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Summer 2005
Brunty to Bronte...all thanks to Nelson!
nelson's column
Nelson's Column in London: The Admiral's exploits made a major impact on Patrick Brunty, father of the three sisters - so much so he changed his surname!
They could have been called Smith, Jones or even Bickersdyke, but instead West Yorkshire's legendary Bronte sisters got their memorable surname - a name which brings people flocking to Haworth from all over the world - thanks to the equally legendary Admiral Lord Nelson!
BRONTESTUFF!
WEB LINKS

NATIONAL MARITIME MUSEUM WEBSITE

NELSON AND NAPOLEON

BRONTE SOCIETY WEBSITE


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It's 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.

the bronte parsonage
The Bronte, or - as it could have been - Brunty, Parsonage in Haworth

It 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.

But 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.

deeds (c) Zvi Meitar
'The Deed of Title for the Dukedom of Bronte' Pic © Zvi Meitar

A leather-bound '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.

Just 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.

Alan 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."

Patrick Bronte's son, Branwell, only brother to the famous Bronte sisters, wrote this poem in 1841 as a tribute to Lord Nelson:

sketch of branwell (c) bronte society
Sketch of Branwell Bronte, Pic © Bronte Society

They 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!

The 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)
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