Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Mary Bonaventure Browne
Mother Mary Bonaventure Browne was born around 1610 in Galway, Ireland and passed away some time between 1670 and 1691. She was born into a wealthy Irish family that was a part of the the Tribes of Galway. Her father, Andrew Browne Fitz Oliver, was prominent politically and a wealthy business man. It is known that her brother Francis joined the Franciscans while in 1632 Mary and her sister Catherine joined the Poor Clares. The Poor Clares were officially called The Order of Saint Clare, a contemplative order of nuns in the catholic church. Mary’s Uncle, Martin Browne, is remembered by history as his old doorway (known as The Browne Doorway, Eyre Square) is still a monument in Ireland to serve as 'a reminder of the great architecture in the days of Galway's civic opulence’.
Poor Clares Edit
The Poor Clares were a group of Sisters who brought a strict religious way of life (as taught by Saint Clare of Assisi in Italy) to Ireland. It was Penal times and they were, many times over in the course of history, banished and exiled for their religiosity. One of the most prominent factors about the Poor Clare community is its longevity and its commitment to preserving documents carefully for over 350 years. Even through continuous exile from Ireland, the community were writing their own stories and maintaining them. The history of the Poor Clares owes much to Mary as it is her writing that captured the events from 1629 to 1670.
When Mary came to the Poor Clares and joined the community they were soon after exiled from Dublin and resided at “Bethlehem” which was a building erected for them near the town of Athlone, Central Ireland. There is a record of Mary being professed here in 1633. Mary wrote of the condition: “It was situated in such a low and shadowed bogg as the physitians wondered how such tender creatures (very delicatly bred) could live therein; for in wett and rainy wedder the water would not onely fall over them through the roofe of the house, but alsoe in severall places came upp under the ground; besides that, all their houses were soe low that their cells and all other roomes (except onely the quire) were uppon the ground.”
The Poor Clares was a privileged space for women as far as literature goes. Women could author, translate and read. In fact St. Clare herself was the first women to write a religious text prescribing procedural monistic life. Mother Mary Bonaventure Browne composed a chronicle of the history of the Irish Poor Clares during her time in Madrid (the Poor Clares were exiled to Madrid from Galway when all religious persons were banished from Ireland by Cromwell in 1653). This chronicle was later sent back to Galway but unfortunately the chronicle was destroyed during the Williamite Wars of 1691. However, a copy of the chronicle exists in an English manuscript (translator unknown) and is also used as a reception text for another chronicle, also authored by a female, The History of the Angelicall Virgin Glorious S. Clare (Aire, 1635). Additionally, other records quote her literary reception including Bibliotheca universa franciscana (Madrid, 1732). Browne's legacy is as a woman whose authorship impacted the broader religious community. Her chronicle was not only circulated within her intended cloistered audience but it serves as an important counter-reformation article for transnational religiosity.
Fr. Joanne à s. Antonio Salmantino, whom was the author of the 1635 History of the Angelicall Virgin Glorious S. Clare had commented on Mary’s contribution: “Mary Bonaventure, a most famous Irishwoman from the Poor Clares of the monastery of the city of Galway of that realm, having been moved because of risings and wars to the monastery of Madrid commonly called El Cavallero de Gracia in Spain, reflecting an exemplary life, wrote a huge work in large quarto, in the Irish language, presently kept by the commissary of the Irish at Madrid and strengthened by licences and censures. I have seen it.”
Missing Works Edit
- “Eleven separate tracts, ranging from history to biography, hagiography, and theology: “An historical discourse on heresiarchs and their persecutions”
- “The martyrdoms of certain Poor Clares and Tertiaries during the tyrannous cruelty of Ireland”
- “A life of Henry the Eighth”
- “A life of Anne Boleyn”
- “A life of Queen Catherine”
- “The Acts of the Virgin Saint Colette”
- “A life of the Blessed Margaret del Pilar, Poor Clare”
- “A life of D. the holy Queen of Sicily”
- “An historical tract about many persons of most proven life in the world”
- “Concerning the devotion of the Rosary and its origin”
- “Concerning other Rosaries given by divine generosity to God’s own devoted ones”
It is most likely that the manuscript translation of her chronicle into English, still in Galway, is the second of these, titled in the manuscript: “How divers Religious women of this holy order dyed in persecutions, Banishments and Calamityes for their holy faith and profession, and especially of such of the Irish nation as dyed soe.”
This suggests that the surviving MS of Mary’s writing is merely a piece of a much larger body of work.
- Wikipedia. "Mary Bonaventure Browne" Accessed 20 April 2021.
- National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, "The Browne Doorway, Eyre Square, TOWNPARKS (ST. NICHOLAS' PARISH), Galway, GALWAY" Accessed April 28 2021. https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/30314026/the-browne-doorway-eyre-square-townparksst-nicholas-parish-galway-galway
- O'Brien, Celsus O.F.M. 1992, A Short History of The Poor Clares, Galway, https://poorclares.ie/upload/Galway%20Poor%20Clare%20History%206202.pdf
- Coolhan, M.L 2012. 'Transnational Reception and Early Modern Women’s “Lost” Texts', Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 7, pp. 261-270. http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.newcastle.edu.au/ehost/detail/detail?vid=2&sid=62d280bc-cc1f-49c5-b9de-4e0812047d4e%40sessionmgr4006&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#db=30h&AN=86941214
 Coolhan, M.L 2012. 'Transnational Reception and Early Modern Women’s “Lost” Texts', Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 7, pp. 261-270. http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.newcastle.edu.au/ehost/detail/detail?vid=2&sid=62d280bc-cc1f-49c5-b9de-4e0812047d4e%40sessionmgr4006&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#db=30h&AN=86941214
 National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, "The Browne Doorway, Eyre Square, TOWNPARKS (ST. NICHOLAS' PARISH), Galway, GALWAY" Accessed April 28 2021. https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/30314026/the-browne-doorway-eyre-square-townparksst-nicholas-parish-galway-galway
 O'Brien, Celsus O.F.M. 1992, A Short History of The Poor Clares, Galway, https://poorclares.ie/upload/Galway%20Poor%20Clare%20History%206202.pdf
 Poor Clares Galway, Accessed 25 April 2021. https://poorclares.ie/
 Wikipedia. "Mary Bonaventure Browne" Accessed 20 April 2021.
Further reading: Edit
You can connect with Mary on Facebook and notice that her circle of friends includes Margaret M Watson and Marie-Anne Charlotte Corday d'Armont.
Concannon, Helena 1929. The Poor Clares in Ireland, M.H. Gill, London.
Gaskell, Elizabeth (1856). The Poor Clare, Melville House, London.
O'Brien, Celsus O.F.M. (1992), A Short History of The Poor Clares, Galway, https://poorclares.ie/upload/Galway%20Poor%20Clare%20History%206202.pdf