Elizabeth was enthusiastically welcomed back in the Baltimore society, but her father had been left with her husband’s debts. He was – understandably – quite angry. Then the letters Jérôme had written, finally began to arrive. Elizabeth became optimistic once more, but as more letters came in, this waned somewhat. Jérôme began to blame her for their current situation. It became clear as well that Napoleon had arranged a new marriage for his brother. The new bride was Catharina of Württemberg. To avoid complications, Napoleon appealed to Pope Pius VII to annul his brother’s marriage. By October 1806, the marriage of Jérôme and Elizabeth was declared invalid. Jérôme could now be made a prince, and in 1807, he was made King of Westphalia. For Elizabeth, the annulment of her marriage was a huge blow.
Elizabeth and her three-year-old son now needed to rebuild their lives. She wanted to fight to have her son recognised as a full member of the French Imperial family. She often wrote to Napoleon, demanding recognition for him. She then began to worry that the Bonapartes might take her son away. Elizabeth finally began to receive a pension on which she could live comfortably, and she invested part of the money, making her even wealthier. She became an attractive marriage prospect once more, but as her marriage was technically still valid in Maryland, she did not seriously consider remarrying, for now at least. In 1812, Jérôme contacted her after a silence of three years. He urged her to be patient and promised that he would provide for her. Elizabeth ignored his empty promises and wanted to take charge. That same year, she filed for a divorce, and at the end of the year, their marriage was declared null and void. Jérôme could now no longer lay claim to her growing fortune. Just four months later, Napoleon was exiled for the first time.
Elizabeth made inquiries into whether it would be safe for her to travel to Europe, and in 1815, Elizabeth safely arrived in Liverpool without her son. She threw herself into the social life there, and she was often flooded with invitations. All the doors seemed open to her, but her father’s disapproval hung over her head. He wrote to her, “As for your letters, I am so ashamed of them that I do not dare show them to anybody.” He resorted to withdrawing his financial support. Her investments would not be enough to support her lifestyle, and she knew it. With a small windfall, she managed to travel to Paris because even if she had to leave Europe, she wanted to see Paris. She even received an invitation from the King, but she declined it. On 12 September 1817, Elizabeth finally faced the inevitable and sailed for New York.
She was soon planning her way back to Europe also because her now 14-year-old son needed a good education. She wanted to enrol him in a school in Geneva, and by May 1819, they were on their way to Europe, despite barely being able to afford it. Her son was denied a passport for France, and so they were forced to travel via The Netherlands and Germany to Switzerland. She sent her son to school and settled in a small apartment in Geneva where her son would spend the weekends with her. Her son was less than happy to be in Europe and wrote to his grandfather that he wanted to return to America as soon as possible.
Elizabeth was happy to find a pleasant social life in Geneva with many aristocratic friends from Paris now settled there. Napoleon’s family now lived in Italy, and when his mother Letizia and his sister Pauline learned that Elizabeth was in Geneva, they wanted to meet her. Elizabeth was reluctant to accept their invitation and wrote to Pauline that she did not wish to interrupt her son’s schooling. However, by 1821, she had changed her mind and set out for Rome with her son.
Letizia showered her grandson with gifts as did his aunt, Pauline. The family even suggested a marriage between her son and his cousin Charlotte. The offer delighted Elizabeth because it solidified his and by extent her place in the Bonaparte family. Realising that Jérôme would never provide for his son, Pauline and Letizia offered to provide him with whatever funds he needed. Her son returned to America, where his proposed bride lived with her father, but no news of an engagement arrived in Rome. When the family then began to turn on her, Elizabeth returned to Geneva. She began to divide her time between Geneva, Florence, Paris and the French coast. It was in Florence that she ran into her former husband by chance. They saw each other at a gallery at the Pitti Palace where Jérôme also was with Catherine. They didn’t speak, although Jérôme remarked, “Did you see? That was my American wife.”1