The Bamburgh Forsters
Lord and Lady Crewe – a 1700s love story
The following group of historical insights have been compiled by the wonderful Bamburgh Bones volunteer researcher Carol Griffith. Carol delights in scouring archives and ancient documents to gather information about Bamburgh and it’s impressive castle through the ages.
General Thomas Forster 1683 – 1738 – Jacobite Hero or Coward?
Thomas born 1683 was the son of Frances, sister of Ferdinando and Dorothy, the future Lady Crewe, who had married a Thomas Forster of Adderstone. In 1701 he became co-heir with his Aunt, Lady Crewe to his Uncle, Ferdinando. At the time of his murder in 1701 Ferdinando had considerabel debts and creditors had forced the sale of the Forster’s Bamburgh estate, leaving Lady Crewe and Thomas co-owners of only £1028. By 1705 Thomas had succeeded as a Tory MP, and continued up till the 1713 election and beyond.
Thomas was prominent amongst the Northumbrian Jacobites. He was related to the aristocratic James Radcliffe, Lord Derwentwater of Dilston Hall, who himself was cousin to the Old Pretender – the exiled James Stuart (1688 – 1766).
At the start of the 1715 Jacobite Uprising, Forster was made General, not because of his military experience, he had none, but due to his family and political Tory connections. Lord Derwentwater himself stated
“What could we do better? The Catholics could not appear at the head of the business; High church was to do it. And who could we in Northumberland pick out to please High Church better, than Mr. Forster, Knight of the shire, who represented them all?”
Posterity has not been kind to General Tom, accusing him of lack of military credentials, and of cowardice. One contemporary account of action prior to the battle of Preston, recounts a note being delivered to General Forster, warning of the advance of the King’s troops-
“When this Letter was communicated to General Forerster, he appeared dispirited, and then, as at all other times, very unfit for such an important Command. He had nothing to say, but sent the letter to My Lord Kilmure..who went to Mr. Forresters quarters, found him in bed without the least concern”.
It was General Tom’s decision to surrender at the battle of Preston, in November 1715, a decision most unpopular with his troops.
“the Common Men were one and all against capitulating, and were enraged when told about it, declaring they would die fighting”
According to General Tom’s personal chaplain
“In this Dilemma many exclaim’d against Mr. forster and had he appear’d in the street he would, certainly been cut to Pieces; but as he did not appear publickly, yet he had actually been killed in his chamber by Mr. Murray, had I not with my hand struck up the Pistol which he fired at him”
Others criticised him to his face
“and all he could answer was, that he was sensible of the Incapacity he had for the office, cryed like a child, was sorry for what he had done”
And so General Tom was taken to London, with many of his fellow insurgents including Lord Derwentwater, to bravely face execution on Tower Hill, others transportation or a lingering death in prison. General Tom’s status was not sufficient to lead to imprisonment in The Tower, but he was incarcerated in Newgate, doubtless to face execution. However, fate intervened, in the person of his brave and valiant sister, Dorothy, who in the depths of an icy winter in Bamburgh, heard of her brother’s fate, and thereafter enacted one of the most audacious and stirring stories of the Forster family, by “springing” her brother out of Newgate in April 1716.
Sadly, hearing of the Jacobite defeat and her nephew’s incarceration, Dorothy Lady Crewe suffered convulsions that led to her death in 1716. And that April a Reward was offered to, anyone providing information leading to the re-capture of General Tom, and the Notice in the London Gazette, contains a lifelike description of him.
- Wanted – Thomas Forster – from The London Gazette, April 10, 1716
“Thomas Forster, late of the county of Northumberland, is a person of middle stature, inclined to be fat, well shaped, except the he stoops at the shoulders, fair complexioned, his mouth wide, his nose large, his eyes grey. He speaks in a northern dialect and is about 35 years of age.
He was lately apprehended and committed to Newgate jail for high treason for levying war against the realm. But last Tuesday he escaped.
We therefore have sought fit, with the advice of our Privy Council, to issue this royal proclamation, hereby requiring and commanding our loving subjects to use their best endeavor to discover and apprehend the said Thomas Forster.
And for the encouragement of all persons to be diligent and artful in discovering him, we do hereby further declare that whosoever shall apprehend and bring Thomas Forster before a Justice of the Peace shall have and receive as reward the sum of one thousand pounds which the Lord Chancellor is hereby required and ordered to pay accordingly.”
Dorothy Forster, brave sister who saved her brother from execution
Dorothy was born in 1686, three years after Tom. Little is known of her early years, but there is a legend, at the heart of the novel “Dorothy Forster” by Besant, that she had a romance with James, Earl of Derwentwater,, to whom she was distantly related, prior to his marriage. According to the novel, it was doomed because James was a Catholic, Dorothy a Protestant.
Tom and Dorothy were brought up in Bamburgh Hall.. It was not until Lord Crewe’s death in 1721 (their Uncle by marriage) that his fortune enabled the restoration of the Castle. Although the Keep was sound, there is no evidence that Dorothy had ever lived there.
There is a charming memento of Dorothy in the Castle; a silk dress and tiny shoes
Castle records state-
“It is a gold and silk wool dress circa 1750. Dorothy Forster (1686 – 1767) reputedly wore this dress and matching shoes. .”
The legend records Dorothy’s reaction to learning of her brother’s imprisonment, following his surrender of the Jacobite forces at Preston. In the depths of a snowy winter, she rode on horseback from Bamburgh to London, accompanied only by a maid, and the local blacksmith by the name of Purdy. His square Smithy still exists at the halt now named after him, off the A1, Purdy Lodge.
Establishing her right to visit her brother Tom, one version of the legend states she smuggled out a prison door key, which was copied by the Blacksmith, which Tom later used to secure his release. The better known version has Dorothy visiting her brother, accompanied by her maid, and establishing the times of the change of prison guard. On one occasion, just before the guard changeover, she visited alone, but with her maids clothes hidden under her skirts. So when the new Guard noticed two women leaving as usual, he was not surprised…
Dorothy had pre-arranged a passage on a sloop bound for France that same day. Tom was secreted on board, reached France in safety, and lived out his life in the Court of the Old Pretender, dying in Boulogne in 1738.
However, his ingenious sister had arranged a “mock” funeral here in St Aidan’s, with the coffin being filled with sawdust. When Tom actually died in 1738, his body was initially buried in Boulogne, but soon exhumed and brought to Bamburgh in secrecy. His coffin was buried in the Crypt of St Aidan’s-
“General Forster whose body was brought from France in 1738. Privately buried being brought in a hearse with one horse and a single servant attending.”
We know that Dorothy lived a long life, and married, but there is some mystery to whom. Legend has it she married the Blacksmith; but records state she married an Armstrong “an inferior person”, and lived at The Friars, part of the Forster/Crewe estates