Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Betsy Grows Bitter

Eliza, at least, was undoubtedly delighted to arrive back home safely after her adventures with Betsy in Europe, and to be reunited with her father and her little girl.

Betsy was presumably bitterly disappointed that her mission had failed: she now had an infant son--a putative heir to the Bonaparte throne--but her husband was missing in action. She didn't know yet whether Napoleon would be convinced to recognize her marriage, but in this instance no news must have looked like bad news. Still, she was determined to keep up appearances. As she wrote to her father from London about Jerome, "we must certainly act as if we supposed him possessed of some principle and honour.”

As it would turn out, he wasn't. Or perhaps that's being too harsh: Napoleon wasn't an easy guy to stand up to. In any event, after a few ardent letters and lavish presents he sent to Betsy in 1805 and 1806, Jerome grew silent. And then in 1807 word came that he had acceded to his brother's wishes and married royalty--Princess Frederica Catherina of Wurtemberg. It may not have been a love match, but the union enabled Jerome to become King of Westphalia--at least until Napoleon met his literal Waterloo.

Betsy essentially spent the rest of her life (and she lived to be 94) fighting to establish herself and her son as genuine Bonapartes. She never got the title she yearned for, and her son disappointed her by marrying a perfectly nice Baltimore girl instead of the royalty she would have preferred--an act that drove her, she said, to the brink of madness. (Apparently she didn't get the irony here: her OWN marriage was annulled by Napoleon largely because SHE wasn't royalty.) And eventually she got a court decision recognizing her son, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte (nicknamed "Bo"), as a Bonaparte. But he wasn't allowed to take his place in the line of succession for the French throne--which, of course, did end up in Bonaparte hands again for a while. (Her grandson, Charles Bonaparte, did become an Attorney General of the United States--but it's unclear whether Betsy would have been impressed by that.)

And so we will basically leave the story of Betsy, which gets pretty boring and depressing. In the next installment we'll switch our attention to Eliza. During her lifetime, Eliza may have felt herself to be in the shadow of her far more celebrated friend (or perhaps I should say "friend"). And lots more ink has been spilled over Betsy than Eliza--who hasn't been written about by a historian in over 50 years. But as we'll soon discover, what Eliza herself was about to accomplish was pretty impressive--and, I would argue, a lot more historically significant than anything Betsy ever did.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Back to Baltimore

Sorry if I've left anyone hanging, but my Internet was out for a few days (not the whole explanation, but I'm not above resorting to it as an excuse).

In any event, after Betsy announced that "Mrs. Anderson" would be departing from England while the rest of the party wintered in London, there was an abrupt reversal. Betsy wrote to her father the next day, rather tersely, "Our plans are changed with respect to Mrs. Anderson--that is to say, Mrs. Anderson does not mean to go until next spring; therefore I do not send some things to Mama that I mentioned in my letter to her; but by the first good opportunity they shall be sent."

Again, this seems a rather odd way to talk about a dear friend who has risked her life crossing the Atlantic to keep you company in your hour of need. Betsy writes as though Mrs. Anderson were some pawn in a chess game, with plans being made for her--when just the day before it had been Mrs. Anderson, anxious to return home, who was clearly doing the planning. What happened to her anxiety? Not to mention that the only reaction Betsy betrays to this turn of events is disappointment that she can't send some things home to Mama.

The following day, August 16th, we get a bit more of an explanation--though not from Betsy. Betsy's brother Robert, also in London, writes to his father that they have "prevailed on Mrs. Anderson to remain here, as it is possible I may find it necessary or beneficial to go to France; in which case it would be more proper that my sister should not be left alone." This sounds like Robert's decision more than Betsy's. (By "left alone," Robert apparently means without a female companion; another Patterson brother, William, was in London as well.)

It's hard not to wonder if there hadn't been some rift between the two women. After all, on the voyage over to Europe the captain describes the two of them happily passing the hours by gossiping about everyone and everything in Baltimore. Now Betsy's tone about Eliza Anderson is almost as dismissive as the one she uses to describe the departure of a servant (perhaps a slave) in early September: "Prudence, who was of no earthly use, sailed in the Baltimore."

Or maybe there hadn't been a rift, and Betsy was just revealing her imperious, self-centered temperament, which was to come to the fore in the correspondence of her later years. Maybe her feelings of friendship for Eliza didn't run very deep--although Eliza's later letters to her (we don't, alas, have any letters from Betsy to Eliza) seem to reflect a close relationship. Betsy certainly knew how to charm--as she'd thoroughly charmed her husband, Jerome Bonaparte. Maybe she simply deceived Eliza into thinking they were good friends.

In any event, plans soon changed once again. On September 27, 1805, everyone except Robert--which is to say, Betsy, her infant son, her brother William, and Eliza Anderson--embarked for America on the brig Mars. Crossing the Atlantic in late fall and winter was treacherous, and a departure at this late a date was risky. It's not clear what prompted the decision to leave rather than wait until the spring, but it may have had something to do with a letter from Dr. Garnier, a French physician who had attached himself to Jerome Bonaparte, telling Betsy that Jerome wanted her to return to Baltimore. Betsy scoffed that the letter had "all the marks of a deception." But still, things didn't look promising.

The brig Mars safely delivered its passengers to Baltimore in mid-November. The most interesting part of Betsy's life was now over--and she was only 20 years old. But the most interesting part of Eliza Anderson's life was about to begin.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Betsy Has Her Baby

So Betsy and Eliza settled in--first at a London hotel and then in some sort of rented quarters in the London suburb of Camberwell--to await (a) word from the errant Jerome, and (b) the birth of Betsy's baby.

The second of these came sooner than the first. On July 7, 1805, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte arrived in the world, with his birth certificate attested by a number of dignitaries, including the Austrian and Prussian ambassadors. Betsy must have been delighted that it was a boy--and therefore a potential heir to Napoleon's throne--and she was taking no chances.

Meanwhile, Napoleon was launching an ultimately unsuccessful effort to get the Pope to declare Betsy and Jerome's marriage invalid. In a wildly inaccurate letter, Napoleon claimed that his black sheep brother had married Betsy after having been in Baltimore only a month (in fact it was more like six), and that the marriage had been performed by a "Spanish priest" who had "sufficiently forgot his duties to pronounce the benediction" (in fact the officiating cleric was Archbishop John Carroll of Baltimore). His main argument, though, seems to be Betsy's religion: it was important for France, he argued, that "there should not be a Protestant woman so close to me." Just for good measure, Napoleon sent along a little present: a tiara of gold and jewels.

To the Pope's credit, he refused to issue an annulment. Apologizing profusely, he said he simply couldn't find anything that would authorize him to do so.

Jerome finally wrote to Betsy at the end of July from Genoa, where he was about to launch an expedition to North Africa to retrieve enslaved Christians. While he expresses his undying love for her and their child (who he assumes, correctly, has been born by now), he chides her for having chosen to give birth in the land of Napoleon's sworn enemies: "what has undone us is your arrival in England." Still, he urges patience and no badmouthing of the Emperor ("one should never irritate a sovereign," he advises, perhaps from experience). If she hasn't heard from Napoleon within two months, she's to go to America--but not to lose hope: "Have confidence in your husband; be convinced that he breathes, dreams, works, only for you, yes, for you alone and for our child."

The mails being what they were, this letter didn't arrive in England for quite some time--not, in fact, until after Betsy had left. But during the late summer and early fall, there was apparently much dithering among Betsy's party about what to do.

Betsy was apparently having a fine time, being fawned over by London's elite--and its masses--as a noble victim of that scoundrel Napoleon. The papers treated it as news when she took a walk in the park or made a trip to the bank--and on the latter occasion reported that "some hundreds of persons assembled to see her return to her carriage, which waited at the front of the building."

But Eliza, perhaps, was getting antsy. On August 14, Betsy wrote to her father that she intended to spend the winter in England, but that "Mrs. Anderson is extremely anxious to return to America, and, as she will be no material loss, she takes her departure in the `Robert.'" The tone of this letter may be what has given rise, in the popular literature about Betsy, to the idea that "Mrs. Anderson" was some elderly and unpleasant family friend or midwife: now that she'd assisted at the birth, good riddance. It was certainly a rather callous way to speak of someone who had left behind her father and small daughter and risked her life to accompany her friend to Europe. One historian has suggested that Eliza's anxiousness to return to Baltimore had something to do with an inheritance she'd just come into. But what mother wouldn't be anxious to return to a five-year-old she hadn't seen for five months?

But soon enough, plans changed ...