Defeated with the earl of Pembroke at Mortimer's Cross and taken prisoner after Towton, his fate is uncertain, but rumour said that he was beheaded at Newcastle, and a letter addressed to John Paston about May 1461 sends tidings that "the Erle of Wylchir is hed is sette on London Brigge."
To his time belongs a document illustrating a curious tradition of the Butlers. His petition to parliament when he was conveying Buckinghamshire lands to the hospital of St Thomas of Acres in London, recites that he does so "in worship of that glorious martyr St Thomas, sometime archbishop of Canterbury, of whose blood the said earl of Wiltshire, his father and many of his ancestors are lineally descended." But the pedigrees in which genealogists have sought to make this descent definite will not bear investigation. The Wiltshire earldom died with him and the Irish earldom was for a time forfeited, his two brothers, John and Thomas, sharing his attainder. John was restored in blood by Edward IV.; and Thomas, the 7th earl, summoned to the English parliament in 1495 as Lord Rochford, a title taken from a Bohun manor in Essex, saw the statute of attainder annulled by Henry VII.'s first parliament. He died without male issue in 1515. Of his two daughters and co-heirs Anne was married to Sir James St. Leger, and Margaret to Sir William Boleyn of Blickling, by whom she was mother of Sir James and Sir Thomas Boleyn. The latter, the father of Anne Boleyn, was created earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde in 1529.
In Ireland the heir male of the Ormonde earls, Sir Piers Butler - "red Piers" - assumed the earldom of Ormonde in 1515 and seized upon the Irish estates. Being a good ally against the rebel Irish, the government temporized with his claim. He was an Irishman born, allied to the wild Irish chieftains by his mother, a daughter of the MacMorrogh Kavanagh; the earldom had been long in the male line; all Irish sentiment was against the feudal custom which would take it out of the family, and the two co-heirs were widows of English knights. In 1522, styled "Sir Piers Butler pretending himself to be earl of Ormonde," he was made chief governor of Ireland as lord deputy, and on the 23rd of February 1527/8, following an agreement with the co-heirs of the 7th earl, whereby the earldom of Ormonde was declared to be at the king's disposal, he was created earl of Ossory. But the Irish estates, declared forfeit to the crown in 1536 under the Act of Absentees, were granted to him as "earl of Ossory and Ormonde." Although the Boleyn earl of Ormonde and Wiltshire was still alive, there can be no doubt that Piers Butler had a patent of the Ormonde earldom about the 22nd of February 1537/8, from which date his successors must reckon their peerage.
His son and heir, James the Lame, who had been created Viscount Thurles on the 2nd of January 1535/6, obtained an act of parliament in 1543/4 which, confirming the grant to his father of the earldom, gave him the old "pre-eminence" of the ancient earldom of 1328.
Earl James was poisoned at a supper in Ely House in 1546, and Thomas the Black Earl, his son and heir, was brought up at the English court, professing the reformed religion. His sympathies were with the Irish, although he stood staunchly for law and order, and for the great part of his life he was wrestling with rebellion. His lands having been harried by hit hereditary enemies the Desmond Geraldines, Elizabeth gave him his revenge by appointing him in 1580 military governor of Munster, with a commission to "banish and vanquish these cankered Desmonds," then in open rebellion. In three months, by his own account, he had put to the sword 46 captains, 800 notorious traitors and 4000 others, and, after four years' fighting, Gerald, earl of Desmond, a price on his head, was taken and killed. Dying in 1614 without lawful issue, Thomas was succeeded by his nephew Walter of Kilcash, who had fought beside him against the Burkes and O'Mores. But Sir Robert Preston, afterwards created earl of Desmond, claimed a great part of the Ormonde lands in right of his wife, the Black Earl's daughter and heir.
In spite of the loyal services of Earl Walter, King James supported the claimant, and the earl, refusing to submit to a royal award, was thrown into gaol, where he lay for eight years in great poverty, his rents being cut off. Although liberated in 1625 he was not acknowledged heir to his uncle's estates until 1630. His son, Viscount Thurles, being drowned on a passage to England, a grandson succeeded him.
This grandson, James Butler, is perhaps the most famous of the long line of Ormondes. By his marriage with his cousin Elizabeth Preston, the Ormonde titles were once more united with all the Ormonde estates. A loyal soldier and statesman, he commanded for the king in Ireland, where he was between the two fires of Catholic rebels and Protestant parliamentarians. In Ireland he stayed long enough to proclaim Charles II. in 1649, but defeated at Rathmines, his garrisons broken by Cromwell, he quitted the country at the end of 1650. At the Restoration he was appointed lord-lieutenant, his estates having been restored to him with the addition of the county palatine of Tipperary, taken by James I. from his grandfather. In 1632 he had been created a marquess. The English earldom of Brecknock was added in 1660 and an Irish dukedom of Ormonde in the following year. In 1682 he had a patent for an English dukedom with the same title. Buckingham's intrigues deprived him for seven years of his lord-lieutenancy, and a desperate attempt was made upon his life in 1670, when a company of ruffians dragged him from his coach in St James's Street and sought to hurry him to the gallows at Tyburn. His son's threat that, if harm befell his father he would pistol Buckingham, even if he were behind the king's chair, may have saved him from assassination.
At the accession of James II. he was once more taken from active employment, and "Barzillai, crowned with honour and with years" died at his Dorsetshire house in 1688. He had seen his great-great-uncle the Black Earl, who was born in 1532, and a great-grandson was playing beside him a few hours before his death. His brave son Ossory, "the eldest hope with every grace adorned," died eight years before him, and he was succeeded by a grandson James, the second duke of Ormonde, who, a recognized leader of the London Jacobites, was attainted in 1715, his honours and estates being forfeited. The duke lived thirty years in exile, chiefly at Avignon, and died in the rebellion year of 1745 without surviving issue. His younger brother Charles, whom King William had created Lord Butler of Weston in the English peerage and earl of Arran in the Irish, was allowed to purchase the Ormonde estates. On the earl's death without issue in 1758 the estates were enjoyed by a sister, passing in 1760, by settlement of the earl of Arran, to John Butler of Kilcash, descendant of a younger brother of the first duke.
John dying six years later was succeeded by Walter Butler, a first cousin, whose son John, heir-male of the line of Ormonde, became earl of Ormonde and Ossory and Viscount Thurles in 1791, the Irish parliament reversing the attainder of 1715. Walter, son and heir of the restored earl, was given an English peerage as Lord Butler of Llanthony (1801) and an Irish marquessate of Ormonde (1816), titles that died with him. This Lord Ormonde in 1810 sold to the crown for the great sum of £216,000 his ancestral right to the prisage of wines in Ireland. For his brother and heir, created Lord Ormonde of Llahthony at the coronation of George IV., the Irish marquessate was revived in 1825 and descended in the direct line.
The earls of Carrick (Ireland 1748), Viscounts Ikerrin (Ireland 1629), claim descent from a brother of the first Ormonde earl, while the viscounts Mountgarret (Ireland 1550) spring from a younger son of Piers, the Red Earl of Ossory. The barony of Caher (Ireland 1543), created for Sir Thomas Butler of Chaier or Caher-down-Eske, a descendant in an illegitimate branch of the Butlers, fell into abeyance among heirs general on the death of the 2nd baron in 1560. It was again created, after the surrender of their rights by the heirs general, in 1583 for Sir Theobald Butler (d. 1596), and became extinct in 1858 on the death of Richard Butler, 13th baron and 2nd viscount Caher, and second earl of Glengall. Buttler von Clonebough, genannt Haimhausen, count of the Holy Roman Empire, descends from the 3rd earl of Ormonde, the imperial title having been revived in 1681 in memory of the services of a kinsman, Walter, Count Butler (d. 1634), the dragoon officer who carried out the murder of Wallenstein.
See Lancashire Inquests, 1205-1307; Lancashire and Cheshire Record Society, xlviii.; Chronicles of Matthew Paris, Roger of Hoveden, Giraldus Cambrensis, etc.; Dictionary of National Biography; G.E.C.'s Complete Peerage; Carte's Ormonde papers; Paston Letters; Rolls of parliament; fine rolls, liberate rolls, pipe rolls, etc.