The Honeymoon Is Over

By Heather Haggstrom, Exhibitions Manager

For several months after the wedding, Jerome’s advisors begged him to heed Napoleon’s orders and return to France. He refused, insisting that he would not leave without hearing directly from his brother. Finally in April 1804, still with no word from Napoleon, Jerome agreed return, but not without his new bride.

The couple made several attempts to go to France, but met with failure at every turn. During one attempt, the pair traveled separately, Jerome aboard a frigate and Elizabeth with the new ambassador to France, General Armstrong. When Elizabeth arrived at the port to depart, she found the ambassador had changed his mind and had set sail several hours before her arrival. In October 1804, their attempt ended in a shipwreck.

95 Camberwell Grove London
95 Camberwell Grove, London, Elizabeth Moltke-Huitfeldt Photography

In March of 1805, Elizabeth and Jerome set sail on her father’s clipper ship, Erin. William Patterson also set up a line of credit to support Elizabeth and Jerome during their European stay.

Elizabeth was six months pregnant when they departed, arriving in Lisbon three weeks later. The couple did some sight-seeing and shopping as though nothing was amiss.

Soon Napoleon sent orders for Jerome to go immediately to Italy by a specified route. If he deviated from it, he would be arrested. Finally sensing the seriousness of the situation, Jerome set off for Milan leaving his pregnant wife in Lisbon with assurances of his love and loyalty.

After Jerome’s departure, Elizabeth received her own set of orders from Napoleon. She was not to set foot on any territory controlled by France and should return to America tout de suite. She was also never to use the Bonaparte name. In return she would receive a pension of 60,000 francs a year from him. She sent him a reply stating that she would “never relinquish a name he has made so famous” and “that Madame Bonaparte is ambitious and demands her rights as a member of the imperial family.”

Unable to disembark in Lisbon, Elizabeth set sail for Amsterdam where her father and Jerome had instructed her to go should there be any trouble. Upon its arrival, the Erin was surrounded by French warships and forced to depart. Elizabeth was now eight months pregnant and refused to give birth at sea. Fearing they would be turned away at other ports, Elizabeth went to the one place where Napoleon had no power: England. The decision to go to the land of his sworn enemy was not a wise one.

On July 5, 1805, Elizabeth gave birth to a son, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte (“Bo”) in a rented Georgian house at 95 Camberwell Grove, London. A new and tumultuous chapter of her life had begun.


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