FORRESTER, Alexander (?1711-87), of Lincoln's Inn.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



2 Dec. 1758 - 1761
1761 - 1768

Family and Education

b. ?1711, s. of Alexander Forrester (s. of Andrew Forrester and Jean Cunningham). educ. I. Temple 1727, called 1731. unm.

Offices Held


Forrester came of a Scots Jacobite family who had followed James II into exile. His uncle, John Forrester,1 was a trusted agent who went to Scotland in the ’15, escaped capture, and returned to France to serve in the Duke of Berwick’s regiment. Of Forrester’s father nothing certain is known. His mother was probably a Frenchwoman, and Forrester was almost certainly born in France. The family had connexions in Angus with the Maules of Panmure, who were also ‘out’ in the ’15.

Forrester became a successful counsel, and in 1741 published Cases in Equity during the time of Lord Talbot. From 1741 he frequently appeared before the Board of Trade, and occasionally before the Privy Council, in colonial cases; but after about 1758 he seems to have specialized in cases before the House of Lords (among them Scottish election appeals). Alexander Wedderburn repeatedly appeared as his junior, and he associated in his cases with men like Charles Yorke, Lord Frederick Campbell, Fletcher Norton, and Pratt.

On a vacancy at the Duke of Bedford’s borough of Tavistock, William Beckford appealed to the Duke 4 June 1754, ‘as the head of an opposition, founded on true patriot principles’, to return ‘Counsellor Forrester, whose steadiness, honour, and elocution, are not exceeded by many in these kingdoms’.2 This seems to have been the first introduction of Forrester to his future patron; that time the Duke had another candidate in view. But when in May 1758 Lord George Bentinck, M.P. for Malmesbury, was supposed to be dying, Bedford ‘mentioned that succession’ to Forrester:3 the nomination to the borough was then in Henry Fox. Bentinck did not die till March 1759, and on 2 Dec. 1758 Forrester was returned for Dunwich by Sir Jacob Downing, a friend of Fox.

About the same time Forrester was recommended by Baron Maule (brother of Lord Panmure) to the Duke of Argyll as candidate for the city of Edinburgh; and although Forrester was unpopular as an Anglicised Scot resident in England—‘too much an Englishman’—such was Argyll’s majority on the town council that his election was generally expected. But Charles Townshend, who was trying to prepare the ground for his own return at Edinburgh, helped to drive him ‘off the field’: in a speech at a city dinner, on 18 July 1759, he lessened him ‘so much in their eyes by his fine vein of ridicule that the dislike of the town council was increased to aversion’. In the end even Argyll’s party did not dare to nominate him. He was returned by Bedford for Okehampton.4

On 12 Oct. 1761 Forrester applied to Bedford to recommend him to the ministers for the vacant Chair of the House of Commons.5 ‘I am, indeed, astonished at my own presumption’ (as he well might be); but he hoped possibly to attain the Chair ‘in the light of your Grace’s most devoted friend and servant (the most glorious and desirable to myself)’. He admitted the objections he was liable to: ‘the short time of my sitting in Parliament, and my ignorance of the forms’. But he drew an ingenious analogy with the case of every new chancellor in the Lords. He referred to his 30 years at the bar, and his position there, which nevertheless left him outdistanced by juniors: ‘by a peculiar fatality [I] have constantly had wind and tide against me, nor ever in my life met with any the most distant offer of advancement, until your Grace was ... pleased to take me by the hand’. Bedford refused; he had already recommended Rigby; and beside the short time Forrester had been in the House, those unfriendly would urge against him his being a Scotsman, and his former connexions with the Tories.6

When in December 1761 a vacancy was impending in the post of solicitor-general, Forrester again applied to Bedford, who recommended him to Bute and Newcastle. Bute replied that the King’s choice was already ‘in a manner fixed’; and Newcastle that he was committed to Fletcher Norton.7 ‘The peculiar fatality’, which pursued the Anglicised Scot, persisted, and advancement was to elude him even during the years when the Bedfords were in office.

Forrester’s speech in the debate on the Address, 13 Nov. 1761, in which he followed Eliab Harvey, was that of a ‘still shrewder lawyer’: he slurred over the issues of the German and Spanish wars and the militia, and hoped that ‘the night’s mail would not carry to the continent news of disunion in the new Parliament’.8 Harris, reporting several of his subsequent interventions in debate on minor points, remarks that he ‘spoke well’.9 In a way most remarkable is that on 23 Nov. 1763, when objections were raised to proceeding with the question of Wilkes’s parliamentary privilege in his enforced absence. Harris thus summarizes Forrester’s speech: ‘audi alteram partem—contra.’ Grenville reported to the King that the authority of Wilbraham ‘weighed so much with several gentlemen of the law’, Forrester among them, that they supported putting off the question. And Walpole: ‘Forrester ... reckoned no squeamish lawyer, spoke for procrastination, and voted against the court.’ If so, this was the only recorded occasion of Forrester dissociating himself from the Bedford group. Later on, he spoke frequently on Wilkes and general warrants and always on orthodox lines. Most of his interventions were on legal questions; and like so many Scotsmen, and especially Scots lawyers, he usually took an authoritarian view. Thus on 4 Mar. 1765, about the power of the attorney-general to grant informations ex officio in the King’s bench: ‘every power is liable to abuse but there must be powers ... The Crown has no more power than it wants for the support of its authority.’ And according to Harris: ‘in these days of licence, not ashamed to be called a prerogative lawyer’.10

In July 1765 Forrester followed Bedford into opposition. Sandwich wrote to Grenville, 14 Aug. 1765: ‘I dined on Sunday last at Sir John Cotton’s ... I met Forrester there who is eager beyond imagination.’ Several speeches of his are recorded during the debates on America and the Stamp Act: on 17 Dec. 1765 he supported Grenville’s amendment to the Address declaring the colonies in rebellion; on 5 Feb. 1766 he spoke for Nugent’s amendment requiring the colonial assemblies to recompense sufferers in the Stamp Act riots; on 7 Feb. he supported Grenville’s motion for enforcing laws in America; and he naturally voted against the repeal. Over the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, he seems to have voted against the Chatham Administration—his name appears in two out of three extant division lists.11

On 28 Feb. 1768 the Duke of Bedford informed Thomas Brand that he had reserved for him a seat at Okehampton ‘in the place of Mr. Forrester, who Lord Gower, at my request, chooses at Newcastle-under-Lyme’. On 6 Dec. 1770 Forrester said when opposing Glynn’s motion for an inquiry into the administration of justice:

What I see ... has not given me so high an idea of the liberty of the press, as it did in my youth. I am not so concerned for the fate of the booksellers. There is too much learning already. We should be better men, if we had less books ... My independence is known. I have no obligation to any one set of men or another, nor ever will.

This was his last major speech in the House. Also his attendance at divisions became poor: his name appears in only three out of seven division lists, 1768-74, which give the names of the Government side. Perhaps he felt his years—on 1 May 1769, pleading for an earlier meeting of the House, he said: ‘At my time of life, I am not over fond of the hours of the present age, either for business or amusement’; possibly also he was disappointed at the lack of preferment. He did not stand again in 1774, though there seems then to have been no estrangement between him and Lord Gower, to whom Forrester in his will dated 20 Feb. 1778 left the wines in his cellar ‘in remembrance of our former many convivial meetings’ (but revoked the bequest in a codicil, dated 9 July 1783). He died 2 July 1787, aged 76, naming Lord Frederick Campbell as his residuary legatee. He directed all his papers to be destroyed.12


Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Ruvigny, Jacobite Peerage, 52, 191.
  • 2. Bedford Corresp. ii. 150.
  • 3. Rigby to Bedford, 1 June 1758, ibid. 243 (misdated).
  • 4. Carlyle, Autobiog. 289, 387; Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, i. 47.
  • 5. Bedford mss 44, f. 200.
  • 6. Bedford Corresp. iii. 54-55.
  • 7. Bedford mss 44, ff. 284, 288.
  • 8. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, i. 73.
  • 9. 25 Feb., 8 Apr. 1762.
  • 10. Fortescue, i. 61; Mems. Geo. III, i. 258; Newdigate mss.
  • 11. Grenville mss (JM); Fortescue, i. 202, 267; Newdigate mss.
  • 12. Bedford mss 57, f. 16; Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 223, ff. 82-84; Cavendish, Debates, i. 405; Esdaile, Temple Church Monuments, 90.