Tag Archives: Mary Ann Elizabeth Thackeray

Who was George Thackeray?

During the last eighteen months of our HLF-supported project based around the rare book collection of former King’s Provost George Thackeray we have enjoyed sharing gems from the collection with the public through this blog, a variety of exhibitions in King’s Library, some public talks, and more recently through our Thackeray project digital library. As we enter the final six months of the project it seems appropriate to pause for a moment and think about who Thackeray was, why he collected books, and perhaps give some thought to Thackeray the man as opposed to Thackeray the book collector.

Thackeray, apparently sitting in the Provost’s Lodge at King’s with the Chapel in the background. (Lithograph by Richard James Lane, 1851)

Born in 1777 in Windsor, to parents Frederick and Elizabeth, Thackeray was admitted to Eton as a King’s Scholar in 1792 before proceeding to King’s College in 1797. He became a fellow of King’s in 1800, and received the BA in 1802, the MA in 1805 and the BD in 1813. He had returned to Eton in 1801 as Assistant Master and had married a Miss Carbonell in 1803. Tragically she died young (possibly in 1810), and it seems to be peculiarly difficult to find any more about her. In 1814 Thackeray was elected Provost at King’s and in the same year the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred on him, by royal mandate. He remained Provost until 1850, overseeing major building works in the College including the building of the current College Library which was completed in 1828.

This hand-coloured engraving by Le Keux shows King’s Library and the adjoining Provost’s Lodge, where Thackeray resided, as it would have looked in 1841.

Things seemed to be looking up for the newly elected Provost of King’s. He married again in 1816, his bride being Mary Ann Cottin. However, tragedy was looming only two short years away. On 13th February 1818 when in labour with their first child, the accoucher (someone who looks after ladies in their confinement) in attendance, Sir Richard Croft, showed great agitation and exhaustion in their house in Wimpole Street. Thackeray found Croft dead at 2am in a bedroom in the house, the latter having shot himself in the head with two pistols which belonged to Thackeray. Apparently Thackeray had kept the pistols in the house for protection against a spate of house robberies that had been taking place in the area. Former King’s Librarian Tim Munby conjectured that Mary Ann’s labour might have shown similarities to the labour of Princess Charlotte who had died in childbirth in the previous year. She was also attended by Sir Richard Croft. Mary Ann gave birth to a daughter, Mary Ann Elizabeth, on 13th February, exactly two hundred years ago today. It appears from a note in Thackeray’s hand in his Bible (now in King’s Library) that she was not expected to survive, so was hurriedly baptised five days later on the 18th, on which day her mother died:

Thackeray’s inscription on the rear pastedown in his Bible (Thackeray.I.1.3/1-2)

Mary Ann Elizabeth Thackeray’s baptism record, St Marylebone Church, Westminster, 21 April 1819.

Mary Ann Thackeray, burial record, St Matthew Friday Street Church, London, 23 February 1818

Today we are on the eve of the start of Lent, a period often associated with self sacrifice and suffering, so it seems appropriate to pause to think of Thackeray’s early personal tragedy. Thackeray’s obituarist wrote that ‘this sad event threw an air of gloom and desolation about his house from which it never altogether recovered’. He goes on to say that whilst this early tragedy appears not to have prevented him from assiduously undertaking his college and university duties, or being a valued member of such society as he mingled in, ‘it threw him, for his general companionship, upon Erasmus and Propertius, black-letter Bibles, and odd books generally—for there was not a vendor of literary curiosities in London who had not some reason for knowing the Provost of King’s’.

Opening of Chapter IV of Matthew (from Thackeray’s Bible) describing the fasting and temptation of Jesus in the desert. This passage is strongly associated with Lent.

Book collecting and ornithology were two of Thackeray’s passions, and his collection includes a large number of natural history books in fine bindings, alongside the English literature, black-letter divinity books and Bibles. Whether the book collecting really was an anodyne for Thackeray (as Munby suggests) or whether he would have been an equally devout bibliophile had his early tragedies not happened we will never know. When he died in 1850 he left his black-letter books to King’s in his will (some 165 volumes). His daughter, Mary Ann Elizabeth, did live into adulthood and left the remainder of her father’s library, amounting to some 3,200 volumes in total, to the College in her will when she died in 1879.

The engraved title page of Thackeray’s Bible, with its heart-shaped title border, has become associated with tragedy rather than love owing to Thackeray’s inscription on the final pastedown

After his death in 1850, in his house in Wimpole Street in London, Thackeray was buried in King’s Chapel. His funeral, by all accounts, was a grand affair. A copy of the ‘Programme of the procession of the funeral of the late George Thackeray’ survives in the College archives and gives an indication of the scale of the occasion.

Programme of procession of the funeral of George Thackeray, D.D. (King’s College Archives: KCAR/1/2/20/2)

In May of this year we will be exhibiting a number of the black-letter divinity books in King’s College Chapel. More information will be announced on this blog in due course.


Thackeray Project Digital Library

It might seem that we have been a little quiet here recently, but that is because we have been working hard behind the scenes on our digital library which we are now able to share with everyone.

Rare book spines (from left): vellum (gatherings exposed), three with raised bands and decorative gold-tooled panels, the last without raised bands, but with coloured leather spine labels tooled in gold.

One of the objectives of our HLF-funded project, which is centred around the rare book collection of former King’s Provost George Thackeray (1777-1850), is the creation of a corpus of digital content that will last well beyond the lifetime of the two-year project. This can now be viewed on the King’s website here.

Title within woodcut architectural border (McKerrow and Ferguson 278). William Gouge, The Saints sacrifice (London: George Miller, 1632; Thackeray.I.7.5)

The digital library, which we will continue to add to during the project, currently includes a gallery of book bindings, title pages, a gallery showing the stages of book conservation and a page devoted to the first and early editions of Jane Austen.

Title page of the first English edition of Emma (Thackeray.J.57.10)

Stay tuned for many more images from the Thackeray collection!


Bowdlerizing the Bard

According to the OED, the etymology of the verb “to bowdlerize”, meaning “to expurgate (a book or writing), by omitting or modifying words or passages considered indelicate or offensive”, comes from Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), “who in 1818 published an edition of Shakespeare, ‘in which those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family’”.

In the collection of books bequeathed to King’s College by its sometime Provost George Thackeray (1777-1850), a cousin of the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, is a copy of the fifth edition of Thomas Bowdler’s eight-volume The Family Shakspeare (1827):

Thomas Bowdler, The family Shakspeare (London: Printed for Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, Paternoster-Row, 1827) (Thackeray.J.63.1)

Title of page of vol. 1 of Thomas Bowdler’s The Family Shakspeare (London: Printed for Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, Paternoster-Row, 1827) Thackeray.J.63.1

Some of the alterations to Shakespeare’s plays made by Bowdler include, for example, Lady Macbeth’s line, “Out, damned spot!” changed to “Out, crimson spot!” (Macbeth, V.1); in Henry IV, Part 2 the prostitute Doll Tearsheet is omitted from the story altogether; and in all plays the exclamation “God!” is replaced with “Heavens!”

Below is the scan of a line spoken by Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet (II.iv) as it appeared in the Fourth Folio of Shakespeare’s plays (1685) along with the expurgated version printed by Bowdler (vol. 8, p. 168):

Spot the difference: Mercutio’s “the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon” has been changed to “the hand of the dial is now upon the point of noon”.

Spot the difference: Mercutio’s “the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon” has been changed to “the hand of the dial is now upon the point of noon”.

Thackeray’s obituarist writes that “In his discipline generally there was something of almost Roman firmness … Yet under the rigid manner lay the kindest sympathy”. While his library included the First, Second and Fourth Folios of Shakespeare’s plays – as well as later editions – it is interesting that this is the edition he decided to present to his daughter, who recorded the gift on the fly-leaf of all eight volumes: “Mary Ann Eliz.th Thackeray the gift of her father”. But this is perhaps more a reflection on the times than on Thackeray himself.

All these books, along with many other treasures, will be on display at King’s Library’s free Shakespeare exhibition as part of Open Cambridge on Friday 9th and Saturday 10th September, 10.30am – 4pm:


We hope to see many of you there!