Romeo Butler & Juliet Preston

Romeo Butler & Juliet Preston

A match made in Ireland

Shakespeare’s tragedy of Romeo and Juliet finds a happy ending in the 17th century story of James Butler and Elizabeth Preston. These two members of feuding Anglo-Irish families were actually cousins, and made an unlikely couple until events shifted, ultimately allowing a marriage of choice rather than arrangement.

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King Charles I, public domain

During the reign of King Charles I (1625-1649), normal practice in society required parental control over a marriage arrangement. It was nothing more than family discipline, considered the best guarantee of public order, and in King Charles’s court, order was paramount.

From the time that a child was born, parents began calculating potential marriage matches that would improve the family’s bloodline, elevate their social status, increase their wealth, solidify a mutually beneficial business alliance, consolidate or expand real estate holdings, and preferably all of the above. Both the bride and the groom were expected to bring something to the table.

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Wikimedia Commons

In the 17th century, land ownership was power. Historically, the Butler family held the Earldom of Ormonde, controlling a huge tract of land in Ireland, basically from Waterford to Limerick. The FitzGeralds (known as the Geraldines) held even more land, with two branches bordering on each side of Ormonde: the Earldom of Desmond, roughly including the modern-day counties of Cork and part of Kerry, and the Earldom of Kildare, on the east side of Ormonde and adjacent to the Pale, the area surrounding Dublin.

Disputes over property lines and ownership waxed and waned at least from the 14th century, the two neighboring earldoms fighting one another in skirmishes and outright battles. Many schemes attempted to heal the feud, from the famous handshake through a hole in a door at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1492, to the marriage of Joan, the widowed Countess of Ormonde, to Gerald Fitzgerald, the 15th Earl of Desmond, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. But the feud roared up again when Gerald had a dispute with Joan’s son, Thomas, the 10th Earl of Ormonde.

A famous quote is attributed to Gerald after being wounded on the field in the Battle of Affane in 1565. While being carried from the field on the shoulders of Ormonde soldiers, an Ormonde commander triumphantly asked, “Where is now the great Lord Desmond?” And Desmond is said to have given his quick reply, “Where but in his proper place, on the necks of the Butlers?”

After the Desmond Rebellions, which by 1603 had left all of Gerald’s male heirs either dead or attainted, the Desmond earldom was extinguished. But it was not the end of the story.

Thomas, the 10th Earl of Ormonde, a great uncle of James, sought a suitable marriage for his only daughter Elizabeth. Rejecting a suit by the second son of the fourth Earl of Thomond, he brokered a more lucrative match with Richard Preston, a Scot and a court favorite with King James I. When Thomas died in 1614, the king saw it as an opportunity to settle the long-term feuding and so, when they married he named Preston the first Earl of Desmond, third creation, and awarded most of the Ormonde estate to Elizabeth. Since properties belonged to the husband upon marriage, thereby he combined the estates of Desmond and Ormonde.

But that only produced another problem, because Thomas had no surviving sons, and had named his nephew Walter, James’s grandfather, to inherit the Ormonde earldom and estate. Walter began a series of complaints and legal actions to regain the land he believed was rightfully his, and the proper inheritance for his own son Thomas, who should have been the next earl of Ormonde. Walter’s disputes annoyed the king and landed him in prison for eight years.

About the same time, Walter’s son Thomas had married and James was born, but this Thomas drowned in a shipwreck on the Skerries, a series of rocky islets off the shore of Wales (and also off Northern Ireland), when James was quite young. The titles that should have gone to Thomas would now pass to James.

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Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland, by Daniël Mijtens, Public Domain

A few years after James was born, Richard and Elizabeth Preston had their first child, a daughter also named Elizabeth. Richard betrothed her to a nephew of another court favorite, the powerful and wealthy Duke of Buckingham. But, by strange coincidence she was also orphaned in 1628 when her father drowned in a shipwreck on his way from Dublin to England (probably also on the Skerries), and in the same year Buckingham was assassinated. The king placed young Elizabeth in wardship with the Earl of Holland.

Her father’s death meant that Elizabeth was now an heiress who could choose her own husband. However, she was just fourteen years old. Lord Holland got busy trying to arrange a lucrative match for Elizabeth that also would benefit him – one of the happy consequences of having a royal wardship.

Elizabeth first met her cousin James at London court when he was studying the Irish language and living with his aged grandfather who’d been released from prison. James was 18 years old and, according to all accounts, immediately fell in love with her. The affection was returned, but Lord Holland stood in the way.

Somewhat in the role of Shakespeare’s Friar Lawrence, Scottish kinsman Patrick Wemyss, who managed Elizabeth’s estates, arranged secret meetings for James and Elizabeth in her home or in London churches, where James arrived disguised as a peddler.

In order to court her openly, James, now known as Viscount Thurles—a courtesy title that had been his father’s—had to clear his way with a bribe of £15,000 to Lord Holland.

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James Butler, 12th Duke of Ormonde, National Portrait Gallery

The couple wed with the king’s consent in 1629, and all of the Ormonde ancestral lands were returned to the Ormonde earldom. Their union put an end to the long-term feud by creating a strong family alliance. When Walter, the 11th earl, died in 1633, James became the 12th earl of Ormonde.

Instead of drinking a death-simulation potion like Romeo and Juliet, they must have found instead a love potion, for they had 10 children, five of whom survived to adulthood. They also became a very powerful couple. James the Earl became leader of the Confederate forces against the Parliamentary army after the Great Irish Rebellion of 1641.

After Parliament executed King Charles I in 1649 and Oliver Cromwell ascended to power, Ormonde lived in exile in France, in service of King Charles II and his family until the monarchy was restored in 1660. It was Elizabeth, however, who returned to Ireland to save the Ormonde family estates.

For his loyalty and service to Charles II, the king named James Butler as the first Duke of Ormonde in 1680. Both highly respected and revered, Elizabeth died in 1684, and James in 1688.

The portrait of James Butler graces the cover of my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, as a symbol of the 17th century ideal, a man of honor, grace, wealth and nobility, and a true statesman.

Note: There are numerous and conflicting accounts of this story, with possibly some confusion arising from the two Elizabeths and two Thomases. I’ve made every effort for accuracy but if you see something that seems incorrect, please comment with source information. Thank you!

TPOG_Cover2017The Prince of Glencurragh is an award-winning novel of hope during the sweeping change preceding Ireland’s Great Rebellion of 1641. Available on amazon, B&N, and other online retailers.

For other books and more information please visit my website at nancyblanton.com, and while you are there please sign up for my newsletter to receive notification of my upcoming book, The Earl in Black Armor.

 

Sex Appeal and the Earl of Ormonde

Today’s post is reblogged from a guest post on Mary Anne Yarde’s blog, “Myths, Legends, Books and Coffee Pots,” (maryanneyarde.blogspot.com). In honor of the official publication of my new novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, this story is about one of my inspirations.

While researching 17th century Ireland for my historical novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, I was stopped in my tracks by an arresting portrait of James Butler, the 12th Earl of Ormonde and the 1st Duke of Ormonde.

Ascending to earldom in 1634 at just 24 years of age, this earl became the Royalist leader of the Irish confederate forces in 1649, uniting the old English nobility, Catholics, and Irish rebel soldiers in a passionate stand against English dominance that was doomed to failure under the boot of Oliver Cromwell and his army.

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1st Duke of Ormonde by Sir Peter Lely (circa 1665) Public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

The portrait captures an older Ormonde, looking magnificent in ceremonial robes as he is created the first Duke of Ormonde. He wears white satin trimmed in red and blue. Delicate hands grasp lance and sword; his jaw is proud, his eyes soulful and knowing. The long golden locks affirm his noble stature and remind me of a young, proud-faced Roger Daltrey, out to change the world in his own particular way – perhaps with similar sexual energy but without Daltrey’s penchant for fisticuffs.

No less appealing would have been James’s enormous wealth and power. He was born into a family tracing back to the Norman Invasion in the 12th century. His ancestor, Theobold Walter, was named Chief Butler of Ireland, and thus the name stuck as a surname and reminder to everyone of the family’s prominence and favor under King Henry II. The family seat became the great Kilkenny Castle from which they controlled the vast kingdom of Ormonde (basically including counties Waterford, Tipperary and Limerick).

Ormonde landholdings in southwest Ireland were second only to the Desmond earldom by the 14th century. Rivalry and skirmishes between the two earldoms escalated into a private war in the 1560s, one that infuriated Queen Elizabeth I, and in part led to the first Desmond Rebellion in 1569.

When James’s father Thomas died in a shipwreck in 1619, James became the nine-year-old heir to his grandfather Walter Butler, the 11th Earl of Ormonde, and was given the courtesy title of Viscount Thurles. Walter was a devout Catholic, much to the dismay of King James I who schemed for Protestant control of Ormonde estates, imprisoned Walter for eight years, and sent James to be schooled as a Protestant by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

When the earl was released in 1625, most of his estates were restored to him. James went to live with him at his house in Drury Lane, London.

While in London, James learned the Irish language, which was to serve him well later in life; and also met his cousin Elizabeth Butler, daughter of Sir Richard Preston, Earl of Desmond. Their marriage in 1629 ended the long-standing feud between the two families.

When his grandfather died five years later, James became the earl. In 1642, he was named the Marquess of Ormonde; and, after living with the king in exile during the Commonwealth years, in 1661 Charles II created him the first Duke of Ormonde.

But wait, there is even more to Ormonde’s appeal. Most of my research has focused on James’s early life, and my favorite story thus far is about his first attendance of the Irish Parliament in 1635. The new Lord Deputy of Ireland, Thomas Wentworth, called the Parliament under King Charles I’s authorization, and was proud to have Ormonde on the roster.

In his biography of Wentworth, C.V. Wedgwood describes James Butler as a “high-hearted” nobleman: “Handsome, intelligent and valiant, he was also to the very core of his being a man of honor: loyal, chivalrous and just.”

And let’s not leave out dauntless (aka cheeky). When Wentworth ordered that the wearing of swords in Parliament would not be permitted, Ormonde told the official who tried to take his that the only way he’d get the sword was if it was “in his guts.” Wentworth summoned Ormonde before his council to answer for this behavior, and Ormonde arrived with his earl’s patent from the king. He threw it on the table. The king had made him earl, he said, and for anyone less than the king he would not ungird his sword.

“Wentworth [who was not yet an earl] conceded the force of the argument,” Wedgwood wrote.

Appealing as he was, Ormonde was not always everyone’s hero in life. As the Protestant in the family, he avoided the land confiscations that Catholic family members still suffered, and he was not above evicting Irish tenants if he believed he could earn higher rents from English ones. Still, when Ormonde died in 1688, he was lauded by poets of his time and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

In my novel, Ormonde is featured as a contemporary of the main characters who brings his significant power and influence, his chivalrous mindset, and his own agenda to the story, along with a fierce belief in fairness, justice, and love.

jack6.140x9.210.inddThe Prince of Glencurragh, published in July 2016, is the story of an Irish warrior who abducts a young heiress to help restore his stolen heritage and build the Castle Glencurragh. He is caught in the crossfire between the most powerful nobles in Ireland, each with his own agenda. It is the stand-alone prequel to my first historical novel, Sharavogue, which begins with the arrival of Cromwell in Ireland, and follows the protagonist to her indenture on an Irish sugar plantation on the island of Montserrat, West Indies.

My books are available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. You can find more information and links on my website, nancyblanton.com