I’ve traced the Preston branch of my family tree back to Leolphus de Preston, who lived during the reign of William the Lion of Scotland, floruit 1165 – 1214.
Leolphus’ son, also Leolphus, made donations to Newbattle Abbey while his grandson, William de Preston, was one of the twenty-four Scottish nobles chosen by Edward I of England to arbitrate between John Balliol and Robert the Bruce, the main disputants for the crown of Scotland after the death of Margaret Maid of Norway, Queen of Scots.
The nobles met on 3 June 1291 to debate the succession. Debates and adjournments continued until 14 October 1292 when William de Preston and his fellow nobles decided that ‘succession by one degree from the eldest sister was preferable to succession nearer in degree from the second.’
Thus informed, on 17 November 1292 Edward I decided in favour of Balliol who ruled for four years, mainly as Edward I puppet. In 1296 the Scottish nobility deposed Balliol and appointed a Council of Twelve to rule instead. In retaliation, Edward I invaded Scotland, triggering the Wars of Scottish Independence.
Meanwhile, William de Preston’s role of arbiter set a family trend, which resulted in later generations of arbiters and judges.
Sir William’s son, Nichol de Preston, was one of the Scottish barons who signed the Ragman Roll in 1296, swearing his allegiance to Edward I.
The Preston line continued with Laurence and his son, Richard. With these generations the Prestons moved south, into Northern England where they owned vast estates in Westmorland, founding the towns of Preston Richard and Preston Patrick.
More Richards followed: Sir Richard Preston, his son Richard, and his son Sir Richard. The latter was called as one of the jurors to settle a dispute between the King of England and the Abbot of St Mary convent, Yorkshire. The dispute centred on the rights to make appointments to the two churches at Appleby.
Yet another Richard followed and he married Annabella. They produced a son – you’ve guessed it – Richard, later knighted. Sir Richard represented Westmorland in Edward III’s parliament in the mid-1300s, the height of chivalry.
During Edward III’s reign membership of the English baronage was restricted to those who received a personal summons to parliament. At this point parliament developed into a House of Lords and a House of Commons, with the Commons gaining the ascendancy, thus marking a watershed in English political history.
Sir Richard had a son, Sir Richard, whose son Sir John also served in Edward III’s parliament. Sir John was the last of the Prestons to hold Preston Richard and Preston Patrick. Sir John’s daughter, Margaret, married Alan Pennington and he inherited Preston Richard.
Sir John’s son, Sir John, was a judge at the Court of Common Pleas under Henry IV and Henry V. Sir John retired in 1427 due to old age.
The Court of Common Pleas was a common law court in the English legal system that dealt with actions between individuals, actions that did not concern the king. Created at the end of the 12th century, the Court of Common Pleas remained as a mainstay of the legal system for around 600 years.
Sir John had three children: John, who became a priest; Richard, my direct ancestor; and a daughter who married Thomas de Ros. The de Ros’ feature on another branch of my family tree and they produced Catherine Parr, wife of Henry VIII.
Richard Preston married Jacobina Middleton, daughter of John Middleton of Middleton Hall. He added the manor of Under Levins Hall to the family estate and the couple produced my direct ancestor, Thomas.
Thomas married Miss Redmayne, adding Twistleton to the family estate. They produced a son, John, who also married into the Redmayne family. John married Margaret, daughter of Richard, of Harewood Castle and Over Levins Hall.
John and Margaret’s son, Sir Thomas, married Ann Thornburgh, daughter of William Thornburgh, of Hampsfield in Lancashire. Through the Musgrave, FitzWilliam, Plantagenet and de Warren families, Ann’s branch leads to William the Conqueror. Many noble families intermarried so I have several branches that lead to William the Conqueror.
Sir Thomas further enriched the family estate by adding Furness Abbey and Holker Park in Lancashire. Furness Abbey was the second richest Cistercian abbey in England, after Fountains Abbey.
Sir Thomas acquired Furness Abbey thanks to Henry VIII and his dissolution of the monasteries. Sir Thomas’ estates generated an income of £3,000 a year, approximately £2 million a year in today’s money.
Sir Thomas had three sons and six daughters, including my direct ancestor, Christopher who founded the powerful Preston branch at Holker Hall. The line of Ellen, Christopher’s sister, led to William Morley who discovered the Gunpowder Plot in 1605.
Christopher married three times: Miss Pickering, Margaret Southworth and Anne Jepson. The union with Margaret Southworth produced my direct ancestor, John Preston of Holker Hall. Christopher had a further son and two daughters, and died on 27 May 1594.
John Preston married Mabel Benson, daughter of William Benson Esq of Hughill. This marriage brought part of the Preston Richard manor back into the Preston family’s hands. John’s successor and only child was George Preston, my direct ancestor. John died three years after his father, on 11 September 1597, aged 48.
George Preston was a great benefactor of the stately church at Cartmel, Lancashire where the remains of his grandfather, Christopher, and of his father, John, lay buried. He also supported the poor people of Cartmel by arranging apprenticeships. Furthermore, he established a foundation for scholars so that they could attend St John’s College, Oxford.
George died on 5 April 1640, and was buried at Cartmel. His marriage to Margaret Strickland, daughter of Sir Thomas Strickland of Sizergh Castle, Westmoreland, produced my direct ancestor, Elizabeth. Elizabeth married John Sayer, uniting the Preston and Sayer branches of my family.