Preston, Simon (DNB00)

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PRESTON, Sir SIMON (fl. 1538–1570), of Preston and Craigmillar, provost of Edinburgh in the time of Mary Queen of Scots, was descended from a family who possessed the lands of Preston, Midlothian, from the time of William the Lion. Sir William de Preston was one of the Scots nobles summoned to Berwick by Edward I in 1291 in connection with the competition between Bruce and Balliol for the Scottish crown; and his son Nichol de Preston swore fealty to Edward I in 1296. The lands and castle of Craigmillar, near Edinburgh, were purchased by Simon de Preston in 1374 from John de Capella. Sir Simon, provost of Edinburgh, was the eldest son of George Preston of Preston and Craigmillar and Isabella Hoppringall. He is mentioned as a bailie of Edinburgh on 24 Aug. 1538 (Reg. Mag. Sig. Scot. 1513–46, entry 1827), and filled the office of provost continuously from 1538 to 1543, and again in 1544–5 (Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, iii. 295–7). On 25 Aug. 1540 he had a grant from the bailies and town council of the office of town clerk for life, which was confirmed by letter of the privy seal on the 27th of the same month (ib. ii. 100–2; Reg. Mag. Sig. Scot. 1513–46, entry 2193). On 5 June 1543 the queen-regent conceded to him, as son and heir-apparent of his father, and to Janet Beton, his wife, the lands of Balgawy in Forfarshire, and also the lands of Craigmillar and Preston, near Edinburgh (ib. entry 2926).

When the English invaded Scotland in 1544, many of the richer inhabitants placed their valuables in Craigmillar Castle, but the castle was surrendered by Preston to the enemy without a blow being struck. The author of the ‘Diurnal of Occurrents’ states that it was surrendered on promise to ‘keep the same without skaith’ (i.e. damage) (p. 32), but, according to Bishop Lesley, for a part of the booty and spoil (Hist. of Scotland, Bannatyne Club ed., p. 132); and Knox adds that ‘the laird’ was ‘caused to march upon his foot to London’ (Works, i. 121). In the summer of 1560 Preston went over to France, according to William Maitland of Lethington—who recommended him to Lady Cecil, on his way through London, as a ‘near relative of his own’—for the recovery of certain debts due to him from the late queen-regent (Cal. Hatfield MSS. i. 250). Not improbably he was employed by Maitland on some private political mission; and he seems to have remained in France until after the death of Queen Mary's husband, Francis II. That he won the special confidence of Queen Mary may be inferred from the fact that he was chosen one of her commissioners on 12 Jan. 1561 to intimate the death of the king to the privy council of Scotland (Labanoff, Lettres de Maria Stuart, i. 85; Cal. State Papers, For. Ser. 1560–1, entry 880).

When Queen Mary arrived in Scotland, Preston became one of her most trusted friends, and she made him captain of the important stronghold of Dunbar (ib. 1564–5, entry 181). On the outbreak of the rebellion of the Earl of Moray and others after the queen's marriage to Darnley, the queen on 23 Aug. 1565 sent a letter to the bailies and town council of Edinburgh ordering them to displace Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie and to ‘elect, admit, and own our lovit Symon Preston as provost’ (Letter in Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, 1557–1571, p. 199, and in Maitland's Hist. of Edinburgh, p. 26). When, on 31 Aug., the forces of the rebels, under Moray, advanced towards Edinburgh, Preston caused the common bell to be rung to summon the inhabitants to resist his entrance; and, although he did not succeed in preventing this, the attitude of the inhabitants was so hostile, that Moray, failing to obtain any support either in soldiers or money, was compelled to depart as soon as news reached him of the approach of the queen's forces. In order to raise money for payment of the Queen's troops, Preston, after several of the principal inhabitants had declined to raise the loan, effected an agreement by which the city undertook to pay immediately ten thousand merks sterling, and to have the superiority of Leith in pledge, upon condition of redemption (Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, 1557–71, pp. 207–8). By this bargain Edinburgh retained the superiority of Leith for nearly three hundred years. Randolph refers to Preston as ‘a rank papist’(Cal. State Papers, For. Ser. 1564–5, entry 181); but Knox, although denouncing Preston as ‘a right epicurean’ for his adherence to the queen after the murder of Riccio (Works, i. 236), admits that after the crisis following the marriage to Darnley he ‘showed himself most willing to set forward religion, to punish vice, and to maintain the commonwealth’ (ib. ii. 511). On 5 Nov. 1565 he was elected a member of the privy council (Reg. P. C. Scotl. i. 389), and in the same month he was also appointed one of a commission to take order for the proper mounting of the artillery of the realm (ib. pp. 402–403). After the murder of Riccio on 9 March 1565–6, Preston, as provost of the city, caused the common bell to be rung, and passed to Holyrood Palace with four or five hundred armed men; but, on being commanded by Darnley to return home with his company, immediately retired (Knox, ii. 522). On 2 Aug. 1566 the bailies and council, in recompense of his services to the burgh during the past year, conferred on him the gift of the goods of Thomas Hoppringill, which had been escheated (Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, 1557–71, p. 216). Subsequently Preston was in close alliance with Bothwell and the queen. Mary was staying at Craigmillar Castle when the scheme was mooted for ridding her of Darnley; and she also at first proposed, or professed to propose, to bring Darnley to Craigmillar for change of air, when he accompanied her from Glasgow. After the queen's marriage to Bothwell, however, Preston supported the lords; and in the name of the magistrates of Edinburgh, he, on 10 June 1567, signed the band for the deliverance of the queen from Bothwell and revenge of the murder (ib. p. 233; Reg. P. C. Scotl. i. 527). When the queen was convoyed by the lords into Edinburgh after the surrender at Carberry Hill, she was lodged, until the evening of the following day, ‘in the Provests loging [or town house], fornent the croce, upon the north syd of the gait’ (letter of Archbishop Beaton in Laing's Hist. ii. 113). On 8 May 1568 Preston entered into a bond with Sir William Kirkcaldy [q. v.] of Grange to maintain the cause of the king and regent (Calderwood, ii. 412–3; Cal. State Papers, For. Ser. 1572–4, entry 944). In 1569 he was succeeded in the provostship by Kirkcaldy. On 2 June of the same year the king conceded to David Preston, son and heir-apparent of Simon Preston, the lands and barony of Craigmillar, with the fortalice, &c., which Simon resigned (Reg. Mag. Sig. Scot. 1543–80, entry 1860). In June 1570 he was in Paris, whence, on the 12th, he wrote a letter to Cecil, informing him of a proposal made to the French king on behalf of the Queen of Scots (Cal. State Papers, Scott. Ser. i. 291). He died some time before 8 March 1574–5 (Reg. P. C. Scotl. ii. 436).

By his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of William Menteith of Kerse, Stirlingshire, he had a son David, who succeeded him.

[Reg. Mag. Sig. Scot. 1530–80; Reg. P. C. Scotl. vols. i. and ii.; Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, in the publications of the Burgh Records Society; Cal. State Papers, Scott. Ser. and For. Ser., during the reign of Queen Elizabeth; Histories of Lesley, Knox, and Calderwood; Wood's Baronage of Scotland, i. 415.]

T. F. H.