Born in 1693, a son of Timothy Thackeray, parish clerk of Hampsthwaite, in the West Riding of Yorkshire (now in North Yorkshire), who was one of a family of yeomen, Thackeray was born at Hampsthwaite and from 1706 was educated as a King's scholar at Eton College. In 1712, he became a scholar of King's College, Cambridge, was elected a fellow of the college in 1715, and then returned to his old school, Eton, as an assistant schoolmaster. In 1728, he gained a benefice, as Rector of Little Chishall, Essex, which he held until his death. The same year, he was appointed as Rector of Heydon. In 1729, he married Anne Woodward, and with her went on to have sixteen children.
In 1743, Thackeray narrowly missed being elected as Provost of his old college, King's. In 1746, he was chosen as Head Master of Harrow, and in 1748 as chaplain to Frederick, Prince of Wales. The prince's early death in 1751 dashed some of his hopes of future royal preferment, but he remained on excellent terms with the new heir to the throne, Prince George, and in 1753 Benjamin Hoadly, Bishop of Winchester, gave him the sinecure of archdeacon of Surrey, which was worth another £130 a year, equivalent to £19,444 in 2018.
Thackeray was looked on at Harrow as a wise appointment, as he had many useful social contacts, especially among the nobility. In the 1750s, Prince George's friend (and future prime minister) John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, sent his sons to Harrow.
When he died in 1760, a month after retiring as head master, fourteen of Thackeray's sixteen children were still alive, and he was able to leave each of them £300, equivalent to £44,554 in 2018. His widow lived on until 1797, when she left a house at Eton and an estate worth £10,000.
Thackeray's fourth son, Thomas Thackeray (1736–1806), was a surgeon at Cambridge and was the father of William Makepeace Thackeray (1770–1849), a physician at Chester; Elias Thackeray (1771–1854), Vicar of Dundalk, in County Louth; and Jane Townley Thackeray (1788–1871), who in 1813 married George Pryme, an economist.
Thackeray's fifth son, Frederick (1737–1782), was a physician at Windsor and was the father of General Frederick Rennell Thackeray; George Thackeray, Provost of King's College, Cambridge; and Jane, who married James Rennell in 1772.
Thackeray's other fourteen children included Anne, John, Alethia, Henrietta, Martha, Theodosia, and Decima. The youngest of them all, William Makepeace Thackeray (1749–1813), became a clerk of the East India Company, made a fortune in India, and in 1776 returned to England. His children included Francis Thackeray, author of the Life of Lord Chatham (1827); and Richmond Thackeray, born in 1781, Secretary to the Board of Revenue at Calcutta, who married Anne Becher, a daughter of John Harman Becher, and was the father of the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–1863), an only child who was born at Calcutta in 1811.
- "THACKERAY, WILLIAM MAKEPEACE (1811–1863)" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online, (subscription required), accessed 4 May 2019
- John Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses, Part I. From the earliest times to 1751, Vol. IV Saal – Zuinglius (1927) at the Internet Archive, p. 217
- Christopher Tyerman, A History of Harrow School, 1324-1991 (2000), p. 115.
- Tyerman (2000), p. 114
- Dominic Cavendish, Prime Time, Gentlemen, Please in The Daily Telegraph (London) dated 3 March 2007, accessed 8 May 2019
- Will of Thomas Thackeray, Doctor in Divinity of Harrow , Middlesex at nationalarchives.gov.uk