Monday, December 28, 2009

Napoleon Wins Round One

It was now clear to Betsy Bonaparte and her traveling companions--which included her friend Eliza Anderson--that, despite the fact that Betsy was pregnant with his niece or nephew, Napoleon wasn't going to let them land in any port that he controlled. That would include Amsterdam, where they were currently moored, under armed guard. The same day that the ship Erin finally received fresh provisions from the Dutch Admiral, the ship's captain also received a written order to leave the port--as though, after they'd almost come under fire from the Dutch, there could possibly be any doubt about whether they were welcome.

So, where to go next? At this point Napoleon controlled enough European territory that there weren't many options. Of course, one possibility would have been to turn around and sail back to the United States. And Betsy's husband Jerome had been ordered by Napoleon to tell her to do just that (although there's no evidence he had sent her such a message at this point). But--given that Betsy was due in only two months, and sea voyages could easily take six weeks--an Atlantic crossing was risky. Besides, Captain Stephenson apparently had other cargo to deliver to Amsterdam and needed to return, once he had rid himself of his problematic human cargo. Nor was Betsy ready to give up on her hopes that Jerome would convince his brother to recognize the marriage.

Betsy's own brother Robert, who was in Holland on business and had heard of the stand-off in Amsterdam harbor, desperately tried to get a message to her telling her to proceed to Emden, in Germany. But apparently that message never got through.

It's not clear exactly how the discussion unfolded, because Captain Stephenson reports rather laconically that "when the wind came fair we put to sea and after we were outside debated where we should go[.] [W]hen it being determined for England, we made for that country and next afternoon anchored off Dover." (Betsy, alas, was even more laconic, reducing the whole episode to the comment, "not being permitted to land in Holland obliged to go to England." It's really too bad we don't have Eliza's impressions of the Amsterdam adventure. Judging from what I've read of her letters, she would have provided quite a vivid account.)

England was, in some ways, a logical choice: it was close by, and--given that England and France were at war--Napoleon certainly wasn't going to be able to prevent them from landing there. But, if Betsy was still hoping to curry favor with her putative brother-in-law, choosing to have her baby in the land of his sworn enemies, the British, probably wasn't the smartest move.

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