October 29, 2014

A modern philosophe – Betsy Bonaparte

In 1803, a woman by the name of Elizabeth, or Betsy as she was known, was the daughter of a wealthy Baltimore shipping magnate. At the age of 18, Betsy met Jérôme Bonaparte, the younger brother of the French emperor, and married him when he was visiting the U.S.

Betsy Bonaparte
Shortly after the marriage, Betsy Patterson Bonaparte travelled with her husband to France where most of the Bonaparte family accepted her, except Napoleon. Napoleon refused to accept the marriage and had it annulled. Jérôme decided to abandon his wife and she was forced to take refuge in Britain where she gave birth to a son. Upon returning to Baltimore, one resident described Betsy as “the most extraordinary girl, given to reading … the rights of women, etc. in short, a modern philosophe.”

Betsy craved a sophisticated life and she found some small consolation in Washington where women prided themselves on being fashionable. After being married to a Bonaparte, Betsy believed that it was impossible to, “ever bend my spirit to marry any one who had been my equal before my marriage,” or “to be contented in a country where there exists no nobility.” Betsy shocked Washington society with her daring outfits as one woman described her outfit as:

the thinnest sarcenet and white crepe without the least stiffening in it … there was scarcely any waist to it and no sleeves; her back, her bosom, part of her waist and her arms were uncovered and the rest of her form visible.

Many were shocked by the “almost naked woman,” that she was warned to change her cloths or she would not be accepted in society. Undaunted, Betsy did not change her style of daring clothing and magnificent jewellery, causing her to set the fashion for many in Washington.  

After the War of 1812, Betsy successfully had her marriage officially annulled in Maryland. Betsy continued to live in Baltimore where she died in 1879 at the age of 94.

On Saturday, November 1st, head to McFarland House to experience their Game of CLUE Murder Mystery night. Interrogate the suspects and help solve the murder. Click here for more information.

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