Anne Boleyn’s Irish Roots – Lady Margaret Butler and the Butlers of Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle

As today is St Patrick’s Day – Happy St Patrick’s Day to all our Irish visitors! – I thought it was only fitting to look at Anne Boleyn’s Irish roots.

“Anne Boleyn was Irish?!”, I hear you cry! Well, no, but she was descended from a noble family’s whose family seat was in Ireland through her paternal grandmother, Lady Margaret Butler, was an Irish noblewoman.

Lady Margaret Butler

Lady Margaret Butler was born at Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny, Ireland, somewhere between 1454 and 1465. She was the daughter of Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond, (known as “The Wool Earl”) and his first wife, Anne Hankford, and her paternal grandparents were James Butler, 4th Earl of Ormonde, and Joan Beauchamp. James Butler was known as “The White Earl” and was the patron of “The Book of the White Earl”, an Irish religious and literary miscellany. Margaret’s maternal grandparents were Sir Richard Hankford and Anne Montagu.

Lady Margaret’s father, Thomas, was a friend of Henry VII and so sat in the Irish and English Parliaments. In 1509 he became Queen Catherine of Aragon’s Lord Chamberlain and served her in this post for three years. He died in 1515 leaving his English estates (72 manors!) to his two daughters, Margaret and Anne.

Lady Margaret married Sir William Boleyn, son of the wealthy mercer Geoffrey Boleyn from Blickling, Norfolk, and his wife, Anne Hoo. The couple had ten children and their eldest son was Thomas Boleyn, father of Anne Boleyn. Margaret died in 1539.

The Butlers of Ormond

According to the Kilkenny Castle Visitor’s Guide (Thanks Paudie!), the first ancestor of the Butler family in Ireland was Theobald Walter, who was of Norman origin. His father was a landowner in Weeton, Lancashire, and his mother was Matilda, daughter and co-heiress of the Lord of Parham, Suffolk. Theobald and his brother, Hubert, were raised in the household of Ranulf de Glanville, Justiciar of England in the 1180s, and would have known Henry II’s son, Prince John (the future King John) who also spent time there. In 1185, Theobald accompanied Prince John to Ireland when the Prince visited as Lord of Ireland and the Kilkenny Visitor’s Guide explains how Theodore established religious houses in Wicklow, Limerick and Tipperary. By the time he died in 1205 he had built up extensive landholdings in Ireland, in Munster and south Leinster.

Theodore’s brother, Hubert Walter was Bishop of Salisbury from 1189 until 1193, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1193 until 1205, Chief Justiciar of England and Lord Chancellor.

The family surname changed from Walter to Butler during the reign of Henry II. The name came from the fact that Theobald Walter was the ceremonial cup-bearer to Prince John, the boteillier (Norman French) or ‘butler’. The title of Ormond(e)* also traces back to Theobald who was granted Irish lands by Prince John.

The first Earl of Ormond was James Butler (c.1305-1338), a descendant of Theobald Walter (his great-great-great-great-great-grandson). He became Chief Butler of Ireland (7th) in 1321 and in 1328 Edward III created him 1st Earl of Ormonde and granted him a life-grant of the liberty of the county of Tipperary which was held by the family until 1716.

The Butlers and Kilkenny Castle

James Butler’s grandson, James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormond, bought the 13th century Kilkenny Castle in 1391 from Sir Hugh le Despencer, Earl of Gloucester. On King Richard II’s visit to Ireland in 1394-95, he made Butler the Justiciar of Ireland as he regarded Ormond as the premier Irish earl. Kilkenny Castle was originally built for William Marshal, 4th Earl of Pembroke (c. 1146-1219) but became the main Irish residence of the Butler family between 1391 and 1967 when Arthur, 6th Marquess of Ormonde, gave it to the residents of Kilkenny for a payment of £50.

Thomas Boleyn and the Ormond Succession Crisis

Piers Butler (c.1467-1539) was a member of the Polestown branch of the Butler family and was cousin to the previous Earls of Ormond. While the family were absent from their lands in Ireland, Piers’ father, Sir James Butler (d.1487) laid claim to the title Earl of Ormond and the lands that went with it, and Piers seized Kilkenny Castle c. 1498.

In my article “The Early Life of Anne Boleyn Part Five – The Boleyns and Butlers”, I explained that when Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond, died on the 3rd August 1515, he left no legitimate offspring to inherit his title and instead he left the families of his two daughters – the Boleyns and St Legers – as joint heirs-general. Although Henry VIII’s favour led to Anne’s father, Thomas Boleyn (son of Margaret Butler), being granted the livery of his mother’s estates and a hearing in November 1516 had seen the Boleyns and St Legers prove the case that they were entitled to the Irish lands and title, Piers Butler began styling himself as the Earl of Ormond and he had the support of the Irish Lords. It was a very tricky situation because Henry VIII did not want to upset the Irish Lords. The answer, it seemed, lay in a marriage match between Thomas Boleyn’s daughter, Anne, and Piers Butler’s son, James.

In September 1520, plans were put into place for Anne Boleyn to marry James Butler, a man who had actually been brought up in the household of Cardinal Wolsey. In December 1521 a letter was sent to Anne, who was serving Queen Claude in France, recalling her to England in preparation for the marriage. However, the marriage never did take place and Anne ended up marrying Henry VIII and James ended up marrying Lady Joan Fitzgerald, but Thomas Boleyn did get his title. After lots of negotiations and power struggles, Piers Butler gave up the title of Earl of Ormond in 1529 in return for the disputed Ormond lands on a long lease and the earldom of Ossory. Piers successfully regained the Ormond title in 1538, two years after the execution of Anne Boleyn, and his son, James, inherited the title on his father’s death in 1539, becoming 9th Earl of Ormond.

So, there you go, as well as having royal blood (see “Anne Boleyn’s Royal Blood”), Anne Boleyn also had some Irish heritage and could well have ended up living in Ireland as wife to James Butler.

Happy St Patrick’s Day everyone! Here’s a rather awful Irish joke:-

“An Irishman, by the name of O’Malley proposed to his girl on St. Patrick’s Day. He gave her a ring with a synthetic diamond. The excited young lass showed it to her father, a jeweller. He took one look at it and saw it wasn’t real.
The young lass on learning it wasn’t real returned to her future husband. She protested vehemently about his cheapness.

‘It was in honour of St. Patrick’s Day,?’ he smiled.

‘I gave you a sham rock.’ ”

Ha ha!

*Ormond can be spelled with or without an “e”.


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34 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn’s Irish Roots – Lady Margaret Butler and the Butlers of Kilkenny Castle”
    1. I haven’t seen any record of how she felt when the Boleyns fell in 1536. It is interesting that she died in the same year as her son and she was, apparently, the last of the Boleyn family to live at Hever Castle. Wasn’t she portrayed as a bit of a battle-axe in The Other Boleyn Girl? Not sure, can’t remember!

  1. It does seem strange that no mention is made of this grandmother to Anne–I wonder if there was a family rift or why there is so little made of it. Oh family relations! Great info–stuff I didn’t know and it made the ties between the Boleyns and the Bulters so much more clear. Oh, just give me a week in 15 28 to see and hear all this stuff.
    Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

  2. During research into my family history I have recently been informed that I am lucky enough to be related to Anne Boleyn as Lady Margaret Butler is my 17 Great grandmother. I was so happy to find out more information on her life and would be ever so greatful for any further information.

    1. I have Discovered that as well in my Family through the family name Ireland, we might possibly be distant Cousins, her daughter Margaret Married Thomas Ireland in my family tree. Margaret Ireland lived from 1507- 1545

    2. I have done the same thing, although I haven’t counted how far back yet. I am 45 years old, so maybe around the same. I stem off of Lady Margaret Boleyn Sackville (1489-1556), the daughter of William Boleyn and Lady Margaret Ormond Butler Boleyn. I am new to this so just catching up………

      1. I am 77 female. my 15th great grandmother was Anne hankeford1431-1485so I am a distant cousin of Elizabeth the first. By way of Anne Boleyn.

        1. My 14th great-grandmother was Lady Anne Hankeford Butler, Anne Boleyn’s grandmother. I just discovered this while researching the Butler’s via my maternal grandfather. Absolutely fascinating!

  3. Happy st. Patrick’s day Claire,Tim and to the kids!
    Kilkenny castle is spectacular and well worth a visit (as is the rest of our green isle!)
    There is a “Butler Society” where anyone by the name Butler is welcomed as a cousin and roots can be cross referenced. It is one of the few names that can be traced back to the 12th century.
    Glad you liked the Book Claire.

  4. I have recently been informed of a possible connection with the Boleyn family name and the Boyle family name.Can you throw any light on this possible connection?
    David Boyle

    1. Yes You are right The Boylyns are O Baoillain originally from the Royal O Baoillain in County Donegal .Thete territory was Boylagh ( Will put them in my history of Ireland book )

      1. Boleyn, Boylan (O’Baoighealláin) and Boyle (O’Baoigheall) are completely different names. Boylan was historically recorded sometimes Boylan, Boylyn and Boylin and Boyland and comes from the Fermanagh-Monaghan boundary and were recorded there as Ua’Baoighealláin in 11th century. Boyle comes from Donegal. Boylan and Boyle are Irish names not to be confused with Boleyn (de Bologne)

  5. Hi……
    Im trying to find my fourth grandparents ….an your post seems to be vary close to my family…….my fourth grandparents are william ,margeritt (kiely)butler have found five children edward butler +sp annie ,timothyJ.butler +sp clarissa Joynt she married william F ryan after timothys death thomas J butler +sp amy spooner, catherine Kate butler +sp Frank Alferd mayhew William H.butler +sp Elizabeth M.Norton children all born in Ireland could you help with william margeritt (kiely)butler …….am in the usa vermont (Irish ancesters)

    1. I have stumbled across this site while looking at my family history which is the Butler family ancestry from Kilkenny. What a surprise to know that I am probably related to Anne Boleyn and Queen Elizabeth 1st. Im a third generation living in Western Australia.

    2. I’m related to Margaret Butler to through the De Welles lineage, her grandmother was Anne De Welles and Anne had a sister Margery who is my nineteenth great grandma, therefore Anne Boleyn is my fourth cousin, very exciting I agree.

  6. Hi Kym,
    There are quite a few ancestors who can trace their bloodlines back through the Butler Family to Anne Boleyn here in Australia. My late mother Mary Robina Masterson, married name Shepherd is one through Johanna Butler’s line and it’s quite a wonderful journey. My brother Kevin Shepherd has researched all the way back and in the course of his research has attended many family reunions in different parts of Australia. My sister, Margaret Joan Daly nee Shepherd has visited Kilkenny Castle on a few occasions with her husband Brian Daly and stayed in the presidential suite at Powerscourt., courtesy of the Butler Family. She also receives the letters advising of various celebrations of the Butler Foundation.
    Good luck with your research, it’s fascinating the notable people we are related to.

  7. Im curious my Father is Joseph Burns Butler his fathers name is Edward Butler born in Campbleton New Brunswick . My Dad was born May 17 1943 .His mothers name was Margaret . Any relation

  8. Dear All, I was looking for the australian Butler Society when I stumbled across this website, my husband is the nephew of the previous Marquiss of Ormonde,we have been to one reunion at Kilkenny and went back to take Uncle Charles ashes as we laid him to rest in the cemetery at Kilkenny.We would like to knw where the Australian society is, we have recently moved to Australia,we used to belong to the new zealnd branch. regards sharmaine

    1. Hello

      My Butler line was also in New Zealand including Hertfordshire England,
      would you like to contact me to share names and dates?
      My Butler grandmother mentioned there was a connection to the Dukes of Ormand?
      the Butler family are a very large and wide spread groupe.

      1. Hi Paul I have just seen this and I am Sharmaine’s daughter Marakech. My father and his mother did not move to NZ from Ireland till around 1954 my grandmother was Bridget Annie Gordon (Née Bellville West) her mother was Victoria “Constance” Theodora Butler (1897-1952) Her great grandparents were John Butler 2nd marquess of ormonde b 5 Oct 1844 d 26 Oct 1919 and Frances’s Jane Paget d 26 aug 1903 . Constance’s parents were Rev. lord James Walter theobald gorden Butler and Lady Annabella Brydon Gorden there children were James Walter 1.Theobald Gorden Butler b 19 may 1886 D 2may 1945 2. Violet Mary Emily Maud butler 22 Apr 1889 to 30 sept 1973 3. Sybil Frances Christina Butler 10 Feb 1891 to 11july 1970 4. Victoria Blanche Constance Theodora Butler B 28 sep 1897 D 15 jun 1952 their fifth child was James Hubert Theobald Charles Butler 7th and last Marquess of Ormonde B 19 April 1899 D 25 Oct 1997 he is my Fathers great uncle and my great great uncle. A very fine man he was indeed. I hope this is of some assistance to you.

  9. I am finding this to be SO interesting because Anne Boleyn is my very great Aunt. Mary Boleyn was my very great grandmother, Thomas Boleyn keeps going up the line of my grandparents, the Butlers!!! But, my lineage does not stop there! My line is of the Plantagenets, Lancaster, and York. My grandparents are kings and queens of England, Scotland, and France, and a connection to Prince Rurik of Russia. I have yet to learn about my royal/noble family. What I found recently was that my family is a Shakespeare play ( Richard ll). John of Gaunt and Mowbray are my grandparents. Richard ll is my cousin!

  10. My maternal grandmother is the maternal granddaughter of James the 4th Earl of Ormond through his daughter Elizabeth Butler who marries John Talbot. Through Y DNA testing my father has distant common ancestor 24 generations back with the Ffrench family of Galway, Ireland. Another ancestor living in Wales in 1500s is a Tege Ormond said to be Irish. Do you have any records showing a connection of the Butler family being connected to the Ffrench family who were the Mayors of Galway in the 1400s?

  11. Was the artist Elizabeth Butler Orman a part of this family? How did it happen that she painted scenes from the Crimean war?

  12. I am a Butler from the United States my family has been here for several generations having come down from Canada. I sure wish I could make sense of it all as my mothers mother was also a Davies/Ritter who was also of royal lineage. So Butler is my maiden name and Davies /Ritter the other side both claim the lineage .

  13. My nee name was Diane stuart born Erith Kent, through most of my DNA links it appears that a lot are related to nobles of england, e.g. Lacey, Frys, Austen, Austin,bolin, lister, vane, Vane tempest , Herve, Harvey, Foster, there are more, I would be pleased to know what line of descent I should follow, and delighted and grateful for any help, Thankyou I find this completely addictive also sometimes sad once again Thank You Diane

  14. I have found this whole quest so exciting , I remember as a child thinking I would love a queue of my ancestors from Stone Age period to the present and tell me about themselves although I know language has change, Thankyou, it’s so exciting I’m in danger of becoming boring. Also I have tried to find out or help my fellow makes one realise that it makes a differance when people keep good records, Thankyou once more.

  15. My Great grandmother was Catherine Fitzgerald does that mean I am related also to The Butlers I am irish Born ,

  16. My fathers family go back to the Butlers
    My great grandmother was Johanna Butler
    The names James and Piers feature in our tree
    They came from Tipperary and we have traced them the seat of Cahir Castle
    Im amazed to think they might be related to Ann Boleyn

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