The Cast of Characters

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte

“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.


Jérôme Napoléon Bonaparte

“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.

XX.5.52 Jerome Bonaparte

“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…

Napoléon Bonaparte

“The man fitted for affairs and authority never considers individuals, but things and their consequences.” –Napoleon Bonaparte (Date unknown)

Napoleone Buonaparte was born on August 15, 1769 in Ajaccio, Corsica. He was the fourth child of Carlo Buonaparte, a lawyer, and his wife, Letizia Ramolino. The Corsican Buonapartes were descended from minor Italian nobility from Tuscany and it was through these noble connections along with his father’s successful law career and political connections that Napoleon had the privilege to study more than the typical Corsican. He excelled in his studies and was the first Corsican to graduate from the École Militaire.

1954.158.3 Napoleon Bonaparte

“Napoléon Bonaparte,” Jean Baptiste Isabey, 1806, MdHS, 1954.158.3

Napoleon was strong-willed and determined trusting only himself; in his words “If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.” Bonaparte, an excellent military strategist, well-versed in the art of deception and espionage, used the great political unrest in France as an opportunity to rise quickly through the military ranks, and ultimately setting the stage for a coup.

He was elected First Consul by the French people but was not satisfied. Eventually, he reinstated the monarchy and was crowned Emperor Napoleon I by Pope Pius VII in 1804.

He believed that much of his success was destined by God, but he also believed that one should take advantage of opportunities, and in doing so, one should take into account not the individuals involved, “but things and their consequences.” His glory and that of France were all that mattered.

In 1805, General Denis Decres wrote to Jerome that “he (Napoleon) considers himself as having no family but the French people; everything unconnected with the glory and happiness of France is indifferent to him.” His younger brother’s marriage to an American, even one with remarkable wealth and extraordinary beauty, had no benefit to France. Napoleon had more glorious plans for Jerome…

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