Lady Butler is arguably the greatest British military painter of the 19th Century. She enjoyed an extraordinarily full life. Her parents had been introduced to each other by Dickens, who remained a family friend and was a frequent visitor to the villa on Lake Lugano where she was born. Her sister, Mrs Meynell, became a noted essayist and poet. In 1877, she married Colonel Butler, later Lieutenant General the Right Honorable Sir William Butler, P.C., G.C.B., and with him she visited Egypt and the Cape before settling in Ireland, where she died at Gormanstown Castle, County Meath, the residence of her daughter, Viscountess Gormanstown.
Her formal artistic education began at the age of sixteen: she won prizes at the South Kensington Schools, and travelled to Florence to study under Bellucci. Her first introduction to the army came in 1872 when she observed the Autumn manoeuvres at Southampton. A sketch, Soldiers watering horses, was sold to a Mr Galloway of Manchester. He then commissioned The Roll-Call which was considered the picture of the year at the Royal Academy of 1874. It was fêted by the Royal Family, and Mr Galloway was obliged to surrender the painting to Queen Victoria, where it remains in the Royal Collection. Further successes followed: Rorke's Drift, was also bought by Queen Victoria while The Remnant of an Army remained the artist's favourite.
Floreat Etona! was one of the leading works mentioned in her Times obituary. The subject may have been suggested by her husband. Following the Boer declaration of independence for the Transvaal in 1880 the British suffered a series of disastrous defeats in attempting to regain the territory. At Laing's Nek, the commander of the British forces, Sir George Pomeroy Colley, tried to force a way into the Transvaal through a pass in the Drakensberg Mountains. The Boers had already established defensive positions however, and had little difficulty in repulsing his inadequate force. Colley was killed at the battle of Majuba in 1881 which ended the war, after which Transvaal was recognised as an independent state. Colley was part of the so called 'Wolsey Ring'. Butler, in his biography of General Wolsey, thought that the generals had been unfairly blamed for British shortcomings in the conflict, each had been deeply affected by the wanton loss of life. Such sentiments were echoed by contemporary critics when reviewing this picture. The llustrated London News for example quoted Marshal Bosquet, the French divisional commander, on the charge of the Light Brigade, 'C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre'.