BUTLER, John, earl of Ossory (1808-1854).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1830 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 24 Aug. 1808, 1st s. of Hon. James Wandesford Butler*, 1st mq. of Ormonde [I] and 1st Bar. Ormonde [UK], and Grace Louisa, da. of John Staples† of Lissane, co. Tyrone. educ. Harrow 1822-6. m. 19 Sept. 1843, Frances Jane, da. of Hon. Sir Edward Paget† of Cowes Castle, I.o.W., 4s. 2da. styled Visct. Thurles 1820-5; earl of Ossory 1825-38. suc. fa. as 2nd mq. of Ormonde [I] and 2nd Bar. Ormonde [UK] 18 May 1838; KP 17 Sept. 1845. d. 25 Sept. 1854.

Offices Held

Hered. chief butler [I] 1838-d.; ld. in waiting Sept. 1841-Feb. 1852, Jan. 1853-d.

Col. Kilkenny co. militia 1849-d.


Ossory’s father had sat on the family interest for county Kilkenny from the Union until succeeding his brother as 19th earl of Ormonde in 1820. At the 1830 general election Ossory came forward for the county on the retirement of his uncle Charles Harward Butler Clarke. On the hustings his proposer admitted that at 22 he was ‘too young’ to have received the ‘benefit of a political education’ or training in ‘oratorical seminaries’, but requested that he be allowed to ‘serve an apprenticeship in Parliament’. Asked for his views by an opponent, he promised to ‘acquire a greater knowledge of politics than I at present possess’ and apologized for having refused to sign a requisition against ‘some taxes’, saying, ‘I forget the exact circumstances, but recall that it was proposed to me ... after a game of cricket, which was not exactly the time to consider it seriously’. Pressed further, he declared his support for a ‘moderate reform’ of Parliament (he was against the secret ballot and universal suffrage) and his ‘decided’ opposition to repeal of the Union, and agreed to assist the citizens of the city of Kilkenny, jointly controlled by his family and the earl of Desart, in regaining their chartered rights. Though he had ‘not considered’ the Irish Vestry Act ‘deeply’, he conceded that it might require ‘amendment’. He was returned unopposed.1

He was listed by the Wellington ministry as one of their ‘friends’, but was absent from the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. In his maiden speech, 14 Dec. 1830, he gave qualified support to a Kilkenny petition for inquiry into corporate abuses, observing that some of its statements might be ‘exaggerated’. On 21 Feb. 1831 he informed James Emerson of Belfast that he would support the extension of Littleton’s truck bill to Ireland.2 He presented a petition against further grants to the Kildare Place Society, 2 Mar., and two for the abolition of Irish tithes, 29 Mar. 1831. He voted for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and was listed by The Times as having divided against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.3 At the ensuing general election he offered again as a reformer, boasting that he had survived the ‘ordeal’ of his first session and hoping that the reform bill ‘would rise like a phoenix completely refreshed and invigorated’. He was again returned unopposed.4 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced bill, 6 July, against the adjournment, 12 July, and gave general support to its details, though he was in the minority for the disfranchisement of Aldborough, 14 Sept. He divided for the passage of the measure, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He voted against the union of Irish parishes bill, 19 Aug., and for legal provision to be made for the Irish poor, 29 Aug. He presented a petition against Irish tithes, 12 Oct. Ossory paired for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and again supported its details, but was absent from the division on the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He voted with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. On 31 Jan. he was among those usually supporting ministers on reform who divided for inquiry into the glove trade. He defended Irish sheriffs against imputations of jury packing, 22 Feb. He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May. He divided for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and paired against an increase in the Scottish representation, 1 June. Citing the growing number of cases being tried at the Irish assizes, 31 May, he called for ‘extraordinary measures’ to ‘re-establish order’, but opposed the appointment of a committee on Irish outrages, to which he was nevertheless named that day. He voted against the Irish party processions bill, 25 June 1832.

At the 1832 general election Ossory, who evidently had not anticipated a dissolution before January 1833, was on an archaeological tour of Italy, and on the advice of friends retired.5 He was mentioned as a candidate for county Kilkenny at the general election of 1837, by when he was aligned with the Conservatives, but he withdrew before a poll. In April 1839 he accepted the presidency of the newly formed Kilkenny Conservative Society, having succeeded to the peerage on the death of his father the previous year.6 He was made a lord in waiting on the accession of the second Peel ministry, a post he continued to hold as a Liberal Conservative under Russell’s administration. Widely regarded as a model Irish landlord, he was praised by The Times in October 1850 for offering tenants a rent rebate, and even earned a tribute from the Kilkenny Journal, which was supportive of the Tenant League.7 That year he published Autumn in Sicily ... an account of the principal remains of antiquity, which established his reputation as ‘an accomplished scholar and archaeologist’. He also translated works of French light literature and a life of St. Canice, to whom the cathedral at Kilkenny was dedicated.

Ossory died from an attack of apoplexy while sea bathing with his family near Loftus Hall, county Wexford, in September 1854. By the terms of his will, of which his wife, a lady of the bedchamber to the dowager Queen Adelaide, 1844-9, was sole executrix, he requested that during his son’s minority the family should follow his example by spending part of the year at Kilkenny. He was succeeded in the peerage by his eldest son James (1844-1919).8

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. Kilkenny Moderator, 31 July, 14 Aug. 1830; G. Burtchaell, MPs for Kilkenny, 208-9.
  • 2. PRO NI, Emerson Tennant mss D2922/C/1A/2.
  • 3. The Times, 21 Apr. 1831.
  • 4. Dublin Evening Post, 28 Apr., 12 May; Kilkenny Moderator, 7, 11 May 1831.
  • 5. The Times, 15 Dec. 1832.
  • 6. Ibid. 2, 17, 19 July 1837, 30 Apr. 1839; O’Connell Corresp. v. 2434.
  • 7. The Times, 7 Oct. 1850.
  • 8. Gent. Mag. (1854), ii. 505-7; Burtchaell, 208-9.