Foster, Sir Michael

, an eminent lawyer, was born at Marlborough in Wiltshire, Dec. 16, 1689. His father Michael, and his grandfather John, were attornies in that place. After attending the free-school there, Mr. Foster was matriculated at Oxford May 7, 1705, and studied about two years at Exeter college, but like many eminent men in the profession of the law, left it without taking a degree. On May 23, 1707, he was admitted into the society of the Middle Temple, and in due time was called to | the bar, but not having much success as an advocate, he retired into the country, and settled in his native town. Here he contracted an intimacy with Algernon, earl of Hertford, afterwards duke of Somerset, which continued many years, and until the death of the noble duke, who by his will appointed his friend executor in trust with his son-in-law Hugh, earl (afterwards duke) of Northumberland. In 1725 he married Martha, the eldest daughter of James Lyde, esq. of Stantonwick in Somersetshire; and in a few years afterwards he removed to Bristol, where he exercised his profession with great reputation and considerable success; and in August 1735 he was chosen rer corder of the city, which office he retained many years. Soon after accepting this office in Easter term, 1736, he took on him the degree of serjeant at law. In 1720 he had published “A Letter of Advice to protestant Dissenters,” in which he is said to discover the most liberal and enlarged views; and in 1735 he published a pamphlet which engaged the public attention very much, entitled “An Examination of the scheme of Church power laid down in the Codex juris ecclesiastici Anglicani, &c.” In this he controverted the system of church power vested in the clergy, and which forms the ground-work of bishop Gibson’s “Codex.” Several answers, however, were published to Mr. Foster’s pamphlet, the principal one by Dr. Andrews, a civilian. Mr. Foster seems to have promised a continuation, in reply to him and others, but did not pursue the subject. In the postscript, however, to the third edition of his pamphlet, he adverts to “the personal severity,” with which Dr. Andrews had treated him; and adds, “It is not in my nature to make any return of that kind. I forgive him with all my heart. If, upon poor reflection, he can forgive himself, I pity him.

Having greatly distinguished himself on many occasions after his settlement at Bristol, Mr. serjeant Foster, in the vacation after Hilary term J 8 Geo. II. (1745) on the recommendation of the lord chancellor Hardwicke, was appointed to succeed sir William Chappie, as one of the judges of the court of King’s Bench; and being knighted by the iking, was sworn into the office, April 22 of the above year. In this office he continued to Nov. 7, 1763, during which period many points of singular importance, as well in civil as criminal cases, in which he bore a considerable share, were determined. The criminal cases are reported | by himself in his Crown Law, and many of the others may be seen in the Reports of Strange, Wilson, Burrow, and Blackstone. But although sir Michael Foster generally concurred in opinion with the other judges (who were in succession, sir William Lee, sir Martin Wright, sir Thomas Denison, sir Dudley Ryder, lord Mansfield, and sir John Eardley Wilmot) yet on several important questions, instances of which are given hy his biographer, he differed from some, if not from all of the judges. Indeed, his life, as drawn up by his nephew, Mr. Dodson, for the Biog. Britannica, and lately published separately, is merely a lawpamphlet, and contains, unless in a very general way, very little biography, very little of personal character, habits, or manners. At the conclusion, we are told that Mr. Justice Foster was blessed with a good constitution, and generally enjoyed a good state of health until some few years before his death. In no long time after the death of lady Foster (which happened in 1758) his health began to decline, and he complained of a loss of appetite, which made it necessary for him occasionally to spend some time at Bath. He received considerable benefit from the use of the Bath waters but wheresoever he was, he was patient and resigned, composed and cheerful rejoicing in the glorious prospect beyond the grave, which Christianity opened to his view. In Hilary, Easter, and Trinity terms, 1763, he seldom attended at Westminster-hall. He was confined to his bed a short time only, and on Monday, Nov. 7, he expired. He never had any children. By his own direction, he was buried in the parish church of StantonDrew, in Somersetshire, where lady Foster had been buried. The doctrines of our criminal law are very learnedly discussed by sir Michael Foster, in his “Report of the proceedings on the commission for the Trial of the Rebels in 1746, and other crown cases.” The first edition of these reports was published in folio, 1763; the second in 8vo, 1776, to which were added, some discourses on several branches of the crown law, with notes and references, by Michael Dodson, esq. his nephew; and the third, with a few discourses on high treason, on homicide, on accomplices, and some observations on the writings of lord Hale, and an appendix containing sir M. Foster’s opinion on several difficult and important cases, in royal 8vo, 1792, by the same Mr. Dodson. 1


Life by Do<l$on, in Biog. Brit. vol. VI. part. 1. unpublished and in 1811, 8vo. Bridgnaan’s Legal Bibliography.