Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thornton, Thomas (1757-1823)

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THORNTON, THOMAS (1757–1823), sportsman, was the son of William Thornton of Thornville Royal (now Stourton), Yorkshire. The father in 1745 raised a troop of volunteers which marched against the young Pretender (Gent. Mag. 1758, p. 538), was M.P. for York, 1747–54 and 1758–61, and colonel of the West Riding militia, and died in 1769. His mother was the daughter of John Myster of Epsom. Thomas Thornton, born in London in 1757, was sent to the Charterhouse, where there is a Thornton on the records for 1766, and completed his education at Glasgow University. On entering into possession of his father's estate he became a zealous sportsman, and revived falconry. He was appointed colonel of his father's old regiment, but resigned in 1795. In 1786 he undertook a sporting tour in the Scottish highlands. He chartered the sloop Falcon, and partly by sea and partly by land proceeded through a great part of the northern and western highlands, dividing his time between hunting, shooting, angling, and hawking. In 1804 he published ‘A Sporting Tour through the Northern Parts of England and Great Part of the Highlands of Scotland,’ London, 4to. It was noticed in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ (January 1805) by Scott, who considered Thornton somewhat tedious. The work was republished in 1896 in Sir Herbert Maxwell's ‘Sporting Library.’

Thornton visited France prior to the revolution, and, with his wife, revisited it in 1802 with the intention of purchasing an estate; but the difficulties of naturalisation and the impending renewal of the war frustrated this project. He was introduced to Napoleon, to whom he presented a pair of pistols, and he joined some French hunting parties. His letters to the Earl of Darlington, giving an account of the trip, were presented by him to an old schoolfellow, a clergyman named Martyn, with liberty to publish them, and they accordingly appeared in 1806 under the title of ‘A Sporting Tour in France.’ A French translation of the work appeared in 1894 in the ‘Revue Britannique.’ In the same year was issued a pamphlet vindicating Thornton's conduct in a quarrel with a Mr. Burton. In 1805 he disposed of Thornville Royal to Lord Stourton, and seems to have resided in London for a time. He afterwards lived at Falconer's Hall, Bedfordshire, Boythorpe, Yorkshire, and Spy Park, Wiltshire. In September 1814, with a party of sportsmen and a pack of hounds, he landed in France, and at Rouen attracted a crowd of spectators. He returned to London in March 1815 (Annual Reg. 1814 p. 84, and 1815 p. 30), but after Waterloo he once more went to France, hired the Château of Chambord, and purchased an estate at Pont-sur-Seine. Upon the strength of this he styled himself Prince de Chambord and Marquis de Pont. In 1817 he obtained legal domicile in France (see Bulletin des Lois, 1817), and he applied for naturalisation; but the application was either withdrawn or refused. In 1821 he sold Pont-sur-Seine to Casimir Perier, and he latterly lived in lodgings at Paris, where he died on 10 March 1823.

Thornton was twice married. His first wife, whose maiden name cannot be traced, was an expert équestrienne, and her husband laid bets on her success against male competitors (Annual Reg. 1805, p. 412). Having become a widower, he married at Lambeth, in 1806, Eliza Cawston of Mundon, Essex, by whom he had a son, William Thomas, born in London in 1807. By a will executed in London in 1818 he bequeathed almost all his property to Thornvillia Diana Thornton, his illegitimate daughter, seventeen years of age, by Priscilla Duins, an Englishwoman of low birth. The will was disputed by his widow on behalf of her son, and both the prerogative court and the French tribunals pronounced against its validity (see Moniteur, 1823 and 1826). Thornton's portrait, painted by Reinagle, is in possession of the Earl of Rosebery at The Durdans, Epsom. A silver-gilt urn, presented him on 23 June 1781 by the members of the Falconers' Club, is in possession of the Earl of Orford.

[Gent. Mag. 1823, i. 567; Annual Biogr. 1824; Journal du Palais, 1824; Alger's Englishmen in French Revolution; Harting's Bibl. Accipitraria, index; Sportsman's Vocal Cabinet, 1830; Leeds Mercury, 26 June 1880.]

J. G. A.