Brontë, Patrick (1777–1861), Church of England clergyman and writer, was born 17 March 1777, in Emdale, Drumballyroney, Co. Down, the eldest of the ten children of Hugh Prunty , or Brunty, a protestant farm labourer, and Eleanor or Alice (née McClory), born a catholic. He is known primarily as the father of the poets and novelists Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. After a period as an apprentice to a blacksmith, and later a weaver, he attracted the attention of the Rev. Andrew Harshaw, a presbyterian minister, who tutored him in the classics, and at the age of sixteen he became a teacher at Glascar Hill presbyterian church school. After an affair with one of his pupils, he was forced to abandon the post. His education was further assisted by the Rev. Thomas Tighe (1752–1821), sometime fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and the evangelical rector of Drumballyroney, whose children Brontë tutored. Tighe, influential and close to John Wesley, secured him a scholarship to St John's College, Cambridge, which he entered as a sizar in 1802. As an undergraduate he mixed with evangelicals, and changed his name to Bronte in reference to Nelson's Italian dukedom, spelling it Brontë by 1811. He worked hard, winning prizes each year, and he graduated BA in 1806.
Following his ordination in the Church of England (also in 1806), he briefly returned to Co. Down. Though this was his last visit, he continued to send money home to his mother until her death. After curacies in Essex and Shropshire, in 1809 he settled in Yorkshire. In politics he was a staunch tory, and while at Hartshead (1811–15) he preached against the Luddites although he may have had some sympathy with their grievances. His recollections of the attack on a local mill by men of his parish were probably used later by his daughter Charlotte in her novel Shirley (1849). In June 1812 he met Maria Branwell of Penzance, Cornwall, and after a brisk courtship they married in December. Maria had six children in quick succession between 1813 and 1820.
It was not until 1820 that he secured the perpetual curacy at the bleak moorland parish of Haworth, a post he held until 1860. The local mortality rate was high, because of the lack of sewers and polluted water. In 1821 his wife died, leaving him to rear their children, with the assistance of his sister-in-law Elizabeth Branwell (d. 1842). Several efforts to remarry came to nothing. He published his own simple, didactic verse and prose. Winter-evening thoughts appeared in 1810, and Cottage poems the next year. The rural minstrel was published in 1813; it included one of his more successful poems, ‘Kirkstall abbey’, which celebrates his courtship walks with Maria among the ruins. This was followed by The cottage in the wood (1815). A narrative piece published anonymously, The maid of Killarney (1818), was an evangelical moral tale which provided him with a platform to put forward his theories on civil obedience and catholic emancipation, while vividly depicting conditions in an Irish mud cabin, and describing also a Whiteboy attack and a wake. He also organised petitions to restrict capital punishment and abolish slavery. He published a variety of sermons and pamphlets, and many of his letters appeared in the Leeds Intelligencer and Leeds Mercury.
Brontë also wrote on the value of education. Indeed, the precocious authorship of his children was probably encouraged by their reading of magazines and newspapers to which he contributed, his interest in current affairs, and the many books with which he provided them. Though it is said that his children were ill-prepared for social interaction, he did not stifle the creative imagination they displayed from an early age and instilled in them a love of nature. He was a disciplinarian with eccentric and frugal habits. He promptly removed his daughters from the infamous Cowan Bridge school, though two of them died of consumption shortly afterwards. In 1842 he took Charlotte and Emily to Brussels, where their education would be improved. In the following years he suffered increasingly from cataracts and then tragically within less than a year lost his son Branwell and daughters Emily and Anne. Though he took pride in Charlotte's success, he was protective of his only remaining child and thus initially opposed her marriage to his Irish-born curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls. Charlotte was married not even a year before her death, and Nicholls remained to care for his father-in-law.
Sanitary conditions in Haworth were appalling, and Brontë succeeded in securing a badly needed clean water supply. He also collaborated with Elizabeth Gaskell on her Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857). It paints a decidedly unflattering portrait of him, though some claim that it misrepresents a man who left his daughters free to pursue their own paths. He died 7 June 1861, and is buried in Haworth church. He bequeathed his estate to Nicholls, though his true legacy is the profound influence he had on the character and writings of his daughters.