BUTLER, Thomas, Earl of Ossory (1634-80), of Moor Park, Herts. and Dover House, Whitehall.
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Family and Education
b. 8 July 1634, 2nd s. of James, 1st Duke of Ormonde, and bro. of Lord Richard Butler. educ. privately; travelled abroad (France and Holland) 1648-52, 1657-May 1660; Académie del Campo, Paris 1649-50. m. 7 Nov. 1659 (with £10,000), Amilia, da. of Lodewyk van Nassau, lord of Beverweerd, 5s. (3 d.v.p.) 6da. summ. to House of Lords [I] as Earl of Ossory 8 Aug. 1662; cr. Lord Butler of Moore Park 14 Sept. 1666; KG 30 Sept. 1672.
Jt. farmer of wine and brandy licences [I] Aug. 1660-d.; PC [I] Dec. 1660-d.; ld. deputy [I] 1664-5, 1668-9; gent. of the bedchamber 1666-d.; PC 1666-79, Apr. 1680-d.; commr. for trade 1668-72; envoy to France 1672; elder bro. Trinity House 1673, master 1675-6; ld. of the Admiralty 1675-9; ld. chamberlain to Queen Catherine of Braganza 1676-d.1
Col. of ft. July-Oct. 1660, 1661, (Dutch army) 1678-80; lt.-gen. of horse [I] 1661-74; lt.-gen. [I] 1665-d.; capt. RN 1672, rear-adm. of the blue May 1673, v.-adm. of the red Sept. 1673-4; lt.-gen. (Dutch service) Jan.-Aug. 1678; gov. Tangier July 1680-d.2
Freeman, Bristol 1661, Dublin 1670, Portsmouth 1675; commr. for assessment, Bristol 1661-3.3
MP [I] 1661-2.
Ossory’s family took their surname from the office of Chief Butler of Ireland, which they had held since the closing decade of the 12th century, receiving an Irish peerage in 1328. His father was leader of the Irish loyalists during the Civil War, subsequently playing an even more hazardous part as emissary to the royalist conspirators in England. Ossory was abroad from 1648 to 1652, when he returned to England with his mother. His courtesy, temperance and numerous accomplishments won him an enduring popularity. He was arrested in 1655 as being ‘conversant among the dangerous men’, but allowed to go abroad again two years later on giving security not to act or contrive anything to the prejudice of the Protectorate. In 1659 he married a lady from an illegitimate branch of the house of Nassau, with whom he lived in unbroken fidelity all his life. He accompanied Charles II to England at the Restoration and gave away the bride at the secret marriage of the Duke of York.4
After the dissolution of the Convention, and apparently to stave off quo warranto proceedings, the mayor of Bristol offered to Ormonde, who had been appointed lord lieutenant, a seat for his son. There was a double return, but Ossory was allowed to sit, because his rival Sir Humphrey Hooke had subscribed to his indenture. He was not an active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, being appointed to only 13 committees, all in the first session. He helped to manage a conference on a message from the Scottish Parliament on 20 May 1661 and was among those appointed to consider the bill for drainage of the fens, where he had acquired a substantial interest as tenant to the crown. He acted as teller for a Lords amendment to the security bill. He was appointed to the committees for the corporations and uniformity bills, and helped to manage the conference on an alleged conspiracy on 19 Dec. In May 1662, Ossory quarrelled with Philip Howard II. The cause is unknown, but, fearing a duel, the House asked the King to compose their differences.5
Althouth Ossory was listed as a court dependant in the Commons in 1664, he was by then fully involved in the administration of Ireland as deputy to his father, in complimentary missions abroad, and in a career of arms, in which his courage and generosity won him unsurpassed popularity, especially among the seamen. When he was called up to the House of Lords in 1666, the Commons proceeded with the consideration of the double return of five years before, and seated Hooke on the merits of the election. In the Upper House, Ossory distinguished himself by the violence of his attacks on all the Cabal ministers, except Lord Arlington (Sir Henry Bennet), who had married his wife’s sister. After a debate on the Irish cattle bill, he challenged Buckingham for insulting the whole Irish nation, and he reminded the Lords (contrary to order) of the past record of Lord Ashley (Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper) under the Protectorate. He accompanied the King to Dover in 1670, though of course taking no part in the negotiations with the Duchess of Orleans, and commanded William of Orange’s naval escort later in the year. He served with reluctance under Sir Robert Holmes in the treacherous attack on the Dutch Smyrna fleet which preceded the declaration of war in 1672, and later in the year was wounded at Sole Bay. His most distinguished naval action was under Sir Edward Spragge at Texel in the following year, but his proposed attack on the Dutch fleet at Helvoetsluys was vetoed by the King, probably at the instance of the jealous Buckingham. When Arlington was in danger of impeachment by the Commons in 1674, ‘Lord Ossory stood every day like a solicitor in the lobby, pressing the Members with the most earnest entreaties, and stirring heaven and earth in his behalf, till he carried the point in his favour’. He was appointed to the Admiralty board in 1675, and was given £14,000, ‘in consideration of the great losses and charges sustained, and the many debts contracted by him’, allegedly in the King’s service, but actually at the gaming table. He served with distinction under William of Orange in the Flanders campaign of 1677-8. As chamberlain to the Queen he strenuously defended her against the insinuations of Titus Oates, and he was the only courtier who did not spurn Lord Treasurer Danby on his dismissal. He lost his other offices in the spring of 1679, when the King was endeavouring to conciliate the Whigs; but when Ashley (now Earl of Shaftesbury) attacked Ormonde in the Lords, Ossory turned the tables on him by reminding the House of his record in the Cabal. He was restored to the Privy Council in 1680 and appointed governor of Tangier with a hopelessly inadequate force. Before he could take up his post he fell ill of a violent fever, probably typhus, and died on 30 July. He was buried in Westminster Abbey amid universal eulogies of his courage, probity, and modesty. ‘It is a very strange thing’, commented Henry Coventry, ‘in so very bad an age to see so good a man lamented by so many of all sorts.’6
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: John. P. Ferris
This biography is based upon Carte, Ormond, iv. 589-606.
- 1. CSP Ire. 1660-2, p. 22.
- 2. HMC Portland, iii. 250.
- 3. Bristol Pub. Lib. Jeffries Coll. x. 2; R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 361.
- 4. HMC 9th Rep. pt. 2, p. 445.
- 5. Jeffries Coll. x. 1; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 179; CJ, viii. 250, 261, 427.
- 6. CSP Dom. 166-7, p. 185; 1676-7, p. 7; CJ, viii. 644; Clarendon, Life, iii. 713-14; Pepys Diary, 19 Nov. 1666; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iii. 331, 439; iv. 255; v. 365; Carte, v. 135-6.