Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Elizabeth Bonaparte
Elizabeth-Patterson-Bonaparte Gilbert-Stuart 1804.jpg
Triple portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1804
Born (1785-02-06)February 6, 1785
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Died April 4, 1879(1879-04-04) (aged 94)
Spouse Jérôme Bonaparte
Issue Jérôme Napoleon Bonaparte
Father William Patterson

Elizabeth Patterson "Betsy" Bonaparte (February 6, 1785 – April 4, 1879) was an American socialite. She was the daughter of a Baltimore, Maryland merchant, and the first wife of Jérôme Bonaparte, Napoleon's youngest brother.


Elizabeth's father, William Patterson, had been born in Ireland and came to North America prior to the American Revolutionary War. He was a Presbyterian[1] from Donegal, and the wealthiest man in Maryland after Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. Elizabeth's brother, Robert, married Carroll's granddaughter, Marianne Caton.


Elizabeth and Jérôme Bonaparte were married on December 24, 1803, at a ceremony presided over by John Carroll, the Archbishop of Baltimore. Betsy quickly became known for her risqué taste in fashion, starting with her wedding dress.

Jérôme's brother Napoleon ordered his brother back to France and demanded that the marriage be annulled. Jérôme ignored Napoleon's initial demand that he return to France without his wife.

European visits[edit]

In the fall of 1804, Jérôme and a pregnant Betsy attempted to travel to France in time for his brother's coronation, but a number of false starts delayed them. When they finally arrived, Elizabeth was denied permission to set foot in continental Europe by order of Napoleon. Jérôme traveled to Italy in an attempt to reason with his brother, writing to his wife, "My dearest Elsa, I will do everything that must be done," but she would never see him again, except for a brief eye-to-eye contact in 1817. After remaining in limbo, unable to disembark in either France or the Netherlands, she gave birth to a son on July 7, 1805, at 95 Camberwell Grove, Camberwell, London. Jérôme gave in to his brother, returned to the French Navy, and married the German princess Catharina of Württemberg on August 22, 1807 in the Royal Palace at Fontainebleau, France. (His marriage to "dearest Elsa" had not yet been dissolved.)

Betsy returned to Baltimore with her son, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, called "Bo" by his mother, and lived with her father while she continued to flaunt her royal connection and skimpy attire. After the Battle of Waterloo, she returned to Europe where she was well received in the most exclusive circles and much admired for her beauty and wit.

Divorce and last years[edit]

In 1815, by special Act of the Legislature of Maryland, she secured a divorce. Her last years were spent in Baltimore in the management of her estate, the value of which she increased to $1.5 million. Betsy died in the midst of a court battle over whether the state of Maryland could tax her out-of-state bonds.[2] The case reached the Supreme Court (Bonaparte v. Tax Court, 104 U.S. 592). The Court decided in favor of Maryland.[2] She is buried in the Greenmount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland.

Ironically, Betsy's brother's widow, Marianne (Caton) Patterson, married Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, older brother of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Another brother, Edward Patterson, was the owner of Joppa Iron Works in Eastern Baltimore County, MD.

The story of Elizabeth and Jérôme's marriage and annulment is the basis for the 1908 play Glorious Betsy by Rida Johnson Young and the two film adaptations, Glorious Betsy (1928) and Hearts Divided (1936). She was portrayed by Dolores Costello in the former and by Marion Davies in the latter. The episode "Duty" of the Hornblower television series features Elizabeth and Jérôme trying to land in France and the diplomatic difficulties. A historical novel about her life, "The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte" by Ruth Hull Chatlien, was published in 2013.


  1. ^ Philip W. Sergeant, Jerome Bonaparte: the Burlesque Napoleon. Brentano's, New York, 1906
  2. ^ a b Maryland State Archives. 2007.

Further reading[edit]

  • F. B. Goodrich, The Court of Napoleon III. Philadelphia, 1864.
  • E. L. Didier, Life and Letters of Madame Bonaparte. New York, 1879.
  • M. Farquhar, Foolishly Forgotten Americans. New York, 2008.
  • Charlene M. Boyer Lewis, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte: An American Aristocrat in the Early Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.
  • Berkin, Carol (2014). Wondrous beauty : the life and adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte (First ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 9780307592781. LCCN 2013015270. 
  • Edward C. Papenfuse, Maryland State Archives. Maryland Tax Exempt Bonds: The Case of Betsy Patterson, 1868–1882. 2007.

External links[edit]