James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde (October 19, 1610 - 1688) was an Anglo-Irish statesman and soldier.
He was the eldest son of Thomas Butler, Viscount Thurles, and of Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Poyntz, and the grandson of Walter, 11th Earl of Ormonde. He was born in London. On the death of his father by drowning in 1619, the boy was made a royal ward by James I, removed from his Roman Catholic tutor, and placed in the household of George Abbot, archbishop of Canterbury, with whom he stayed until 1625, when he went to live in Ireland with his grandfather. In 1629, he married his cousin, the Lady Elizabeth Preston, daughter and heiress of Richard, Earl of Desmond, putting an end to the long-standing quarrel between the families and united their estates. In 1632, on the death of his grandfather, he succeeded to the earldom.
Ormonde already had a reputation in Ireland. His active career began in 1633 with the arrival of the Earl of Strafford, by whom he was treated with great favour. Writing to the king, Strafford described Ormonde as "young, but take it from me, a very staid head", and Ormonde became Strafford's chief friend and supporter. In 1640, during Strafford's absence, he was made commander-in-chief of the forces, and in August he was appointed lieutenant-general. On the outbreak of the rebellion in 1641 he rendered admirable service in the expedition to Naas, and in the march into the Pale in 1642. The lords justices, who were jealous of his power, recalled him after he had succeeded in relieving Drogheda. He received the public thanks of the English parliament and a jewel of the value of £620. On 15 April 1642 he won the battle of Kilrush against Lord Mountgarret. On 30 August 1642 he was created a marquess, and on 16 September 1642 was appointed lieutenant-general with a commission direct from the king.
On 18 March 1643 he won the Battle of New Ross against Thomas Preston, afterwards Viscount Tara. In September, the civil war in England having meanwhile broken out, Ormonde, in view of the successes of the rebels and the uncertain loyalty of the Scots in Ulster, opposed the lords justices by agreeing to the "cessation" by which the greater part of Ireland was given up into the hands of the Catholic Confederation, leaving only small districts on the east coast and round Cork, together with certain fortresses in the north and west then actually in their possession, to the English commanders. He subsequently, by the king's orders, despatched a body of troops into England (shortly afterwards routed by Thomas Fairfax at the Battle of Nantwich (26 January 1644)) and was appointed in January 1644 Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with special instructions to do all in his power to keep the Scotch army occupied.
Ormonde remained firm throughout all the plots and struggles of Scots, Old Irish, Catholic Irish of English race, and Protestants, and in spite of the intrigues of the pope's nuncio as well as of attempts by the parliament's commissioners to ruin his power. He assisted Antrim in his unsuccessful expedition into Scotland. On 28 March 1646 he concluded a treaty with the Irish which granted religious concessions and removed various grievances.
Meanwhile the difficulties of Ormonde's position had been greatly increased by Worcester's treaty with the Roman Catholics on 25 August 1645, and it became clear that he could not hold Dublin against the Irish rebels. He applied to the English parliament, signed a treaty on 19 June 1647, gave Dublin into their hands on terms which protected the interests of both Protestants and Roman Catholics who had not actually entered into rebellion, and sailed for England at the beginning of August 1647.
Ormonde attended King Charles during August and October 1647 at Hampton Court Palace, but in March 1648, in order to avoid arrest by the parliament, he joined the queen and the Prince of Wales at Paris. In September of the same year, the pope's nuncio having been expelled, and affairs otherwise looking favourable, he returned to Ireland to endeavour to unite all parties for the king. On 17 January 1649 Ormonde concluded a peace with the rebels on the basis of the free exercise of their religion, on the execution of the king (30 January 1649) he proclaimed Charles II, who made him a Knight of the Garter in September 1649. He upheld the royal cause with great vigour though with slight success, and on the conquest of Ireland by Cromwell he returned to France in December 1650.
Ormonde, though desperately short of money, was in constant attendance on Charles II and the queen mother in Paris, and accompanied the former to Aix and Cologne when expelled from France by the terms of Mazarin's treaty with Cromwell in 1655. In 1658 he went disguised, and at great risk, on a secret mission into England to gain trustworthy intelligence as to the chances of a uprising. He attended the king at Fuenterrabia in 1659 and had an interview with Mazarin; and was actively engaged in the secret transactions immediately preceding the Restoration.
On the return of Charles to England as king Ormonde was appointed a commissioner for the treasury and the navy, made lord steward of the household, a privy councillor, lord lieutenant of Somerset (an office which he resigned in 1672), high steward of Westminster, Kingston and Bristol, chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin, Baron Butler of Llanthony and Earl of Brecknock in the peerage of England; and on 30 March 1661 he was created Duke of Ormonde in the Irish peerage and Lord High steward of England. At the same time he recovered his enormous estates in Ireland, and large grants in recompense of the fortune he had spent in the royal service were made to him by the king, while in the following year the Irish Parliament presented him with £30,000. His losses, however, according to Carte, exceeded his gains by £868,000.
On 4 November 1661 he once more received the lord lieutenantship of Ireland, and busily engaged in the work of settling that country. The main problem was the land question, and the Act of Explanation was passed through the Irish parliament by Ormonde on 23 December 1665. His heart was in his government, and he vehemently opposed the bill prohibiting the importation of Irish cattle which struck so fatal a blow at Irish trade; and retaliated by prohibiting the import into Ireland of Scottish commodities, and obtained leave to trade with foreign countries. He encouraged Irish manufactures and learning to the utmost, and it was to his efforts that the Irish College of Physicians owes its incorporation. Ormonde's personality had always been a striking one, and he was highly regarded. He was dignified and proud of his loyalty, even when he lost royal favour, declaring, "However ill I may stand at court I am resolved to lye well in the chronicle". Ormonde soon became the mark for attack from all that was worst in the court. Buckingham especially did his utmost to undermine his influence. Ormonde's almost irresponsible government of Ireland during troubled times was open to criticism. He had billeted soldiers on civilians, and had executed martial law. He was threatened by Buckingham with impeachment.
In March 1669, Ormonde was removed from the government of Ireland and from the committee for Irish affairs. He made no complaint, insisted that his sons and others over whom he had influence should retain their posts, and continued to fulfil the duties of his other offices, while his character and services were recognized in his election as chancellor of the University of Oxford on 4 August 1669.
In 1670 an extraordinary attempt was made to assassinate the duke by a ruffian and adventurer named Thomas Blood, already notorious for an unsuccessful plot to surprise Dublin Castle in 1663, and later for stealing the royal crown from the Tower. Ormonde was attacked by Blood and his accomplices while driving up St James's Street on the night of 6 December 1670, dragged out of his coach, and taken on horseback along Piccadilly with the intention of hanging him at Tyburn. Ormonde, however, succeeded in overcoming the horseman to whom he was bound, and escaped. The outrage, it was suspected, had been instigated by Buckingham, who was openly accused of the crime by Lord Ossory, Ormonde's son, in the king's presence, and threatened by him with instant death if any violence should happen to his father; these suspicions were encouraged by the improper action of the king in pardoning Blood, and in admitting him to his presence and treating him with favour after his apprehension while endeavouring to steal the crown jewels.
In 1671 Ormonde successfully opposed Richard Talbot's attempt to upset the Act of Settlement. In 1673 he again visited Ireland, returned to London in 1675 to give advice to Charles on affairs in parliament, and in 1677 was again restored to favour and reappointed to the lord lieutenancy. On his arrival in Ireland he occupied himself in placing the revenue and the army upon a proper footing. Upon the outbreak of the disturbances caused by the Popish Plot (1678) in England, Ormonde at once took steps towards rendering the Roman Catholics, who were in the proportion of 15 to 1, powerless; and the mildness and moderation of his measures served as the ground of an attack upon him in England led by Shaftesbury , from which he was defended with great spirit by his own son Lord Ossory.
In 1682 Charles summoned Ormonde to court. The same year he wrote "A Letter . . . in answer to the earl of Anglesey, his Observations upon the earl of Castlehaven's Memoires concerning the Rebellion of Ireland", and gave Charles general support. On 9 November 1683 an English dukedom was conferred upon him, and in June 1684 he returned to Ireland; but he was recalled in October in consequence of fresh intrigues. Before he could give up his government to Rochester, Charles II died; and Ormonde's last act as lord lieutenant was to proclaim James II in Dublin.
Subsequently Ormonde lived in retirement at Cornbury in Oxfordshire, a house lent to him by Lord Clarendon, but emerged in 1687 to offer opposition at the board of the Charterhouse to James's attempt to assume the dispensing power and force upon the institution a Roman Catholic candidate without taking the oaths. Ormonde also refused the king his support in the question of the Indulgence; James, to his credit, refused to take away his offices, and continued to hold him in respect and favour to the last. Ormonde died on 21 July 1688 at Kingston Lacy, Dorset, not having, as he rejoiced to know, "outlived his intellectuals"; and with him disappeared the greatest and grandest figure of the times. His splendid qualities were expressed with some felicity in verses written on welcoming his return to Ireland and printed in 1682:
A Man of Plato's grand nobility,
An inbred greatness, innate honesty;
A Man not form'd of accidents, and whom
Misfortune might oppress, not overcome
Who weighs himself not by opinion
But conscience of a noble action.
Ormonde was buried in Westminster Abbey on 1 August 1688. Three of his sons survived into adulthood. The eldest of these, Thomas, Earl of Ossory (1634 – 1680) predeceased him, his eldest son succeeding as 2nd Duke of Ormonde. The other two sons, Richard, created earl of Arran, and John, created earl of Gowran, both died without male issue, and the male descent of the 1st Duke becoming extinct in the person of Charles, 3rd Duke of Ormonde, the earldom subsequently reverted to the cadet descendants of Walter, 11th earl of Ormonde.