Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thoroton, Robert
THOROTON, ROBERT (1623–1678), antiquary, was son of Robert and Anne Thoroton, née Chambers. His ancestors had long held considerable property in Nottinghamshire, at or near Thoroton, Car Colston, Flintham, Screveton, and Bingham. The family owed its name to the hamlet and chapelry of Thoroton, formerly Thurveton or Torverton, in the parish of Orston, some eight miles from Newark. Thoroton described one Roger de Thurverton, a large proprietor in the above districts in Henry III's reign, as his first ‘fixable ancestor.’ His family became allied to that of the Lovetots, lords of Car Colston, through a marriage with the Morins in the reign of Henry VIII.
At Car Colston Thoroton was born and educated. On 30 June 1639, at sixteen, he became sizar of Christ's College, Cambridge (B.A. 1642–3, M.A. 1646). In 1646 he received from the university a license to practise medicine. Thoroton combined the practice of a physician with the occupations of a country gentleman, and though the former met, on his own authority, with ‘competent success,’ he acknowledged himself unable ‘to keep people alive for any time.’ Consequently he decided ‘to practise upon the dead,’ not in a surgical sense, but in ascertaining, by the contemplation of deceased Nottinghamshire worthies, what was to be learned from ‘the shadow of their names’ (Antiquities of Nottinghamshire, pref.)
Although a staunch royalist, Thoroton apparently took little part in the civil war. But he seems to have been among those ‘gentry of the county’ of whom Clarendon says the garrison of Newark, besides its inhabitants, mainly consisted. In writing later of that town Thoroton refers to ‘the second siege, where Prince Rupert took a goodly train of artillery, which I saw, together with their foot arms, when he so fortunately relieved the town, then under the government of Sir Richard, now lord, Byron.’
After the Restoration Thoroton became a justice of the peace for his county and a commissioner of royal aid and subsidy. In his former office, together with his fellow-justice and friend, Pennistone Whalley, he rendered himself notorious by a stringent enforcement of the laws concerning conventicles against the quakers resident in Nottinghamshire. This retaliation for the imprisonments and confiscations suffered during the Commonwealth by Thoroton's relatives and friends called forth some abusive pamphlets.
Thoroton commenced his ‘Antiquities of Nottinghamshire’ in 1667. He first worked on some transcript notes from ‘Domesday Book’ which were made by his father-in-law Gilbert Boun, serjeant-at-law, recorder of Newark, sometime M.P. for Nottingham, and were made over to Thoroton by Gilbert Boun's son-in-law, Gervase Pigot of Thrumpton. Thoroton did not conduct all his researches personally, but employed paid assistants at great expense to himself. His industry was mainly exercised among family archives, registers, estate conveyances, monumental heraldry, and epitaphs; and, with the characteristic bent of the antiquary, he was little concerned with the events of his own period, even with the great civil war. The magnificent result of his labours appeared in the folio volume of ‘Antiquities’ printed in London in 1677, and illustrated with engravings by Hollar after Richard Hall. Thoroton dedicated his book to Gilbert Sheldon [q. v.], archbishop of Canterbury, and secondarily to (Sir) William Dugdale [q. v.], both personal friends. Dugdale received no presentation copy, for he wrote to Sir D. Fleming, ‘Dr. Thoroton's book costs me 16s. to 18s. I do esteem the book well worth your buying, though had he gone to the fountain of records it might have been better done’ (1 Sept. 1677, MSS. of S. H. Fleming, Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. App. vii).
Thoroton erected in 1664 a memorial slab in the south aisle of Car Colston church recording the names of several of his ancestors; and in 1672 he designed for himself an imposing coffin ‘of carved Mansfield stone.’
In 1678 Thoroton died, and in November of that year was buried in the coffin in which his remains rested undisturbed until 1842, when the level of a portion of the churchyard of St. Mary's, Car Colston, was reduced. The coffin, ‘after reburial of its contents,’ was then removed into the church, where it now lies in the vestry.
Thoroton married Anne, daughter of Gilbert Boun, and had issue three daughters.
John Throsby [q. v.] published in 1797 a reprint of Thoroton's ‘Antiquities,’ with some additional facts and illustrations, under the title of ‘A History of Nottinghamshire.’ But Thoroton's original work remains the chief authority on its subject (cf. Nichols, Illustrations of Literary History, v. 400).
An engraving from a portrait at Screveton Hall, Nottinghamshire, was executed for Throsby's ‘History of Nottinghamshire’ (frontispiece).[Thoroton's Antiquities of Nottinghamshire; Throsby's History of Nottinghamshire; Godfrey's Robert Thoroton, Physician and Antiquary, 1890; Tollinton's Old Nottinghamshire; Brown's Nottinghamshire Worthies; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. Hist.; MSS. of S. H. Fleming (Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. Ap. pt. vii.).]