Alban Butler

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Alban Butler (13 October 1710 15 May 1773) was an English Roman Catholic priest and hagiographer.

Hagiography biography of a Christian saint

A hagiography is a biography of a saint or an ecclesiastical leader. The term hagiography may be used to refer to the biography of a saint or highly developed spiritual being in any of the world's spiritual traditions.



Alban Butler was born in 1710, at Appletree, Aston le Walls, Northamptonshire, the second son of Simon Butler, Esq. [1] Orphaned at the age of eight, he was sent to be educated at the English College, Douai, in France. In 1735 Butler was ordained a priest. At Douai, he was appointed professor of philosophy, and later professor of theology. It was at Douai that he began his principal work The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints. He also prepared material for Richard Challoner's Memoirs of Missionary Priests, a work on the martyrs of the reign of Elizabeth. [2]

Aston le Walls village in the United Kingdom

Aston le Walls is a village and civil parish in South Northamptonshire, England, close by the border with Oxfordshire. The village is about 9 miles (14.5 km) north of Banbury in Oxfordshire, and 10 miles (16.1 km) south of Daventry. Neighbouring villages are Chipping Warden, Lower Boddington Upper Boddington and Byfield. According to the 2001 census the village had a population 0f 334 falling to 293 at the 2011 census.

Northamptonshire County of England

Northamptonshire, archaically known as the County of Northampton, is a county in the East Midlands of England. In 2015 it had a population of 723,000. The county is administered by Northamptonshire County Council and by seven non-metropolitan district councils. It is known as "The Rose of the Shires".

The English College, was a Catholic seminary in Douai, now in France, associated with the University of Douai. It was established in about 1561, and was suppressed in 1793. It is known for a Bible translation referred to as the Douay–Rheims Bible. Of over 300 priests from Douai sent on the English mission, about one-third were executed. The dissolution of the college at the tie of the French Revolution led to the founding of Crook Hall and St Edmund's College, Ware. It is popularly believed that the indemnification funds paid by the French for the seizure of Douai's property were diverted by the British commissioners to complete the furnishings of George IV's Royal Pavilion at Brighton.

In 1745, Butler came to the attention of the Duke of Cumberland, younger son of King George II, for his devotion to the wounded English soldiers during the defeat at the Battle of Fontenoy. [3]

Prince William, Duke of Cumberland British Army general

Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland,, was the third and youngest son of King George II of Great Britain and Ireland and his wife, Caroline of Ansbach. He was Duke of Cumberland from 1726. He is best remembered for his role in putting down the Jacobite Rising at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, which made him immensely popular throughout Britain. He is often referred to by the nickname given to him by his Tory opponents: 'Butcher' Cumberland. Despite his triumph at Culloden, he had a largely unsuccessful military career. Between 1748 and 1755 he attempted to enact a series of army reforms that were resisted by the opposition and by the army itself. Following the Convention of Klosterzeven in 1757, he never again held active military command and switched his attentions to politics and horse racing.

Battle of Fontenoy battle

The Battle of Fontenoy, 11 May 1745, was a major engagement of the War of the Austrian Succession, fought between the forces of the Pragmatic Allies – comprising mainly Dutch, British, and Hanoverian troops under the command of the Duke of Cumberland – and a French army under Maurice de Saxe, commander of King Louis XV's forces in the Low Countries. The battle was one of the most important in the war and considered the masterpiece of Saxe, serving France; Louis XV, and his son, the Dauphin, were present at the battle.

Around 1746, Butler served as tutor and guide on the Grand Tour to James and Thomas Talbot, nephews of Gilbert Talbot, 13th Earl of Shrewsbury. Their elder brother, George, succeeded their uncle as 14th Earl of Shrewsbury. Both James and Thomas Talbot later became Catholic bishops. [4]

Grand Tour Journey around Europe for cultural education

The term "Grand Tour" refers to the 17th- and 18th-century custom of a traditional trip of Europe undertaken by upper-class young European men of sufficient means and rank when they had come of age. Young women of equally sufficient means ("debutantes"), or those of either gender of a more humble origin who could find a sponsor, could also partake. The custom—which flourished from about 1660 until the advent of large-scale rail transport in the 1840s and was associated with a standard itinerary—served as an educational rite of passage. Though the Grand Tour was primarily associated with the British nobility and wealthy landed gentry, similar trips were made by wealthy young men of other Protestant Northern European nations, and, from the second half of the 18th century, by some South and North Americans. By the mid 18th century, the Grand Tour had become a regular feature of aristocratic education in Central Europe, as well, although it was restricted to the higher nobility. The tradition declined as enthusiasm for neo-classical culture waned, and with the advent of accessible rail and steamship travel—an era in which Thomas Cook made the "Cook's Tour" of early mass tourism a byword.

James Robert Talbot (1726–1790) was the last English Roman Catholic priest to be indicted in the public courts for saying Mass.

Thomas Joseph Talbot was an English Roman Catholic bishop who served as the Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District from 1778 to until his death in 1795.

He laboured for some time as a missionary priest in Staffordshire, and was finally appointed president of the English seminary at Saint Omer in France, where he remained until his death. [2]

Staffordshire County of England

Staffordshire is a landlocked county in the West Midlands of England. It borders with Cheshire to the northwest, Derbyshire and Leicestershire to the east, Warwickshire to the southeast, West Midlands and Worcestershire to the south, and Shropshire to the west.

Colleges of St Omer, Bruges and Liège

The Colleges of St Omer, Bruges and Liège were successive expatriate institutions for the Catholic education of English students and were run by the Jesuits.

Butler returned to England in 1749 and was made chaplain to the Duke of Norfolk, whose nephew and heir, the Hon. Edward Howard, Butler accompanied to Paris as tutor. While he was in Paris, Butler completed his Lives. During his term as President of the English seminary, Butler also served the bishops of Arras, Saint-Omer, Ypres, and Boulogne-Sur-Mer as their Vicar-General. Butler died in Saint-Omer in 1773 and was buried in the parish church of Saint-Denis. [3]

Edward Howard, 9th Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal was a British peer and politician.

See An Account of the Life of A. B. by C. B., i.e. by his nephew Charles Butler (London, 1799); and Joseph Gillow's Bibliographical Dictionary of English Catholics, vol. i. [5]

The Lives of Saints

The Lives of the Saints The lives of the fathers, martyrs, and other principal saints; (1846) (14796058583).jpg
The Lives of the Saints

Butler's great work, The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints ("Butler's Lives"), the result of thirty years' study, was first published in four volumes in London, 1756–1759. It is a popular and compendious reproduction of the Acta Sanctorum , exhibiting great industry and research, and is in all respects the best compendium of Acta in English. [5] Butler's magnum opus has passed many editions and translations.

The first edition (1756–1759)

This edition was printed initially in 4 octavo volumes, with no stated publisher or author's name. However they were so thick that they were usually bound in more volumes. There were actually 6 title pages since Vol. 3 and Vol. 4 both have a "part II" issued thus: vol. I, vol. II, vol. III, vol. III part II, vol. IV, and vol. IV part II. Each "volume" contained three months of the liturgical calendar's Saints' lives. Vol. I also had a copperplate engraving with figures of the Roman devices of torture used, and a 2-page explanation of their use.

Charles Butler's assertion that "all the notes" were left out of the first edition at the suggestion of Bishop Challoner is exaggerated. There are many useful, and even extended, notes in the first edition, but not to the extent that they appear in the second, and succeeding editions. According to Charles Knight, the 1847 edition published in twelve volumes is considered the best and most complete. [1]

Modern editions

Since Fr. Butler published his original edition of his Lives, many successors have revised and updated the work. Father Herbert Thurston, SJ, edited and significantly rewrote the work; his 12-volume "Revised Edition" was published between 1926 and 1938. [6]

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  1. 1 2 Knight, Charles (1872). "Butler, Alban". Biography: Or, Third Division of "The English Encyclopedia". Bradbury, Evans & Company.
  2. 1 2 Ward, Bernard (1908). "Alban Butler". The Catholic Encyclopedia. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  3. 1 2 "BUTLER, ALBAN, 1711-1773. Letter from Saint-Omer, France to unknown English correspondent, 1770". PITTS THEOLOGY LIBRARY ARCHIVES AND MANUSCRIPTS DEPT.
  4. Ward, Bernard. The Dawn of the Catholic Revival in England, 1781-1803, Vol. 1, Longmans, Green, 1909, p. 19
  5. 1 2 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Butler, Alban"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 881.
  6. Mary Heimann, "Thurston, Herbert Henry Charles (1856–1939)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2009 , accessed 29 March 2010