maybe hard to believe, but the origin of the Bronte sisters' name
is thought to go back to the exploits of Britain's most famous seaman
whose greatest victory and final demise at Trafalgar is now being
marked not only with a major exhibition but also with the recent
sea-borne spectacular at Portsmouth.
Bronte, or - as it could have been - Brunty, Parsonage
was probably hard to miss the reputation Horatio Nelson had won
for himself by the time Patrick Brunty, father of the three literary
sisters, arrived in England from his native Ireland. But it was
exactly that reputation for bravery and heroism which it's now believed
ensured that Patrick, eventually the Rector of Haworth, would subtly
change his surname to that of 'Bronte' - a name which would ring
down the ages right through to the 21st century.
why did he go from Brunty to Bronte? Well, as revealed in the new
'Nelson and Napoleon' exhibition at the National Maritime Museum
in London, it appears it was in honour of Nelson who was given the
title of Duke of Bronte by the King of Naples as a thank you for
Nelson restoring him to his throne in 1799. Bronte is the name of
an Italian estate in eastern Sicily, close to Mount Etna which was
granted to Nelson by the King.
Deed of Title for the Dukedom of Bronte' Pic © Zvi Meitar
'Deed of Title for the Dukedom of Bronte' given to Nelson by the
King (now on show at the exhibition) shows his gratitude to Nelson
after the victory at the Battle of the Nile in 1789, and let Nelson
sign himself 'Nelson and Bronte'. This is said to have been very
important to Nelson who used it when signing every document he wrote.
a year after Nelson had been honoured with his new title, and although
there's no firm evidence, it is now generally accepted by Bronte
scholars that the name change was due to Patrick's admiration for
the Admiral. It is also known that he registered as an undergraduate
at St John's College Cambridge in 1802 in the name of Patrick Bronte.
Bentley, Director of the Bronte
Parsonage Museum in Haworth, says: "Patrick - and later
the whole Bronte family - had a fascination with military leaders
of their recent past. Wellington and Napoleon both appear in various
guises in the juvenilia of the Bronte family and Nelson is the subject
of a poem by Branwell in 1841."
Bronte's son, Branwell, only brother to the famous Bronte sisters,
wrote this poem in 1841 as a tribute to Lord Nelson:
of Branwell Bronte, Pic © Bronte Society
see where fell the Thunder bolt of war,
On the storm swollen waves of Trafalgar,
They see the spot where fell a star of glory,
The Finis to one page of England's story,
They read a tale to wake their pain and pride,
In that brass plate engraved 'HERE NELSON DIED'.
So there you go! If it wasn't for the Admiral who
lost his life on the deck of the Victory at the hands of a lucky
French sharpshooter, literary history - and West Yorkshire's history
- would have been subtly different. The three sisters, Charlotte,
Emily and Anne, would surely still have come up with their classic
novels...but would Wuthering
Heights by Emily Brunty have quite the same ring
about it? We'll never know!
Bronte Deed will be on display at the National Maritime Museum
in London as part of a new exhibition 'Nelson & Napoleon'
which runs until 13th November 2005. (For more details use
website link on the left)