Marie Josephine Leopoldine Bracken (9 August 1876 – 16 March 1902) was the common-law wife of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal during his exile in Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte. She was described to be a petite Irish girl with striking blue eyes and chestnut blonde hair.
Josephine Bracken was born Josephine MacBride Bracken to James Bracken and Elizabeth MacBride, in Victoria City, Hong Kong. She was later adopted by a German-American machinist from New York, George Leopold Taufer, from whom her other name “Leopoldine” was taken.
Historians such as Austin Coates have scrutinized this history, and suggest that she might have been an illegitimate daughter of an Anglo-Saxon father and a Chinese mother.
Josephine Bracken was said to be a person with a kind and gentle disposition, who took care of her blind father. Upon hearing rumors of an excellent Filipino doctor returning to Manila, she quickly seized the opportunity to sail to Manila to diagnose her father's illness.
On 5 February 1895, she reached Manila with her adoptive father and 40-year-old Francesca Spencer from Macau. While they were staying at #3 Ylayu St. in Tondo, she arranged a consultation for her father's double cataract. Later on, in the same month, they sailed to Dapitan for a follow-up consultation.
There is no record, however, saying that Rizal was able to cure or alleviate Taufer's eye ailment.
Relationship with Rizal
On 14 March, Bracken sailed back to Manila with Narcisa Rizal Lopez, one of Rizal's elder sisters. At the time, Rizal's closest family and friends considered Bracken as a threat and a spy for the Spanish government because of her fair complexion. Bracken ignored the allegations, however, and tried to adjust to rural living with the Rizals.
By July of that same year, the relationship between Rizal and Bracken had blossomed. The two planned to marry. Some stories say that Rizal had requested Bracken to deliver a letter to his mother, Doña Teodora, while the family was on vacation. This was Rizal's way of asking permission from his family to marry the Irish girl. Whether Bracken knew about what was inside the letter is unknown. However, the Church denied the union due to religious differences.
During Rizal's exile in 1896, Bracken had affirmed her willingness to help Rizal's cause by joining the 'Katipunan' in Imus, Cavite. Rizal, foreseeing his death, asked Fr. Vicente Balaguer, S.J., a Jesuit priest who later detailed Rizal's last days and served as Bracken's messenger, to marry them. Some historians believe that Balaguer had married the two on 5:30 a.m. of 30 December 1896, an hour before Rizal's death at 'Bagumbayan', where she also revealed to Rizal's closest friends and family members that she was married to him.
Recent findings dated 1991 by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints suggest that she and Rizal were indeed married on that date at Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila. However, this was disputed by others who say that the documents supporting this idea were never defended and were void of any truth.
Historians defend the couple simply by using Rizal's 'Mi Ultimo Adios':
“... Adios, parents and family: fragments of my own soul, Companions in our infancy from the home that we lost; Give glad thanks that now I rest from a fatiguing day; Adios sweet-tender foreigner—my friend, my happiness, Adios, beloved fellow-beings; to die is to be at rest.”
The most controversial aspect of the relationship between Rizal and Bracken comes from a document purportedly written by Rizal, retracting his being a Mason and stating his intention to return to being a Catholic. It was said to have been signed by Rizal while he was in Fort Santiago awaiting execution. It was also said that hours after signing the document, he asked for a confession twice from his jail cell, and that afterward, Fr. Balaguer officiated in the ceremony marrying Rizal and Bracken.
The document reads:
“I declare myself a Catholic and in this religion in I retract with all my heart whatever in my words,writings, publications and conduct has been contrary to my quality as a son of the Catholic Church.
I believe and profess whatever she teaches and I submit myself to whatever she commands. I abominate Masonry, as the enemy that it is of the Church, and as a Society prohibited by the Church.
The Diocesan Prelate can, as the Superior Ecclesiastical authority, make public this spontaneous manifestation of mine in order to repair the scandals the my acts have caused and so that God and the people may pardon me.”
Whether the story is true or false is one of the biggest controversies in Rizal's life. Many believe that this was an attempt to kill the revolution by crippling the beliefs of the Filipinos.
Life with the 'Katipunan'
After the flames of the revolution were fueled by Rizal's death, Bracken stationed herself in Cavite, where she converted the Tejeros State House into a field hospital. She spent the remaining days of the revolution in making rounds of the sick until the Tejeros Convention was held on 22 March 1897.
She then joined the evacuation to Naic which took place from April to May 1897, and crossed the Maragondon mountain range on foot. She was escorted by Paciano Rizal, also a Katipunero, during the whole journey.
Upon reaching Laguna de Bay, 'Katipunan' leader Venancio Cueto thought of a plan to safely remove her from the battle zone. She moved to Manila, and in the same year, she left for Hong Kong.
Two years after Bracken's return to Hong Kong, she married Vicente Abad, a Cebuano who worked in a cigar factory. They had an adoptive daughter named Dolores Bracken Abad.
Records show that Bracken died on 15 March 1902 due to tuberculosis of the larynx, and was laid to rest the next day at Hong Kong Cemetery, formerly Happy Valley Cemetery, one of the earliest Christian cemeteries in Hong Kong.
Bracken's daughter, Dolores, returned to the Philippines and married Antonio de Mina. She died in Manila on 9 December 1987 at the age of 87. Her descendant, Macario Ofilada, published Josephine Bracken's biography Errante Golondrina: The Life and Times of Josephine Bracken in 2003.
- Coates, Austin. 'Rizal, Philippine Nationalist and Martyr'. Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 274.
- Fadul, Jose A. 'Encyclopedia Rizaliana: Student Edition', p. 17.
- “Issues Involved.” retraction.  (Accessed on 21 June 2010).
- “Josephine MacBride Brown Bracken.” IGI Individual Record.  (Accessed on 21 June 2010).
- Ofilada, Macario. “Errante Golondrina: the Life and Times of Josephine Bracken.” New Day, 2003.
- “Rizal’s 30 December 1896 Adios Cry ( The literalist dated version by R. M. Bernardo, 1997).” retraction.  (Accessed on 21 June 2010).
- Runes, Ildefonso T., Buenafe, Mamerto M., and Josephine Bracken. 'The forgery of the Rizal retraction and Josephine's autobiography'. BR Book Co., 1962, pp. 96, 135.