Elizabeth Branwell ("Aunt Branwell")
Elizabeth Branwell (Aunt Branwell)Elizabeth Branwell 
(1776 - 1842)

The daughter of Thomas Branwell and Anne Carne, and elder sister of Maria Brontë, Elizabeth Branwell was born in 1776 in Penzance, Cornwall. When Maria was terminally ill with cancer in 1821, Elizabeth travelled up to Yorkshire and moved into the Parsonage to nurse her dying sister and help run the household. She subsequently spent the rest of her life there raising the Brontë children - to whom she was known as 'Aunt Branwell'. She provided much of the children's education, including needlework and embroidery for the girls. Many years later, Ellen Nussey declared that Anne was her aunt's favourite.

In early Brontë biography, 'Aunt Branwell' was portrayed as a rather stern and austere individual; however, continued study into the Brontës' lives has indicated that she was probably quite the contrary.

This rarely seen portrait (extreme right) was sketched by J. Tonkin in 1799 - when Elizabeth would have been 23 years old - many years before Maria had even met Patrick Brontë.

Elizabeth Branwell (1799)
Elizabeth Branwell (aged 23)

Elizabeth Branwell died unmarried at the age of 66 on 29 October 1842, after a short, but agonising illness (believed to be a blockage of the bowel). At the time, Anne was working at Thorp Green, and Charlotte and Emily were away at school in Brussels. All returned home for the funeral. The whole Brontë family were devastated; in particular Branwell, who, later, on the day she died, wrote to his friend Grundy:

'I am incoherent, I fear, but I have been waking two nights witnessing such agonising suffering as I would not wish my worst enemy to endure; and I have now lost the guide and director of all the happy days connected with my childhood.' 49

Copyright © 1999 Michael Armitage

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