She cared for her sister's children, and left them a valuable legacy

At the end of January 1821 Maria Brontë contracted cancer and became gravely ill. The Brontës had only arrived in Haworth the previous April, so had no relatives or friends of long standing to call on for help with the six young children. Elizabeth Branwell, an unmarried sister of Maria's, had visited before for almost a year in 1815-16, helping with the move from Hartshead to Thornton, and staying on to help with the birth of Charlotte. When Elizabeth Branwell answered this second call, she did so on the understanding that it was only on a temporary basis. She arrived at Haworth Parsonage in summer 1821, and stayed until her own death 21 years later...

We do not have a clear description of Aunt Branwell. By the time she came to Haworth she was 45 years old (born 1776), and presumably a confirmed spinster. Her background in Penzance had been one of polite society and balls, privileged and comfortable, and despite the break-up of her family in 1811 she still had a private income of £50 a year. There were times when Aunt Branwell wanted to leave cold, draughty Haworth, and return to Penzance, but she never did. From her 21 years in Haworth we have no record of her having any social contact with the village, and if her staunch Methodism caused friction with the Anglican minister whose house she shared, it is not recorded.

After the Clergy Daughters' School disaster of 1824, Mr Brontë kept his four remaining children at home for the next six years, sharing responsibility for their education with Aunt Branwell. Bringing up and educating four exceptionally bright children in a small house demanded that Aunt Branwell run a tight ship. The locals thought her 'a bit of a tyke', and claimed they could set their watches by the regularity of the Parsonage routine.

Aunt Branwell's £50 a year was her own private money, so when, in 1841, Charlotte ventured to ask if Aunt Branwell might support Emily, Anne and herself in a venture to open their own school, Charlotte was pleasantly surprised when her aunt offered her £150. This venture never got off the ground, but Aunt Branwell was also forthcoming with funds the following year when Charlotte and Emily went to extend their education at the Pensionnat Heger in Brussels.

Aunt Branwell had always enjoyed robust good health, but on October 25, 1842, she suffered a constriction of the bowel, and died four days later. Charlotte and Emily were still in Brussels, and returned home too late for the funeral, but Aunt Branwell's two favourites 'baby' Anne, and the only boy, Branwell, were both present. Writing to his friend Grundy on the day his aunt died, Branwell concludes: "I have now lost the guide and director of all the happy days connected with my childhood." Elizabeth Branwell left most of her money to Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. They used some to finance publication of Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (1846), the beginning of their careers as published writers.

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