Thornton, Edward (1766-1852) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 56
Thornton, Edward (1766-1852)

by Charles Alexander Harris
1904 Errata appended.

THORNTON, Sir EDWARD (1766–1852), diplomatist, third son of William Thornton, a Yorkshireman settled in London as an innkeeper, and brother of Thomas Thornton (d. 1814) [q. v.], was born on 22 Oct. 1766. Early left an orphan, he was educated at Christ's Hospital, whence he was admitted sizar of Pembroke College, Cambridge, on 19 June 1785, graduating B.A. as third wrangler in 1789. He took the members' prize in 1791, being elected a fellow and proceeding M.A. in 1798.

In 1789 Thornton became tutor to the sons of James (afterwards Sir) Bland Burges [q. v.], under-secretary of state for foreign affairs, who took a great liking to him, and recommended him to George Hammond [q. v.] as his secretary on his appointment in 1791 to be the first minister accredited to the United States. In June 1793 he became British vice-consul in Maryland, and in March 1796 secretary of legation at Washington, acting as chargé d'affaires from 1800, when the then minister returned to England, till 1804. In November 1804 Thornton accepted an appointment in Egypt which he did not take up; in May 1805 he became minister plenipotentiary to the circle of Lower Saxony and resident with the Hanse Towns, his headquarters being at Hamburg. From this town he had to retire to Kiel on approach of the French troops; in August 1807 he returned to England.

On 10 Dec. 1807 Thornton was sent to Sweden as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary with a view to obtaining an offensive and defensive alliance against Napoleon. In November 1808 he returned to England unsuccessful, and for a time was prevented by the hostile attitude of Sweden from returning to his post. In October 1811 he again went to Sweden on a special mission in H.M.S. Victory, negotiated treaties of alliance with both Sweden and Russia, and thus assisted in the first step towards the union of the northern powers against Napoleon. On 5 Aug. 1812 he was again appointed envoy extraordinary. In 1813 he negotiated the treaty with Denmark by which Heligoland was ceded to Great Britain. From 1813 to 1815 he accompanied the prince royal of Sweden (Bernadotte) in the field, and was present at the entrance of the allies into Paris. In 1816 he became a privy councillor.

On 29 July 1817 Thornton was appointed minister to Portugal, and in this capacity proceeded to the court in Brazil. On 12 April 1819 he was temporarily granted the rank of ambassador, and held it till March 1821, when he returned to England. In August 1823 he went to Portugal as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary, but was only there a year, during which he invested the king with the order of the Garter, and afforded him the still more important service of shelter and aid during the insurrection of that year. For such action he was created Conde de Cassilhas by the king of Portugal, the title to run for two other lives. He became a G.C.B. in 1822. He retired from the service on a pension in August 1824. After his retirement he purchased Wembury House, Plymouth, where he died on 3 July 1852.

Thornton married, in 1812, Wilhelmina Kohp, a Hanoverian, by whom he had one daughter and six sons, of whom Sir Edward Thornton, G.C.B. (b. 1817), has had a distinguished career as a diplomatist.

[Information from Sir Edward Thornton, G.C.B., and Mr. C. H. Prior, of Pembroke College, Cambridge; Gent. Mag. 1852, ii. 307; Ann. Reg. 1852.]

C. A. H.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.264
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
299 i 8f.e. Thornton, Sir Edward: for 1818 read 1813