Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Betsy Boffo in Britain

On May 18, 1805, the ship Erin--with Betsy Bonaparte and the rest of her party aboard--dropped anchor off the coast of Dover and apparently sent someone ashore to procure passports. In a sign of how slowly news traveled in the early 19th century, that same day the London Morning Courier reported--in an item dated "Madrid, April 10"--that Betsy had just embarked from Lisbon on her way to Holland.

Betsy's reception in England was considerably warmer than what she had met with in Amsterdam. Her fame, already widespread in the United States, had preceded her, and her rough treatment at Napoleon's hands apparently trumped her familial connection to the Bonapartes and stirred British sympathies. Not that they would have needed much stirring, given that Britain was at war with France and Napoleon was roundly despised.

On May 20, the Morning Courier--now fully apprised of Betsy's whereabouts--heaped scorn on "the French, who boast so much of their gallantry to females" but had prevented the pregnant Betsy from landing. Here in England, the Courier added, Betsy "knew she would be hospitably entertained." A few days later the paper again took up the theme: "In [her] distress she turned her thoughts towards England, a country where neither enmity, politics, or warfare, ever yet extinguished the feelings of humanity and the spirit of gallantry. In England she found an asylum."

According to newspaper reports, when Betsy landed at Dover, she was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd whose numbers the Courier described as "almost past calculation." Another report said that the man escorting Betsy from the ship was able to get her to her waiting carriage only "with the greatest exertions" because of the pressure of the crowd. The reports noted that Betsy seemed pleased by the attention.

No doubt she was also gratified to read the many encomiums to her beauty. "The personal attraction[s] of Madame Jerome Bonaparte have been reported through every part in Europe," remarked the Courier (which was on this story like a glove). "Nor has her elegance been too much celebrated. Her figure is about the middle size; her countenance sweet and expressive; and her general deportment such as must interest and engage the heart of every beholder."

Poor Eliza. Initial reports described her as simply "a female," although a later one reported her name and called her one of Betsy's "beautiful countrywomen." Still, I can't help wondering if the imbalance in attention might not have caused some friction between the two women--as a comment by Betsy a few months later suggests.

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