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 ...

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