Walter Butler – Traitor or Hero

Walter Butler – Traitor or Hero

Eamonn Kiely

In a book of essays of the late Melo Lenox – Conyngham called A Life in Postcards one chapter deals with the above named Paulstown born Walter Butler. He comes down through history as having led the group that assassinated Albrecht von Wallenstein at Cheb in the Czech Republic on 25th February 1634. This was during the 30 Years War in which he and his brother James fought.
The war was between the Habsburg backed Ferdinand of Styria and Frederick V, Elector Palatine. It started in Prague in 1618 where the Protestant citizens threw their Catholic governors out of the window of the castle. This became known as the defenestration of Prague. Luckily there was a dung hill outside the windows so the only damage done was to leave the governors malodorous. It did however start a largely religious war between Catholic and Protestant.
Wallenstein, although Protestant born, threw in his lot and Army on the Catholic Habsburg side. They were successful early on at White Mountain outside Prague in 1620. This did not remain a local war – countries as far apart as Sweden and Spain got involved. The two great commanders on either side were Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden and Wallenstein on the Habsburg side. Their armies met at Lutzen in 1632 with Wallenstein having to concede ground but Gustavus Adolphus was killed.
Wallenstein was enriching himself by the war and by a couple of judicious marriages and Ferdinand II, now Holy Roman Emperor grew weary of his ambition and dismissed him. However the war immediately turned against him and his top general had to be recalled.
He was soon conspiring again and on 24 January 1634 the Emperor signed a secret patent removing him from his command but not yet. Certain of Wallenstein’s officers were privy to this including Walter Butler. Col Butler led a regiment of dragoons – that is mounted infantry to Cheb Castle. With some Scottish off icers they massacred Wallenstein’s most trusted aides and later headed for the burgomaster’s house in the main square where the general himself resided. There they despatched the duplicitous general.
Schiller, the German poet/playwright, who knew nothing of the Butlers says in the Coleridge translation:

I came a simple soldier’s boy from Ireland
To Prague and with a master, whom I buried,
From lowest stable duty I climbed up
Such was the fate of war, to this high rank.

Father Carew who was head chaplain and friend of Walter Butler errs on the other side stating in his Itinerarium “Butler’s behaviour was as irreproachable as his lineage”. He adds “Follow me to the furthest bounds of Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Bohemia and hear the fame of the Butlers, celebrated everywhere for their fidelity to emperors and kings”. As Shakespeare says “There’s the rub”.
Hubert Butler, in the Butler Journal of 1970/71 says “Contrast these Catholic Irish Officers who suffered the forcible imposition of an English and Protestant ascendency upon Catholic Ireland and here they were in Bohemia helping Emperor Frederick impose a Catholic and German ascendency on Protestant Czechs”. Fisher, the historian , says Emperor Frederick wished to undo the work of the Reformation. “Better a desert than a country full of heretics”.
Having been handsomely rewarded by the Emperor Walter Butler died within a couple of years of this action. His brother James, had bravely but unsuccessfully defended Frankfort on Main against the Swedish king. Gustavus’ first question to James was “Which of the Butlers are you?”. On hearing the reply he said “You’re lucky you are not Walter or I would run you through with my sword”. Instead he decorated him for his heroic defence. James has a memorial to him erected outside the military Museum in Budapest. I came across it by accident on a military history outing. But of the Paulstown Butlers Walter is best remembered.

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