They are also a very well-documented and close-knit family. The Butler Society girdles the world, and this accounts for the success of their international rally held in their castle at Kilkenny every few years.
Butler is a common name in both England and Ireland. In fact, there has usually been a Butler in both camps. The Butlers came to Ireland when Theobald Fitzwalter (d. 1205), whose brother was Archbishop of Canterbury, landed in Waterford in 1185 with Prince John (later to be King). Theobald was awarded generous grants of land in counties Limerick, Tipperary and Wicklow and Henry II gave him the hereditary title of Le Boitiler-the king's chief butler, a title of function.
Theobald was a popular family name. A later Theobald (d. 1285) was the Butler who was awarded the Royal grant of the "prisage of wines", which meant he was entitled to "about one tenth of the cargo of any wine ship that broke bulk in Ireland". In 1810, this rewarding office was declared redundant and Walter Butler, Marquess of Ormond, fell heir to 2l6,000 pounds in compensation.
Consolidating their position, the Butlers ringed the country with castles, married noble Irish ladies, fervently built churches and abbeys and went on the Crusades. Because of their closeness to the English court, the Butlers collected at least 25 patents of nobility, so that branches of the house of Ormond-the main Butler designation--included such titles as Dunboyne, Cahir, Mountgarrett, Galmoy, Ossory. There have been a number of Butler bishops, including Edmund, Prior of Athassel Abbey in Tipperary for fourteen years until 1537, when Thomas Cromwell deposed him. The Butlers fell victim to the Cromwellians, who feared their power in Ireland. They were strong military men, who took part in all the main battles from Agincourt in France to the Boyne and Aughrim.
Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond (d. 1515), was grandfather to Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, who, although she lost her head, provided him with the daughter who was to become Queen Elizabeth I. This fearsome queen features in voluminous Butler records. Her cousin, the 10th Earl of Ormond, Thomas Butler (d. 1614), who had been reared at the English court, built a magnificent Tudor manor at Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, expecting her to visit him, which she failed to do. Lord Dunboyne, the present Butler family historian, writes in his Butler Family History: "The Butlers bred like rabbits immune from myxomatosis". Black Tom, as the 10th Earl of Ormond was nicknamed, was a prime example. Three times married, he had, apart from his legal offspring, twelve known illegitimate children. One of his natural sons who received considerable estates from his father, Piers Fitzthomas Butler, according to a strong local tradition, was the fruit of Thomas' affection for the Virgin Queen!
The Butlers and the FitzGeralds, the mighty Earls of Kildare, despite intermarrying, were constantly feuding