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Prominent British writer, William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863), was in kinship care as a child. 

Thackeray was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal) to Richmond and Anne Thackeray and named after his paternal grandfather. Richmond Thackeray was doing well in his career at the time of William’s birth but died just four years later. 

At the end of 1816, Anne Thackeray sent William to England. For twelve months, William’s maternal great-grandmother and maternal great-aunt cared – as they had Anne and her sisters earlier while Anne’s parents were absent – for the child at Fareham, a small town between Portsmouth and Southampton in England. He went to school in Southampton. 

When he was six, William boarded at Chiswick Mall. He did not see his mother for three more years and he missed her enormously. 

In January 1822 William became a student at Charterhouse in Surrey and continued there until he went to Trinity College, Cambridge in February 1829. He dropped out of university after two years. 

William Makepeace Thackeray married Isabella Shawe in 1836. The couple had no money and Thackeray’s career was not yet established, but he was happy. The Thackerays had three children: Anne, born in 1837; Jane born in 1838 who died in infancy; and Harriet born in 1840.

Isabella became mentally unwell after Harriet’s birth and Thackeray made a number of attempts to help her, including a visit to Ireland to visit with Isabella’s mother and a move to Paris. When he returned to London, he left five year old Anne and almost two year old Harriet in Paris with their grandparents for several years. Isabella never lived with the family again; instead she lived with carers on the Essex coast.

From the 1840s, Thackeray began to achieve some success with his freelance writing. He contributed regularly to Punch from 1842, and published the satirical The Book of Snobs in 1848. Vanity Fair was serialised from 1859, and it was this publication which cemented his reputation. 

Thackeray remained a popular writer for the rest of his life. He toured the United States giving lectures, as he did in London, and went on to write several more novels. 


Aplin, John. The Inheritance of Genius: A Thackeray Family Biography 1798-1875. Cambridge, UK: Lutterworth Press, 2010. 

Munnelly, Lindsay. “Anne Thackeray Richie.” Victorian Women Writers Project, Indiana University. 

Image available here.