By Heather Haggstrom, Exhibitions Manager
“I just love beautiful things.” – Jerome Bonaparte to his brother Napoleon
Jerome Bonaparte was born in Corsica on November 15, 1784, the youngest of thirteen children, of whom only eight survived to adulthood. His father, Carlo Buonaparte, was a successful lawyer despite the fact he had never finished his schooling and his mother, Letizia Ramolino, was known to be quite harsh at times but also very caring and down to earth.
“Jérôme Napoléon Bonaparte,” Scotlo, 1805, MdHS, XX.5.52
Jerome was four months old when his father died of stomach cancer leaving the family with a mountain of debt, a few vineyards, and an olive orchard. Letizia successfully managed the family finances for years, but when Jerome was eight years old, the family fled unrest in Corsica and settled in Marseilles, France. While Mrs. Bonaparte and her three daughters took in laundry as a way to make ends meet, young Jerome ran in the streets.
Older brother Napoleon, a rising general in the French army, urged his little brother to become a good student but Jerome preferred to study girls and to spend his brother’s money. In a final attempt to straighten his brother out, Napoleon sent him to the navy.
Though Jerome was brave and received promotions it did not tame him. At the age of nineteen, Jerome was serving in the Caribbean and, to avoid capture by the British, he fled to the U.S. Once there he lived lavishly, going to balls, wearing the finest clothes and living in the best rooms; money was no object.
Napoleon had once chided him for his frivolous purchases and Jerome responded, “I just love beautiful things.” It was this love of beautiful things, women especially, that undoubtedly drew him to the stunning and vivacious Elizabeth Patterson…