Butler, the name of a family famous in the history of Ireland. The great house of the Butlers, alone among the families of the conquerors, rivalled the Geraldines, their neighbours, kinsfolk and mortal foes. Theobald Walter, their ancestor, was not among the first of the invaders. He was the grandson of one Hervey Walter who, in the time of Henry I., held Witheton or Weeton in Amounderness, a small fee of the honour of Lancaster, the manor of Newton in Suffolk, and certain lands in Norfolk. In the great inquest of Lancaster lands that followed a writ of 1212, this Hervey, named as the father of Hervey Walter, is said to have given lands in his fee of Weeton to Orm, son of Magnus, with his daughter Alice in marriage. Hervey Walter, son of this Hervey, advanced his family by matching with Maude, daughter of Theobald de Valognes, lord of Parham, whose sister Bertha was wife of Ranulf de Glanville, the great justiciar, "the eye of the king." When Ranulf had founded the Austin Canons priory of Butley, Hervey Walter, his wife's brother-in-law, gave to the house lands in Wingfield for the soul's health of himself and his wife Maude, of Ranulf de Glanville and Bertha his wife, the charter, still preserved in the Harleian collection, being witnessed by Hervey's younger sons, Hubert Walter, Roger and Hamon. Another son, Bartholomew, witnessed a charter of his brother Hubert, 1190-1193. That these nephews of the justiciar profited early by their kinship is seen in Hubert Walter's foundation charter of the abbey of West Dereham, wherein he speaks of "dominus Ranulphus de Glanvilla et domina Bertha uxor eius, qui nos nutrierunt." Hubert, indeed, becoming one of his uncle's clerks, was so much in his confidence that Gervase of Canterbury speaks of the two as ruling the kingdom together.

King Richard, whom he accompanied to the Holy Land, made him bishop of Salisbury and (1193) archbishop of Canterbury. "Wary of counsel, subtle of wit," he was the champion of Canterbury and of England, and the news of his death drew the cry from King John that "now, for the first time, am I king in truth."

Between these two great statesmen Theobald Walter, the eldest brother of the archbishop, rose and flourished. Theobald is found in the Liber Niger (c. 1166) as holding Amounderness by the service of one knight. In 1185 he went over sea to Waterford with John the king's son, the freight of the harness sent after him being charged in the Pipe Roll. Clad in that harness he led the men of Cork when Dermot MacCarthy, prince of Desmond, was put to the sword, John rewarding his services with lands in Limerick and with the important fief of Arklow in the vale of Avoca, where he made his Irish seat and founded an abbey. Returning to England he accompanied his uncle Randulf to France, both witnessing a charter delivered by the king at Chinon when near to death. Soon afterwards, Theobald Walter was given by John that hereditary office of butler to the lord of Ireland, which makes a surname for his descendants, styling himself pincerna when he attests John's charter to Dublin on the 15th of May 1192. J. Horace Round has pointed out that he also took a fresh seal, the inscription of which calls him Theobald Walter, Butler of Ireland, and henceforward he is sometimes surnamed Butler (le Botiller). When John went abroad in 1192, Theobald was given the charge of Lancaster castle, but in 1194 he was forced to surrender to his brother Hubert, who summoned it in King Richard's name.

Making his peace through Hubert's influence, he was sheriff of Lancashire for King Richard, who regranted to him all Amounderness. His fortunes turned with the king's death. The new sovereign, treating his surrender of the castle as treachery, took the shrievalty from him, disseised him of Amounderness and sold his cantreds of Limerick land to William de Braose. But the great archbishop soon found means to bring his brother back to favour, and on the 2nd of January 1201-2 Amounderness, by writ of the king, is to be restored to Theobald Walter, dilecto et fideli nostra, Within a year or two Theobald left England to end his days upon his Arklow fief, busying himself with religious foundations at Wotheney in Limerick, at Arklow and at Nenagh. At Wotheney he is said to have been buried shortly before the 12th of February 1205-6, when an entry in the Close Roll is concerned with his widow. This widow, Maude, daughter of Robert le Vavasor of Denton, was given up to her father, who, buying the right of marrying her at a price of 1200 marks and two palfreys, gave her to Fulk fitz-Warine. Theobald, the son and heir of Theobald and Maude, a child of six years old, was likewise taken into the keeping of his grandfather Robert, but letters from the king, dated the 2nd of March 1205-6, told Robert, "as he loved his body," to surrender the heir at once to Gilbert fitz-Reinfrid, the baron of Kendal.

Adding to its possessions by marriages the house advanced itself among the nobility of Ireland. On the 1st of September 1315, its chief, Edmund Walter alias Edmund the Butler, for services against the Scottish raiders and Ulster rebels, had a charter of the castle and manors of Carrick, Macgriffyn and Roscrea to hold to him and his heirs sub nomine et honore comitis de Karryk. This charter, however, while apparently creating an earldom, failed, as Mr Round has explained, to make his issue earls of Carrick. But James, the son and heir of Edmund, having married in 1327 Eleanor de Bohun, daughter of Humfrey, earl of Hereford and Essex, high constable of England, by a daughter of Edward I., was created an Irish earl on the 2nd of November 1328, with the title of Ormonde.

From the early years of the 14th century the Ormonde earls, generation by generation, were called to the chief government of Ireland as lords-keeper, lords-lieutenant, deputies or lords-justices, and unlike their hereditary enemies the Geraldines they kept a tradition of loyalty to the English crown and to English custom. Their history is full of warring with the native Irish, and as the sun stood still upon Gibeon, even so, we are told, it rested over the red bog of Athy while James the White Earl was staying the wild O'Mores. More than one of the earls of Ormonde had the name of a scholar, while of the 6th earl, master of every European tongue and ambassador to many courts, Edward IV. is said to have declared that were good breeding and liberal qualities lost to the world they might be found again in John, earl of Ormonde. The earls were often absent from Ireland on errands of war or peace. James, the 5th earl, had the English earldom of Wiltshire given him in 1449 for his Lancastrian zeal. He fought at St Albans in 1455, casting his harness into a ditch as he fled the field, and he led a wing at Wakefield. His stall plate as a knight of the Garter is still in St George's chapel.