A BOOK by a 17th century writer who chronicled her life as a Yorkshire woman living through the English Civil War has been discovered in a North-East archive.

The text by writer Alice Thornton, who lived from 1626-1707, had been presumed lost but it has been discovered in the archive of Durham Cathedral.

Medieval history lecturer Dr Cordelia Beattie found the book, which is the second of an autobiographical trilogy written by Mrs Thornton, who was born in Kirklington, North Yorkshire.

The Northern Echo:

The presumed lost book by Alice Thornton

She was the daughter of the Lord Deputy of Ireland but the family fled the country after the Irish rebellion of 1641. She was later thrust into poverty following the death of her husband and wrote her first autobiography as a defence to slander.

Dr Beattie said: "I am very excited that we can now read Alice Thornton’s autobiographical writings as she intended them to be read.

"It is clear that she saw them as interconnected books as they cross-reference each other."

The volume found at the cathedral had been presumed missing since the early 20th century, leaving a gap in Mrs Thornton’s autobiographical writings, and thus a gap in the study of family, health and spiritual life in the 17th century.

The discovery has put an end to the speculation surrounding the contents of the second manuscript, which revises material covered in the first book, as well as dealing with matters of Mrs Thornton’s inheritance and finances.

Dr Beattie made the discovery in the cathedral archives after researching Thomas Comber, who was the Dean of Durham from 1689 and also the husband of Alice Thornton’s eldest daughter, Alice Comber.

Dean Comber’s papers were given to the Cathedral Library in 1969, one of which was titled ‘Comber 7’ and described as ‘a journal of his wife Alice’.

Despite the description, Dr Beattie had a hunch that the text was in fact the missing second book in the trilogy of Alice Thornton’s life, chronicled over 291 pages.

The Northern Echo:

Dr Cordelia Beattie looking over the manuscript

After examining the text, and finding it was indeed written in Mrs Thornton’s handwriting, Dr Beattie’s hunch was confirmed.

The full text of this volume has never been made available to the public, although selected extracts were published by the Surtees Society in 1875.

The Durham Cathedral manuscript is the second of two Dr Beattie has located.

She also found another book by Alice Thornton among private family papers in December 2018.

This manuscript is a book of remembrances, which was microfilmed for Yale in the 1930s and is still owned by a descendant of the family.

Alison Cullingford, head of collections at Durham Cathedral, said: "We are thrilled that Dr Beattie has made this discovery.

"The cathedral’s archives are an exceptional record of over 1,000 years of history and this find shows that there are always new and exciting stories to explore."

Dr Beattie and Dr Suzanne Trill, a colleague from the University of Edinburgh, are seeking funding to publish the work in print and online.

Their aim is to see how the four texts compare and to make the manuscripts accessible, so members of the public can discover more about Mrs Thornton’s fascinating life.

Extracts from Alice Thornton's book:

Upon a lie made, and slander raised, on myself and my servant Jane Flower

by Nan Robinson, at Oswaldkirk, this year 1661.

This Nan Robinson was a servant which I had brought from Richmond and St Nicholas with me and to whom as being a servant for work I was very kind...

She, living with me in my aunt’s house at St Nicholas, fell in love with one of her men, Normavill Fisher, who was a foolish young boy of eighteen. But this Nan had so great folly that she was bewitched with his person.

Although he was one that was a bastard, and had gotten one as we heard himself, and therefore no way was he a fit husband for her.

Jane Flower and I, out of our love to this woman did often advise her against him because he was not suitable for her and had no means to keep her of, but Nan was so ill-displeased and angry secretly, as she confessed to me after, at Jane Flower and myself that she was resolved to be revenged of us both for speaking to advise her against this Fisher.

Upon my dear Nally’s [nickname for daughter Alice, who goes on to marry Dean Comber] deliverance from death by convulsions,

May 29, 1660, at St Nicholas.

That day, on which there was a great deal of joy and mirth upon King Charles II’s birth and return from his banishment into England and his Coronation (being matter of great and excellent gratitude to heaven to the Church of England), they had a show at Richmond of all kinds of sports and country expressions of joy and amongst the rest they shot off muskets and had soldiers of the townsmen of Richmond appeared in armour.

The maids at St Nicholas did beg leave to go and see the show and would not be pleased until I let my dear Nally go with them. But I refused and thought it would fright her and do her hurt.

But they got Mr Thornton persuaded, and my aunt, to let her go and they would take great care of her but [I] was still very unwilling nor could be convinced of their fitness. Although they went and carried her with them, against my mind, having Mr Thornton’s consent.

But before two hours, they returned with my child home in a very sad and changed condition; for, alas, she never having had seen any such things as soldiers, or guns, or drums, or noises and shoutings, she was so extremely scared at these things and when the muskets went off so fast did so affright her and terrify my poor child that she was ready to fly out of Jane Flowers’s arms, her maid.

And being almost out of her poor wit did shriek and cry so extremely she could not be pacified for all they could do, but in extremity fell into most dreadful fits of convulsions there while she was at Richmond in Mr Smithson’s shop

Having had three or four of them so sadly and so dreadfully that they had much to do to save her alive or bring her to herself again but started extremely much and then falling down again.

At last, they, doing all [they] could do to her, did bring my dear child half dead to me which was a sad and dismal affliction to my weak heart and she continued very ill all that night.

But I gave her all medicines for it, and oil of amber, and peony, and other things which by the Lord’s great and infinite mercy to me did at length preserve and restore her from them.