Saturday, December 19, 2009

Betsy and Eliza vs. Napoleon, Part II

After the elderly pilot scampered off into the Amsterdam harbor--fearing for his life because he had almost disobeyed Napoleon's orders to prevent the ship Erin from landing--Betsy Bonaparte and her little traveling party (including her friend Eliza Anderson) were somewhat demoralized, to say the least. When the circumstances were explained to Betsy, the ship's captain said, "they afflicted her very much, as it at once proved to her, she would not be received by the French government."

Here we might pause to consider what had happened to Betsy's errant husband Jerome, who had parted from her in Lisbon with the promise that he would see his brother Napoleon and convince him to recognize the marriage. Jerome has taken something of a beating from historians and commentators in light of what later transpired, but all the evidence from 1805 indicates that, (a) he really did love Betsy, and (b) he did try, sort of, to get Napoleon's approval.

Shortly after they parted in Lisbon, Jerome wrote to Betsy: "Don’t cry because tears do no good and may do you much harm... Take care not to receive visitors or to make visits and to have someone always with you either Mrs. Anderson, the doctor, or William... I embrace you as I love you, and you know that I love you very much..." A few days later, Jerome ran into some old friends on the road--the Duchesse d'Abrantes and her husband, who had just been appointed Napoleon's ambassador to Portugal. Jerome eagerly showed the couple a portrait of Betsy, according to the Duchesse, and then said, "Judge, then, whether I can abandon a being like her; especially when I assure you that to a person so exquisitely beautiful are united every quality that can render a woman amiable." The Duchesse, who had known Jerome in his black sheep youth, "could not help remarking a wonderful alteration in his manners. He was sedate--nay, almost serious."

On May 3--almost a month after he'd left Betsy in Lisbon, and only a few days before Betsy tried unsuccessfully to land in Amsterdam--Jerome wrote to her from Italy, where Napoleon was then ensconced. He was clearly optimistic, telling Betsy that he would be meeting with the Emperor the next day and that he and Betsy would be reunited (he doesn't specify where) during the first half of June. But a few days later Napoleon sent word to Jerome that he would meet with him only if he renounced Betsy and ordered her to go home.

Jerome had previously assured Betsy that if he failed in his mission he would simply withdraw "with my little family in no matter what corner of the world." But when push came to shove, he gave in to Napoleon's demand--perhaps by a return letter of the very same day. Why? He later told Betsy that his plan was to prove himself valiant in battle and then ask for Betsy as his reward. It's also possible that Napoleon wasn't about to let him leave quietly--he'd already threatened Jerome with arrest if he deviated from the route prescribed for him from Lisbon to Italy. And it's possible that Jerome suspected that his charming but ambitious little wife wouldn't have lived too happily ever after in obscurity in "no matter what corner of the world."

Here's one thing that puzzles me, though: Napoleon apparently sent word to Jerome in Lisbon, before he left, that Betsy would be prevented from landing in Amsterdam. So why didn't Jerome warn her, and tell her to go somewhere else? It's possible that Jerome never got, or didn't understand, that part of Napoleon's orders. When he wrote to Betsy in April, shortly after they parted, he addressed his letter to her in Amsterdam (under the pseudonym they'd adopted in Lisbon, d'Albert). So he must have thought she'd be able to land there.

In any event, Betsy and Eliza and the rest of the party knew nothing of what was transpiring in Italy, and they were clearly unprepared for the hostile reception they had gotten in Holland--which, though technically not part of Napoleon's empire, was ruled by a puppet government. And things were about to get even more hostile...

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