January 2024

King Henry VIII was responsible for establishing the Protestant Church throughout his realm and, by so doing, changing the official faith of his kingdom from Catholic to Protestant. Except for the years of the brief reign of his daughter, Queen Mary who followed the Catholic faith, the official religion throughout the kingdom has remained Protestant ever since and a series of measures have been introduced from time to time to restrict Catholic worship and exclude Catholics from political and administrative office.

In particular, the Penal Laws which were enacted between 1691 and 1704 affected many Irish families, including the ancestors of Butlers in Argentina. Perhaps the law which had the most impact for Catholic gentry and landowners was the Act to Prevent the Further Growth of Popery of 1704, which introduced a number of restrictions on Catholics buying, inheriting or leasing land.

Many aspects of life for Irish Catholics were affected by the various Laws and Acts.

  • Marriages between Catholics and Protestants were forbidden.
  • Catholics were excluded from holding public office.
  • Were excluded from service in the Army and the Navy.
  • Were forbidden from carrying firearms.
  • Had no electoral rights.
  • Could not hold office in local or central government.
  • Could not travel abroad to receive an education.
  • Could not inherit property unless they converted to the Protestant faith.
  • Could not hold land for a period longer than 31 years
  • Any land they held had to be worked or they risked having it expropriated
  • They could not inherit land from a Protestant
  • Protestant heiresses who married Catholics lost their inheritence.
  • Only non-ordained clerics could conduct services.
  • No Catholic was permitted to teach or instruct in the creed of the church of Rome,
  • Catholic churches were to be located away from main roads and constructed of wood not stone.

It appears to have been the 1704 Act which prevented James Butler of the house of Neigham from inheriting the lands of his father, Theobald, and which forced him to move to Ballinakill, County Kilkenny, where he is first recorded as being a farmer, and later a baker.

In 1713 James married Anne Langton, and they had a son, William, in 1715. Unfortunately Anne died soon after this birth. James then married Jane Archer who was descended from a Norman family, and they had six children – Thomas, probably born in 1718; Nicholas born in 1720; Mary in 1724; George in 1728; James in 1732; and Anne, probably born a year later.

To avoid the Penal Laws, many Irish Catholics emigrated to other Catholic countries, such as France, Italy, Austria, Prussia and Spain, where they would be free to practise their faith. Spain in particular welcomed them.

And it was to Spain that the sons of James Butler went. His eldest son by his first wife, William Langton Butler, emigrated to Cadiz when he was 16 and joined the firm Carew, Langton and Co, which had been established by relations of his mother. Cadiz by then had quite a large population of Irish.immigrants involved in various trading activities.

Cadiz became even more important as a busy trading port after 1717 when a Royal decree issued by King Philip V granted Cadiz the monopoly on trade between the Spanish terrirories of the Americas and Spain. All ships with their commercial loads had to enter and depart from Cadiz. 

In general, raw materials were imported from colonial lands and processed products were exported from there. From the 16th century, Spain had established a fleet of ships to regularly ship goods from Cadiz to Panama, from where they were transported across land to the Pacific and then shipped to Lima, capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru. From Lima the goods were distributed throughout the territory under Spanish rule. Other regions outside the Viceroyalty were serviced by a system of Registered ships which were granted special concessions to deliver merchandise to the port of Buenos Aires and from there to distribute the goods to some cities in the interior, such as Cordoba, Salta and Tucaman.

Over time it became apparent that Buenos Aires, the port on the Atlantic side, was more advantageous for access to the rich silver mines of Potosi and the interior cities of the colonial territory. The increase in the volume of trade by this route and the weight of Peruvian mining led to the establishment of a dense commercial network through which regional and overseas products circulated. At the centre of this dynamic circuit was Cordoba, which linked the main consumption centre of Potosi with the port of Buenos Aires, and the regional production centres of Cuyo (for wines and brandy), Sante Fe (especially cattle and leather) and the markets of Chile. The city of Cadiz thus became a strategic core for Spanish colonial trade.

When William Butler arrived in Cadiz in the early 1730s, his success and development in the commercial field would have been very important for the family as, without their Irish inheritence, the family’s fortunes depended on him. Thomas, the next son and the first from the second marriage, did not go to Spain, but remained in Ireland and became head of the family when his father died.

So once William (Guillermo in Spanish) was established, he was joined by the third son, Nicholas (Nicolas), in 1736. After having gained the necessary experience and resources, the brothers then decided to expand their operations to the other side of the Atlantic. Nicolas moved to the city of Buenos Aries in 1744 and became the first Butler of this family to live in Argentina. Nicolas’s place in Cadiz was then taken by the next brother, George (Jorge). But in 1748 Jorge also went to Buenos Aries. So the youngest son James (Diego) then moved to Cadiz to work with Guillermo and maintain the family business in that city.

In 1765 Jorge returned to Cadiz, and James (Diego) took his place in Buenos Aries. Diego settled at San Agustin near Cordoba in Argentina, where he married Vicenta Sarsfield. Four main families with the Butler name (Buteler in Argentina) are descended from that couple, a total of about 2,000 descendants.

Alejandro Buteler

Representative for the Butler Society, Southern Cross Region, in Argentina.

Note: More information about the lives and activities of this family in Spain has been provided by the historian Lourdes Marquez Carmona in her very interesting and well researched book “La Memoria de los Irlandeses: Cadiz y la Familia Butler” (in English “The Irish Memory: Cadiz and the Butler Family”) published by Circulo Rojo 2015. Lourdes is a direct descendant of the William Butler who was the first of the family to emigrate to Spain.