Painting of Sir Augustus Foster, by Christian Albrecht Jensen. 1825. UK Government Art Collection, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.
Mr. Foster has received instructions to demand from government a direct and precise answer as to the object of our military preparations. . .unless our government retrace their steps, THE DYE IS CAST AND WAR IS INEVITABLE.
Read the full article in the Kingston Gazette of April 14, 1812, page 3, column 3. Also, check out the letter on the same page, where Augustus Foster denies any knowledge of the spy John Henry.
Sir Augustus John Foster was a British aristocrat who had been sent, reluctantly, to serve as Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States. He had romantic reasons, as well as political ones, for resisting the appointment.
A year earlier, his mother had written to him, “I inclose you the Prince Regent’s letter [nominating Augustus to the post], which I received at the Play last night. You will believe that I never said one word about you to him or anybody else. . .I know, however, your dislike to that country so well that I shall not say any thing to influence you more than it is absolutely my duty to do, and this, that if your dislike to accept of this mission arises from any hope of succeeding with [Miss Milbanke], you ought, I think, to bring that to a point by making your situation known. If she has any liking for you, the idea of your going would make her decide in your favor, and you would either then not want to go anywhere or might perhaps get it exchanged for some other Country she would like.” more. . .
Of course, Augustus did accept the situation. Apparently he made the best of a bad situation by throwing lavish parties for the famous and infamous of Washington society, serving caviar from the Potomac River (which some mistook for black raspberry jam–a salty surprise, which they immediately spat out) and giving a ball for the Queen’s birthday which drew dozens of eligible bachelors and “handsome ladies” to an evening of “billing and cooing,” cards and dancing.
On April 18, 1812, Augustus wrote to his mother from Washington, “I am afraid my chance is small with Miss Milbanke. Indeed, staying as long as I do here, it is scarce just to think I can keep an interest with her. . .Here they talk more loudly than before of war. The French Minister, on being told that France was threatened as well as England, said he must in that case solicit an interview with the British Minister, in order for us to concert together measures of defence against so alarming a power. A great many people are afraid of being laughed at if they don’t fight. It is really a curious state of things.” more. . .
Augustus didn’t stay much longer in Washington. As soon as the war broke out, he was sent back to Britain, where he was elected to the House of Commons. He died in 1848, at a castle in England, when he suffered a fit of delirium during an illness, and cut his own throat.
If you enjoy history, or sweeping sagas of British aristocracy (think: The Pallisers), you’ll enjoy the letters of Augustus’s mother and her inseparable companion Georgiana–both Duchesses of Devonshire.
You can read or download them online: The Two Duchesses : Family Correspondence, ed. Vere Foster. London : Blackie and Son, 1898.