Alban Butler

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


Alban Butler was born in 1710, at Appletree, 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, 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]

In 1745, Rev. 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] Butler served as tutor and guide on the Grand Tour to the Duke's sons, George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and his two brothers. Both James and Thomas Talbot later became Catholic bishops,[1]

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 till his death.[2]

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]

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.

The Lives of Saints

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. 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 edition published in twelve volumes in 1847 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.[4] Donald Attwater made further significant changes in the "Second Edition" published in 1956, in the same number of volumes.


  1. 1 2 3 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. 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


External links

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