Butler, James, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond

(1420–1461)
   James Butler, the Irish earl of Ormond, was one of the most ambitious and politically disruptive favorites of HENRY VI, and a committed adherent of the House of LANCASTER.
   Although several times lord lieutenant of IRELAND, Butler spent most of his career in England, where he built a substantial body of estates through marriage, inheritance, and royal favor. Created earl of Wiltshire in 1449, Butler’s attempt to increase his political influence in the West Country, challenged the traditional dominance there of the earls of Devon and aggravated the violent feud between Thomas COURTENAY, earl of Devon, and William BONVILLE, Lord Bonville, another royal favorite. By the early 1450s, Butler was strongly identified with the COURT and with opposition to Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York.
   Knighted in 1426, Butler accompanied Henry VI to FRANCE, and served there again during York’s French regency in 1441. He was York’s deputy in Ireland in 1449, but supplanted York as lord lieutenant in 1453, by which time he was also a royal councilor. He succeeded his father as earl of Ormond in 1452. In 1454, during York’s FIRST PROTECTORATE, Ormond lost the Irish lieutenancy and was briefly imprisoned for his role in the worsening COURTENAY-BONVILLE FEUD. Upon regaining his senses in early 1455, Henry VI restored Ormond to favor and appointed him lord treasurer. Part of the king’s army at the Battle of ST. ALBANS, Ormond is said to have saved himself by fleeing the field disguised as a monk.York’s SECOND PROTECTORATE cost Ormond the treasurership, but the king’s resumption of power in 1456 led to the earl’s appointment as councilor to Prince EDWARD OF LANCASTER in 1457 and to reappointment as lord lieutenant of Ireland in 1459. When the Yorkist earls of Warwick, Salisbury, and March landed in England in the summer of 1460, Ormond fled abroad, but returned by December to take part in the Lancastrian victory at the Battle of WAKEFIELD, which led to the defeat and death of York. Demonstrating a pronounced ability to survive, Ormond twice more escaped from Lancastrian defeats—at the Battle of MORTIMER’S CROSS in February 1461 and at the Battle of TOWTON in March. The Yorkists fi- nally captured him at Cockermouth in Cumberland in the month after Towton, and executed him at Newcastle on 1 May 1461. He and his brothers were attainted by EDWARD IV’s first PARLIAMENT, although his brother John eventually succeeded to the earldom of Ormond. Because Ormond was childless, his earldom of Wiltshire lapsed at his death.
   Further Reading: Griffiths, Ralph A., The Reign of King Henry VI (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981);“James Butler” in Michael Hicks, Who’s Who in Late Medieval England (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1991), pp. 301–303; Storey, R. L., The End of the House of Lancaster, 2d ed. (Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 1999).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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