About Betsy Bonaparte

By Heather Haggstrom, Exhibitions Manager

“Nature never intended me for obscurity.” – Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte to her father, 1815

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, born in Baltimore, Maryland on February 6, 1785, was the oldest of 13 children. Betsy, as she was affectionately known, was the daughter of William Patterson, an Irish immigrant shipping merchant who quickly became the second wealthiest man in Maryland.

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte

“Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte,” Firmin Massot, 1823, MdHS, XX.5.69

She attended Madame Lacombe’s Academy, a fashionable school for girls in Baltimore where she studied history, culture, mathematics and French, a skill that would later prove most useful.

She grew into a great beauty — a woman of dainty stature, ivory complexion, and a celebrated ample bosom with a taste for European fashions that were risqué by American standards.

This beauty coupled with her sharp wit, charm and fierce independence, made Betsy one of the most desirable women in Baltimore. She declined many marriage proposals from wealthy American men whom she found boring and unoriginal.

She once stated in a letter to her father that “Nature never intended me for obscurity.” Indeed it hadn’t, for it blessed her with the beauty and allure that mesmerized Napoleon’s younger brother Jerome and thrust her into a love affair that would forever change her life.

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