Preston, Thomas (1585-1653?) (DNB00)

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PRESTON, THOMAS, first Viscount Tara (1585–1653?), born in 1585, was the second son of Christopher, fourth viscount Gormanston, by his second wife, Catherine, daughter of Sir Thomas Fitzwilliam of Baggotsrath, co. Dublin. Christopher (d. 1599) was the great-grandson of Robert Preston, who was created Viscount Gormanston in 1478, upon his appointment as deputy to Henry, lord Grey (Grey being himself deputy of the youthful viceroy, Richard, duke of York, who was murdered in the Tower in 1483). Gormanston sat in the Irish parliament of 1490, and three years later was appointed deputy to Jasper Tudor, duke of Bedford, lord lieutenant of Ireland. He died in 1503. His great-grandfather, Sir Robert de Preston, who was knighted in 1361 by the viceroy, Lionel, duke of Clarence, for services in expeditions against the hostile Irish, was the founder of the family's importance. In 1363 Sir Robert purchased the manor and lands of Gormanston in Meath, while by his marriage to Margaret, daughter and heiress of Walter de Bermingham, he acquired large estates in Leinster. He was appointed baron of exchequer in Ireland in 1365, and was subsequently keeper of the great seal in that country (Patent and Close Rolls, Ireland; Gilbert, Viceroys of Ireland, and Chartularies of St. Mary's Abbey, Dublin, 1884; Lodge, Peerage, i. 82; notes furnished by J. T. Gilbert, esq.).

Thomas was educated in the Spanish Netherlands, where he took service with the archdukes. Both he and Owen Roe O'Neill [q. v.] were captains in Henry O'Neill's Irish regiment at Brussels in July 1607 (State Papers, Ireland). Between Preston and Owen Roe was from the first a strong antipathy, which became embittered in the course of time by professional rivalry in the Spanish service (Gilbert, Confederation and War, iii. 3). Preston was in Ireland recruiting in 1615, and again in 1634, and Wentworth allowed him to recruit his regiment up to 2,400 men. Both Preston and O'Neill continued to draw men from Ireland until 1641, and their recruiting agents frequently came into conflict. From 24 June to 4 July 1635 Preston distinguished himself in the defence of Louvain against the combined forces of France and Holland, and sent to Wentworth an account of the exploit on 6 July 1635. In the summer of 1641 Preston threw himself into Genappe, of which he was made governor, and, after a gallant defence, capitulated to Frederick Henry of Orange in person on 27 July. In 1642 his nephew, Lord Gormanston, urged him to return to Ireland, and, resolving to sacrifice his hopes of promotion abroad, he prepared to join the Irish catholics in their rebellion against the English government.

Though Richelieu did not wish to appear openly in support of Irish rebels, he discharged all the Irish soldiers in the French service, so as to set them free for their own country, let it be understood that they might expect money up to a million crowns, and allowed war material to be purchased in France. Preston was at Paris in July 1642 (ib. ii. 67), and probably obtained a substantial subsidy in money. But he had married a Flemish lady of rank, and had more influence and interest in the Spanish Netherlands. It was accordingly from Dunkirk that he sailed with three armed vessels, carrying many guns and stores and a number of officers trained in continental warfare. He arrived in Wexford harbour at the end of July or beginning of August (Gilbert, Contemporary Hist. i. 519). At Wexford he was joined by a dozen of more vessels laden with munitions of war from Nantes, St. Malo, and Rochelle (Carte). Preston reconnoitred Duncannon fort, which he thought could be taken in fifteen days, and then went to Kilkenny, where the Catholic Confederation was established. He accompanied Castlehaven in his expedition against Monck, who had just relieved Ballinakill in Queen's County. Preston, by Castlehaven's account, pursued Monck, forced him to fight, and routed him near Timahoe on 5 Oct. Preston was formally chosen general of Leinster by the supreme council (14 Dec.) His first success was the capture of Birr Castle on 20 Jan. 1642–3 (Confederation and War, ii. 145). It had held out since the beginning of the war. The terms were honourable and were honourably kept. Castlehaven, who served under Preston, records with pride that ‘he delivered [the inmates of the castle], being about eight hundred men, women, and children, with their baggage, safe to their friends’ (p. 34). On 18 March 1642–3 Preston was totally defeated by Ormonde, near New Ross. Preston's forces were nearly two to one; but Castlehaven, who was present and a good judge, says he ‘put himself under as great disadvantage as his enemy could wish.’ Ballinakill was taken by Preston some weeks later, and Castlehaven escorted the defenders to a place of safety. In June 1643 Preston threatened the garrison of Castlejordan in Meath, but was foiled by Ormonde, and his operations during the summer were unimportant. On 15 Sept. the cessation of arms for a year between Ormonde and the confederates was concluded at Sigginstown in Kildare (cf. Confederation and War, iii. 3). Many soldiers went to England at the cessation, and few returned. When the year had expired there was a succession of short truces, during which abortive negotiations for peace went on.

After Lord Esmond, governor of Duncannon fort, declared for the parliament, the towns of Waterford and Ross, who feared to lose their trade, provided funds for its reduction. Preston began the siege on 20 Jan. 1644–5, and the fort was surrendered on 19 March. According to the diary of the Franciscan Bonaventure Baron, who was present (ib. iv. 189), 176 shells and 162 round shot were fired by the assailants; Carte adds that 19,000 pounds of powder were burned. But only thirty of the garrison were killed or died; famine and want of water were the real captors. The garrison were allowed to march out ‘with bag and baggage’ (ib. p. 184), and to be conveyed safely to Youghal or Dublin. But the forces of Preston and the confederates were unequal to the army which the parliament was collecting against them, and Preston's pecuniary resources were failing. A petition from him to the supreme council shows that he had no pay for eighteen months, except 200l. during the siege of Duncannon. The very expenses of his outfit and passage from Flanders had not been paid. The supreme council acknowledged on 2 May 1645 that they owed him 1,300l., which they ordered to be paid out of the rents due to the crown at Easter and Michaelmas that same year (ib. p. 239). As to the rest of his arrears, they would settle them at some more convenient season, ‘as shall be agreeable to honour and justice.’ In October Preston was sent to reduce Youghal, but he quarrelled with his colleague Castlehaven, and the expedition failed.

Preston was one of two deputed by the supreme council to wait upon the nuncio, Rinuccini, who brought over arms, ammunition, and money, after his arrival at Kilkenny in the middle of November. The nuncio distrusted every one, and, after much dispute, agreed to allot half the fund at his disposal to Connaught, where Clanricarde found it hard to maintain his ground. In April 1646 Preston was despatched to his help with three thousand foot and five hundred horse, and the nuncio said his readiness ‘to serve under Clanricarde had edified all, and given the best hopes of good service from him.’ Preston took Roscommon about the time of the battle of Benburb (5 June) (Warr of Ireland, p. 56), and gained some success in the field. But his jealousy of Owen Roe O'Neill threatened a dangerous development, and Owen Roe, anxious to spare his own province of Ulster, allowed some of his victorious but hungry troops to spread themselves over the counties of Westmeath and Longford, where they committed many excesses. Preston's men were largely drawn from that district, and disturbances were imminent (Confederation and War, v. 32). Rinuccini made peace between the rival generals, but it was neither real nor lasting.

A peace was concluded in March 1646 between Ormonde and the confederates, but it did not put an end to the war. Preston, who was in Connaught till October, had a natural leaning towards Ormonde, and, after a friendly correspondence with him, proclaimed the peace in camp. But he was afterwards over-persuaded by Rinuccini to reopen the war by joining O'Neill in an attack on Dublin. At the end of August Ormonde had gone to Kilkenny, where he collected some of his rents. A determined attempt was now made to cut him off from the capital. He escaped with his men by forced marches, but his baggage was plundered by the Irish. He saw that the confederates could not be trusted, and suspected Preston equally with O'Neill of complicity in this breach of faith. Ormonde saw that the protestants of Dublin and of the other garrisons could only be saved by the help of the English parliament. On 9 Nov. Preston, O'Neill, and Rinuccini were together at Lucan, only seven miles from Dublin; but the generals quarrelled so violently that the nuncio had much ado to keep them from actually coming to blows. At the news that Ormonde was treating with the parliamentarians, O'Neill suddenly recrossed the Liffey and left Preston alone. Preston's position was very difficult. On 21 Oct. he swore allegiance to the ‘council and congregation of the confederates,’ that is, to the clerical section who were now in power at Kilkenny; but a few days later, at the persuasion of Clanricarde, he accepted, with some hesitation, Ormonde's assurances that by maintenance of peace his co-religionists would gain full religious liberty. In a letter dated 24 Nov. to the mayor and citizens of Kilkenny he spoke triumphantly of the extension of the catholic religion, and the restriction of heresy in Leinster to Dublin, Drogheda, Dundalk, and Trim, while he complained bitterly that his plan of besieging Dublin and thus extorting catholic emancipation had been hampered by tempest and flood, and that his desertion by O'Neill had now exposed him and his men to great peril (see Confederation and War, vi. 162).

He adhered to his understanding with Clanricarde only until December. The nuncio early in that month excommunicated Preston for refusing to disperse his army in quarters assigned by the clerical party at Kilkenny. A few days later he renewed his promises of obedience to the church and repudiated the understanding with Clanricarde. He had just proposed a friendly meeting with Ormonde, but excused himself on the ground that his officers were ‘not excommunication proof’ (ib. pp. 45, 167). A truce with Ormonde was maintained until 10 April. On the very night that it ended Preston invested the royalist garrison at Carlow. It fell into his hands three weeks later, but to little purpose, for a parliamentary army under Michael Jones [q. v.] was admitted into Dublin on 7 June, and on 28 July Ormonde left Ireland, just when Preston was mustering seven thousand foot and a thousand horse on the Curragh of Kildare.

Jones attacked him at Dangan Hill, near Trim, on 8 Aug., and his army was almost annihilated (Jones's account in Rushworth, vii. 779; Rinuccini, p. 306; Contemporary Hist. i. 154).

The defeated general retired to Kilkenny with the remnant of his army, and was engaged for the rest of the year in disputes with the nuncio's party there. Preston, who was next year at the head of about three thousand men, formed an odd combination with Taafe and Inchiquin in the royalist interest, against O'Neill and the nuncio. The latter fulminated ‘the strictest form of excommunication’ against Preston; but the general had grown less sensitive, and the jesuits, who were supported by David Rothe [q. v.], bishop of Ossory, and other dignitaries, declared the sentence irregular and of no effect. When Ormonde returned to Ireland to take command of the moderate catholic and royalist forces, Preston wrote (12 Oct.) that he had kept the Leinster army together with great trouble and with no selfish aims, but for the king and for miserable, distracted Ireland, ‘which must derive its happiness from your lordship's resuming the management thereof, to which no man shall more readily submit than I’ (Confederation and War, vi. 286). On 28 Dec. Ormonde promised Preston, on the king's behalf, a peerage and an estate to support it out of lands forfeited by those who ‘oppose his authority and the peace of the kingdom’ (ib. vii. 171).

In June 1649, Preston, apparently jealous of the favour bestowed by Ormonde on Taafe, corresponded with Jones, the parliamentary general, but this came to nothing, unless it served to increase the general distrust of the royalist chiefs in one another. Preston was at the council of war held before Dublin on 27 July (ib.); the struggle with the parliamentary troops, which grew fiercer on Cromwell's landing in August, but Preston took little prominent part in it until the spring of 1650, when he was at Carlow. Thence he was sent by Ormonde to Waterford, to fill the place of governor. When Sir Hardress Waller took Carlow for the parliament, he allowed Preston's servant to follow his master with money, papers, and personal effects. Preston has been blamed for not making some effort to relieve Clonmel in March, but he was probably quite powerless to do so. He defended Waterford well against Ireton, and obtained honourable terms when he surrendered on 10 Aug. to famine as much as to arms. The city had been blockaded since the beginning of June.

Preston was created Viscount Tara by a patent dated at Ennis 2 July 1650. After leaving Waterford he was engaged in some trifling and hopeless operations in King's County, and he withdrew beyond the Shannon early in the following year. Ormonde had then left Ireland for the second time, and Clanricarde was appointed his deputy. In May 1651 Preston erected a last fortress for the falling confederacy in the island of Innisbofin off Connemara, and immediately afterwards became governor of Galway (Contemporary History, iii. 240). Preston steadily supported Clanricarde in opposition to the extreme clerical party, and discountenanced the projects of Charles IV, the feather-headed Duke of Lorraine, who had got rid of his own duchy and dreamed of a new one in Ireland. The Irish bishops, who were at their wits' ends, snatched even at this straw, but got only a small sum of money, some arms, and some very bad powder. On 22 Dec. an Irish priest wrote from Brussels to the secretary of propaganda that he had seen the Duke of Lorraine there, and that ‘his highness at once fell to abuse [convicia] of the Irish, and especially of Clanricarde, Preston, Taafe, &c., calling them rogues, traitors, and heretics’ (Spicilegium Ossoriense, i. 386). In 1652 Charles II stood sponsor to Preston's grandson Thomas, who was born in Paris. The royal godfather scarcely brought prosperity, for it is noted in the register of the Scots College at Douay in 1670 that this boy was hopelessly in debt to the college (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. App. p. 654).

After taking Limerick in October 1651, Ireton was unable to attempt Galway, but he wrote on 7 Nov. from Clare Castle to the citizens, urging them to accept the terms which he had originally offered to Limerick, and to save themselves from the horrors of a siege by turning out Preston and his men. To Preston he also wrote ‘for the good men's sake of the city, who perhaps may not be so angry in the notion of a soldier's honour as to understand the quibbles of it … though men of your unhappy breeding think such glorious trifles worth the sacrificing or venturing of other men's lives and interests for … the frivolous impertinence of a soldier's honour or humour rather’ (Hardiman, p. 129). Five days later the mayor and his council answered that they meant to stand together with the garrison, and Preston wrote angrily that the heads of Ireton's followers were ‘as unsettled on their shoulders as any he knew in that town’ (ib.) Ireton died shortly afterwards, and Coote offered the same conditions, but they were again declined. In March 1651–2 Clanricarde proposed a pacification, but Ludlow said that the English parliament had to be obeyed, and that no one else could grant conditions (Ludlow, i. 343). Preston, finding the situation hopeless, slipped away to the continent, and on 5 April the townsmen surrendered on terms as good as those Ireton had offered. Preston was excepted from pardon for life or estate in the Cromwellian Act of Settlement 12 Aug. 1652. He was now old, he had not been successful except in the defence of towns, and could scarcely hope for any important employment. The short remainder of his life was chiefly spent in the Spanish Netherlands, but he was at Paris in the autumn of 1653 with offers of service to Charles II. Hyde did not like him, and wrote on 12 Sept. that he had received no countenance, as it was found that his real object was to get employment from the French king (Cal. of Clarendon State Papers). The date of Preston's death is uncertain. He married a daughter of Charles Van der Eycken, seigneur de St. George. Their son Anthony, who played an active part in the Irish war, and who succeeded as second Viscount Tara, died 24 April 1659, at Bruges. The peerage became extinct in 1674. One of their daughters was the second wife of Sir Phelim O'Neill [q. v.], and may have stimulated her father's hostility to Owen Roe O'Neill. Another married successively Colonel Francis Netterville and Colonel John Fitzpatrick.

There are two portraits of Preston at Gormanston Castle, co. Meath. An engraving after one of these is preserved in Trinity College, Dublin, and is reproduced in the frontispiece to vol. iv. of the ‘History of the Confederation and War in Ireland.’

[For the period before 1642: Cal. of State Papers, Ireland, 1603–14; Lord Strafford's Letters and Despatches; Martin's Hist. de France, chap. lxx.; M. O'Connor's Irish Brigades, 1855; Historiæ Belgicæ Liber singularis de obsidione Lovaniensi A.D. MDCXXXV. Antwerp, 1636, by Erycius Puteanus (Henri Du Puy or Van der Putte), which gives a detailed and very laudatory account of Preston's doings at Louvain; Bishop French mentions another by Vernulæus (Nicolas de Vernulz), but without specifying any one of his numerous works. For the Irish war and after it see: Contemporary Hist. of Affairs in Ireland and Hist. of Confederation and War in Ireland, both ed. Gilbert (the latter comprises the narrative of Secretary Bellings, who is very full and accurate on Leinster affairs); Irish Warr in 1641, by a British officer in Sir John Clotworthy's regiment; Castlehaven's Memoirs, ed. 1815; Bishop French's Unkind Deserter; Cardinal Moran's Spicilegium Ossoriense; Rinuccini's Embassy in Ireland (transl. by Hughes); Clanricarde's Memoirs, 1744; Ludlow's Memoirs, ed. Firth, 1894; Rushworth Collections; Cal. of Clarendon State Papers, 1646–57; Carte's Ormonde and Original Letters; Hardiman's Hist. of Galway; Burke's Dormant and Extinct Peerage; Foster's Peerage, 1883.]

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