Select Butler Surname Genealogy

In England Butler as an occupational name originally denoted a servant in charge of the wine cellar, from the Norman French word butuiller.  It eventually came to be used to describe a servant of high responsibility in a noble household, mostly leaving behind its association with the supply of wine. 

The surname has its counterparts in France with Boutler and in Germany with Buttlar. 

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England.  Butlers in England were in many cases at first butlers. 

The early spelling here was Botiller or Boteler.  Thus Ralph who was the butler to the Count of Meulan in the early 1100’s was the forebear of Baron Botiller of Wern in Shropshire.  From Robert de Pincerna, butler to the Earl of Chester in 1086 came Sir William le Boteler, lord of Warrington and sheriff of Lancashire in the 13th century.  His family later became the Butlers of Warrington and Bewsey. 

Other early Butlers were:  
  • the Botelers of Yatton in Herefordshire in the early 1300’s who were the forebears of the Butlers of Shambrooke in Bedfordshire and subsequently of county Cavan in Ireland.  
  • Thomas Boteler who appeared in a charter dated 1313 in Biddenham in Bedfordshire.  The line included Sir William Boteler, Lord Mayor of London in 1515.  The Botelers were still in Biddenham in the early 1700’s.   
  • and William Boteler, descended from the Botillers of Wern, who took over Sudeley castle in Gloucestershire in the 1360's.  A descendant Thomas Butler was made Baron Sudeley in 1441.  After he died, his young widow Eleanor, known as the Holy Harlot, was alleged to have had an affair with King Edward IV.  
There were three John Butlers who were recorded in London in the early 1400’s.  Two were members of the Mercers’ Company, one becoming an MP in 1417.  A third was a draper who was Sheriff of London in 1420 and died a wealthy man in 1436.  Butlers were cloth merchants in London in the 1530’s.  A later cloth merchant of London, John Butler, bought Amberley Castle in Sussex in the 1650’s. 

utlers were yeoman farmers at Claines near Worcester in the 17th century.  Descendants were to be found at Rye in Sussex and Margate in Kent.  The Margate line extended to George Butler, Headmaster of Harrow school from 1805 to 1829, and his son Montagu, Headmaster of the same school from 1859 to 1885.  Another line included a number of Victorian colonial governors in India and the conservative politician Rab Butler. 

By the late 19th century, there appeared to be three main centers for Butlers: 
  • in the north, in Lancashire stretching into Yorkshire 
  • in the west midlands, primarily in Staffordshire and Warwickshire  
  • and in the southeast around London.   
Ireland.  The Butler dynasty in Ireland began with Theobald Walter from Lancashire, who was part of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in the 1170's and was given at that time the title of Chief Butler of Ireland.  They changed their name from FitzWalter to Butler at that time. 

These Butlers were ennobled as the Earls of Ormond in 1328 and they acquired their fortress at Kilkenny castle in 1391.  For centuries they remained a great power in SE Ireland, often in dispute with the FitzGeralds, that other great dynastic family in Ireland.  

The Butler patrimony extended through Kilkenny and Tipperary into parts of Carlow.  While the Ormond Butlers remained the senior branch, other Butler branches developed over time, those of Dunboyne, Cahir, Polestown and Roscrea, and Mountgarret. The Ormond Butlers left Kilkenny castle and Ireland permanently in 1935.  Charles Butler, the 31st Chief Butler of Ireland and the last of their line, died in 1997. 

Stephen Butler arrived in Ireland from Bedfordshire in 1610, having received a land grant in Cavan.  He laid the foundations of the town of Belturbet and his family became prominent landowners in the county, ennobled in 1756 as the Earls of Lanesborough.  Their title became extinct in 1998. 

America.  Richard Butler from Tipperary in Ireland was the first Butler to step ashore in America.  He was a page-boy on Raleigh’s expeditions to Roanoke in 1584 and 1585, but refused to stay (and therefore did not perish as those who did). 

Thomas and John Butler, brothers from Essex, came to America in the 1630’s and they settled on Kent Island which lay between the colonies of Maryland and Virginia.  This was dangerous as Maryland was Catholic and they were Protestant and they feared to come under Maryland’s jurisdiction.  In the end the Butlers made their home in Westmoreland county, Virginia.  

Three notable early New England Butler families were: 
  • the Butlers beginning with Nicholas Butler who came to New England on the Hercules from Kent in 1637 and stopped first in Dorchester, Massachusetts before moving to Martha’s Vineyard.  Benjamin Butler, Union General and Governor of Massachusetts, was a descendant. 
  • William Butler who came around 1654 and made his home in Ipswich, Massachusetts.  He was by repute an Irish Butler fleeing Cromwell.  One line from him migrated in the mid-1700’s to Connecticut and to the Wyoming valley in Pennsylvania.  Another line started making paper, initially in Connecticut and Vermont, and then in the 1840’s in the Chicago area.  Growing rich they built their country estate in 1898 at Oak Brook near Chicago.
  • and the Butlers who were recorded in New London, Connecticut in the 1680’s.  Walter Butler grew up there but moved in 1742 to the Mohawk valley in upstate New York.  His son John Butler led the notorious pro-British Butler’s Rangers during the Revolutionary War.  John died in Canada, a war hero to the British.  
Major Pierce Butler, the third son of a well-born family in Ireland, had come to South Carolina with the British army, but resigned his position in 1773 to join the American cause.  He prospered after the War.  With his rice and cotton plantations in South Carolina and later on the Georgia Sea Islands, he and his two grandsons who inherited his estate were amongst the largest slaveholders of the antebellum South.  Their edifice began to crumble, however, before the Civil War.

Canada.  The Butler name is old in Newfoundland.  Samuel Butler, possibly from Bristol, was among the very first immigrants to land at Conception Bay with John Guy in 1610.  Thomas Butler and his three sons were living at Port de Grave in 1675; and his line may well have extended to James Butler who was granted a moiety at Little Belle Island in Conception Bay in 1757 (James reported property being in his family’s possession for 98 years).  There is a Butler house, built by Butlers at Cupids on Conception Bay in 1905, that is still with the family.

Later Butlers in Newfoundland came from both England and Ireland.  James Butler arrived at Trinity Bay from Hampshire in England around 1808.  There have now been five generations of Butlers living at Port Rexton.  On one stormy winter's day in 1892 Butlers of this family were caught up in the tragic outcome of a seal hunt chase.

“John Butler witnessed the events unfolding from land; his nephew James made it ashore in very poor shape; but another relative Isaac perished in his seal boat.”

Australia and New Zealand
.  Laurence Butler from Wexford was transported to Australia for his role in the 1798 Irish Rebellion.  He arrived there in 1802 at the age of 52 on the Atlas 2.  Nine years later he started to advertise as a cabinet maker in Sydney.  By the time of his death in 1820 he was recognized as Australia’s first cabinet maker of note and a leading businessman of the new colony.

Born in the tiny Dorset village of Okeford Fitzpaine in 1814 to a clergyman’s family, William Butler ran away to sea at the age of 14.  In 1838 he arrived in New Zealand, bought land at Mangonui on North Island, and set up a trading post to service whaling ships with supplies and provisions.  The Butler homestead at Butler Point where he and his wife Eliza raised thirteen children has recently been restored
by descendants.

Select Butler Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Butler Names

Chief Butler of Ireland was the title given to Theobald Walter in 1171.
James Butler
was a prominent 17th century Anglo-Irish soldier and statesman.  He fought against the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland but returned to English favor after the Restoration.
Pierce Butler represented South Carolina in the Constitutional Convention and was a large plantation owner in South Carolina and Georgia.
Samuel Butler was the Victorian writer of the Utopian satire Erewhon.
Rab Butler was a prominent postwar Conservative politician who was expected to but didn't become Britain's Prime Minister.

Select Butlers Today

  • 63,000 in the UK (most numerous in Kent)
  • 72,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 58,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Select Surname List

Adams Ellis Johnson O'Connor
Allen Evans Jones O'Sullivan Shaw
Anderson Fisher
Kelly Parker Simpson
Bailey Foster Kennedy Perry Smith
Baker Fox King Peterson Stevens
Barnes Fraser 
Lee Phillips Stewart
Bell Graham Lewis Powell Taylor
Bennett Gray Marshall Price Thomas
Brown Green Martin Reed
Griffiths Mason      
Reynolds Turner
Campbell Hall McDonald Richards
Carter Hamilton Miller  Richardson Walsh
Chapman Harris Mitchell Roberts Ward
Clark Harrison
Moore Robertson Watson
Collins Henderson Morgan Robinson White
Cook Hill Morris Rogers Williams
Cooper Howard Murphy Ross Wilson
Cox Hughes Murray Russell Wood
Davis Jackson Nelson Ryan Wright
Edwards James O'Brien 

For other surnames check the surnames2 page where there are to be found the history and genealogy for more than 800 surnames.

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