Maria Branwell: The Brontë Matriarch
Maria Branwell is an often overlooked yet significant figure in English literary history. Born in Penzance, Cornwall, in 1783, she is best known as the mother of the Brontë sisters – Charlotte, Emily, and Anne – esteemed authors who made indelible marks on English literature. While the Brontës’ legacies are widely acknowledged, Maria’s contributions and the influence she had on her children’s intellectual development deserve attention. Her writings, though limited, provide a glimpse into her thoughtful and devout character.
Tragically, Maria Branwell’s life was cut short when she died in 1821 at the age of 38 after a battle with illness, leaving behind six young children. Nevertheless, her story contributes to the understanding of the Brontë sisters’ background, offering a fuller picture of the roots from which their literary genius grew.
1. Early Life and Family
Maria Branwell, born on 15 April 1783 in Penzance, Cornwall, emerged from a prominent Methodist family. The eighth of twelve children of Anne Carne and Thomas Branwell, Maria grew up in an environment marked by both prosperity and piety. Her father, a successful merchant, owned multiple properties across Penzance, with the Branwell men actively participating in the town’s public life. Indeed, Maria’s upbringing was shaped within a family where five of her siblings reached adulthood, and her brother Benjamin even ascended to the role of mayor in 1809.
The Branwells’ devout Methodist faith significantly influenced Maria’s early years. Her family’s commitment to Methodism was evident not only in their lifestyle but also in their marital connections, with several family members, including Maria, marrying Wesleyan clergymen. The first Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Penzance, built in 1814, stood as a testament to the family’s dedication to their faith.
2. Courtship and Marriage
Maria’s life took a pivotal turn in 1812 following a series of family tragedies, including the loss of both her parents. Seeking solace and purpose, she traveled to Yorkshire to assist her aunt and uncle, Jane and John Fennell, with managing a new Methodist training school. It was here that Maria met Patrick Brontë, a curate with whom she shared common Wesleyan ties.
Their romance blossomed swiftly in the backdrop of Woodhouse Grove School, where Patrick had been invited as an external examiner. The connection was immediate and profound, leading to their marriage on 29 December 1812 at Guiseley Parish Church. The ceremony, conducted by their mutual friend Reverend William Morgan, was a family affair, with Maria’s sister Charlotte marrying at the same hour in Cornwall.
Maria and Patrick’s early married life began at Clough House in Hightown, where Patrick was the curate of Hartshead and their first two children, Maria (1814) and Elizabeth (1815), were born. The family later moved to Thornton, West Yorkshire, where Patrick served as the perpetual curate and welcomed four more children, including the future literary icons Charlotte (1816), Patrick Branwell (1817), Emily (1818), and Anne (1820).
In 1820, the Brontë family relocated to the Parsonage at Haworth, which became inextricably linked with the Brontë family legacy. This move marked the beginning of a challenging period for Maria. Plagued by health issues, possibly related to her last childbirth, Maria’s condition deteriorated rapidly. Despite her struggles, Maria’s role as a mother and her influence on her children, particularly in fostering their literary talents, remained pivotal.
You might be interested: Discover more about the Haworth Parsonage Museum.
4. Maria Branwell’s Final Years
Tragically, Maria’s health began to decline soon after Anne’s birth. She passed away on September 15, 1821, in Haworth, leaving behind a legacy encapsulated not just in her children’s literary achievements but also in her own written work, “The Advantages of Poverty, In Religious Concerns.” Her essay, echoing her deep religious convictions, is preserved in Clement Shorter’s Life and Letters.
Maria Branwell’s life, though brief and marked by personal tragedies, played an instrumental role in shaping the Brontë siblings’ literary genius. The absence of their mother frequently influenced the Brontë sisters’ writing, as seen in characters like Jane Eyre, Cathy, and Heathcliff, who often navigate their stories without a mother’s presence. Despite her early death, Maria’s influence persevered through her children’s works, encapsulating the spirit of their mother’s strength and resilience.
Recommended: You can read the Brontës’ literary works free at PageVio. To find the book you want, simply input the title into the search bar on PageVio.