Isobel D. Thornley

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Isobel D. Thornley
Isobel Dorothy Thornley

Southwell, Nottinghamshire, England
Died5 February 1941
Highgate, London, England
Cause of deathInjuries sustained in an air raid
ResidenceLondon, England

Isobel Dorothy Thornley FRHS FSA (1893 - 5 February 1941) was an historian of medieval England who compiled and edited works on legal history, the Yorkists, Richard II, and medieval sanctuary. She was a lecturer at University College London and later an independent scholar editing medieval law reports. She died when her home was hit by a bomb during the London Blitz. She left money to the University of London who award grants from her bequest for the publication of books that would not otherwise be published and to support candidates registered for a PhD at the university.

Early life and education[edit]

Isobel Thornley was born in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, in 1893.[1][2]

She earned her BA at University College, Nottingham, in 1915, and her MA at University College London, in 1917 where she studied under Albert Pollard, the founder of the Institute of Historical Research. She won the Alexander Prize of the Royal Historical Society for her essay on the treason legislation of Henry VIII.[3]


Thornley joined University College London as an assistant in 1919 becoming assistant lecturer in 1925[3] and then spending a year as an assistant professor of history at Vassar College in the United States from 1925 to 1926.[4] She returned to University College and rose to the position of lecturer before resigning in 1930[3] for unknown reasons.[2] She had an income from her father's estate[2] and was able to continue to carry out historical research.[3]

Her publications include the sourcebook England Under the Yorkists 1460-1485: Illustrated from Contemporary Sources (1920), editing the Yearbook of Richard II 1387-1388 (1937) with Theodore F. T. Plucknett, and editing a new de-luxe edition of The Great Chronicle of London (attributed to Robert Fabyan) with the archivist A. H. Thomas in 1938. She also produced a number of articles including three on medieval sanctuary. At the time of her death she was building on her work editing the Richard II yearbook by editing medieval law reports for the Ames Foundation of Harvard Law School and Britain's Selden Society.[3]

Her scholarly approach was described by Shannon McSheffrey of Concordia University as "uncompromising, audacious, and somewhat prickly" and with a Whiggishness that showed her debt to her tutor Albert Pollard.[2]

She was honorary secretary of the British Archaeological Association, a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and from 1939 a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.[3]

Death and legacy[edit]

Thornley died, unmarried, on 5 February 1941 when her home of 6 Cholmeley Crescent in Highgate was hit by a bomb during the London Blitz.[4] The house had already been damaged by a bomb in September 1940.[2] She left an estate of £12,806 subject to pendente lite.[5] She left money to the University of London who award grants from the Isobel Thornley Bequest to support the publication of works that would not otherwise be published,[6] while the Institute of Historical Research award grants funded by her bequest to support candidates registered for a PhD at the University of London.[7]

Selected publications[edit]


Articles and chapters[edit]


  1. ^ Isabel Dorothy Thornley. Family Search. Retrieved 27 November 2019. (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d e Isobel and me: medieval sanctuary and Whig history. Shannon McSheffrey, OUPblog, 24 July 2018. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Miss I. D. Thornley", The Times, 4 March 1941, p. 7.
  4. ^ a b "Isobel Thornley, Former Professor Dies In London Raid" by Louise Fargo Brown in Vassar Miscellany News, Vol. XXV, No. 40 (15 March 1941), p. 2. via Vassar newspaper archives. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
  5. ^ 1949 Probate Calendar, p. 808.
  6. ^ Isobel Thornley Bequest. University of London. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
  7. ^ About the IHR doctoral fellowships. Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
  8. ^ "Reviewed Work: England Under the Yorkists (1460-1485). Illustrated from Contemporary Sources by Isobel D. Thornley, A. F. Pollard", The Journal of Education, Vol. 92, No. 12 (2298) (Oct. 7, 1920), p. 330.
  9. ^ "Reviewed Work: England under the Yorkists. (Univ. of London Intermediate Source-books of History, No. 2.) by Isobel D. Thornley", Caroline A. J. Skeel, History, New series, Vol. 5, No. 18 (July 1920), pp. 110-112.
  10. ^ "Reviewed Work: Year Books of Richard II: II Richard II, 1387-1388 by Isobel D. Thornley, Theodore F. T. Plucknett", William Huse Dunham, Jr., Harvard Law Review, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Feb., 1939), pp. 714-715.
  11. ^ "Reviewed Work: The Great Chronicle of London by A. H. Thomas, Isobel D. Thornley", J. G. Edwards, The English Historical Review, Vol. 55, No. 220 (Oct., 1940), pp. 656-658.

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