Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Forster, Thomas (1675?-1738)

FORSTER, THOMAS (1675?–1738), the Pretender's general, was a high-church tory squire of Ederstone or Etherston, Northumberland, who at the outbreak of the rebellion in Scotland in 1715 represented his county in parliament (first elected 27 May 1708, expelled 10 Jan. 1715–16). He was a man of influence, and was mentioned as one of the disaffected to parliament in 1715, when an order for his arrest was issued with the consent of the house. Timely notice was given him, and at the head of a body of servants and a few friends he at once joined some of the north-country gentry. They failed in an attempt to seize Newcastle, and after proclaiming James III at various places in Northumberland and Durham, and avoiding an encounter with General Carpenter, they succeeded in joining the south-country Scots on 19 Oct. at Rothbury, and the following day a body of highlanders under Mackintosh at Kelso. On account of his social position, and to propitiate the protestants, the Pretender appointed Forster to the command of this little army. He had no experience or capacity. When once face to face with the king's forces at Preston he seems to have lost heart. He at once surrendered at discretion, in spite of the entreaties of his officers. He was among the prisoners of the better class who were sent to be tried in London, and was led with a halter on his horse's head. At Barnet he and others were pinioned, to add to their abject appearance rather than for security, and from Highgate they were escorted into the city by a strong detachment of the guards, horse and foot, amidst the enthusiastic cheers of a vast concourse of people. He was lying in Newgate 10 April 1716, three days before his intended trial. His servant had, by a cunning device, got the head-keeper's servant locked in the cellar, and Forster, who had induced Pitts the governor and another friend to have wine with him, left the room. A few minutes later Pitts tried to follow, and found that he was locked in. Forster and his servant had been provided with keys, by which they not only secured their liberty, but delayed pursuit; and notwithstanding the offer of 1,000l. reward, they made good their escape by a small vessel from Rochford in Essex, and landed in France. He is said to have spent some time in Rome. He died, however, at Boulogne, France, ‘of an asthma,’ on 3 Nov. 1738 (Gent. Mag. 1738, p. 604). There is a small engraved portrait of Forster by Wedgwood after a miniature by Rosalba.

[R. Patten's Hist. Rebellion in 1715, 3rd ed. 1745; A Full and Authentick Narrative of the Intended and Horrid Conspiracy, &c., 1715; Penrice's Account of Charles Ratcliffe, 1747; Hibbert-Ware's Lancashire during Rebellion of 1715 (Chetham Soc.), 1845; Commons' Journals, xviii. 325, 336, 449; Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. App. pt. iv. pp. 168–71; Evans's Cat. of Portraits, i. 127.]

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