A studio portrait of Bracken in Filipino attire, 1896
|Born||Marie Josephine Leopoldine Bracken
9 August 1876
British Hong Kong
|Died||15 March 1902
British Hong Kong
Cause of death
|Happy Valley Cemetery
Hong Kong S.A.R.
|Known for||La viuda de Rizal
("The Widow of Rizal")
|Spouse(s)||José Rizal (1896)
Vicente Abad (1900-1902) (her death)
|Partner(s)||José Rizal (1895-1896)|
|Children||Francisco Rizal y Bracken (1896; stillborn)
Dolores Bracken Abad (1900-1987)
|Parent(s)||James Bracken and Elizabeth Jane McBride|
Marie Josephine Leopoldine Bracken (August 9, 1876 – March 15, 1902) was the common-law wife of Philippine national hero José Rizal during his exile in Dapitan in the province of Zamboanga del Norte in the southern Philippines. In the early morning hours of December 30, 1896, the day of his execution by firing squad, the couple were married in Fort Santiago, the place of his incarceration, following his reconciliation with the Catholic Church. The marriage is disputed by some sectors because no records were found regarding the union, discounting the unusual events of that day, even if it was attested by Josephine herself and the officiating priest.
Josephine was born in Victoria Barracks in Hong Kong on August 9, 1877 to Irish parents James Bracken, a corporal in the British Army, and Elizabeth Jane McBride, who were married on May 3, 1868 in Belfast, Ireland. After her mother died shortly after childbirth, her father gave her up for adoption. She was taken in by her godfather, American George Taufer, a blind fairly well-to-do engineer of the pumping plant of the Hong Kong Fire Department, and his late Portuguese wife. He later remarried another Portuguese woman from Macau, Francesca Spencer, with whom he had another daughter.
In 1891, the second Mrs. Taufer died and the two young women managed the Taufer home.
After on, Mr. Taufer decided to re-marry again but the new wife turned out to be difficult to deal with for Josephine. She spent two months in the Convent of the Canossian Sisters, where she previously attended early years of school. She decided to go back only after Mr. Taufer called at the Convent's door pleading her to go back home as his third wife turned out to be a bad housekeeper. Shortly after a few months, she had trouble again with the third Mrs. Taufer and haunted her out of the house.
Bracken later recommended that her blind adoptive father see Rizal, who was a respected ophthalmologist and had practiced at Rednaxela Terrace in Hong Kong. By this time, he was a political exile in Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte in southern Philippines. The family sailed to the Philippines and arrived in Manila on February 5, 1895, and later that month Josephine and Mr. Taufer sailed to Dapitan.
Taufer's double cataract was beyond Rizal's help, but the physician fell in love with Bracken. Mr. Taufer vehemently opposed the union, but finally listened to reason. Josephine accompanied her father to Manila on his way back home, together with Rizal's sister, Narcisa, on March 14, 1895. Rizal applied for marriage but because of his writings and political stance, the local priest Father Obach, would only agree to the ceremony if Rizal could get a permission from the Bishop of Cebu. Either the Bishop did not write him back or Rizal was not able to mail the letter because of Mr. Taufer's sudden departure.
Before heading back to Dapitan to live with Rizal, Josephine introduced herself to members of his family in Manila. His mother suggested a civil marriage, which she believed to be a lesser "sacrament" but free from hypocrisy—and thus less a burden to Rizal's conscience—than making any sort of political retraction. Nevertheless, Bracken and Rizal lived together as husband and wife in Barangay Talisay, Dapitan, beginning in July 1895. The couple had a son, Francísco Rizal y Bracken, who was born prematurely and died after only a few hours.
While she was in a delicate condition, Rizal played a prank on her that was harmless in itself, which startled her so that she sprang forward and was struck against an iron stand. Though it was purely an accident and Rizal was scarcely at fault, he blamed himself for it, and his later devotion seems largely to have been trying to make amends.
See also: Jose Rizal's retraction controversy
On the evening before his execution on December 30, 1896 on charges of treason, rebellion and sedition by the Spanish colonial government, the Catholic Church claimed that Rizal returned to the faith and was married to Bracken in a religious ceremony officiated by Rev Vicente Balanguer sometime between 5:00 AM and 6:00 AM, an hour before he scheduled execution at 7:00 AM. Despite claims by Rev Balanguer and Josephine herself, some sectors including members of his family, disputed that the wedding had occurred because no records were found attesting to the union.
Following Rizal's death, Bracken promptly joined revolutionary forces in Cavite province, where she took care of sick and wounded soldiers, boosting their morale, and helping operate reloading jigs for Mauser cartridges at the Imus Arsenal under revolutionary general Pantaleón García. Imus was under threat of recapture, so Bracken, making her way through the thicket and mud, moved with the operation to the Cavite mountain redoubt of Maragondon. She witnessed the Tejeros Convention on March 22, 1897 before returning to Manila, and was later summoned by the Spanish Governor-General, who threatened her with torture and imprisonment if she did not leave the colony. Owing however to her adoptive father's American citizenship, she could not be forcibly deported, but Bracken voluntarily returned to Hong Kong upon the advice of the American consul in Manila.
Upon returning to Hong Kong, she once more lived in her father's house. After his death, she married Vicente Abad, a Cebuano mestizo, who represented his father's tabacalera company in the British territory. A daughter, Dolores, was born to the couple on April 17, 1900. A later testimony of Dolores affirms that her mother "was already suffering from tuberculosis of the larynx," at the time of the wedding. Bracken died of tuberculosis on March 15, 1902, in Hong Kong and was interred at the Happy Valley Cemetery.