Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Butler, Walter (d.1634)

BUTLER, WALTER, Count (d. 1634), was the second son of Peter Butler of Roscrea, and his wife Catharine de Burgo. His father was the great grandson of Sir Richard Butler of Poolestown in Kilkenny, a younger son of James, third Earl of Ormonde (Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, 1789, iv. 17). It is supposed that Walter Butler served on the Liguistic side in the battle of Prague (1620), but he is first mentioned by name as lieutenant-colonel of James Butler's regiment, in which capacity he accompanied his kinsman [see Butler, James, fl. 1631–1634] on his march from Poland to Frankfort-on-the-Oder early in 1631. There seems no satisfactory evidence of his having before this time become connected with the Tipperary priest Thomas Carve, who then or soon afterwards was appointed chaplain of his regiment, and to whom Walter Butler is indebted for the only literary attempt ever made to glorify his tarnished name (see, however, Preface to Itinerarium, v). According to the chaplain, Butler brilliantly distinguished himself at the siege of Frankfort, having apparently been left there in command of his absent kinsman's regiment. Although placed in the most dangerous position, he successfully resisted a Swedish attack made when the rest of the garrison was enjoying itself at table; and on the day of the general assault (April 3–13) stayed the retreat of two imperial regiments. The latter part of this account is confirmed by Colonel Robert Monro, whose own regiment (Mackay's) was present at the siege on the Swedish side. He says that Butler's regiment bravely resisted the onslaught of the yellow and blue brigades, till most of the Irishmen fell to the ground; and Butler, ‘being shot in the arm, and pierced with a pike through the thigh, was taken prisoner’ (Monro, His Expedition, London, 1637, ii. 34). Carve gives a list of the Irish officers who fell. He further relates, with many surprising details, that after the city had been taken Gustavus Adolphus ordered the wounded officer to be brought into his presence, when, after drawing his sword and ascertaining that it was the younger and not the elder Butler who was before him, he declared that had it been the elder he would have perished by the royal hand. In the same strain the chaplain goes on to tell how Walter Butler, having been accused on his own side of having caused the fall of Frankfort, received from the magnanimous king of Sweden a testimonial of valour, signed and sealed by all the Swedish generals, which he afterwards exhibited to the emperor at Vienna, while a broadsheet vindicating him was also published at Frankfort.

After remaining in captivity for six months Butler, from what resources does not appear, purchased his freedom for 1,000 dollars. He immediately joined the imperial army in Silesia under Tiefenbach, by whom he was most honourably received. He paid two visits to Poland for the purpose of levying troops, meeting with strange adventures on the way, and in January 1632 was about to settle down in remote winter quarters, when he was entrusted by Wallenstein, who had just reassumed the command, with the defence of his own duchy of Sagan. According to Carve, Butler more than justified the choice, and was rewarded for his deeds of valour against the Saxons by being assigned the Silesian county of Jägerndorf (on the Bohemian frontier) and its appurtenances as his winter quarters. This is possible, as Jägerndorf had been recently confiscated by the emperor, and bestowed by him upon a catholic magnate. Here Butler married a countess of Fondana. The brilliant victory of Eger, in which he and his cavalry captured twelve standards, may be identified with a brief stand made there by the Saxon Colonel von Starschettel before capitulating (cf. Förster, Briefe Wallenstein's, &c. ii. 218). Nothing more is heard of him till the fatal year 1634; nor was it till at a very late stage in the series of events which led to the death of Wallenstein that Butler intervened in the action.

From the narrative of Butler's regimental chaplain, Patrick Taaffe, which there seems no reason for distrusting, it appears that at the beginning of the year 1634 Butler was in winter quarters at Klatrup (Kladran) on the Bohemian frontier, his regiment, composed of about 1,000 excellent soldiers, being posted about the neighbourhood for the defence of the passes between Bohemia and the Upper Palatinate. Though he had received no recent favours from Wallenstein, and had his suspicions as to the general's ultimate designs, he seems to have known neither of the steps which Wallenstein had in vain taken for assuring himself of the fidelity of his superior officers, nor of the imperial rescript of Feb. 18 bidding those officers cease to yield obedience to the deposed commander-in-chief. When, therefore, about this time an order from Wallenstein suddenly reached Butler, bidding him collect his regiment and march at once to Prague, where it had been the general's original intention to assemble his forces before opening the decisive negotiations, Butler obeyed. But he told his chaplain and confessor that the order confirmed his suspicions of the general's loyalty, and that he expected that at Prague death awaited him as a faithful soldier. Clearly he expected a battle there; but in truth the Prague garrison had already declared for Gallas and the emperor, and Wallenstein, after a design of seizing his person at Pilsen had been frustrated, had no choice but to hold Eger and the adjoining frontier district with such troops as still adhered to him. When, therefore, on 22 Feb., Butler on his way to Prague reached Mies, near Pilsen, he was accidentally met by Wallenstein himself, proceeding from Pilsen to Eger with Ilow, Terzka, Kinsky, and a small body of troops. (The statement that these included two hundred of Butler's own dragoons is probably founded on a mistake.) Butler was told to spend the night at Mies away from his soldiery; and next morning had with his regiment, under certain precautions, to accompany the duke on his progress to Eger. On the 24th Wallenstein entered into confidential conversation with him, enlarging on his own and his army's grievances against the emperor, and plying his companion with compliments and promises. Butler in return assured the duke that he would serve him rather than any other mortal. On the same day Eger was reached, and Butler was assigned quarters in the town, while his regiment remained outside the gates. Meanwhile on the 23rd Butler had contrived to despatch his chaplain to Piccolomini, now at Pilsen, assuring him that he would be true to the emperor, and adding that perchance God's providence designed to force him to do some heroic deed. Piccolomini bade the chaplain tell Butler that if he desired the imperial favour and promotion, he must deliver up Wallenstein dead or alive. The message did not reach Butler till all was over; but Piccolomini is stated to have added that he would find some other way of letting Butler know his mind on the subject. If this account be correct, it results that Butler's presence at Eger was due to chance; that after first mistrusting him Wallenstein believed himself to have gained him over; and that Butler did not enter Eger, as he had certainly not left his quarters on the frontier, with any set purpose of assassinating the duke. Most assuredly he had received no orders to that effect from the emperor, by whom none were given; nor can we suppose any instructions to have reached him from Piccolomini. At the same time, as Ranke says, the idea of this particular solution was in the air and had previously suggested itself to various minds.

On the night of his arrival at Eger, Butler had an interview with Lieutenant-colonel Gordon and Major Leslie, two Scotch protestant officers in Terzka's infantry regiment, which formed the garrison of Eger. Finding them alarmed at the situation of affairs, he began to sound them as to what should be done. Gordon having proposed flight, which Butler rejected, Leslie was led to declare that they should kill the traitors. Hereupon Butler opened to them his design, to which at last Gordon signified his assent. Then followed the well-known incidents of 25 Feb. Several officers—including Devereux, Geraldine, and de Burgo, possibly a connection of Butler's—and about a hundred men of Butler's regiment, together with nearly the same number of German soldiers, were secretly introduced into the town. In the course of the day the rumour spread that the Swedes were approaching, and this no doubt helped to nerve the hands of the conspirators. In the evening a banquet was held in the castle, at which Butler's Irish dragoons cut down Ilow, Terzka, Kinsky, and Neumann, and then Devereux killed Wallenstein himself in his quarters at the burgomaster's house. Next morning Butler informed the town councillors of what had happened, and after making them swear fidelity to the emperor, imposed a similar oath upon the regiments encamped outside the town. He also took measures for the capture of Duke Francis Albert of Saxe-Lauenburg, who was expected from across the frontier with tidings from Duke Bernard of Weimar. Information was sent to Gallas, and a proclamation to the army was issued by Butler and Gordon, declaring the treason of Wallenstein, and stating what measures had been taken against him and his associates. All these proceedings were substantially successful.

The deed of Butler and his fellows may not have saved the house of Austria and the Roman catholic cause in the empire from any grave danger, for Wallenstein had been abandoned by the great body of his army before he quitted Pilsen for Eger, and beyond that frontier fortress hardly anything in Bohemia remained in his power. But the Irish dragoons had relieved the emperor, Spain, Bavaria, and the Roman catholic party in general from a grievous incubus; and Butler in especial had done his part of the work promptly and effectively, and, what was most acceptable of all, without waiting for definite orders on the subject. Nor was he left unrewarded. Besides receiving the personal thanks of the emperor, who presented him with a gold chain and a medal bearing the imperial portrait, he was made owner of the regiment of which he held the command, ennobled as a count, appointed chamberlain, and endowed with Friedberg, the most considerable of the late duke's domains next to Friedland itself. He afterwards took part in the battle of Nördlingen (7 Sept. 1634); but Carve's word must be taken for the statement that on this occasion Butler fought most valiantly under the eyes of the king of Hungary and the Cardinal-Infante without intermission for twenty-four hours, not giving way a single foot's breadth till the Spaniards and Croats came to his aid. After the victory Butler was sent with eight regiments to lay siege to Aurach and Schorndorf, in Würtemberg, both of which places he took. At Schorndorf he died, 25 Dec. 1634, ‘most placidly,’ after duly receiving the last sacraments of his church. Carve arrived in time to see his hero's coffin and to read his last will, in which he left 20,000 dollars to a convent of Franciscans at Prague, specially devoted to the interests of the faithful and the conversion of heretics in Ireland and Scotland, besides legacies to jesuits and other priests, and to his faithful lieutenant-colonel Walter Devereux, who succeeded to his regiment. Butler was sumptuously buried by his widow, but as he left no children his estate of Friedberg passed to a kinsman of the Poolestown house, whom the Emperor Leopold I confirmed in the possession of the title of count. The family afterwards migrated to Bavaria, where it still survives.

[The Itinerarium of Thomas Carve, who was chaplain first to Butler and then to Devereux, and afterwards called himself head-chaplain to the English, Scotch, and Irish serving in the imperial army, contains many more or less trustworthy particulars as to Butler, more especially in chaps. vii. viii. ix. and xi. of part i., and in part ii. concerning his descent. It was reprinted London, 1859. As to Butler's share in Wallenstein's catastrophe, however, the best authority is the account written in answer to the inquiries of a Ratisbon priest by Patrick Taaffe, Butler's regimental chaplain, at the time of the murder, which is printed by Mailáth, Geschichte d. österreich. Kaiserstaats (1842), iii. 367–376, and is in substance accepted by Ranke, for whose account of the catastrophe see his Geschichte Wallenstein's (1869), 402–456. Cf. also the article on Walter Butler by Landmann, in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, iii. 651–653; and Lodge's Peerage of Ireland (1789), iv. 17.]

A. W. W.