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The Scottish Nation

PRESTON, Viscount of, a title (extinct) conferred in 1681, on Richard Graham, one of the principal secretaries of state under James VII., descended from Sir John Graham of Kilbride, called Sir John of the bright sword, second son of Malise, earl of Menteith. His grandfather, Sir Richard Graham of Esk and Netherby, was master of the horse to the duke of Buckingham, the unworthy favourite of James VI. And Charles I., and was one of the party who attended the latter when prince of Wales, on his secret and romantic expedition to Spain in 1623. He was created a baronet of England 29th March 1629. In 1641 Sir Richard joined the royal army, and at the battle of Edgehill, October 23, 1642, was so severely wounded that he lay all night on the field among the dead. In 1648, when Charles was a prisoner in Carisbrook castle, in the Isle of Wight, he repaired thither, to take a last adieu of his unfortunate sovereign. He died in 1653. With four daughters, he had two sons. The younger of these, Sir Richard Graham of Norton Conyers, Yorkshire, was created a baronet of England, 17th November 1662.

The elder son, Sir George Graham of Netherby, county of Cumberland, died in 1657, aged 33. He had five sons and one daughter.

Sir Richard Graham of Netherby, the eldest son, was created a peer of Scotland, by the title of viscount of Preston, in the county of Haddington, and Lord Graham of Esk, to him and the heirs male of his body for ever, by patent, dated at Windsor Castle, 12th May 1681. In 1685 he was elected M.P. for Cumberland in the English parliament, and the same year was sent ambassador to the court of France. On his return to England in 1688, he was appointed one of the principal secretaries of state. By James VII., at the period of his abdication, he was created a peer of England, by the title of Baron Esk, but on claiming his seat in the House of Lords, 11th November 1689, he was ordered into custody, and directed to be prosecuted for a misdemeanor. On making his submission, however, this last order was discharged, and he was released. On the 30th of the following month his lordship and a Mr. John Ashton were apprehended on board a vessel in the Thames, with several treasonable papers in their possession, among which was an invitation to the French king to invade England, (Douglas’ Peerage, vol. ii. p. 375). Lord Preston was arraigned for high treason at the Old Bailey, under the designation of Sir Richard Graham, baronet, viscount of Preston, in the kingdom of Scotland. His plea, that he was a peer of England, was overruled, and, 17th January 1690, he was found guilty and sentenced to death, his estates and title of baronet of England being forfeited to the crown. Through the intercession of his friends he obtained a pardon in June 1691, and retired to Nunnington, Yorkshire, where he died Dec. 22, 1695. The attainder did not affect his Scottish peerage, and his only son, Edward, succeeded as 2d viscount of Preston. The latter died in 1709, aged 31. His son, Charles, 3d viscount, died, without issue, at Bath, Feb. 22, 1739, when his titles became extinct. His extensive estates came into possession of the Rev. Dr. Robert Graham, grandson of Sir George Graham, 2d bart. Of Esk, and grandfather of the Right Hon. Sir James Robert George Graham, M.P., 2d baronet of Netherby, who died Oct. 25, 1861. Sir James’ son, Sir Frederick Ulric Graham of Netherby, bart, born April 2, 1820, is heir male of the viscounts of Preston. The original baronetcy of Esk reverted to the last viscount’s cousin, the Rev. William Graham.


PRESTON, a surname derived from priest’s town, the name of various places both in Scotland and England, and assumed in North Briton by the ancestor of the family of Preston of Valleyfield, Perthshire, from his territorial possessions in Mid Lothian, in the time of Malcolm Canmore.

The first of this family on record was Leolphus de Preston, in the reign of William the Lion. His grandson, Sir William de Preston, knight, was one of the Scottish nobles summoned to Berwick by Edward I., in the completion for the Scottish crown between Bruce and Baliol, in 1291. Sir William’s son, Nichol de Preston, was one of the Scots barons who swore fealty to the English king in 1296. Nichol’s grandson, Sir John de Preston, accompanied King David Bruce in his unfortunate expedition into England in 1346, and was taken prisoner at the battle of Durham. After several years’ confinement in the Tower of London, he was released by ransom.

Sir John’s son, Sir Simon de Preston, witnessed a charter of donation to the monastery of Newbottle in 1360. His son, also named Sir Simon de Preston, purchased in 1374, from John de Capella, the castle of Craigmillar, in the parish of Liberton, about three miles from Edinburgh. He had three sons, Sir George, Sir Henry, and Andrew. George Preston of Whitehill, the son of Andrew, was great-grandfather of Sir Richard Preston, created a peer of Scotland by the title of Lord Dingwall in 1607, to himself and his heirs whatsoever. This title fell, through marriage, to the last duke of Ormond in the peerage of Ireland, who was attainted in 1716, but it is doubtful if his attainder could affect the Scottish peerage, to which the Preston family have a claim.

William Preston of Craigmillar, great-grandson of Sir George, Sir Simon’s eldest son, was a member of the parliament which met at Edinburgh June 1, 1478. He had the title of Domine de Craigmillar. This castle continued in the possession of the Prestons for nearly 300 years, and is often mentioned in the history of the period. On her return from France, it became the residence of the ill-fated Queen Mary. During the time the Prestons possessed, that family held the highest offices in the magistracy of Edinburgh. In 1567, Sir Simon Preston of Craigmillar and “of that ilk,” knight, was lord provost of Edinburgh, and, in that capacity, on his application, a charter was obtained from James VI., conveying to the city, Trinity Hospital, church, and property, for the behoof of the poor of Edinburgh. The copy of a bond betwixt Kirkaldy of Grange, governor of the castle, and Sir Simon Preston, on the part of the town of Edinburgh, for mutual defence and support, is given in Calderwood, (vol. ii. p. 412). Under 1591, we find the following entry in Calderwood, (vol. v. p. 117,) “Upon the 13th of Januar, the laird of Crigmillar intended divorcement before the commissars of Edinburgh against his wife, for adulterie committed with the laird of Nidrie. The witnesses being sworne, and to be examined, one of them, who could depone most in that matter, was taikin by force out of the Tolbuith by the Lord Bothwell, the king sitting in the meantime with the lords of the session in the Tolbuith, and was taikin captive to Crichton, where Bothwell threatened him with the gallows. Manie enormities were committed, as if there had been no king in Israell; so contemptible was the king’s authoritie, and that through his own defaulte, wanting due care and courage to minister justice.”

The magnificent ruins of Craigmillar castle, the ancient seat of the family, stand about two miles and a half south of Edinburgh, on a rocky eminence commanding a fine view of the city and surrounding country. The outer wall displays the armorial bearings of the Prestons. About the time of the Restoration, it was acquired by Sir John Gilmour, lord president of the court of session, who, in 1661, built some additions to it. It now belongs to his descendant, Walter Little Gilmour, Esq.

William Preston of Craigmillar had two sons, Sir Simon, whose line failed with Robert Preston of Craigmillar in 1639, and Henry, father of James Preston, who, in 1544, acquired, by charter, from William, commendator of Culross, the lands and barony of Valleyfield, Perthshire, which ever after became the designation of the family. James Preston’s great-grandson, Sir John Preston, succeeded his father, Sir James, as fourth baron of Valleyfield, and obtained a crown charter, Feb. 4, 1594. He married Grizell, daughter of Alexander Colville, commendator of Culross (whose son succeeded as third baron Colville of Culross), and with three daughters, the eldest of whom, Mary, married to Sir George Bruce of Carnock, he had three sons, James, who died without issue, George, his successor, and Robert, whose descendants carried on the line of the family.

George Preston, the sixth of Valleyfield, was created a baronet of Nova Scotia, March 31, 1637. He married in 1634 Marion, only child of Hugh, 5th Lord Sempill, by his first wife, Lady Anna Hamilton, daughter of James, 1st earl of Abercorn, and died Nov. 26, 1679. He had, with two daughters, two sons, Sir William, 2d baronet, and George, a general in the army, who, on the arrival of Prince Charles Edward at Edinburgh in 1745, was superseded in the command of the garrison in the castle by General Guest, but afterwards resumed the command of the fortress. It is said that he was instrumental in preventing General Guest from capitulating, which was at one time his intention. General Preston was subsequently commander-in-chief in Scotland, when 80 years of age. He died, July 7, 1748. He paid off incumbrances on the estate of Valleyfield, and thus acquired the right to entail the property on the heirs, male and female, of his brother, Sir William, and his nephew, Sir George. The latter, son of Sir William, and third baronet, on his death in 1741, was succeeded by his eldest son, Sir George, fourth baronet, who died in 1779, having had five sons and a daughter. The daughter, Mary, married, in 1744, Robert Welwood, Esq. of Garvock, advocate, and had, with other issue, a daughter, Elizabeth, who married Allan Maconochie of Meadowbank, a lord of session (See MACONOCHIE, and WELWOOD). Patrick, the eldest son, and Alexander, the next predeceased their father. The former had two daughters, the elder of whom, Ann. Lady Baird Preston of Valleyfield and Ferntower, widow of General Sir David Baird, died without issue in 1847.

Sir Charles, the 3d son, was the 5th baronet. An officer in the army, he distinguished himself by his gallant defence of For John against the American general, Montgomery, having only surrendered at the last extremity. Subsequently a commissioner of the customs, and M.P. for the Kirkcaldy burghs, he died, without issue, March 23, 1800.

His brother, Sir Robert, born in 1740, succeeded him as sixth baronet. He was commander of the East India Company’s ship Asia. He is said to have been the originator of the Ministerial White Bait dinners, which take place at Greenwich towards the close of each session of parliament. He was for some time M.P. for Dover, and had a cottage at Dagenham Reach in Essex, on the bank of a lake formed by the sudden eruption of the waters of the Thames over the adjacent country, about the middle of the last century. He called it his “fishing cottage,” and often in Spring he went thither with a friend or two for a few weeks’ relaxation in the country. His most frequent guest was Sir George Rose, secretary of the Treasury, and an elder brother of the Trinity House, of which Sir Robert also was an active member. On the suggestion of Sir George, Mr. Pitt, then prime minister, was invited, and for a few years he was an annual visitor at Dagenham Reach, always accompanied by Rose. Finding the distance from town inconvenient for the premier, Sir Robert proposed that they should in future dine nearer London. Greenwich was named, and Mr. Pitt requested to be permitted to bring Lord Camden, thus making the party four. Soon after, a fifth guest was added, Mr. Long, afterwards Lord Farnborough. IN course of time others were invited, all belonging to the Tory party. Ultimately Lord Camden considerately remarked that, as they were all dining at a tavern, it was only fair that Sir Robert Preston should not bear all the expense. It was then arranged that the invitations should be issued as usual by Sir Robert, and he insisted on still contributing a buck and champagne, but the rest of the charges were thenceforward defrayed by the several guests, and on this plan the meeting continued to take place annually till the death of Mr. Pitt. The list of guests, by this time, included most of the cabinet ministers. The time for meeting was usually after Trinity Monday, a short period before the end of the session. By degrees the meeting appears to have assumed a semi-political character, and is now one of the established customs of the party in power. Sir Robert died, without issue, May 7, 1834, at the advanced age of 95. He bought Culross abbey from the earl of Dundonald, who died in Paris in 1831, and who ruined himself by his coal-tar and other scientific speculations. In Sir Walter Scott’s diary, under date June 19, 1830, there is the following entry: “After breakfast to Culross, (from Blair-Adam, being then on a visit there,) where the veteran, Sir Robert Preston, showed us his curiosities. Life has done as much for him as most people. In his 92 year, he has an ample fortune, a sound understanding, not the least decay of eyes, ears, or taste, is as big as two men, and eats like three. Sir Robert amuses himself with repairing the old House of Culross, built by the Lord Bruce. What it is destined for is not very evident. It is too near his own mansion of Valleyfield to be useful as a residence.”

The whole male descendants of Sir George Preston, the first baronet, having become extinct, the baronetcy, in terms of the patent of creation, devolved on Sir Robert Preston, son of General George Preston, after mentioned, as nearest collateral heir male general, descended from Robert, third son of Sir John Preston of Valleyfield, knight. This Robert obtained a charter of the lands of Preston, Mid Lothian, 20th August, 1633, was knighted, and admitted a lord of session, 4th March, 1672, when he took the title of Lord Preston, and died in October 1674. His son, William Preston of Gorton, an estate acquired by Sir John Preston in 1342, was a major in the army, and died in 1733. He had two sons and a daughter. John, the elder son, succeeded to the estate of Gorton, which he left to his son, John, who died unmarried. The major’s younger son, George, entered the army, and greatly distinguished himself by his courage and skill in the wars of Germany. He rose to the rank of general, and was colonel of the Scots Greys.

His only child, Sir Robert Preston, 7th baronet of Valleyfield, was born Jan. 3, 1757, and established his title to the succession by service before the sheriff of Edinburgh, Nov. 9, 1835. He married his cousin, Euphemia, daughter of John Preston, Esq. of Gorton, issue, 2 sons and 1 daughter, Mrs. Boswell of Blackadder, Berwickshire. On his death in 1846, his elder son, Sir Robert, at one period a major in the army, became 8th baronet; married, without issue. Sir Robert died Oct. 23, 1858, when his brother, Sir Henry-Lindsay, succeeded as 9th baronet. He entered the royal navy in 1801, and became a commander in 1830.


A baronetcy of Nova Scotia was conferred in 1628, on Sir John Preston of Airdrie, Fifeshire, the son of John Preston of Fentonbarns, lord president of the court of session from 1609 to 1616, by his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of William Turnbull of Airdrie. The president died 14th June of the latter year, and on 29th April 1652, Sir John, his son, married Lady Marjory Scot, relict of Sir James Scot, younger of Scotstarvet, director of the Chancery, and daughter of the first earl of Northesk. In 1663, Sir John Preston was served heir to his father and mother in the lands of Airdrie. One of the family erected a mansion-house on these lands, to which was given the name of Prestonhall. The baronetcy has long been extinct.

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