Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday - Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte

I have written several posts about the historical tour of Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore City. One of the more interesting figures buried there is Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte.

Betsy was the daughter of prominent Baltimore merchant William Patterson. She was also the first wife of Jerome Bonaparte, and sister-in-law to his brother Napoleon. The drama that was their courtship, marriage, and eventual divorce played out in the public reminiscent of todays headlines.

The following excerpt was taken from The Part Taken by Women in American History by Mary Simmerson Cunningham Logan and John A. Logan in 1912 :


Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte was born in Baltimore, Maryland, February 6, 1785. She was the daughter of William Patterson, who came a poor boy from Ireland to Maryland, where he became a prominent merchant, and one of the wealthiest citizens. She was a beautiful girl of eighteen when she meet Jerome Bonaparte at a social gathering in Baltimore, and despite the opposition of her father, a marriage was speedily arranged, the ceremony taking place with all legal formalities on Christmas Eve, 1803, when the groom had just passed his nineteenth birthday. Mr. Patterson's fears that the marriage would be offensive to the First Consul proved to be well grounded. Attempts were unsuccessfully made, through Robert R. Livingston, the American minister at Paris, and through influential persons, to reconcile Napoleon to his brother's marriage. He ordered Jerome to return immediately to France, "leaving in America, the young person in question". Jerome refused to obey and a year was spent in travel and in residence at Baltimore. Meanwhile, Napoleon had proclaimed himself Emperor, and in 1805 Jerome, hoping for a reconciliation with his brother, took his wife to Europe. They reached Lisbon in safety, but there Jerome was arrested and take to France, his


wife not being allowed to land. Her message to the Emperor was: "Madame Bonaparte demands her rights as a member of the Imperial family." She then proceeded to England where a boy was born to her and christened, Jerome Napoleon. The Emperor refused to recongnize her marriage, but promised Elizabeth an annual pension of $12,000 provided whe would return to America and renounce the name of Bonaparte, which conditions she accepted. She returned to Europe on occasional visits, where she was the center of attraction, winning attention not only from her husband's mother and other members of the family, but also from the Duke of Wellington, Madam de Stael, Byron, and even Louis XVII, who invited her to appear at court, but as she still recieved a pension from the exiled Emperor she declined. Her husband married Catharine, daughter of the King of Westphalia. He then sent to America for his son, Jerome Napoleon, but Madam Bonaparte refused to give him up, scornfully declining the offer from her husband of a ducal crown with an income of 40,000 a year. The son frequently visited his father's family in Europe, where he was treated as a son and brother. His subsequent marriage with Miss Williams of Baltimore caused his mother great anger. His cousin, Emperor Napoleon III, invited him to France, where he was legitimized and recieved as a member of the family. He declined a duchy, refusing the condition which demanded the surrender of the name of Bonaparte. On the death of King Jerome in 1860, Elizabeth Patterson, as his American wife, unsuccessfully contested his will. The last eighteen years of her life were spent in Baltimore. She left a fortune of one million, five hundred thousand dollars, to two grandsons, Jerome Napoleon and Charles J. Bonaparte. The latter was secretary of the navy and attorney-genearal during the administraton of President Roosevelt. Madame Bonaparte died in Baltimore on April 4, 1879.

Further reading about Betsy, Jerome, and Napoleon :


1 comment:

  1. This was fascinating! I had never heard this story before. Thanks so much for sharing it on your blog.

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