Alice Thornton



Raymond A. Anselment, ‘Seventeenth-Century Manuscript Sources of Alice Thornton's Life’, SEL, 45, 1 (Winter 2005), 135-55


The Autobiography of Mrs Alice Thornton of East Newton, Co. York, [ed. Charles Jackson, partly based on transcripts by Charles Best Norcliffe], Surtees Society, 62 (1875 [for 1873])



Alice Thornton is known for her lengthy Autobiography, relating the often sorrowful events of her life, including the deaths of most of her children and of her husband, but nevertheless written from a devoutly religious perspective in terms of ‘God's dealings and mercies’ to her.

No fewer than seven manuscripts of this Autobiography, the majority autograph and varying in content, are recorded (ThA 1-7), three of which were used in Jackson's edition in 1875 (*ThA 1, *ThA 4, ThA 3). The manuscripts had principally descended through the Comber family following the marriage in 1668 of Alice Thornton's daughter Alice (1654-1721) to Thomas Comber (1645-99), Dean of Durham. Since then they have been widely dispersed. Fortunately, two that were in private hands following their sale at auction in 1982 and 1994 are now reunited in the British Library (*ThA 1-2).

Others have since been lost, however. One (*ThA 5), was in private hands in the 1930s and is currently known only from a microfilm at Yale. In addition, a later copy of the Autobiography was made by her great-grandson Thomas Comber c.1800, a manscript now at Yale (ThA 7), and some of the transcripts of manuscripts made for the 1875 edition are preserved in the county record office of the East Riding of Yorkshire (ThA 3).

Family Papers

The editors in 1875 also had access to other Comber family papers concerning Alice Thornton which have not been seen since then, one a memorandum book evidently related to the Autobiography (*ThA 6). Some of these papers were, however, edited in Appendices to that edition. They include (not given separate entries below):

(i) some thirteen letters by Alice Thornton, to her mother, husband, son Robert, and to Dr Tillotson (Jackson, pp. 289, 291-9, 303-11)

(ii) her last will and testament, dated 10 April 1705 (Jackson, pp. 332-9)

(iii) her inventory, dated 3 March 1706/7 (Jackson, pp. 340-2)

One further item is recorded in Jackson (p. 347) as ‘some MS. of Mrs. Thornton, now lost’, containing an account of the condemnation of Charles I. This account is reprinted by Jackson from the text in Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Thomas Comber, DD, ed. Thomas Comber (London, 1799).

Jackson also includes, on the title-page and p. 339, facsimiles of what is presumably Alice Thornton's autograph signature.

Peter Beal