Preston, Thomas (1537-1598) (DNB00)

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PRESTON, THOMAS (1537–1598), master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and dramatist, born at Simpson, Buckinghamshire, in 1537, was educated at Eton and at King's College, Cambridge, where he was elected scholar, 16 Aug. 1553, and fellow, 18 Sept. 1556. He graduated B.A. in 1557 and M.A. in 1561. When Queen Elizabeth visited Cambridge in August 1564, he attracted the royal favour by his performance of a part in the tragedy of ‘Dido,’ and by disputing in philosophy with Thomas Cartwright in the royal presence (Nichols, Progresses, iii. 71, 131). He also addressed the queen in a Latin oration on her departure, when she invited him to kiss her hand, and gave him a pension of 20l. a year, with the title of ‘her scholar’ (Strype, Annals). He served as proctor in the university in 1565. In 1572 he was directed by the authorities of his college to study civil law, and four years later proceeded to the degree of LL.D. In 1581 he resigned his fellowship. He seems to have joined the College of Advocates. In 1584 he was appointed master of Trinity Hall, and he served as vice-chancellor of the university in 1589–90.

He died on 1 June 1598, and was buried in the chapel of Trinity Hall. A monumental brass near the altar, placed there by his wife Alice, bears a Latin inscription and a full-length effigy of him in the habit of a Cambridge doctor of laws.

Preston was a pioneer of the English drama, and published in 1569 ‘A Lamentable Tragedy mixed full of Mirth conteyning the Life of Cambises, King of Percia, from the beginning of his Kingdome, unto his Death, his one good deed of execution; after that many wicked deeds and tirannous murders committed by and through him; and last of all his odious Death by God's justice appointed. Don in such order as followeth by Thomas Preston, London.’ There are two undated editions: one by John Allde, who obtained a license for its publication in 1569, and another by Edward Allde (cf. Collier, Registers, Shakespeare Soc., i. 205). It was reprinted in Hawkins's ‘Origin of the English Drama,’ i. 143, and in Dodsley's ‘Old English Drama’ (ed. Hazlitt), iv. 157 sq. A reference to the death of Bishop Bonner in September 1569 shows that the piece was produced after that date. The play illustrates the transition from the morality play to historical drama. The dramatis personæ include allegorical as well as historical personages. The plot, characterisation, and language are rugged and uncouth. Murder and bloodshed abound. The chief scenes are written in rhyming alexandrines, but the comic character of Ambidexter speaks in irregular heroic verse. The bombastic grandiloquence of the piece became proverbial, and Shakespeare is believed to allude to it when he makes Falstaff say ‘I must speak in passion, and I will do it in Cambises way’ (1 Henry IV, ii. 4). Preston also wrote a broadside ballad entitled ‘A Lamentation from Rome how the Pope doth bewayle the Rebelles in England cannot prevayle. To the tune of “Rowe well, ye mariners,”’ London by William Griffith, 1570; reprinted in Collier's ‘Old Ballads,’ edited for the Percy Society, and in the ‘Borderer's Table Book,’ vii. 154 (Collier, i. 210). Another (lost) ballad by Preston, ‘A geliflower of swete marygolde, wherein the frutes of tyranny you may beholde,’ was licensed for publication to William Griffith, 1569–70 (Collier, i. 222).

Preston contributed Latin verses to the university collection on the restitution of Bucer and Fagius, 1560, and to Carr's ‘Demosthenes,’ 1571.

[Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 247, 550; Harwood's Alumni Eton.; Cooper's Annals of Cambridge; Fleay's History of the English Stage; Wordsworth's Eccl. Biog. iv. 322–3.]

S. L.