PRESTON, Robert, of Preston Patrick, Westmld.
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Family and Education
Coroner, Westmld. to 16 Feb. 1429.
Although the Preston family had long enjoyed a prominent position as landowners in Westmorland, John Preston’s highly successful legal career obliged him to acquire a base far nearer London. The profits of his flourishing practice were invested in property in Kent and Sussex, where his younger son, Robert, the subject of this biography, spent at least part of his youth. John relinquished office as steward of the duchy of Lancaster estates in Sussex at the beginning of the 15th century, under rather suspicious circumstances. On 22 Feb. 1404 a royal serjeant-at-arms was ordered to escort both him and Robert from Pevensey castle, where they had been imprisoned by the constable, (Sir) John Pelham*, to London for interrogation before the King and his Council. On 8 July Pelham himself took over the stewardship, having probably worked to secure his rival’s dismissal. No more is heard of Robert until January 1416, when he offered sureties of £200 on behalf of William Blenkinson*, who had himself been summoned to appear in Chancery. John Preston’s brush with the authorities had proved only a minor set-back, and he was by then serving as a j.c.p. It was thus not difficult for Robert to obtain a seat in the House of Commons, and in May 1421 he was returned for Westmorland, a county which his grandfather had represented on at least six occasions. He and his colleague, Robert Warcop, then helped to present a petition on behalf of the border counties, describing the effects of depopulation, poverty, and almost continuous harassment by the Scots on a society where draconian measures to improve law enforcement and defence were urgently needed.2
Like Warcop, Robert may well have been a lawyer. His father could certainly have provided him with the best training and connexions; and he was, moreover, considered a suitable appointee as coroner of Westmorland. By February 1429, however, the government saw fit to discharge him because he was living in Lancashire and was so busy with his own affairs that he had no time for official duties. The management of his father’s estates in the south must also have demanded his attention. In May 1425, for example, he and his elder brother, Richard, witnessed a conveyance for the judge; and four years later he became a trustee of a messuage called ‘Le Grete Belle’ near the Barbican in London for his father. The terms of the enfeoffment were to cause considerable problems, for in 1445, some 11 years after John Preston’s death, the property was confiscated by the Crown on the ground that his plans to use it for the endowment of a chantry constituted a breach of the Statute of Mortmain. An inquisition held locally in May of the following year confirmed this finding, but one month later Robert and his co-feoffees (who included one Nicholas Preston, vicar of Kirkby Stephen in Westmorland) were able to prove that the original trust had been set up solely for the benefit of Judge Preston’s heirs, without provision being made for any religious foundation at all. We do not know what part of the family estates, if any, were settled upon Robert, although he was at least helped by the award to him, in 1436, of an annual fee by Robert, Lord Willoughby, who may have been one of his clients.3
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. CPR, 1401-5, p. 364; CCR, 1441-7, pp. 332-5. This MP should not be confused with his namesake, Robert Preston, a King’s serjeant with estates in Ireland (CPR, 1416-22, p. 412; 1446-52, p. 154).
- 2. CPR, 1401-5, p. 364; CCR, 1413-19, p. 298; Somerville, Duchy, i. 615-16; RP, iv. 143.
- 3. CCR, 1422-9, pp. 213, 422; 1441-7, pp. 332-5, 385-6; CFR, xvii. 319; CPR, 1441-6, p. 366; E163/7/31, pt. 2, m. 33.