Bonaparte, Elizabeth Patterson (1785–1879)

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Bonaparte, Elizabeth Patterson (1785–1879)

American socialite who married into the family Bonaparte. Name variations: Betsy Patterson; Elizabeth Patterson; Elizabeth Bonaparte-Patterson; Madame Patterson. Born Elizabeth Patterson in Baltimore, Maryland, on February 6, 1785; died in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 4, 1879; daughter of William Patterson (president of Baltimore's largest bank); daughter-in-law ofLetizia Bonaparte (1750–1836); sister-in-law of Napoleon I, emperor of France (r. 1804–1815); married Jérôme Bonaparte (1784–1860), king of Westphalia, in Baltimore, on December 24, 1803 (divorced 1813); children: one son, Jerome ("Bo," b. July 7, 1805), from whom the American Bonapartes descended.

The belle of Baltimore, Elizabeth Patterson met 19-year-old Jérôme Bonaparte, the younger brother of Napoleon, on his visit to the United States in 1803. Although he was underage and forbidden to marry without his mother's consent, he proposed to Elizabeth through the Spanish ambassador, and the two married within a month of their meeting. Despite orders to return home without his wife, Jérôme set sail with Elizabeth. When they reached Lisbon, however, she was not permitted to land. Traveling on to England, she gave birth to a son on July 7, 1805. Napoleon granted Elizabeth an annual pension of $12,000 and arranged for a nullification of the marriage in October 1806, despite protests from the pope. Napoleon then formed an alliance with Germany's Westphalia, the following year, by marrying his younger brother Jérôme off to Princess Catherine of Wurttemberg .

Eventually returning to Baltimore, Elizabeth was granted a divorce by the Maryland legislature in 1813, but she refused to drop the name Bonaparte. In 1815, following Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, Elizabeth returned to Europe, where she was admired for her wit and beauty, and courted by many important men of the day, including Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. Though she was reunited with the Bonaparte family, and her son was finally declared legitimate, she saw Jérôme only once again, in an art gallery. Elizabeth returned to Baltimore in 1861, where she lived in obscurity until her death in 1879. She reportedly left over one million dollars to her two grandsons.