Making Sense of War in Charlotte and Branwell Brontë’s Juvenilia.

Many scholars ignore the Brontës’ juvenilia, and it’s not surprising. The intricate web the young siblings wove in their respective kingdoms of Glasstown/Angria & Gondal is complicated and dense. Today’s post is going to be about Glasstown, Angria and, the main driving force in Charlotte and Branwell’s saga, war. Although war within Emily and Anne’s Gondal is important, this requires a completely different approach to the fairly linear chronology of Charlotte and Branwell’s writings. A multitude of material still exists for Glasstown and Angria, whereas only a selection of poetry survives for Gondal, making it much harder to decipher and analyse. After giving a brief run-down on how Glasstown and Angria formed, this post will then attempt a step-by-step guide to the various wars and conflicts that act as a foundation for Charlotte and Branwell’s early writings. It is important to note that Branwell chronicles the history of Glasstown and Angria in painstaking detail (emitting most punctuation along the way), whereas Charlotte pinpoints specific ‘moments’ and writes her powerful yet complimentary tales in the backdrop of Branwell’s wider contextualisation.



Essentially, Glasstown/Angria was formed from the ‘Young Men’s Play’, an early idea conceptualised by all four siblings after their father bought Branwell some toy soldiers. Confusingly, other elements were taken from two additional imaginary worlds in which all four siblings played a part – ‘Our Fellows’ Play’ and ‘Islanders’ Play’. I’ve tried to break these down a little bit below:

•Young Men’s Play (1826-30) – 12 celebrated -mainly military- men (including the likes of Wellington and the Duke of York) set sail for Africa and fight with the native Ashantee tribes in an attempt to colonise the ‘evil desert’. They are aided by the four Genii (embodying each of the four siblings) who use their powers to assist the ‘Twelves’ (this tale eventually becomes mythologised within Glasstown history).

•Our Fellows’ Play (1827) – Only two manuscripts exist for this imaginary strand, replaced by the Islanders’ play in the same year. Characters were mainly influenced by Aesop’s Fables and Branwell appeared to rule the roost with his war-mongering protagonist, ‘Boaster’. Characters from this play such as ‘Pigtail’, a menacing French child murderer, are adopted within the Glasstown saga.

•Islanders’ Play (1827-30) – Rather than Genii, the four siblings are a little King and Queens, following round the Duke of Wellington and his sons (exclusively Charlotte’s characters) in a more domesticated setting where contemporary, local issues are confronted (like Catholic Emancipation) – The Duke of Wellington and his sons become the epicentre of Glasstown and Angria. Moreover, this play became Emily and Anne’s main influence for Gondal, in which they broke away from Charlotte and Branwell’s Glasstown in 1831 and started to use local landscape to shape a new fairy-tale world.

Eventually the ‘Young Men’s’ and ‘Islanders’ Play merged and the Glasstown saga was formed. Little is known as to how much Emily and Anne contributed to this before they diverted to Gondal in 1831, however, Charlotte and Branwell’s collaboration became evermore dependant and all-consuming, their fictitious colony dominating their lives throughout the 1830s.


After Charlotte and Branwell finish documenting the initial wars between the Twelves and the Ashantees – a fantastic example of colonial narrative – Branwell begins to focus on building a personality for his alter-ego, ‘Rogue’,  later known as Alexander Percy/Northangerland. Likewise, Charlotte is busy shaping her later Byronic ideal, the ‘Marquis of Douro’. Between 1831-2 Branwell becomes obsessed with the French Revolution, setting up a ‘Reign of Terror’ model where Rogue (a staunch Republican) attempts to take over Glasstown and execute the Royalists using the guillotine ( the Marquis of Douro being one of the them). Documented throughout his Letters from an Englishman, Branwell dominates these early years with a series of bloodthirsty combats, plotting with ‘rare lads’ – Glasstown’s underbelly – and repeatedly indulging in siege-like warfare and gruesome executions. A number of times, Walter Scott’s Life of Napoleon – a popular favourite in the Brontë family – is alluded to, Rogue exercising mass executions by firing squad and using battle tactics that imitate Napoleon. In the mean time, Charlotte is writing poetry and forming her opinions on violence and military masculinity. Her most notable work in that period, ‘The Bridal’, incorporates the Great Rebellion by postponing her protagonist’s marriage to the eligible Marian Hume so he can ride off to battle, Branwell evidently interrupting the domestic setting Charlotte imagined for her aristocratic characters.


Moving forward to 1833-4, Branwell’s next major battle campaign turns away from civil warfare and instead focusses on the post-Napoleonic hatred for the French. His narratives An Historical Narrative of the War of Enchroachment/Aggression  document the Verdopolitan (Glasstown) war against Napoleon and his army – banded with the ‘Arabs’ and ‘Ashantees’. It is here one can really tell just how much military material both siblings have read, Branwell pioneering new literary techniques to present the horrors of war and Charlotte using mock-war language in her complimentary tales, equally engaging with ideas of military ‘parading’. Branwell’s detailed accounts chronicle each individual battle, not leaving anything to the imagination. Although juvenile, Branwell’s knowledge of military conditions and tactics is unparalleled in any other contemporary military memoirs I’ve read. Although having never been exposed to war himself, Branwell’s vivid imagination combined with his broad reading re-create some of the most exciting and important insights into military combat within the late Georgian era (sounds like I’m exaggerating, believe me I’m not).


Sorry to ruin it for you but Glasstown wins, and this is the last example of overseas battle we witness throughout the entire juvenilia – everything hereon is civil war. The most important catalyst of the War of Encroachment/Aggression is that the Marquis of Douro, now the Byronic Zamorna – Charlotte really likes to tell us how big his chest is… all the time – gets his own country. Having fought heroically in the previous war, himself and his right hand man, Alexander Percy/Lord Ellrington – the execution crazy, once pirate, Rogue who has since given up a life of crime to marry the gothic temptress Lady Zenobia Ellrington- plead with the Marquis’ father – the Duke of Wellington – to give him his own kingdom. When he accepts, Zamorna becomes king and appoints Percy as his prime minister; Charlotte and Branwell both write about this in their respective tales ‘Angria and the Angrians’ and ‘The Wool is Rising’. Pretty soon, things take a turn for the worse and both siblings write a series of epic speeches between Zamorna and Percy which emphasise the growing tension and hostility they feel towards one another. This is probably the best example of brother and sister working together throughout the entire juvenilia, their warmongering writings climaxing in the last and most ferocious war of the entire saga.


In this final war, intimately documented by a foot soldier, Henry Hastings, throughout Branwell’s Angria and the Angrians I(a) -V(b) Zamorna and Percy’s bond of friendship is completely shaken. Basically, Zamorna accuses Percy of plotting against the crown and organising another Republication revolt (similar to the very first insurrection in 1831). Whilst this is going on, a new power is rising in Angria in the shape of Ardrah (a navy captain) and his Reform Party. Percy supports Ardrah’s wish to reform the Verdopolitan constitution yet does not agree with his wish to depose Zamorna. Eventually this turns to war, Zamorna/Percy urging Angrians to revolt and Ardrah mobilising himself alongside (guess who) the Arabs and the Ashantees. After a number of battles, the Angrian army are crushed in the ‘Battle of Edwardston’, Percy fleeing and residing with his mistress Louise Vernon whilst Zamorna and his army are pushed back into the mountains. Being the sneaky devil that he is, Percy mobilises his own army and overthrows Ardrah and his reform party, but also declares Zamorna and his army to be his enemies. Zamorna is captured and banished to Ascension Isle (in a similar fashion to Napoleon and St Helena) whilst Percy takes over Angria declaring it one great Republic.

Percy and his Provisional Government reign for a year, then (sorry to spoil it again) Zamorna makes a triumphant return, reinstating himself to power on the 30th June 1837 in the last major battle of the saga, the ‘Battle of Evesham’. Over the course of two years, Branwell manages to once again achieve an astounding insight into military masculinity, heroics and feeling, Hastings’ narration drawing upon contemporary post-war sources to highlight the complex strategies and politics of large-scale combat. Whilst Branwell completely dominates the battlefield, Charlotte stays within the recess of the home, documenting the war through the psychological impact of her favourite characters and assessing the impact of Branwell’s constant militarism upon her ravaged imaginary world.


In the final tales of Charlotte and Branwell – Charlotte writes her ‘Farewell to Angria’ in 1839, both siblings acknowledge and explore the detrimental consequences of constant warfare. All their protagonists are either physically or psychologically broken, and the people of Angria have lost faith in their ideals. Whereas past soldiers in the war are struggling with addiction and mental scars, Zamorna and Percy are trying to rebuild their shattered loyalty, unable to part from one another in a moving yet unsettling homosocial bond. As I’ve written in my previous blog post: ‘As Angria draws to a close in 1839, both characters are ostracised from their subjects as a direct consequence of their mutual infatuation, one of Branwell’s last tales showing them walking down a palace’s steps, arm in arm, into the path of a waiting mob.’ It is these final events in their saga that not only show both Charlotte and Branwell’s interest and understanding of war as purely ‘machine-like’, but also sympathise with the emotional and social implications of war, a by-product that is often overlooked until the twentieth century.

My thesis analyses the impact and imitation of war within Charlotte and Branwell’s juvenilia. Its forgotten presence in the late-Georgian literary cannon is surprising, given the vast, in-depth material on large-scale combat ranging from battle logistics to psychological repercussions. If you have any further questions, or simply wish to discuss my research, feel free to email me on

Ashley 2468, f.1 map



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s