Graham, Richard, Viscount Preston 1648-1695, born at Netherby, Cumberland, on 24 Sept. 1648, was the eldest son of Sir George Graham, bart. (d. 1657), of Netherby, son and heir of Sir Richard Graham, kt. and bart. (d. 1653). His mother was Lady Mary Johnston, second daughter of James, first earl of Hartfell in Scotland. He was educated at Westminster School under Dr. Busby, though not on the foundation. In 1662, being then of Norton-Conyers, Yorkshire, he was created a baronet of England (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1661-2, pp. 455, 528, 549). He proceeded to Christ Church, Oxford, about 1664. On 4 Feb. 1666 he was created M.A. (Wood, Fasti Oxon. ed. Bliss, ii. 293-4). He was elected M.P. for Cockermouth, Cumberland, on 8 June 1675, in the place of John Clarke, deceased, and continued to represent that borough in the parliaments of 1678-9, 1679, and 1680-1 (Lists of Members of Parliament, Official Return, pt. i.). Though a protestant he zealously advocated the right of James, duke of York, to the succession. On 10 Dec. 1679 he entertained the duke and duchess, when on their way to Scotland, at his Yorkshire seat of Norton-Conyers (Luttrell, Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs, 1857, i. 26). Supported by other high tories he moved in the commons in behalf of the duke against the Exclusion Bill, 2 Nov. 1680. His exertions were rewarded by his being created a peer of Scotland by the title of Viscount Preston in the county of Haddington, and Baron Graham of Eske. The patent, which is dated at Windsor Castle on 12 May 1681, recites that Charles I in 1635 had given the warrant to Sir Richard Graham, the patentee's grandfather, and that it had afterwards been burnt by the rebels. In July 1681 Preston was in attendance on the Duke of York at Edinburgh; on 1 Aug. he took his place in the Scotch parliament; and on 26 Aug. was with the duke at Leith, where he made a speech about the succession. In May 1682 he succeeded Henry Savile as envoy extraordinary to the court of France (ib. i. 159, 182). His instructions included many relating to Orange and Luxembourg, and to the proposal to Charles II to be the mediator of a peace between France and Spain, and relating to French excesses in the Netherlands. In August he gave notice that a plot for a descent upon Ireland was being concocted in France against Charles, and he employed spies to collect information on the subject. The king was not much disturbed, and ordered one of Preston's spies out of his presence as a liar. In September Preston presented a strongly worded memorial to the French king touching his seizing upon the city of Orange, looking on it as done to himself (ib. i. 221). In October 1683 the Earl of Sunderland by the king's commands gave Preston directions to let the ministers in France know what a very ill man Dr. Burnet was. Preston obeyed these orders, but declined to receive a visit from Burnet. He was ordered to endeavour to trace out Bomeny, the valet to the Earl of Essex, who was suspected of being privy to that nobleman's death in the Tower. For his attention to the privileges in France of the Scotch people he gained the thanks of the Scotch royal boroughs. In the beginning of 1684 he heard reports that he was to be recalled, but the king disavowed any such intention in a very cordial letter. Preston returned home at the accession of James II, and on 2 April 1685 was elected M.P. for Cumberland. He hoped to have been raised to the English peerage as Baron Liddell in Cumberland, but was disappointed on account of his adherence to his religion. In conjunction with Lord Middleton he was entrusted by James with the management of the House of Commons which met on 19 May, was sworn a member of the privy council on 21 Oct., and five days later became chancellor to the queen-dowager (ib. i. 361). In 1687 he was made lord-lieutenant of Cumberland and Westmoreland. At the end of October 1688 he was chosen lord president of the council in succession to the Earl of Sunderland (ib. i. 471), and was one of the council of five appointed by the king to represent him in London during his absence at Salisbury in November 1688. He vainly endeavoured to impress upon James the necessity of moderation. After the revolution Preston, who was in high favour with Louis XIV, was entrusted by the French government with considerable sums of money for political purposes. In March 1689 he was reported to be in the north of England concerting measures for the restoration of the king (ib. i. 509). In May he was arrested, brought up to London, committed to the Tower, and not admitted to bail until 25 Oct. (ib. i. 539, 595). Meanwhile the Earl of Montague had commenced an action against him to recover the profits of the office of wardrobe, for which he held a life patent for the place. Preston thereupon appeared before the House of Lords on 11 Nov. and claimed the privilege of a peer of the realm in respect of the action at law. He stated that he had received a patent to be an English baron from James before the vote of abdication passed. It turned out that the patent was dated at St. Germain in France 21 Jan. 1689. The house hereupon sent him to the Tower, and instructed the attorney-general to prosecute him for a high misdemeanor (Lords' Journals, xiv. 336-8). He was, however, released on making a humble apology and withdrawing his claim, 27 Nov. (ib. xiv. 354-5); and on the following day obtained a discharge from his recognisances in the court of king's bench, no further notice being taken of his conduct in the north (Luttrell, i. 610). On 28 June 1690 Lord Montague won his action, being awarded 1,300l. damages (ib. ii. 48). Preston carried on his plots, and was still regarded by his party as a man of courage and honour. He retained the seals of his office, and was still considered by the Jacobites as the real secretary of state. The lord president, Carmarthen, caused a watch to be set on his movements. In December 1690 a meeting of the leading protestant Jacobites was held, at which it was determined that Preston should carry to St. Germains the resolutions of the conspirators. Soon after midnight on 1 Jan. 1691 Preston, Major Edmund Elliott, and John Ashton [qv.] were seized as they lay concealed in the hatches of a smack making for Calais or Dunkirk. A packet of treasonable papers, tied together and weighted in order to be sunk in case of surprise, was dropped by Preston with his official seals, and seized upon the person of Ashton, who had tried to conceal it. The prisoners vainly attempted to bribe their captors. On 3 Jan. Preston was sent to the Tower, and on the 16th was indicted at the Old Bailey in the name of Sir Richard Graham for high treason. He pleaded that as a peer of England he was not within the jurisdiction of the court, but this plea being overruled, he was on 17 Jan. found guilty, and condemned to death two days afterwards. His estate and title of baronet were forfeited to the crown. Some months passed before his fate was decided. Lady Preston, on petitioning the queen for her husband's life, received an intimation that he could save himself by making a full discovery of the plot (ib. ii. 162). During some time he regularly wrote, it is said, a confession every forenoon, and burned it every night when he had dined. At last he confessed his guilt, and named Clarendon, Dartmouth, Francis Turner, bishop of Ely, and William Penn as his accomplices. He added a long list of persons against whom he could not himself give evidence, but who, if he could trust to Penn's assurances, were friendly to King James. After several respites, the government, convinced that he could tell even more, again fixed a day for his execution. At length, on 1 May, he made a further confession, and gained thereby another reprieve of three weeks, which, 'tis believed, writes Luttrell, will end in a pardon (ib. iii. 220). A patent was passed for his pardon soon afterwards, and on 13 June he obtained his release (ib. ii. 237, 244). His estate was, however, still retained by the crown as security for his good behaviour, a supposed equivalent being granted him from the exchequer (ib. ii. 242). Subsequently, in September 1693, the queen granted 600l. a year from the forfeited estate to Lady Preston and her children (ib. iii. 191). The attainder could not affect his Scottish peerage, as no act of forfeiture against him passed in Scotland. Early in August 1691 Preston was recommitted to Newgate for refusing to give evidence against some criminals, but was soon bailed out (ib. ii. 271). Thereafter he was permitted to retire to Nunnington in Yorkshire, pursued by the execrations of his party.
Preston employed the remainder of his life in revising for the press a translation with notes of Boethius's De Consolatione Philosophić which he had made in 1680. It was published after his death at London in 1695-1696, 8vo (2nd edition, 12mo, London, 1712), and is remarkable on account of the allusions with which the preface is filled. In figurative language the translator complained that his judges had been more lenient than the friends who had sneered at him for giving way under trials which they had never undergone.
Preston died at Nunnington on 22 Dec. 1695, and was buried in the chancel of the church. He married, on 2 Aug. 1670, Lady Anne Howard, second daughter of Charles, first earl of Carlisle, by whom he had with other issue a son, Edward (1679-1709), who succeeded him as second Viscount Preston. Graham's family papers are calendared in the 6th report of the Historical Manuscripts Commission (p. 321); his valuable and interesting correspondence while envoy extraordinary to the court of France 1682-5, and while secretary of state at the end of 1688, is set forth in the 7th report (pp. 261-428); the originals being preserved at Netherby Hall. Several of his letters were printed by Sir John Dalrymple in his Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland.
Douglas's Peerage of Scotland (Wood), ii. 374-375
Welch's Alumni Westmon. 1852, p. 175
Luttrell's Historical Relation of State Affairs, 1857
State Trials (Howell), xii. 645-747, 814-17
Hist. MSS. Comm. 6th and 7th Reps.
Evelyn's Diary, 1850-1852, vol. ii.
Macaulay's Hist. of England
Burnet's Own Time
Cal. State Papers. Treas. 1256-1696.
Contributor: G. G. [Gordon Goodwin]