Monday, 4 January 2010

Jerome's Other Family: The American Bonapartes

Elizabeth Patterson (1785-1879).

Daughter of a wealthy Baltimore merchant of Irish extraction.

The first wife of Napoleon's youngest brother, Jérôme.

Noted for her somewhat immodest attire in a rather puritanical country.

As a young officer in the French Navy, Jérôme decided to leave his ship in the Caribbean to visit the United States.

As the brother of Napoleon, he found that doors opened easily to him. He called on President Jefferson, attended a ball in Baltimore, and fell in love with Elizabeth.

They soon decided to marry, and did so on Christmas Eve 1803. He was nineteen and she eighteen.

Napoleon refused to recognise the marriage. He had other plans for Jérôme.

Over a year later they set out for Europe. Jérôme landed in Portugal and set off for Rome to try to persuade his brother to change his mind. Elizabeth proceeded to Amsterdam but on the orders of the Emperor was prevented from landing. She went instead to London where she gave birth to their son, Jérôme Napoleon Bonaparte (July 5, 1805 – June 17, 1870). She never saw he husband again. (1)

Napoleon annulled the marriage and Jérôme duly married Catharina of Wurttemberg in 1807. Elizabeth returned with her son to Baltimore, and in 1808 refused a request from Jérôme to send her son to him.

She was divorced by a Special decree of the Maryland Assembly in 1815. She never remarried: she enjoyed her status as sister in law to the Great Napoleon, and made a personal fortune out of property. After 1815 she returned to Europe, where she spent many years. She felt happier amongst society in Europe, although she spent her later years back in Maryland.(2) She outlived her son.

Despite his mother's efforts to persuade him otherwise, Jérôme Napoleon Bonaparte stayed in the United States, married an American and had two sons. Both attained distinction in very different walks of life.

The eldest, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte (November 5, 1830 – September 3, 1893) studied at West Point , then resigned from the U.S. army to serve in the army of Napoleon III of France, and fought in the Crimean War. He received military decorations from France, Britain and Turkey. In 1871, after the fall of the Second Empire, he returned to the United States and married Caroline Le Roy Appleton Edgar. They had a daughter Louise-Eugénie Bonaparte (1873-1923), who married Count Adam Carl von Moltke-Huitfeld (1864-1944), and a son Jerome Napoleon Charles Bonaparte (see below).

The second and much younger son, Charles Joseph Bonaparte (1851-1921), was a lawyer and municipal reformer, and served in the cabinet of President Theodore Roosevelt.

He first served as United States Secretary of the Navy (1905-1906), quite appropriate for a grandson of Jérôme.

He then became Attorney General (1906-1909), and was responsible for setting up the Bureau of Investigation, the forerunner of the FBI. He had no children.

The Last of the Line: Jerome Napoleon Charles Bonaparte (1878-1945)

Jerome-Napoleon Charles Bonaparte, inherited enough wealth so that he never needed to work or practice a profession. In 1921 he was apparently offered the Albanian crown, but he even turned that down, although he was not the only one to do so!

He died on November 10, 1945 in New York.

He was walking his wife's dog in Central Park and tripped over its leash. So ended the American Bonaparte male line.


1. Betsy was in Florence's Pitti gallery in 1822 when Jérôme and his second wife Catherine walked in. They did not speak.
2. Her brother's widow married Wellington's older brother. In 1908 a play Glorious Betsy , was written about her by Rida Johnson Young; this formed the basis of the film Hearts Divided (1936) starring Marion Davies.


MissElisabeth said...

Interesting post, I wanted to know more about those American Bonapartes for quite a while.

Came across them when googling on Betsy and Napoleon.

Leashes, they killed so many people. Like small dogs..
I tripped over a Jack Russel yesterday.

John Tyrrell said...

A new argument I can use to persuade my wife that we should not get another dog!

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