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  Betsy Bonaparte, portrait in triplicate, by Georges D'AlmaineElizabeth Patterson Bonaparte

brief member of a royal family

Elizabeth Patterson was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on February 6, 1785. Her father, William Patterson, was one of the richest merchants in Baltimore. Like all other high society debutantes of her day, Betsy (as she was always called) was expected to marry into a station at least as high as her own. It was probably not expected, however, for her to marry into royalty.

In 1803, Betsy met a young man by the name of Jerome Bonaparte, who just happened to be the youngest brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. The two fell in love, and were married on December 24. Unfortunately for Jerome and Betsy, Napoleon had designs on becoming the Emperor of France, and it was his intention to marry his siblings off to European royalty in order to solidify his position on the continent. Rather than welcome Betsy into his family, Napoleon ordered Jerome to return to France, alone.

Hoping his brother would relent upon meeting Betsy, Jerome instead took her with him back to Europe. By the time the couple landed in Portugal, Betsy was six months pregnant. Napoleon, however, refused to allow Betsy into continental Europe, and Jerome was forced to send her on to London while he went to negotiate with his brother. It would be the last time Betsy and Jerome would ever see each other. She gave birth to their son, whom she named Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, in London, on July 7, 1805.

Napoleon Bonaparte had Jerome's marriage to Betsy annulled, and Jerome was ultimately married off to Catharina of Württemberg, a German princess.

Betsy and her son returned to Baltimore and took up residence in her father's home. Although he refused Betsy's request for an official title, Napoleon did provide her an annual pension of 60,000 francs, which was continued until his abdication in 1814. Betsy invested the money carefully, and by the time of her death had amassed a very substantial estate. In 1815, a special act was passed by the Legislature of Maryland, granting Betsy a divorce from Jerome. She never remarried, however.

Elizabeth "Betsy" Patterson Bonaparte died in Baltimore, on April 4, 1879. Her life and marriage became the subject of the 1908 play Glorious Betty, which in turn was adapted into the films Glorious Betsy (1928) and Hearts Divided (1936).

Like his mother, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte was denied a royal title. He did, however, have the opportunity to meet his father a few times, and all accounts say the two had a relatively good relationship, considering the circumstances. His eldest son, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte II (1832-1893), entered the French Army and served in the Crimea and Italy. His youngest son, Charles Joseph Bonaparte (1851-1921) became a lawyer and served in President Theodore Roosevelt's cabinet as Secretary of the Navy and as Attorney General. Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte I preceded his mother in death, in 1870.


Discovering America's Past: Customs, Legends, History, and Lore of Our Great Nation Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Association, 1993
Encyclopædia Britannica Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 1957


Napoleon Bonaparte
President Theodore Roosevelt

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This page was last updated on October 16, 2014.

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