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Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte (Baltimore, Marylandmarker, 6 February 1785 - Baltimore, Maryland, 4 April 1879), known as "Betsy", was the daughter of a Baltimore, Marylandmarker merchant, and was the first wife of Jérôme Bonaparte, and sister-in-law of Emperor Napoleon I of France. Elizabeth's father, William Patterson, had been born in Irelandmarker and came to North America prior to the American Revolutionary War. He was a Catholic, and the wealthiest man in Marylandmarker after Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence.

They were married on December 24, 1803, at a ceremony presided over by John Carroll, the Archbishop of Baltimore. Betsy quickly became known for her risqué taste in fashion, starting with her wedding dress.

Jerome's brother Napoleon ordered his brother back to Francemarker. He further demanded that his brother have the marriage annulled. Jerome ignored Napoleon's initial demand that he return to France without his wife.

In the fall of 1804 Jerome and a pregnant Betsy attempted to return to France in time for his brother's coronation, but a number of false starts delayed them. When they finally arrived, Elizabeth was denied landing in continental Europe by order of Napoleon. Jerome traveled to Italy in an attempt to reason with his brother, writing to his wife, "My dearest Elsa, I will do everything that must be done," but she would never see him again. After remaining in limbo, unable to disembark in either France or the Netherlands, she gave birth to a son on July 7, 1805, in 95 Camberwell Grove, Camberwell, Londonmarker. Jerome gave in to his brother, returned to the French Navy and married the German princess Catharina of Württemberg. (His marriage to "dearest Elsa" had not yet been dissolved.)

Betsy returned to Baltimore with her son, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, called "Bo" by his mother, and lived with her father while she continued to flaunt her royal connection and skimpy attire. After the battle of Waterloomarker she returned to Europe where she was well received in the most exclusive circles and much admired for her beauty and wit. In 1815, by special Act of the Legislature of Maryland, she secured a divorce.

Her last years were spent in Baltimore in the management of her estate, the value of which she increased to $1,500,000. Betsy died in the midst of a court battle over whether the state of Maryland could tax her out of state bonds. The case reached the Supreme Court (Bonaparte v. Tax Court, 104 U.S. 592) and the Court decided in favor of Maryland. She is buried in the Greenmount Cemeterymarker, Baltimore, Maryland.

Ironically, Betsy's brother's widow, Marianne (Caton) Patterson, married Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, older brother of the Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Her brother Edward Patterson was the owner of Joppa Iron Works in Eastern Baltimore County, MD. Furthermore, Marianne was a granddaughter of Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

The story of Elizabeth and Jerome's marriage and annulment is the basis for the 1908 play Glorious Betsy by Rida Johnson Young and the two film adaptations, Glorious Betsy (1928) and Hearts Divided (1936). She was portrayed by Dolores Costello in the former and by Marion Davies in the latter.The episode "Duty" of the Hornblower TV Series features Elizabeth and Jerome trying to land in France and it's diplomatic repercussions.



Maryland State Archives. Maryland Tax Exempt Bonds: The Case of Betsy Patterson, 1868-1882. 2007.[9822]


  • F. B. Goodrich, The Court of Napoleon III (Philadelphia, 1864)
  • E. L. Didier, Life and Letters of Madame Bonaparte (New York, 1879)
  • M. Farquhar, Foolishly Forgotten Americans (New York, 2008)

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