A Festive Wedding That Started The Brontë Story

As we approach the start of a new year it’s always a good time to reflect on the past and take stock on our lives. It’s a time when we can make positive steps for the future, or even map out a completely new direction, and that’s just what one couple did as 1812 turned into 1813 – in a move that would change the world of literature forever.

You may have guessed that the couple I’m talking about were Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell. The dawn of 1813 must have been an incredibly exciting time for them, for just three days earlier, on 29th December 1812, they married at St. Oswald’s parish church in Guiseley, between Leeds and Bradford in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Within eight years they had six children: Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Patrick Branwell, Emily Jane, and Anne Brontë.

Young Patrick Brontë
Portrait of a young Patrick Brontë
Maria Bronte
Portrait of a young Maria Branwell

As surviving letters show, there can be no doubt that this was a love match. Love had come late into their lives, by Victorian standards; Patrick was then 35 and Maria 29. It came quickly into their lives, they first met in the summer of the year in which they were married. But the twist of fate that led this man from Northern Ireland and this woman from Cornwall to meet in a Yorkshire school led to great happiness, and it led to the children and then to the incredible novels that we love so much today.

Woodhouse Grove School
Woodhouse Grove School where Maria met Patrick in the summer of 1812

It was far from a conventional wedding, by Victorian or modern standards. Why have one festive wedding when you can have three? At the same ceremony at which Patrick married Marie, his best friend William Morgan married Marie’s cousin Jane Fennell, with Marie’s uncle (Jane’s father) presiding over the ceremony. By prior arrangement (which would have been made so much easier if they’d had WhatsApp in the nineteenth century), on the same day and at the same time but 400 miles away in Penzance, Charlotte Branwell, Maria’s younger sister and cousin to Jane Fennell, was marrying another cousin Joseph Branwell. Phew! Thankfully, many years later another Charlotte Branwell, the daughter of Charlotte senior and Joseph, gave a summary of this triple wedding to the Cornish Telegraph:

St. Oswald’s church today pays fitting tribute to their part in this special event, and in the Brontë story. Brontë enthusiast Joanne Wilcock recently attended a service at the Guiseley church and has very kindly given me permission to use these pictures she took from inside St. Oswald’s.

The Bronte plaque in St. Oswald's
The Bronte plaque in St. Oswald’s, picture courtesy of Joanne Wilcock
The aisle down which Patrick and Maria walked, and the altar at which they were married. Picture courtesy of Joanne Wilcock

Whether you plan on getting engaged or married next year, on reading more books, or simply enjoying each day as it comes, I wish you and your loved ones a very happy and healthy new year! In 2024 I aim to start producing YouTube videos about the Brontës and other literary and historical subjects, so I’ll let you know when that’s all up and running. But, as always, I’ll be here blogging about those three sisters from Bradford who hold such a special place in my heart – I hope you’ll join me next Sunday, next year, for another new Brontë blog post.

Happy New Year card

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