Alice Thornton's Books: Remembrances of a Woman's Life in the Seventeenth Century

The autobiographical writings of Alice Wandesford Thornton (1626-1707) were recently rediscovered by Dr Cordelia Beattie in Durham Cathedral.

HCA Alice Thornton manuscript Durham Cathedral
Alice Thornton's manuscript, Durham Cathedral

The autobiographical writings of Alice Wandesford Thornton (1626-1707) were first edited in 1875 for the Surtees Society. The writings discuss her childhood in Dublin, her return to Yorkshire during the civil war, her royalist views, a distinctly Anglican Restoration piety, and the births of nine children (only three of whom made it to adulthood). The editor, Charles Jackson, drew on three books of her life to put together one composite account but also had seen ‘a small memorandum book’, which he considered to be the original draft of her autobiography. The whereabouts of the manuscripts was unknown for many years but in 2009 the British Library bought books one and three at auction. Dr Cordelia Beattie has recently traced the other two manuscripts; the small memorandum book is still in private hands and book two was located in Durham Cathedral Library

The pilot project is the first step in creating a digital edition of all four manuscripts so that the full content can be read by all and so that the relationship between the four texts and Thornton’s intention in creating them can be discerned.

Dr Cordelia Beattie has also been awarded funding to stage two dramatized performances of Alice Thornton’s life as part of the Being Human festival, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, taking place 14–23 November. This one-woman theatre/storytelling performance will be written and performed by Debbie Cannon (Green Knight, winner of Female Actor Award, Buxton Fringe 2018) and directed by Flavia D’Avila of Fronteiras Theatre Lab. It reflects on one woman’s life and experiences across the span of the seventeenth century, against the turbulent backdrop of civil war, plague, fire … and the treacherous world of North Yorkshire society. 

HCA Being Human

Project Researchers

  • Dr Cordelia Beattie, History (PI)
  • Dr Suzanne Trill, English Literature (Co-I)
  • Dr Richard Hadden, Digital Innovation team, CAHSS
  • Dr Lisa Liddy (RA)
  • Robyn Pritzker (RA)

Further information

HCA Uni of London


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