R. F. Foster (historian)

Robert Fitzroy 'Roy' Foster FBA FRHistS FRSL (born 16 January 1949), publishing as R. F. Foster, is an Irish historian and academic. He was the Carroll Professor of Irish History from 1991 until 2016 at Hertford College, Oxford, in Great Britain.

Early life

Foster was born on 16 January 1949 in Waterford, to two teachers: Betty Foster (née Fitzroy), a primary teacher, and 'Fef' (Ernest) Foster, a teacher of Irish. His father, Fef, was a native of Drung, a tiny hamlet and parish located between Cavan Town and Cootehill in County Cavan. Roy attended Newtown School in Waterford, a multi-denominational school that was founded as a Quaker school in the late 18th century. He won a scholarship to attend St. Andrew's School in Delaware for a year before reading history at Trinity College Dublin. He was awarded an M.A. and PhD by Trinity College, where he was taught by T. W. Moody and F. S. L. Lyons, and was elected a scholar in History and Political Science in 1969.

Academic career

Prior to his appointment to the Carroll professorship, he was Professor of Modern British History at Birkbeck, University of London, University of London, and held visiting fellowships at St Antony's College, Oxford, the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and Princeton University. Based in London as well as at Hertford College in Oxford, Foster visits Ireland frequently.

His work is generally published under the name R. F. Foster.

He has written early biographies of Charles Stewart Parnell and Lord Randolph Churchill, edited The Oxford History of Ireland (1989), and written Modern Ireland: 1600–1972 (1988) and several books of essays. Foster produced a much-acclaimed[1][2] two-part biography of W. B. Yeats, which was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and collaborated with Fintan Cullen on a National Portrait Gallery exhibition, 'Conquering England: the Irish in Victorian London'. Seamus Deane wrote a review in The Irish Times of 27 September 2003 quoting W. B. Yeats as saying "My glory was that I had such friends". Deane then suggests Yeats was also lucky to have such a biographer as Foster.

In 2000 Foster was a Booker Prize judge.[3]

Personal life

He has been married to the novelist and critic Aisling Foster (née O'Conor Donelan) since 1972 and they have two children.


In 1989, he was elected Fellow of the British Academy (FBA) [4] and in 2010 he was elected an Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy (Hon. MRIA).[5] He is also an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL),[6] and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (FRHistS).[7]

In 2015, he was awarded the British Academy Medal for his book Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland 1890–1923.[8]


  • Charles Stewart Parnell: The Man and His Family (Sussex: Harvester Wheatsheaf 1976; NJ: Humanities Press 1979)
  • ‘To The Northern Counties Station: Lord Randolph Churchill and the Prelude to the Orange Card’, in F. S. L. Lyons & R. A. J. Hawkins, ed., Ireland Under the Union: Varieties of Tension: Essays in Honour of T. W. Moody (Oxford Clarendon Press 1980)
  • Lord Randolph Churchill: A Political Life (Oxford: OUP 1981)
  • Modern Ireland 1600–1972 (London: Allen Lane; NY Viking/Penguin 1988) [with introductory essay on 'Varieties of Irishness']
  • ed., The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern Ireland (OUP 1989; [rev. edn. as] The Oxford History of Ireland, OUP 1992)
  • W. B. Yeats, A Life, Vol. I: The Apprentice Mage, 1865–1914 (OUP March 1997)
  • The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press 2001)
  • W. B. Yeats – A Life, II: The Arch-Poet 1915–1939 (Oxford: OUP 2003)
  • Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change from 1970 (Oxford: OUP 2008)
  • Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890–1923 (NY: W. W. Norton & Company; 2015)

Essay collections

  • Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish History and English History (London: Allen Lane/Penguin 1993; rep. 1995)
  • The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press 2001)


  • Political Novels and Nineteenth-Century History (Winchester: King Alfred's College 1982)
  • ed., Hubert Butler, The Sub-Prefect Should Have Held His Tongue (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1990; rep. London: Penguin 1992), and Do., in French trans. as L’Envahisseur est venu en pantoufles (1995)
  • The Story of Ireland: an Inaugural Lecture delivered before the University of Oxford on 1 December 1994 (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1995)

Notes and references

  1. "What he did". London Review of Books. 20 March 1997. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  2. "Old, Old, Old, Old, Old". London Review of Books. 3 March 2005. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  3. "Booker prize winners, shortlists and judges". The Guardian. 10 October 2008. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  4. "FOSTER, Professor Roy". British Academy Fellows. British Academy. Archived from the original on 25 May 2014. Retrieved 24 May 2014.,
  5. "RIA Annual Review, 2009-2010" (PDF).
  6. "Current RSL Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Archived from the original on 2 October 2012. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  7. "Fellows of the Royal Historical Society – F" (PDF). Royal Historical Society. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 May 2014. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  8. "British Academy announces 2015 prize and medal winners". British Academy. 29 September 2015. Retrieved 30 July 2017.
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