The phylogeography of thornback rays (Raja clavata) was assessed from European waters, using five nuclear microsatellite loci and mitochondrial cytochome b sequences. Strong regional differentiation was found between the Mediterranean basin, the Azores and the European continental shelf. Allelic and haplotype diversities were high in Portuguese populations, consistent with the existence of a refugium along the Iberian Peninsula. Unexpectedly, high diversity was also found in the English Channel/North Sea area. The lowest genetic diversity was found in the Black Sea. Populations sampled from the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Black Seas were characterized by a single mitochondrial haplotype. This haplotype was also the most ancestral and widespread outside of the Mediterranean basin except for the Azores. Populations from the Azores were dominated by a second ancestral haplotype which was shared with British populations. Results from multidimensional scaling, amova and nested clade analysis indicate that British waters are a secondary contact zone recolonized from at least two refugia — one around the Iberian Peninsula and one possibly in the Azores. Links to a potential refugium known as the Hurd Deep, between Cornwall and Brittany, are discussed. Finally, a historical demographic analysis indicates that thornback ray populations started to expand between 580 000 and 362 000 years ago, which suggests that the Last Glacial Maximum (20 000 years ago) had mainly affected the distribution of populations rather than population size.