The second child and daughter of Reverend Patrick Brontë and his wife Maria Brontë (née Branwell) was born some time in 1815. She was baptised on 26 August 1815 by J. Fennell, an officiating Minister at the Parish of Thornton and Chapelry of Thronton, in York, while Elizabeth Firth, an acquaintance of the family, stood as namesake and godmother. When Elizabeth was just a few months old, the family moved from Hartshead to Thornton. Elizabeth Gaskell wrote in her biography of Charlotte Brontë that a certain "Miss Temple" (probably the inspiration for the character in Jane Eyre) offered a glimpse of Elizabeth's behaviour in this letter:
|“||The second, Elizabeth, is the only one of the family of whom I have a vivid recollection, from her meeting with a somewhat alarming accident, in consequence of which I had her for some days and nights in my bedroom, not only for the sake of greater quiet, but that I might watch over her myself. Her head was severely cut, but she bore all the consequent suffering with exemplary patience, and by it won much upon my esteem.||”|
Gaskell also wrote, adding that this had become quite of a habit:
|“||[Charlotte] used to speak of her two elder sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, who died at Cowan Bridge. I used to believe them to have been wonders of talent and kindness. She told me, early one morning, that she had just been dreaming; she had been told that she was wanted in the drawing-room, and it was Maria and Elizabeth. I was eager for her to go on, and when she said there was no more, I said, 'but go on! Make it out! I know you can!'. She said she would not; she wished she had not dreamed, for it did not go on nicely, they were changed; they had forgotten what they used to care for. They were very fashionably dressed, and began criticising the room [...]||”|
In 1821, when Elizabeth was six years old, her mother, weakened by the birth of her sixth child, died of cancer. Maria, her older sister, became the "guardian" of the children, maturing at a very young age.
Patrick described his second daughter as a young girl with "sound common sense".
On 1 July 1824, Maria, 11 and Elizabeth, nearly 9, joined the Cowan Bridge School with Charlotte and Emily following soon after in September. The food provided by the school was generally poorly cooked and unhealthy, and the cook was reported to be "careless, dirty, and wasteful". She was not academic, and while the school records show that Maria, Charlotte and Emily were to be trained to be governesses, Elizabeth's destiny was listed as 'housekeeper'. Accordingly, Mr. Brontë did not pay the extra £3 a year for Elizabeth to learn French, music and drawing, that he did for his other three girls. The school register read:
|“||Elizabeth Brontë, age 9. (Vaccinated. Scarlet fever, whooping cough, eats little or none). Reads little. Writes pretty well. Ciphers none (sic). Works very badly. Knows nothing of grammar, history, geography or accomplishments.||”|
By the winter of 1824, Maria's health had been deteriorating quickly. She was withdrawn from school on 14 February and died of tuberculosis on 16 May that year. Over the following six months, one girl was to die at school and twenty more, one third of the roll, were withdrawn ill, and six of them died soon afterwards. Fifteen days later, on 31 May, Elizabeth was withdrawn, too, the school record stating that she "left in ill-health". She died the same year, six weeks after Maria.
The school record says that she died of consumption (tuberculosis), a disease which would kill all of her siblings. She was buried at Saint Michael and All Angels churchyard and her tombstone reads Matthew 18:3:
|“||Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.||”|
- American Heritage and Collins dictionaries;
- Columbia Encyclopedia
- Patricia Ingham (2006): The Brontës (Oxford University Press), xii-xiii.
- "Brontë Parsonage Museum - Elizabeth Brontë". Brontë Parsonage Museum. Retrieved 9 January 2012.
- Gaskell 1900, p. 47.
- Gaskell 2009, p. 35.
- Gaskell 2009, p. 49.
- Gaskell 1900, p. 64.
- Gaskell 1900, p. 66.
- Gaskell 1900, p. 65.
- Gaskell 1900, p. 8.
- Gaskell, Elizabeth (1900). Life and works of Charlotte Brontë. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Gaskell, Elizabeth (2009). The life of Charlotte Brontë. Digireads.com. ISBN 1-4209-3231-4.