Thomas Preston, 1st Viscount Tara

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Thomas Preston, 1st Viscount Tara (1585 – October, 1655) was an Irish soldier of the 17th century. After lengthy service as a mercenary in the Spanish Army Preston returned to Ireland following the outbreak of the Rebellion of 1641. He was appointed to command the Leinster Army of the Irish Confederacy, enjoying some success as well as a number of heavy defeats such as the Battle of Dungans Hill in 1647 where his army was largely destroyed. Like other Confederate leaders, Preston was a Catholic Royalist. He remained in close contact with the Lord Lieutenant the Marquess of Ormonde, and was a strong supporter of an alliance between Confederates and Royalists against the English Republicans.

Mercenary soldier who fights for hire

A mercenary, sometimes known as a soldier of fortune, is an individual who takes part in military conflict for personal profit, is otherwise an outsider to the conflict, and is not a member of any other official military. Mercenaries fight for money or other forms of payment rather than for political interests. In the last century, mercenaries have increasingly come to be seen as less entitled to protections by rules of war than non-mercenaries. Indeed, the Geneva Conventions declare that mercenaries are not recognized as legitimate combatants and do not have to be granted the same legal protections as captured soldiers of a regular army. In practice, whether or not a person is a mercenary may be a matter of degree, as financial and political interests may overlap, as was often the case among Italian condottieri.

The Irish Rebellion of 1641 began as an attempted coup d'état by Irish Catholic gentry, who tried to seize control of the English administration in Ireland to force concessions for Catholics. The coup failed and the rebellion developed into an ethnic conflict between the Gaelic Irish and old English Catholics on one side, and both ethnically English Protestants and Scottish/Presbyterian planters on the other. This began a conflict known as the Irish Confederate Wars.

Leinster province in Ireland

Leinster is one of the Provinces of Ireland situated in the east of Ireland. It comprises the ancient Kingdoms of Mide, Osraige and Leinster. Following the 12th-century Norman invasion of Ireland, the historic fifths of Leinster and Mide gradually merged, mainly due to the impact of the Pale, which straddled both, thereby forming the present-day province of Leinster. The ancient kingdoms were shired into a number of counties for administrative and judicial purposes. In later centuries, local government legislation has seen further sub-division of the historic counties.


Following the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, he left for France where he joined the Royalist Court-in-exile and was made Viscount Tara by Charles II.

Cromwellian conquest of Ireland

The Cromwellian conquest of Ireland or Cromwellian war in Ireland (1649–53) refers to the conquest of Ireland by the forces of the English Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Cromwell invaded Ireland with his New Model Army on behalf of England's Rump Parliament in August 1649.

Charles II of England King of England, Ireland and Scotland

Charles II was king of England, Scotland and Ireland. He was king of Scotland from 1649 until his deposition in 1651, and king of England, Scotland and Ireland from the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 until his death.


Preston was a descendant of Robert Preston, 1st Baron Gormanston, who in 1363 purchased the lands of Gormanston, County Meath, and who was Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1388. The Prestons came originally from the Lancashire town of that name, and arrived in Ireland some time before 1320. [1]

Robert Preston, 1st Baron Gormanston Irish judge and Baron

Robert Preston, 1st Baron Gormanston 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 Preston family whose titles included Viscount Gormanston and Viscount Tara.

Gormanston, County Meath Town in Leinster, Ireland

Gormanston is a village in County Meath, Ireland. It is near the mouth of the River Delvin and the northern border of County Dublin.

The office of Lord High Chancellor of Ireland was the highest judicial office in Ireland until the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922. From 1721 to 1801, it was also the highest political office of the Irish Parliament: the Chancellor was Speaker of the Irish House of Lords. The Lord Chancellor was also Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of Ireland. In all three respects, the office mirrored the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain.

Sir Robert's great-grandson, Robert Preston, was created Viscount Gormanston in 1478; and the latter's great-grandson was Christopher, 4th Viscount Gormanstown (d. 1599), whose second son was Thomas Preston. [1]

Viscount Gormanston

Viscount Gormanston is a title in the Peerage of Ireland created in 1478 and held by the head of the Preston family, which hailed from Lancashire.

Continental service

Thomas's elder brother succeeded the title of Viscount Gormanstown, so Thomas Preston pursued a career in the military. Since Roman Catholics were not allowed to hold state positions in Ireland, he entered the Spanish service and fought in the Thirty Years' War.[ citation needed ]

Thirty Years War War between 1618 and 1648; with over 8 million fatalities

The Thirty Years' War was a war fought primarily in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. One of the most destructive conflicts in human history, it resulted in eight million fatalities not only from military engagements but also from violence, famine, and plague. Casualties were overwhelmingly and disproportionately inhabitants of the Holy Roman Empire, most of the rest being battle deaths from various foreign armies. In terms of proportional German casualties and destruction, it was surpassed only by the period January to May 1945; one of its enduring results was 19th-century Pan-Germanism, when it served as an example of the dangers of a divided Germany and became a key justification for the 1871 creation of the German Empire.

Preston was in the same Irish regiment in the Spanish service as Owen Roe O'Neill, and distinguished himself in the defence of Leuven against the French and Dutch in 1635. Between him and Owen Roe O'Neill there was from the first intense jealousy. [1] There was also some tension between Preston and James Tuchet.[ citation needed ] In 1644 Tuchet, the Earl of Castlehaven was chosen to lead a major Confederate expedition into Ulster. Unlike Preston, Castlehaven was a military amateur but was he favoured over Preston as he was of a prominent English family.[ citation needed ]

Owen Roe ONeill Irish soldier

Owen Roe O'Neill was a Gaelic Irish soldier and one of the most famous of the O'Neill dynasty of Ulster in Ireland. O'Neill left Ireland at a young age and spent most of his life as a mercenary in the Spanish Army serving against the Dutch in Flanders during the Eighty Years' War. Following the Irish Rebellion of 1641, O'Neill returned and took command of the Ulster Army of the Irish Confederates. He enjoyed mixed fortunes over the following years but won a decisive victory at the Battle of Benburb in 1646. Large-scale campaigns to capture Dublin and Sligo were both failures.

Siege of Leuven

The Siege of Leuven was an important siege in the Thirty Years' War in which a Franco-Dutch army under Frederick Henry of Orange and the French Marshals Urbain de Maillé-Brezé and Gaspard III de Coligny, who had invaded the Spanish Netherlands from two sides, laid siege to the city of Leuven, defended by a force of 4,000 comprising local citizen and student militias with Walloons, Germans and Irish of the Army of Flanders under Anthonie Schetz, Baron of Grobbendonck. Poor organization and logistics and the spread of sickness among the French, along with the appearance of a relief army of 11,000 Spanish and Italian troops under Ottavio Piccolomini, forced the invading army to lift the siege. This failure allowed the Spanish forces to take the initiative and soon the invaders were forced into a headlong retreat.

James Tuchet, 3rd Earl of Castlehaven Irish nobleman

James Tuchet, 3rd Earl of Castlehaven was the son of Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven and his first wife, Elizabeth Barnham. Castlehaven played a prominent role in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms that took place in the middle of the 17th century, and was particularly active in the conflicts in Ireland at this time.

Irish Confederacy

Preston returned to Ireland after the Irish Rebellion of 1641 to support his fellow Irish Catholics. He was appointed general of Leinster, by the Irish Confederates, [1] which was the largest and best equipped of the Irish Catholic forces.

His performance as a commander in Ireland in the intermittent wars if 1642 to 1652 was mixed. [1] He won widespread praise for his successful siege of Duncannon in 1645, but lost a string of field battles including New Ross (1643) and Dungans Hill (1647). This last battle was disastrous for the Confederates, as their Leinster army was all but wiped out at it. In general he was skilled in the art of siegecraft, but never had a very good understanding of mobile warfare. [ citation needed ]

Preston played a major part in the Confederates' internal strife, siding at first with radicals who opposed the first Ormonde peace, but later siding with the moderates who signed a conclusive treaty with Ormonde and the Royalists in 1648. His Royalism was motivated by his Old English roots and his extreme personal dislike of Owen Roe O'Neill, who led the opposing faction. He fought with the defeated Royalists during the Cromwellian conquest of Irelanddefending the city of Waterford until hunger and disease forced him to capitulate. He marched his remaining troops to Galway, the last Irish held city on the island. In late 1652, after another lengthy siege, Galway too was reduced by plague and lack of supplies. Preston surrendered the city on condition that he and his troops be allowed to leave the country and find employment in the French army.[ citation needed ] He left the country for exile in France – where the Royalist court was in exile – in 1652.

In 1650 Charles II while in exile created him Viscount Tara; and after his departure from Ireland in 1652 he offered his services to Charles in Paris, where he died in October 1655. [1]


Preston's wife was a Flemish lady of rank, Marguerite Dieudonee de Dhuy, by whom he had several children, one of his daughters being the second wife of Sir Phelim O'Neill. His son Anthony succeeded him as 2nd Viscount Tara, a title that became extinct on the murder by Sir Francis Blundell, 3rd Baronet and his brothers of Thomas, 3rd Viscount, in 1674. [1] Charles II, who during his exile lodged with the Preston family in Bruges, spoke warmly of the children and their guardian Miss Warren in his later years, but did nothing to repair their ruined fortunes: the younger Thomas in 1670 was said to be penniless. [2]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Chisholm 1911, p. 415.
  2. Fraser, Antonia King Charles II Mandarin edition 1993 p.152

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Preceded by
New Creation
Viscount Tara Succeeded by
Anthony Preston