Did you know that Napoleon Bonaparte had American relations? It’s true.
In 1803 Napoleon’s younger brother, Jerome was a naval officer fighting in the Caribbean. To escape captured by the English he retreated to America, and subsequently went to Maryland to visit a friend. There he met Miss Elizabeth Patterson, the daughter of the wealthiest man in Maryland. After a whirlwind two month courtship, he asked for her hand in marriage. Neither side of the family was enthusiastic about the arrangement, but Elizabeth, known as Betsy, did manage to obtain her parents’ permission. Napoleon Bonaparte wasn’t so accommodating, he had plans for his brother. The wedding went ahead anyway.
The couple were married on Christmas Eve 1803 by the Archbishop of Baltimore and immediately set out to take America by storm. Betsy’s beauty was legendary and she had no problem with flaunting it by wearing fashions that raised many an eyebrow. At one point she appeared in Washington, essentially nude. The white muslin gown she wore had been dampened down until it clung to every… um… feature and she had no other layers on beneath it. An ensemble that scandalized the wives of Washington, but didn’t seem to trouble their husbands at all.
At the news of the wedding Napoleon immediately ordered his brother home. Jerome and Betsy managed to ignore Napoleon’s peremptory summons for a while. As they traveled south to New Orleans, but the time came that they had to respond.
A now pregnant Betsy set sail with her husband, hoping to arrive in time for Napoleon’s coronation. When they came within sight of the coast in March of 1805, their ship was boarded and Jerome was taken off. She never saw him again.
Betsy was denied entrance into France, and Napoleon exerted his influence to ensure that other ports were closed to her as well. She finally found safe harbor in England and gave birth to a son, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, in July of 1805.
Jerome tried to reason with his brother, but Napoleon would not listen and declared the marriage null. He then demanded that Jerome marry a German princess Catharina of Württemburg. Jerome caved to the pressure and married the German, without having his marriage to Betsy legally dissolved.
Napoleon sent a letter to Betsy requesting that she stop using the Bonaparte name, and offering her a small stipend if she would drop her claims, and those of her son on Jerome. She promptly replied that she had come by the name honorably and had no intention of dropping it nor any other right or honor which she was due.
In London, Betsy became the belle of the ball. Every Englishman wanted to meet the woman who so thoroughly got Napoleon’s goat. She returned to Maryland with her young son, but after the Battle of Waterloo she returned to Europe and was feted across the continent for her beauty and wit. She finally secured a divorce from Jerome in 1815 by a special act of the Maryland Legislature.