have been married and his brother John educated; but the money appears to have been immediately devoted to the necessities of the royal service. Ossory's relations with his wife were of the purest kind, and he appears to have lived without even a suspicion of libertinism. Lady Ossory ‘was an excellent woman, had exceeding good sense, and the sweetest temper in the world.’ Ossory fell into one of the court follies, that of gambling; and it is said that when, ‘after losing, he came home thoughtful and out of humour, and upon her inquiring the reason told her that he was vexed at himself for playing the fool and gaming, and that he had lost one thousand pounds, she still desired him not to be troubled—she would find ways to save it at home. She was indeed an admirable economist, always cheerful, and never known to be out of humour; so that they lived together in the most perfect harmony imaginable.’ By this marriage he became united with Henry Bennet [q. v.], earl of Arlington, already an intimate friend, who married Isabella, his wife's sister, in 1666.
At the Restoration Ossory accompanied Charles. He was already the valued friend not merely of young gallants like himself, but of the best men of the time. On 6 July 1660, for instance, Evelyn speaks of him as his ‘excellent and worthy noble friend, my Lord Ossory,’ and frequently mentions him in terms of enthusiastic admiration; while the confidence reposed in him by James is shown by the fact that he was one of the two witnesses to the duke's marriage with Anne Hyde (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. 159). On 8 Feb. 1660–1 he was made by patent colonel of foot in Ireland, on 13 June following colonel and captain of horse, and on the 19th of the same month lieutenant-general of the horse. At the ceremony of the coronation he was one of the young noblemen appointed to bear the king's mantle, and as such he challenged the place before Lord Percy, the eldest son of the Duke of Northumberland. His pretension, which gave great offence, was unjustifiable, as Ormonde's dukedom was only an Irish one, and it was overruled by the king (Clarendon, Life, 194). In the beginning of 1662 he succeeded the Earl of Mountrath in various military commands, and on 16 Aug. 1665 was appointed lieutenant-general of the army in Ireland.
Meantime Ossory had been elected M.P. for Bristol (8 May 1661), and was also M.P. for Dublin University in the Irish House of Commons 1661–2. On 22 June 1662 Charles ordered that he should be called to the House of Peers in that country. By special order of the commons he was accompanied by Sir Paul Davys and Sir H. Tichborne, with the body of members, to the bar of the House of Lords. The lords themselves ordered that his seat should be above all the earls. The speaker of the commons gave thanks to the lords for the honour thus done to Ossory, who was further complimented by the lord chancellor. In April 1664 Ormonde left Ireland for court, returning in October 1665, during which interval Ossory acted as his deputy.
In 1665 he returned to England, and was on a visit to his future brother-in-law, Arlington, at the latter's seat at Euston, when the first great battle, lasting for four days, took place with the Dutch off the Suffolk coast. Hearing the guns at sea, he, with Sir Thomas Clifford, managed to get from Harwich on board the Duke of Albemarle's ship, and bring him the welcome news that Rupert was on his way to reinforce him; and he remained with the duke, for whom he had ever afterwards a high opinion, during two days' fighting. He is stated by his daring conduct in this fight to have ‘become the darling of the kingdom, and especially of the seamen, who called him the preserver of the navy.’ He was shortly made a gentleman of the king's bedchamber upon his father's resignation, was placed on the English privy council in June 1666, and on 14 Sept. in the same year was summoned to the English House of Lords by the title of Lord Butler of Moore Park, taking his seat on 18 Sept. The lords were soon treated to a specimen of his fiery temper. The Duke of Buckingham, who was busily plotting against Ormonde, asserted in the house that none were against the bill then before them, prohibiting the importation of Irish cattle, except such as had Irish estates or Irish understandings (Pepys, 27 Oct. 1666). Ossory, on 26 Oct., angrily replied, and delighted to find an excuse for quarrelling with Buckingham at once challenged him, but on arriving at the place of meeting was arrested by the king's guard, Buckingham having, according to Carte (iv. 270), given notice to Charles. Clarendon's account differs somewhat from that of Carte. He says nothing of an arrest, and mentions that Buckingham went to a place other than that appointed, pretending that it was called by the same name (Life, 969). Buckingham having complained of a breach of privilege, Ossory was released by the king to make his defence, but was sent back to the Tower by the lords, the duke too being taken into custody. On 31 Oct. Ossory presented a petition to the lords, drawn up by Arlington, who had vigorously espoused his quarrel in the house, expressing his regret, and praying to be released, which was done two days after the arrest. Pepys states that the quarrel was between Ossory and Clarendon; but this is of course a clerical error, as Clarendon was one of Ormonde's greatest friends, and himself rebuked Buckingham (Carte, iv. 270). A fresh quarrel, it appears, broke out on 19 Nov., in which Ossory flatly gave Buckingham the lie (Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. 102 a, 102 b). For this, and for a similar attack upon Ashley, when, after great provocation, he said that Ashley spoke like one of Oliver's council, the fiery young man was compelled by the house to ask pardon of his opponents.
In 1668 Ormonde asked leave of Charles to come to court, leaving his son as his deputy. Ossory accordingly set out in March and remained until his father's deprivation of the lord-lieutenancy in March of the following year, 1669, when he returned to England. He had been put in full possession of the intrigues against Ormonde by Arlington, who was sincerely attached to himself, but who was at the time engaged in them.
In May 1670 Ossory went in the king's train to Dover to meet the Duchess of Orleans, and in the following October was sent with a fleet of yachts to bring the Prince of Orange to England, sailing from Harwich about the 13th (ib. 6th Rep. 367 b), and returning with him at the end of the month. It was in this year that the attempt was made by Blood upon his father's life. Ossory ascribed the outrage directly to the Duke of Buckingham before the king's face, and added: ‘If my father comes to a violent end, by sword or pistol, … I shall not be at a loss to know the first author of it. I shall consider you as the assassin; … and wherever I meet you I shall pistol you, though you stood behind the king's chair. And I tell it you in his majesty's presence, that you may be sure I shall keep my word.’
In February Ossory was again appointed to attend the Prince of Orange back to the Hague. Thence he returned by Flanders and Paris, intending to serve as a volunteer in the French force destined for Alsace. The expedition having, however, fallen through, Ossory once more came to Holland and thence to England. He had completely won the respect of Orange, who in April sent him as a present ‘a bason and ewer of massy gold.’
In June 1671 Ossory went over to Flanders to be present at the siege of Brunswick. Disappointed here, he was, in January 1671–2, in command of the third-rate king's ship the Resolution, and was on board of her when, along with Sir Robert Holmes, he attacked, on 14 March, the Dutch Smyrna fleet before any declaration of war had been issued—an action which deeply offended Ormonde, and which he himself afterwards accounted the one blot upon his life (Evelyn, 12 March 1672, 26 July 1680). In April he was promoted to the command of the second-rate the Victory, upon which he fought the sanguinary action with the Dutch in Southwold Bay on 28 May. After the action, in which he further increased his reputation for courage, he caused the sick and wounded seamen in the Southwark Hospital to be visited and relieved at his own cost. It is stated (Biog. Brit.) that shortly before this he had lost about 8,000l. at cards, and that from this difficulty he was relieved by the king without the knowledge of the court. On 30 Sept. Charles bestowed the garter upon him, and he was installed at Windsor on 25 Oct. He was next employed, in November, as envoy extraordinary to carry formal condolences to Louis on the death of the Duke of Anjou. Every honour was shown him while at the French court, and the most enticing offers, both of place and money, were made him to induce him to take service with Louis, which he refused on the ground that he was already serving in the Dutch war. Upon his taking leave he was presented with a jewel of the value of 2,000l. On 26 March 1673, along with Evelyn, Ossory was sworn a younger brother of the Trinity House (Evelyn, 26 March 1673). In May 1673 he accepted the command of the first-rate St. Michael, and was made rear-admiral of the blue on the 17th. In the great battle which was fought on 11 Aug., Admiral Spragge, who commanded, being slain and his ship disabled, Ossory defended her from capture during the day, and at night brought her safely off. No one was left alive upon his quarter-deck but himself, his page, and Captain Narborough (Hist. MSS. Comm. 6th Rep. 719 b note). After this action he was made rear-admiral of the red, and in September commanded in chief during Rupert's absence, while the fleet was lying at the Nore, receiving henceforward, according to custom, a pension of 250l. a year. Towards the close of the year Ossory received intelligence that the harbour of Helvoetsluys, where, when in Holland, he had noticed the prizes taken by the Dutch at Chatham, and which he was now informed was filled with the Dutch navy, was very insufficiently guarded. He at once made a design for attacking it, and having secured a plan of the harbour, and having obtained the king's orders to sail with ten frigates and 2,000 soldiers, was on the eve of setting out when, from causes never known, the expedition was countermanded. Charles showed continued confidence by choosing him in November 1674 to propose to Orange the marriage with James's daughter Mary. On 31 May, Trinity Monday, 1675, he was elected master of the Trinity House, Evelyn again being present (ib. 8th Rep. 255 a). In July 1680 there was a painting of him in the Trinity House, but it was distrained, along with other property, for hearth-money, which the corporation refused to pay, on 29 Sept. 1682 (ib. 257 a, 258 b). In August he was appointed one of the commissioners of the admiralty. Apparently his affairs were at this time somewhat embarrassed, for on 22 Dec. 1675 he is mentioned as petitioning the king for a pension of 2,000l. a year out of the 30,000l. reserved by him from the new farm of the revenue of Ireland (ib. 4th Rep. 248). On 18 Nov. 1676 he was made lord chamberlain to the queen. In June 1677 the Prince of Orange, when sending over Bentinck to continue the marriage negotiations, advised him to go, in the first place, to Ossory and Ormonde. Ossory now obtained permission to make a campaign with Orange, and joined him before Charleroi; and upon the raising of the siege, a battle with Luxembourg being imminent, he had the post of honour with the command of 6,000 men conferred upon him (ib. 5th Rep. 187). He returned to England that year, for at the beginning of December we find him and his second, Captain Mackarly, worsted in a duel with Mr. Buckley and Mr. Gerard (ib. 7th Rep. 469 a).
In February 1678 he again went to Holland, where he had been appointed general, by the prince's patent, of the British forces in the pay of the States. In that capacity he was present at the battle of Mons, and distinguished himself greatly, his own life being saved only by the fact that two shots which struck him were stopped by his armour. He returned to England in September 1678 with many testimonies to his reputation. He was desirous, however, of having his commission of general confirmed by the States, and in March 1680 sent to demand this, which, after much difficulty, he obtained through Orange's personal influence.
Upon his return in 1678 Ossory had been nominated to command the fleet intended to put down the pirates of Algiers; his demands for men and ships, however, were greater than the treasury would grant, and Narborough went in his stead.
Ossory had an active share in the early stages of the popish terror. It is stated, indeed, that on 11 Nov. 1678 he discovered 100,000 fireballs and grenades in Somerset House (ib. 471 b), which was, of course, merely an idle tale. In December he appears to have given in a report concerning Godfrey's murder (ib. 6th Rep. 778 b), while he pointed out an evident falsehood in Oates's evidence, and on 30 Nov. was the first to carry to the queen the news that the lords had refused to concur in the vote of the commons of 28 Nov. for an address to the king for her removal from court. In June 1679 there was talk of removing Lauderdale from his commands in Scotland, and of the appointment of Ossory and another with Monmouth as a joint commission for governing that country (ib. 7th Rep. 473 a).
In September he was named envoy extraordinary to carry to the King of Spain Charles's congratulations on the marriage of the latter's niece. This expedition, however, in preparing for which he had incurred much expense, was stopped by Essex, then at the head of the treasury, who persuaded Charles to seek a less expensive method (ib. 6th Rep. 724 b). On 23 Oct. he walked before James at the artillery dinner given to the duke (ib. 7th Rep. 476 b). When a volunteer force of young men of position was raised as a bodyguard to the king, Ossory had the command (ib. 3rd Rep. 270).
During the winter Ormonde was warmly attacked in the House of Lords by Shaftesbury, who saw in his continuance in Ireland one of the greatest difficulties to the success of the anti-catholic and exclusion programme. He was, however, defended with the utmost spirit by Ossory, who retorted upon Shaftesbury himself with telling effect: ‘Having spoke of what he has done, I presume with the same truth to tell your lordships what he has not done. He never advised the breaking up of the triple league, he never advised the shutting up of the exchequer, he never advised the declaration for a toleration, he never advised the falling out with the Dutch and joining with the French; he was not the author of that most excellent position of “Delenda est Carthago,” that Holland, a protestant country, should, contrary to the true interest of England, be totally destroyed. I beg your lordships will be so just as to judge of my father and of all men according to their actions and counsels.’ This speech was translated into Dutch, and drew from Orange a sincere letter of praise.
In April 1680 Ossory was replaced on the privy council, from which he had been removed at the dissolution of the old council. In June, greatly to his own dislike, he was nominated to the governorship of Tangier, with the generalship of the forces. He took it greatly to heart, since he was being sent out with an incompetent force upon what Sunderland the secretary told the king before his face was an errand that must fail, even if it were not intended to fail. The gallant and high-spirited man appears to have brooded deeply over this unworthy reward of his own and his father's services, and he unburdened his mind to Evelyn. On the evening of the same day, 26 July, he attended the king at the sheriffs' supper in Fishmongers' Hall. There he was taken ill, and was removed to Arlington House, where Evelyn watched his bedside. He speedily became delirious, with short lucid intervals, during which the sacrament was administered, and, in spite of the efforts of six doctors, died on Friday, 30 July (Evelyn, 26 July 1680). His body was placed temporarily in Westminster Abbey, and afterwards removed to the family vaults at Kilkenny Castle. The character which Evelyn gives him is supported by universal testimony. ‘His majesty never lost a worthier subject, nor father a better or more dutiful son; a loving, generous, good-natured, and perfectly obliging friend, one who had done innumerable kindnesses to severall before they knew it; nor did he ever advance any that were not worthy; no one more brave, more modest; none more humble, sober, and every way virtuous. … What shall I add? He deserved all that a sincere friend, a brave souldier, a virtuous courtier, a loyal subject, an honest man, a bountifull master, and good christian, could deserve of his prince and country.’
Ossory had eleven children, of whom two sons and four daughters survived him. The eldest of the sons, James Butler (1665–1745) [q. v.], became the second duke of Ormonde, while of the daughters one became Countess of Derby, another Countess of Grantham.[The authorities for Ossory's life are, in the first place, Carte's Life of Ormonde; Evelyn gives much useful information; one or two anecdotes not otherwise mentioned will be found in Clarendon's Life, while the various notices in the Reports of the Hist. MSS. Commission, especially those contained in Mr. Gilbert's most interesting account of the Kilkenny MSS., with the numerous specimens of Ossory's letters, are of the greatest value.]