Robert Preston, 1st Baron Gormanston
Robert Preston, 1st Baron Gormanston (died 1396) was an Anglo-Irish nobleman, statesman and judge of the fourteenth century. He held several senior judicial offices including, for a brief period, that of Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He was the founder of the leading Anglo-Irish family of Preston whose titles included Viscount Gormanston and Viscount Tara.
He was the son of Roger de Preston (died 1346) and his wife and cousin Maud or Matilda de Preston. His father and uncles were the sons of Adam de Preston, a wealthy merchant from Preston, Lancashire; they came to Ireland before 1320. Roger held several judicial offices including justice of the Court of Common Pleas (Ireland). Robert is first heard of in 1346 when he inherited property in Preston. He followed his father into the legal profession, becoming Irish King's Serjeant about 1348 and Attorney General for Ireland in 1355.
As Law Officer his duties were onerous : in 1357 he was ordered to accompany the Lord Justice of Ireland through Leinster and Munster, and to plead and defend pleas on behalf of the Crown. This assize lasted for almost 6 months, which must have seriously interfered with his private practice, although he did receive a salary of £29, which was then a very large sum, and his expenses. He became Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas in 1358, and held that office for 20 years.
In 1359-61 the English Crown was faced with a serious rebellion in Leinster led by the O'Byrne clan and the MacMurrough-Kavanaghs. King Edward III appointed his second son Lionel of Antwerp as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to put down the rebellion, in which task he was largely successful. Preston served as his lieutenant in the campaign and received a knighthood. He was created Baron Gormanston between 1365 and 1370. He had already been summoned to the Irish Parliament as Baron Kells, in right of his first wife, Margaret de Bermingham.
In 1367 he sat on a commission to inquire into what profits were due to the English Crown from the Exchequer of Ireland, and later the same year he sat on another commission to inquire into whether the manor of Rathkeale was held from the Crown.
Despite his close family ties (through his first wife) with the Bermingham family of Carbury, he suffered considerable losses during the Berminghams' private war in Counties Meath and Kildare in 1367-8 and was forced to garrison Carbury Castle. It is unclear if he played any part in the failed parley at Carbury in 1368 where the de Berminghams, in breach of the truce which had been agreed, imprisoned the Crown's representatives.
In his later years he continued to hold high office: he was briefly Lord Chancellor in 1388, deputy Justiciar of Ireland in 1389, and he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland in 1391.
He is believed to have possessed a collection of legal and political works, including the controversial treatise Modus Tenendi Parliamentum, which stressed the crucial part played in Government by Parliament, and according to its critics justified the deposition of the King. The collection passed to his son the second Baron, who made a keen study of it. This became a cause of controversy in the political crisis of 1418-9, when the second Baron was accused of treason, largely because of his possession of the Modus .
He married firstly Margaret de Bermingham, daughter and eventual heiress of Sir Walter de Bermingham, titular baron of Kells-in-Ossory, through whom he obtained Carbury Castle (which is now a ruin); he married secondly Joanna Hugely. On his death in 1396 he was succeeded by his son Christopher Preston, 2nd Baron Gormanston, who also adopted the title Baron Kells in right of his mother.
- Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol. 1 p.67.
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- Otway-Ruthven p.356- he was quickly released after explaining that he had inherited it from his father.
- Mosley, ed. Burke's Peerage 107th Edition Delaware 2003 Vol. 2 p.1601