Preston, Anthony (1736–86), 11th Viscount Gormanston , was the eldest son of Jenico Preston, 10th Viscount Gormanston, of Co. Dublin and Co. Meath, and his wife Thomasine (d. 1788), eldest daughter of John Barnewall, 11th Lord Trimlestown. The Prestons were a catholic family with connections with the town of Preston, Lancashire, which bore their name, and were descended from Sir Robert Preston (qv), 1st Viscount Gormanston, who was appointed lord deputy of Ireland in 1479. Both the 6th and the 7th viscounts were indicted for treason and outlawed in the seventeenth century, and although subsequent viscounts used the family title, it was not legally recognised.
Educated by private tutor, Anthony Preston succeeded as 11th Viscount Gormanston on the death of his father (1757). He embarked on a grand tour of Europe (1760–61) with his tutor and guide John Turberville Needham, the noted catholic divine and antiquary, visiting Venice, Milan, and Rome. Returning to Ireland, he found himself the head of a family in poor financial circumstances and also in political disfavour. He played a small part in the early campaign for catholic relief, signing a petition to George III in 1777.
There is evidence to suggest that he considered renouncing his catholic faith in the hope of rescuing his family's fortunes. He married (October 1774) a protestant lady, Henrietta (d. February 1826), daughter of Gen. John Robinson of Denston Hall, Suffolk. He died 8 December 1786 at his residence in Pall Mall, London, and was buried in Stamullen, Co. Meath.
His only child, Jenico Preston (1775–1860), 12th Viscount Gormanston , was born 4 January 1775 in Dublin. He succeeded to the title while still only a minor, and the subject of his religious education became a matter of contention in his family. Shortly after Jenico's birth, the 11th viscount had separated from his wife and in his will had named as the child's guardians his brother John Preston, Lord Kenmare (qv), Sir Patrick Bellew (qv), and the duke of Portland (qv) (among others). The boy's mother, who had moved to England and remarried after the 11th viscount's death, insisted that her son be brought up as a protestant, and since catholics were forbidden by law to appoint guardians, her claim had legal precedence. However, Jenico's grandmother, Thomasine Lady Gormanston, was determined that the boy should remain a catholic and with the help of the family chaplain, Fr Joseph Dixon (d. 1798) of St Michan's parish, he was spirited away to the care of Fr Jenico Preston, a catholic uncle at Liège. This caused great consternation among Irish protestants, and those suspected of assisting the boy's flight were threatened with legal action. In February 1787 Sir Edward Newenham (qv) took up the issue in the Irish commons, claiming that young Jenico had been abducted and kept against his will in Liège, and pressed for legislation to prevent further such occurrences. The incident confirmed all the anti-catholic prejudices of the then attorney general, John Fitzgibbon (qv), who agreed to help Newenham draft his bill and also advocated the outlawing of Fr Jenico Preston to prevent him from inheriting his nephew's estates in remainder. Eventually, passions died down and no special legislation was passed.
Young Jenico was educated on the Continent and had returned to Ireland by 1794 when he was married. He kept a low profile and in 1800, with the government anxious to secure catholic support for the act of union, succeeded in having the outlawries against the 6th and 7th viscounts declared void. After the union he supported catholic emancipation, often acting in concert with the earl of Fingall (qv), and in 1808 was among those who supported the catholic relief bill introduced by Henry Grattan (qv), accepting the provision for a government veto on episcopal appointments. He also supported the unsuccessful emancipation bill of 1813, but like other catholic aristocrats was gradually edged out by Daniel O'Connell (qv) and played no part in the democratic agitation of the 1820s. In 1829 he travelled to Europe and visited France, Switzerland, and Italy, returning to Ireland in 1830. During his later years he devoted himself to overseeing the renovation of Gormanston Castle, Co. Meath. He died there 10 February 1860.
He married (December 1794) Margaret (1775–1820), eldest daughter of Thomas Arthur, 2nd Viscount Southwell, and his wife Sophia Maria Josepha, third daughter of Francis Joseph Walsh, comte de Serrant. They had seven sons and one daughter. Gormanston was succeeded by his eldest son, Edward Anthony Preston (1796–1876), who became the 13th Viscount Gormanston. There is a large collection of manuscripts in the NLI relating to the family. These provide much information on the administration of the Gormanston estate and on political and social events of the period.