Foster, John (1740–1828), Baron Oriel ,politician, was the elder son and heir of Anthony Foster (1705–79) of Collon, Co. Louth, MP for Dunleer, Co. Louth (1737–60), and chief baron of the Irish exchequer (1766–77), and his first wife, Elizabeth (d. 1744), daughter of William Burgh of Bert, Co. Kildare, the accountant general for Ireland. Foster was educated at the Rev. Dr Richard Norris's school, Drogheda (Drogheda Grammar School), and entered TCD in 1757. He graduated in 1760 and entered the Middle Temple in 1762. He was called to the Irish bar (where he practised little) in 1766, and became a bencher of King's Inn, Dublin, in 1784.
The Foster family had settled in Dunleer, Co. Louth, in the 1660s, and remained there till 1744, when they moved to a house in the village of Collon, which still stands. They were of Cromwellian English origins. Foster's grandfather, another John (1675?–1747), who was a country attorney, built up the family estate, by purchase, from small beginnings. By 1750, at 6,000 Irish acres, it neared its maximum extent. It was very low-quality land formerly owned by the Cistercians of Mellifont, and Chief Baron Anthony Foster spent something like £50,000 over a twenty-year period on improvements which Arthur Young (qv) wrote in 1776 ‘were of a magnitude’ he had ‘never heard of before’. John Foster, too, spent ‘enormous’ sums on improvement. In his case (and probably his father's), the money was borrowed, the level of improvement was uneconomic and ‘the difficulties in which it . . . involved him’ were such as to affect his credit and his political credibility from the 1780s onwards (Viscount Ferrard to J. L. Foster, 1835, PRONI, MIC/680/L/3). In 1778 the rental of the estate approached £5,000 per annum. It exceeded £10,000 in 1801, but by then Foster's debts stood at over £72,000.
MP and officeholder John Foster first entered the Irish parliament in 1761, when not quite of age, as member for Dunleer. In 1768, two years after his father's elevation to the bench, he succeeded him as MP for Co. Louth. The Foster estate was the best in the smallest county in Ireland, and Foster was a conscientious and popular MP. He represented the county uninterruptedly (and, after 1768, without contest) till his elevation to the peerage in 1821.
His career as a prominent figure in national politics, and more specifically his official career, was also long and surprisingly uninterrupted. He served first as chairman of the committee of supply and ways and means, 1777–84, which in his case meant acting chancellor of the exchequer – that office being then enjoyed as a sinecure by an English absentee. His salary from the government took the form of another sinecure, the customership of Dublin port, which he held from 1779 to 1784, when the English absentee was at last bought out, and Foster was appointed (on 23 April 1784) chancellor of the exchequer in name as well as fact. He was made an Irish privy counsellor on 9 July 1779 and, a much rarer distinction for an Irish politician, a British privy counsellor on 6 September 1786. On his father's death in 1779, he succeeded him as a trustee of the linen manufacture, though in practice he had been active on behalf of that body since at least 1769. The Irish linen industry was always the first object of his attention and, literally, protection. Though no such office existed, he came to be known in common parlance as chief trustee of the linen board, which, appropriately, was abolished in the year of his death, 1828. He was appointed to the British Board of Trade in 1785, and remained a member till 1800. After only a year and a half as chancellor of the exchequer, he was elected, with government support, speaker of the house of commons on 5 September 1785, and twice reelected (2 July 1790, 9 January 1798). However, because his successor as chancellor of the exchequer, Sir John Parnell (qv), 2nd baronet, was a friend, a political ally, and a not very capable chancellor, Foster never fully left his former sphere. As speaker, he was twice appointed one of the three ex officio lords justices who governed the country during interregna between lords lieutenant, from 27 October to 16 December 1787 and from 25 June 1789 to 5 January 1790. On the second occasion, under the terms of his own corn law of 1784, he was required to impose and administer an embargo on the export of Irish corn.
After distinguishing himself as the leading opponent of the union in 1799–1800, Foster was as handsomely treated as most anti-unionists. In addition to the automatic £7,500 for his half share in the borough of Dunleer, he was given £5,000 a year for life in compensation for the speakership, an elective office to which the government would presumably have tried to prevent him from being reelected, had the union been defeated and had the Irish parliament continued. As with all his personal finances, Foster made a mess of his £5,000 a year, sold it for £30,000 in 1806, and then lived for a further twenty-two years. As a typical exercise in post-union reconciliation and assimilation, he was reappointed to the Board of Trade in February 1802. Finally, in a fairly remarkable political comeback, made at the age of 64, he was appointed chancellor of the Irish exchequer at Westminster, 1804–6 and 1807–11. During his first term of office he was also first lord of the Irish treasury, and during his second term he was second lord of the Irish treasury and a supernumerary lord of the British treasury. As will be apparent from these dates, the only long interruptions in his official career came in the years immediately following the union and in 1806–7 (when he declined to retain office under Grenville and Fox).
His entrance into the inner circle of the lord lieutenant's advisers took place in 1777, under the hard-pressed and inadequate administration (1776–80) of the 2nd earl of Buckinghamshire (qv). Foster gave the Buckinghamshire administration plucky and ingenious support. But all the time he was persevering with the economic and financial measures which, to him, were of paramount importance, occasionally maintaining his popular credibility by paying lip-service to the less substantial constitutional reforms which were the obsession of the so-called ‘Patriots’. Foster was sneeringly described as a ‘ministerial Patriot’ in June 1780. But the description was unintentionally apt. A contemporary biography of him gives examples of the measures to boost the Irish economy which he quietly effected alongside the much publicised ‘free trade’ conceded to Ireland in 1779–80. These included ‘bounties on the export of our linens and sailcloth’, ‘between £7,000 and £8,000 a year, to be paid out of the hereditary revenue, to encourage the growth of flaxseed’ and laying ‘the foundation of this kingdom extending its trade to America and being the emporium for foreign countries in the great article of American produce’ (Hibernian Magazine, January 1786). Characteristically, he thought that the associations formed to ban the importation of British goods and so blackmail the British government into conceding Irish demands ‘. . . have done us more service than the whole of the free trade will do these fifty years. They have opened to us the first and best market for every nation, its own supply: a market certain, steady and within our power at all times, but which like fools we had given away [to Britain], and looked only to the speculative gain of hunting beyond seas for uncertain, precarious markets’ (Malcomson, Foster, 50.) The anonymous biographer also noted: ‘. . . He generally obtained the concurrence of government to his measures before he proposed them, and as they mostly passed without debate, his great merit has often had the [mis]fortune to pass unnoticed . . .’. No one on the British side of a negotiation with Foster ever doubted the strength of his Irish patriotism.
Economic legislation While others were still celebrating the winning of the so-called ‘constitution of 1782’, Foster lost no time in carrying two favourite and previously frustrated measures. The first was his partnerships regulation act of 1782, ‘the first attempt’ in the British Isles ‘to create general limited liability, . . . [and] the only real experience the United Kingdom has had of limited partnerships . . . What was new [about it in relation to Continental and American precedents] was the idea of obtaining limited liability by a process of [company] registration . . .’ (French, ‘Origin of general limited liability’, passim). This measure was accompanied by a much better-known and more successful act of 1782 establishing the Bank of Ireland which, under its charter granted in the following year, ‘was given a virtual monopoly of joint-stock banking in Ireland’ (ibid., 26). Appropriately, its first premises were in Foster Place, beside the house of commons of which Foster was soon to be elected speaker.
The most famous measure sponsored by him, his eponymous corn law of 1784, was another, slightly more delayed consequence of the constitution of 1782. Foster's corn law granted bounties on the export, and imposed duties on the import, of corn, on a sliding scale determined by the home price in Ireland, and therefore on a basis which was intrinsically favourable to Irish interests. It was made possible, and successful, by the hard economic fact that Great Britain had recently become an importer, instead of an exporter, of corn; and by Foster's willingness to incur unpopularity with the Dublin journeyman and labouring classes by reducing to nothing in the years 1782–4 the much cherished bounty on the inland carriage of corn to Dublin. His willingness to incur unpopularity in what he deemed a good cause was one of his leading political characteristics.
He had recourse to it again in connection with Pitt's famous commercial propositions of 1785. These had started life as a purely commercial plan of Foster's for equalising the duties on almost all goods passing between Great Britain and Ireland, and allowing goods imported from the British colonies into Ireland to be reexported to Great Britain. Foster wrote later (and the comment is highly revealing of his political thinking): ‘My opinion always was that it was the best policy to keep the commercial subject by itself, and to leave the imperial concerns to the general unexplained but well understood situation in which they are’ (Malcomson, Foster, 50); and early in the planning of the propositions, he had bluntly and presciently expressed to Pitt his regret ‘that so liberal and equitable an adjustment is likely to lose the desired effect of settling the kingdom into content and industry, by having the scheme of [imperial] contribution annexed to it’ (Foster to Pitt, 23 January 1785, PRONI, T/3401/1/2). In the event, the annexation of an imperial contribution, particularly in the unpalatable form which it took, was the means of wrecking the propositions. Characteristically, Foster supported them loyally in public till it became politically impossible for him to do so, or for the Irish government to persevere with the measure.
Catholic question Long before the union debates of 1799–1800, Foster had been at variance with Pitt. In 1785–6, he expressed his admiration for Pitt – ‘a wonderful man’, ‘a prodigy of talents and integrity’ (Malcomson, Foster, 385) – but his admiration was progressively chilled by the characteristic absence of any response from Pitt. In February 1789, at the time of the regency crisis, he wrote to an English opposition friend: ‘There never was, that I could hear of, any attempt towards a party for Mr Pitt in this kingdom . . . and the prince's administration will be well supported. It will have my best wishes’ (Foster to Lord Sheffield, 12 Feb. 1789, PRONI, T/3725/4). The nominal neutrality of the speakership, and the rapid recovery of the king, averted a public demonstration of his intended switch of allegiance. However, on the issue of political concessions to Irish Roman catholics, his opposition to the policy of Pitt's government from 1791 onwards was manifest and declared. Foster had supported and contributed to the Irish catholic relief acts of 1778 and 1782, which were largely confined to property rights and rights of worship. In 1782 he reached his ne plus ultra. ‘. . . He would’, he said in a well-known passage, ‘draw a line round the constitution, within which he would not admit them [the catholics] while their principles were, he would not say hostile, but certainly not as friendly to the constitution as those of protestants . . .’ (Malcomson, Foster, 66).
In 1792 the influence of Foster and the like-minded politicians who constituted the lord lieutenant's ‘cabinet’ was strong enough to ensure that the relief act which passed did not extend to the catholics either the franchise or, almost as contentious, the right to carry arms; also, that it was not sponsored directly as a government measure. But in 1793 the British government, bent on rallying the catholics behind the war effort and weaning them away from radical reform, decided to push through the Irish parliament the franchise and the right to carry arms. Having probably ascertained in advance that the Irish administration had ‘the good sense’ not to resent his ‘maintaining an opinion which he could not yield, upon one single point’, Foster openly opposed the bill in committee, denouncing it in what the chief secretary admiringly described as ‘a chain of able statement and observation, which made a deep impression on the house’ (Malcomson, Foster, 67). In his speech he warned, not altogether prudently, that men who were fit to elect MPs must be regarded as fit to be elected. Following the passing of the 1793 catholic relief act on the government's terms, the battleground shifted to the right to be elected, or catholic emancipation. With the British government and the Irish cabinet united against it, this was defeated in the Irish parliament in March 1795. But it remained a live issue, and reemerged in 1799–1800 to embarrass the proponents, and to divide the opponents, of the union. Had Foster not been a convinced and committed anti-emancipationist, it is possible that the anti-unionist majority in the Irish house of commons would have held up in 1800.
Foster did not doubt the generally good disposition of the catholic masses, if given proper leadership and shown proper example. When the Irish militia was set up in 1793, he was the leading ‘militia purist’ in the Irish cabinet – i.e. he believed in the principle of parochial ballot, and disliked the alternative of paid substitution. Such an attitude was inseparable from a belief in the well affected state of even the most catholic counties. In August 1794 he wrote: ‘Our militia is in excellent state and, though the majority of men are catholic, I believe they would all stand or fall with their officers. I do not find that our natives are at all partial to France or to French principles . . . I think the mass of them is loyal, and the Paddies that fight will do it for fighting['sl sake more than from love of French’ (Anglo-Irish dialogue, 14). ‘The mass of the papists in the country', he wrote in March 1795, ‘know nothing and care nothing about the [catholic] claims, and may even dislike them’ (Malcomson, Foster, 362). Although he was a leading advocate of tough measures of counter-insurrection in the period 1795–8, including in March 1798 the risky tactic of making preemptive arrests of the known United Irish leaders, he was not a panicky protestant.
His measures for the strengthening of the Irish economy, and the primacy he accorded to economic policy, were in part his formula for killing emancipation with kindness. When first sounded out on the idea of a union in October 1798, he replied that he saw no problem about governing Ireland according to the present forms,
‘. . . if the [British] government supports the constitution and its establishments firmly and decidedly . . . I think the great difficulty in governing Ireland arises from a want of knowledge of the comforts of life in the lower orders, and of course a want of education, of veneration for the laws which promote and protect wealth, and a want of industry or exertion to procure it. This difficulty has been gradually lessening for the last fifteen years . . . I should fear that any measure which goes to undo the work to which the sudden rise of our prosperity is generally attributed here – I mean the independence of our legislature – would have the very opposite effect’ (ibid., 363).
Union With these convictions, Foster would always have opposed the union. However, his opposition need not have been bitter, negative, and factious, need not have lasted till the act received the royal assent in August 1800, and need not have deprived him of any contribution to its commercial and fiscal details. Foster's response to the union proposal was dictated by the arrogant and ham-fisted way in which he was handled in November–December 1798, and which was worse even than has hitherto been credited (Malcomson, Foster, 78–80; Geoghegan, Union, 43–6). In mid December 1798, Foster reported: ‘I saw Pitt yesterday, and . . . it was really too ridiculous when he told me he had nothing to communicate, or detain me for, nor anything to talk further upon. Think of this, after being detained a month!’ (Foster to Sheffield, 18 Dec. , PRONI, T/3725/12).
Too late, and following the success of the opposition in 1799, Pitt and Foster exchanged, via intermediaries, messages of mutual esteem; Foster was given every opportunity to return to the government fold and either to contribute to the detail of the measure or just be neutral, without being required to profess support for the principle. His refusal to make terms for himself is a refutation of the charge of time-serving and even venality often levelled at him by contemporaries and historians. However, the fact that he was universally known to be ‘the first debtor as well as the first commoner in the kingdom’ (Brodrick to Midleton, 22 Mar. 1799, Midleton papers, MS 1248, vol. xvii, ff 11–13), in itself exposed him to this charge; and a successful move by his fellow anti-unionists, who then abandoned it at his request, to get up a subscription for the payment of his debts, only served to compromise him further.
In February 1801 Foster wrote of the union: ‘. . . even so carried, it is the law. We are bound; and . . . I shall not be surprised if the loyal men who opposed it by their advice shall be its supporters by their arms . . . The union has accomplished for them [the Irish catholics] the reform without which they could never hope to be of consequence in parliament. The emancipation now projected takes away their disability. They will soon feel how little they will be in Britain, how great they would be here [Ireland]. They will look to restoring the parliament and to filling the vacancies [left] by the purchased boroughs with popular elections, in which they will hope for a majority; and if this comes to pass, a catholic government and consequent separation will be the effect . . .’ (Malcomson, Foster, 351). In May 1802 he attacked the methods by which the union had been carried, but he did not attack the union itself, and though he apparently exclaimed in the house in 1811, ‘Take back your union’, this was in the heat of debate and also of intoxication. When he returned to office in May 1804, under Pitt and on his own terms, there was no inconsistency in his comeback, nor even in his cooperation in covering up in November–December 1804 the illegal use which had been made of secret service money to carry the union (Geoghegan, Union, 206–7). ‘Even so carried, it is the law’; there was no going back.
Chancellor of the Irish exchequer At the outset, Foster tried by fairly draconian means to raise the level of Irish taxation. His 1804 budget aimed at producing ‘. . . an additional £1,250,000, mostly from additional rates of indirect taxation on articles of consumption’. The act of union stipulated that Anglo–Irish trade was to be duty-free, with a few specified exceptions. This crippled potential revenue from the customs: the excise was similarly crippled by the more imprecise stipulation of the act that ‘no duty could be laid in Ireland on any article not liable to one in England, nor were the duties to be higher in Ireland than in England’. Foster contravened this stipulation in a number of respects, and the conflicting legal opinions to which his taxes gave rise revealed that this part of article 7 was, in the words of Sir Henry Parnell (qv), 4th baronet, ‘almost wholly unintelligible’. ‘What was originally planned as a guarantee [to Ireland] became a liability from the point of view of Irish chancellors’ attempts to raise revenue’ (McCavery, ‘Finance and politics’, 175–6).
Of all the remaining areas of potential revenue, taxing whiskey (and the related articles of malt and imported spirits) was by far the most promising. ‘Before 1808, the spirit duties produced £1,236,000 in one year, which was about one-third of the total Irish revenue, and Foster maintained they could produce £3 million’ (ibid., 188). However, during his second term of office at Westminster, he was consistently let down by British ministers when he made the attempt. Between June 1808 and March 1810 distillation from grain was prohibited throughout the UK, nominally to avert food shortages, but actually out of deference to the powerful West Indian sugar lobby. As the Irish taste was for corn spirits, not sugar spirits, the effect of the prohibition on Ireland was mainly to stimulate illicit distillation. The Irish way of dealing with illicit distillation, founded on legislation of the Irish parliament promoted by Foster in 1785, was to fine townlands and, if necessary, parishes where illicit stills had been discovered but the workers of them had not. Foster reactivated this system in 1807, but in March 1810 the chief secretary, home secretary, and prime minister united to persuade him to ‘suspend’ the imposition of townland and parish fines. The so-called suspension lasted till 1813, well after Foster's retirement from office. On balance, it appears that his policy – based on good local knowledge – was correct, and that his senior colleagues had succumbed to the special pleading of Irish MPs and county magnates who had economic reasons for wanting illicit distillation to flourish. Because of its timing, this suspension deprived the Irish revenue of much of the benefit it should have received from the lifting of the prohibition on distillation from grain.
Foiled by these various obstacles in his attempts to raise revenue, Foster was constrained to borrow; and during his second term of office as chancellor of the Irish exchequer, borrowing was the bedrock of his budgets. His enforced precipitation of financial amalgamation redounded to Ireland's advantage: when it came in 1817, its practical effect was to halve Ireland's union contribution, and equal taxation for the whole of the UK did not immediately, or in some respects ever, ensue.
The other approach to the problem of insufficient revenue was to crank up its net yield through reform of inefficiencies and abuses in the revenue departments. In Britain this, broadly speaking, had been Pitt's formula for peacetime finance between 1783 and 1793, and when Foster set up a commission of inquiry into the public offices in Ireland in 1804, with a brief to begin with the revenue, he was acting on Pittite precedent. In Ireland the treasury board established by act of parliament in 1793, even when its role had been further defined by amending legislation in 1795, had remained largely ineffective – certainly for the intended purpose of superintendence of the revenue – and the first lordship of the treasury had remained a sinecure till Foster's appointment to it in May 1804. Pitt had hoped for an active and efficient Irish treasury board in 1793, and he meant business in appointing Foster first lord. Foster, too, seems earlier to have formed the view that the chancellorship of the Irish exchequer could not be fully effective unless that office were combined with the first lordship of the Irish treasury. At the time of Foster's appointment to both, the chief commissioner of the revenue, the lst earl of Donoughmore (qv), was warned by his brother that ‘the revenue will be entirely in the hands of Foster’ (Lord Hutchinson to Donoughmore [p. 15 May 1804], PRONI, T/3459/DA2/11); and a year later the Church of Ireland primate William Stuart (qv) advised: ‘I have good reason to think that Mr Foster's opinions in all matters relating to money are adopted by Mr Pitt’ (Stuart to Archbishop Brodrick, 2 Apr. 1805, NLI, MS 8869/3).
However, Pitt failed to make it clear, and probably was not clear in his own mind, how the prime ministerial powers implicit in the offices conferred on Foster were to be reconciled with the authority of the lord lieutenant. The lord lieutenant in May 1804 was an Addington appointee, the 3rd earl of Hardwicke (qv), who was retained on what amounted to probation. So, Pitt may have assumed that Hardwicke would be at pains to work in harmony with Foster and would set the tone in this respect for the rest of the Irish administration. But, in the event Foster's high-handed exercise of the powers of the first lordship brought him into conflict with not only the lord lieutenant, but also the lord chancellor of Ireland, the Irish law officers, and the chief commissioner of the revenue – almost everyone, in fact, except the supine chief secretary, Sir Evan Nepean (1751–1822). Foster was widely accused of having a despotic love of power. But the more probable explanation for his behaviour is that he knew that his reforms depended on the support of Pitt, and reckoned (rightly) that Pitt's last ministry and Pitt's health were both precarious. Foster was a man in a hurry, and behaved accordingly.
As a result, while the programme of reform and retrenchment which he stood for made headway, Foster himself suffered a number of political and personal defeats. Three bills essential to his programme were stopped in June 1805 on Pitt's instructions, and there was a long hiatus between then and October 1805, during which it was unclear whether Foster was in or out of office. One of these bills, for the division of the revenue board into separate boards of customs and excise, was taken up and carried by Foster's successor as chancellor of the exchequer in 1806, when Foster himself was out of office and in opposition. Likewise, the whig/Grenvillite government of 1806–7 implemented the recommendations for revenue reform made in the first report of Foster's enquiry board in December 1805. That board itself, though unpopular and seen as the vehicle for a Fosterite witch-hunt, continued in operation and even survived Foster's final retirement in 1811. Another centrepiece of his programme, the abolition of fees in the customs department, was delayed by the events of 1805–7, was rejected on a technicality in July 1807, in spite of his return to office in April, and did not become law until June 1808. So, it was a case of slow and much interrupted progress towards a more efficient and productive collection of the revenue. But the political obstacles to progress transcended his allegedly despotic methods. In particular, though governments paid lip service to the need for retrenchment and reform, in practice they all succumbed to political pressures in the hiring and firing of revenue officials. It was on this issue that Foster resigned in 1811.
Bibliophile and horticulturist Foster was a considerable bibliophile, though the most important component of his library – a collection of pamphlets on financial and economic subjects, latterly in QUB library – reflected his specialisms as a public man. He was ‘a great architect’ (Westmorland's (qv) description was sarcastic). When it came to the commons extension on the Foster Place side of the parliament house, the plans of James Gandon were modified and their execution in 1787–93 entrusted to others – both largely because of the interference of Foster in his capacity as speaker. When the heating system installed under Foster's aegis in the commons chamber destroyed the dome of the building in 1792, he was said to be angered at ‘the imputation on his flues’ (Westmorland, quoted in Malcomson, Foster, 268). Less controversially, he was an important propagator of the Greek revival in Irish architecture. The garden house or temple which he built c.1780 in the elevated demesne above Collon village, and which came to be called ‘Oriel Temple’ and used as a full-time residence, has (in addition to Wyattesque plasterwork) possibly the earliest Doric portico in Ireland. In 1786 he employed the watercolourist John James Barralet (qv) to paint the Foster family on the steps of the temple – a wonderful evocation of late eighteenth-century Irish civilisation. Inside, he commissioned Peter de Gree in 1788 to decorate the temple with a series of grisailles depicting Mercury introducing the arts and industry to Hibernia. In c.1812 Edward Parke (qv) (who had been employed by Foster on the commons building in the early to mid 1790s), designed a stable block at Oriel Temple and, much more significantly, a courthouse in nearby Dundalk. This latter commission he owed to Foster's position as foreman of the Louth grand jury and governor of the county; and Dundalk courthouse became one of Ireland's most important Greek revival buildings.
Foster achieved greatest renown outside the political sphere as a horticulturist and botanist. J. C. Loudon stated that Foster and the 2nd earl of Clanbrassil (d. 1798) of Tollymore Park, Co. Down, and Dundalk House, Co. Louth, ‘. . . were the persons who introduced by far the greatest number of trees into Ireland’ during the eighteenth century, and whose arboreta, both dating from 1768, were the oldest in the country. The Dublin Society's botanic garden at Glasnevin, to the north-west of Dublin, ‘. . . owes its origin, in 1797, to the late Lord Oriel’, who suggested the overall scheme for the garden, which made it in Loudon's day . . . ‘not only the largest in Europe, but the most comprehensive in its plan’ (Loudon, Aboretum et fruticetum Britannicum (1838), i, 108–9, 116–17).
Last years Mount Oriel flourished during Foster's last years, which were ‘clouded not a little’ (Henry Grattan (qv), quoted in Malcomson, Foster, 110). When he retired from office in 1811, no financial provision – though it was sorely needed – was made for him, nor did his repeated applications for a UK peerage bear fruit till 1821. He was a poor attender at Westminster between 1812 and 1821, although he spoke prominently on the protectionist (and losing) side in a series of corn laws debates in May 1814. He can only have been dismayed when parliamentary grants for a lavish programme of Church of Ireland church- and parsonage-building, in effect inaugurated by him in 1808, petered out in 1823. Foster did not live to see the passing of catholic emancipation in 1829, but he lived long enough to see his family's long-running monopoly of a seat for Co. Louth almost terminated at the general election of 1826, when the catholic freeholders of the county voted in large numbers against landlord instructions and against Foster's nephew, John Leslie Foster. A factor in this near-defeat was Foster's well known financial difficulties, which were themselves a major blight on his last years. His adored wife, Lady Ferrard, died on 20 January 1824, and Foster on 23 August 1828.
He married (14 December 1764) his first cousin, Margaretta Burgh (1736–1824), eldest daughter of Thomas Burgh of Oldtown, Co. Kildare, and his wife Anne, daughter of Bishop Dive Downes (1653–1709). The marriage was a love match, and remained so till she died. The Fosters were unfortunate in the early deaths of a number of their children: four sons died young, and in the end they had one surviving son, Thomas Henry (1772–1843), who married Lady Harriet Skeffington, suo jure Viscountess Massereene, in 1810, and one daughter, Anna Dorothea (1774–1865), who married the 2nd Baron Dufferin (qv) in 1800. In consideration of his political services Foster's wife was created Baroness Oriel (I) on 5 June 1790 and Viscountess Ferrard (I) on 22 November 1797. (Oriel, or Uriel, is the name of the old Irish kingdom of which Co. Louth forms a part, and Ferrard was the barony in Co. Louth where most of the Foster estate was located.) Foster himself was created Baron Oriel (UK) towards the end of his life, on 17 July 1821. He is the ancestor, in the male line, of the Viscounts Massereene and Ferrard.