Aelfrida was a British author, medium, lecturer on Comparative Religion and associated religious topics, spiritual advisor and self-styled mystic.
Tillyard was born in Cambridge as the second child and only daughter of local newspaper proprietor and editor Alfred Isaac Tillyard MA and his wife Catharine Sarah née Wetenhall, proponent of higher education for women. Tillyard had 3 brothers, one of whom predeceased her.Events surrounding the untimely death of Conrad Francis traumatised Tillyard so deeply that her personality became severely dysfunctional thereafter. Unable to tolerate formal schooling, she was educated privately until 1900 after which she spent a year in Switzerland and several months in Florence to perfect her already-fluent French and Latin. She subsequently taught at two Cambridge schools until a breakdown in her physical and mental health ended the teaching career envisaged by her parents.
During her stormy adolescence, Tillyard had undergone several mystico-religious experiences as a result of which she decided to dedicate her life to God's service. Bizarre manifestations of her dedication persuaded her parents that marriage was the only means of normalising her. On 19 January 1907 Tillyard reluctantly married Greco-American Constantine Cleanthes Graham ne Michaelides; she later bore him 2 daughters, Elizabeth Mary Alethea in 1908 and Aelfrida Catharine Agatha in 1910. From 1907 until 1914 the Grahams lived in Russia, the United States of America, Germany and France as Constantine's Consular Service career dictated but during and after the Great War of 1914-1918 Tillyard and the children remained in Cambridge. During the war and thereafter Tillyard claimed to experience unwanted and sometimes unwelcome visits from dead persons known to or hitherto unknown by her; these included members of her family, former members of the Society for Psychical Research, Rupert Brooke and Roger Casement. Already under strain because of Constantine's infidelities and Tillyard's moral and religious obsessions, the Grahams' marriage broke down irretrievably following her brief but influential foray into esotericism under the guidance of occultist Aleister Crowley in 1913. Her compulsion to reveal marital discord and her own extramarital relationships in anthologies published in 1910, 1913 and 1916 also contributed to its failure. The Grahams divorced in 1921. Constantine's consular career kept him abroad thereafter until his death in Berlin in 1934; unlike her former husband, Tillyard never remarried but continued instead the series of intense friendships with younger men begun during her marriage.
In 1917 Tillyard came out as a mystic. Having already begun to record her mystico-spiritual experiences and their psychophysical manifestations in detailed diaries intended for posthumous publication, she also began to transcribe them in more or less fictionalised form in novels, homiletic books and moralistic short stories written between 1917 and 1958, some published, some not. Following Alfred and Catharine Tillyard's respective deaths in 1929 and 1932, she decided to absolve herself of responsibility for her home and daughters in order to pursue her private and personal 'mystic way' but was nevertheless dismayed when her daughters abandoned her, Alethea by becoming a nun and missionary, Agatha by suicide. In pursuit of her 'closer walk with God' Tillyard also became an Anglo-Catholic and (briefly) an extern oblate of St Mary's Abbey, West Malling, Kent.
In 1934 she moved to Oxford to live an anchoritic life in a small house attached to the Convent of St Thomas the Martyr but a serious physical and mental breakdown in 1936 forced her to move to the protective environment afforded by the Society of the Sacred Cross at Tymawr Convent near Monmouth. She remained there as resident tertiary until asked to leave in 1946. From 1946 to 1953 she lived a semi-reclusive and prayerful but troubled life in 2 clergy houses in Cambridgeshire, effected a degree of rapprochement with her surviving daughter, and enjoyed a close relationship with her elder brother.
In 1953 increasing bodily infirmity forced a move to St John's Home in Oxford where she died 6 years later. She bequeathed her notebooks, published and unpublished works, and 75 volumes of revelatory diaries to Girton College, Cambridge, of which her daughters were alumnae.
Daughter of Alfred and Catherine Tillyard