Alice Wandesford Thornton was born in Kirklington, near Ripon, in Yorkshire, England, to a gentry family. She was the fifth child of Christopher Wandesford and his wife Alice Osborne, both from prominent Yorkshire families. She contracted smallpox at about age 5, but recovered quickly. In 1632, she and her mother and siblings went to Dublin to join her father, who succeeded his cousin and patron Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, as Lord Deputy of Ireland. She received the customary education for girls of her class: French, singing, dancing, playing the lute, needlepoint, housewife skills, and religious instruction. Her companions were her cousins of the same age, Lady Anne and Lady Arabella Wentworth. After her father's death in 1640, her mother moved the family back to Yorkshire. During the English Civil War, they found themselves in difficult circumstances as Royalists. In 1651, Alice was persuaded to marry William Thornton, a gentleman of East Newton, Yorkshire, with Parliamentary connections. They had nine children, only three of whom survived to adulthood. She wrote an autobiography that was published for the first time in 1875.