The Bonaparte Women – Elizabeth Patterson (Part three)

elizabeth patteron
(public domain)

Read part one here.

Read part two here.

By 1824, Elizabeth returned to America to find her father did not want her in his house – he had moved a mistress in. She wanted nothing more than to return to Europe immediately but could not do so until the following year. This time, she would not return to America for nine years. In 1826, Jérôme, at last, showed in interested in his son and wanted to meet him. Elizabeth felt that she could not deny him that. He travelled to Italy where he was warmly welcomed by his stepmother Catherine.

The engagement between her son and Charlotte definitely wasn’t going to happen, and he had begun courting Susan May Williams without his mother’s knowledge. Elizabeth learned of the engagement on the day that the two were married. She reportedly told him, “You prefer to join the common herd, born to draw nutrition, propagate, and rot.” She wrote, “I had endeavoured to instil into him from the hour of his birth and connection ever to marry an American woman. I hated and loathed a residence in Baltimore so much that when I thought I was to spend my life there, I tried to screw my courage up to the point of committing suicide. My cowardice and only my cowardice prevent my exchanging Baltimore for the grave. I now repeat what I said in my last letter, that I would as soon have gone to Botany Bay as to have married any man in Baltimore.”

Elizabeth herself never remarried, but she did find love once more in the form of Prince Alexander Mikhailovich Gorchakov. She was 44 years old – he was 31. He wanted her to become his mistress, but Elizabeth refused him. She still guarded her honour carefully.

Elizabeth left Europe in 1834, and she found her father a feeble old man. She had also not seen her son since he left for America in 1825 to court Charlotte. He was a father himself now. In February 1835, her father died, and he did not leave her an equal share of his estate. He still condemned her conduct, even from the grave. She contested the will but was eventually forced to abandon her quest. By 1839, Elizabeth fled from her unhappy situation in America – back to Europe. However, she found no peace there. She returned to America and began spending her summers at Rockaway Beach and the winters in Baltimore.

In 1848, her son’s cousin Louis-Napoleon was elected France’s new president. Elizabeth did not want to return to France, but she did take the opportunity to travel to London. She returned to Baltimore in 1850 and watched the events in France carefully. In 1852, Louis-Napoleon declared the Second Empire and became Emperor Napoleon III. Elizabeth now focussed her ambitions on her grandson. He and his father went to Paris and received a warm welcome. On 24 June 1860, Jérôme Bonaparte died at the age of 76.

Elizabeth soon found herself caught up in the American civil war. She was weary of war and wrote, “I can tell you nothing of the politics of this unhappy country. I can only sigh over the fatality which impelled my blind fellow citizens to annihilate the prosperity of their once-promising greatness… by cutting the throats of each other.” Elizabeth outlived her only son as he died in 1870. Her grandson too took an American wife the following year – to Elizabeth’s disappointment. His new wife was a widow with three children and Elizabeth wrote to him that he made a marriage, “entirely beneath your position in the world & your name.” Although they eventually made peace, Elizabeth grew bitter in her final years.

Soon, she had outlived friends and foes alike. Shortly after Christmas 1878, she became bedridden. She died four months later on 4 April 1879. She had chosen not to be buried in the family plot. She wrote her own epitaph, “I have been alone in life, and I wish to be alone in death.” However, her family had the words, “after life’s fitful fever, she sleeps well,” written on her tombstone.1

  1. Wondrous beauty: the life and adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte by Carol Berkin (US & UK)

About Moniek 1802 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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