Bishop John Carroll, Joshua Barney and the Bonapartes

One of the difficulties that I often experience when preparing a post on a historical topic for the blog, is deciding what to leave out.  Oftentimes I have far more material than I can put in a post, unless I want to transform the post into a treatise.  In the case of my recent post on Joshua Barney, American naval hero of the American Revolution and the War of 1812, I had to leave out quite a bit on his life.  One portion that I think might be of interest to our readers is his involvement with Jerome Bonaparte, brother to Napoleon Bonaparte.

In many ways Napoleon Bonaparte always remained a Corsican at heart.  As his power increased in France and then in Europe he remembered to reward his brothers and sisters, as any good clannish Corsican would.  Joseph became King of Naples and then King of Spain;  Elisa, perhaps the most competent of the Bonapartes after Napoleon, became Grand Duchess of Tuscany;  Louis was King of Holland;  the scandalous Pauline married into the Roman nobility;  Caroline was Grand Duchess of Cleves and Berg and eventually Queen of Naples after her brother Joseph became King of Spain;  Lucien, the family rebel, was made Prince of Canino by Pope Pius VII in honor of Lucien’s opposition to Napoleon.  Then there was Jerome Bonaparte, the subject of this post.

Jerome was known as “Fifi” by his family and friends and considered a wastrel fond only of women and drink.  In 1802 Napoleon as First Consul made the 18 year old a naval captain and packed him off on a voyage to the West Indies.  Jerome was supposed to sail immediately back to France, but he decided to visit America.  On July 20, 1802 he stopped at Norfolk and then headed for Washington where he was received by President Jefferson and the French Consul General.  The Consul General, no doubt to get Jerome out of his hair, suggested that he visit Baltimore.

Jerome knew one man in Baltimore, Joshua Barney, who had served in the French Navy and risen to the rank of Commodore.  Joshua Barney and his wife thus acted as hosts for Jerome.  Barney introduced Jerome to the social elite of Baltimore, among whom was merchant William Patterson, a Presbyterian and the wealthiest man in Maryland after Charles Carroll of Carollton, the Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.  Patterson had a 17 year old daughter Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson, attractive and vivacious, and popularly known as the “Belle of Baltimore”.

Jerome fell madly in love with Betsy.  Betsy realized that Jerome was a rather shallow man, but, as she confessed later, she regarded Baltimore society as stifling and would have married the Devil to get a ticket out.  The French consul general was aghast and warned Jerome that since he was underage he could not marry without his elder brother’s permission.  Barney, hoping to break up what he regarded as a doomed romance, took Jerome on a tour of Pennsylvania and Maryland.  Barney advised both Jerome and Betsy that any marriage between them was unwise, especially if Napoleon’s consent was not first obtained.

Like many young lovers, Jerome and Betsy ignored wise counsel.  They were married on Christmas eve 1803, with Bishop John Carroll, the first bishop in the United States and the future first Archbishop of the United States, wedding them.  Joshua Barney, having failed to dissuade the young couple, signed as a witness to the marriage.

After the coronation of Napoleon as Emperor in 1804, Jerome and a pregnant Betsy sailed to France.  Napoleon forbade Betsy to set foot in Continental Europe and a weak-willed Jerome complied.  Napoleon arranged the annulment of the marriage of Jerome and Betsy on March 11, 1805.  Napoleon paid Betsy a pension of 60,000 francs a year.

Jerome went on to marry Catherine of Wurttemberg and was eventually made King of Westphalia by his brother.  Betsy went back to Maryland to raise her son and scandalize society by the skimpy French dresses she wore.  In 1815 the state of Maryland granted her a divorce from Jerome.   She lived till 1879 and turned out to be a shrewd businesswoman, leaving an estate worth $1,500,000.00.   Ironically her brother’s widow, Marianne (Caton) Patterson,  married the elder brother of the Duke of Wellington.  Her son, Prince Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte (called “Bo” by his mom),  had two sons, one of whom, Charles Joseph Bonaparte, served as Secretary of the Navy and Attorney General in the administration of Teddy Roosevelt, and the other of whom, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte II, graduated from West Point, and joined the French army after his first cousin one removed, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, ruled France as Emperor Napoleon III.  Jerome served in all the wars of the Second Empire, rising to the rank of Colonel.  He returned to America after Napoleon III was deposed in the wake of the Franco-Prussian war.

27 Responses to Bishop John Carroll, Joshua Barney and the Bonapartes

  1. Phil says:

    What a huge mess is what I say. Archbishop Carroll should have refused to marry them. For the Americans to be in league with the family of the Terror of Europe by virtue of entertaining Napoleon’s brother on this land as though he was real royalty.

    Wouldn’t this be akin to Raul Castro being welcomed into this land and showing him a grand ‘ol time while his brother–Fidel– is terrorizing Catholicism and Christianity in general?

    And lastly, of course he saw the marriage to Betsy as nothing more than a piece of paper. I am not surprised. He himself was married twice.

  2. tryptic67 says:

    fascinating post, Donald. Thank you. It would make a great movie (for those of you that like that sort of thing, and I think you know who you are!)

  3. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Napoleon was no Castro. He was a despot, but no more so than most of the Monarchs of the Europe of his day, with the proviso that Napoleon was far more talented at doing the Monarch job than all the rest of them put together. His concordat with the Pope effectively ended the Republican war against the Church. Napoleon of course bullied the Pope and locked him up, but these behaviors were well within the traditions of earlier monarchs of the “Eldest Daughter of the Church”.

  4. c matt says:

    What exactly makes one a monarch other than force, and then heredity enforced by force?

  5. Phillip says:

    I think there was a BBC Horatio Hornblower episode that used this as a story line.

  6. tryptic67 says:

    Phillip – I thought I had watched all the Hornblower episodes on A&E. As I recall, they were taken from Foresters “Mr. Midshipman Hornblower” stories (which were written long after “Beat to Quarters” but tell the story of Hornblower’s earliest experiences with [then] Captain Pellew). I also remember they did a two part movie based on Lieutenant Hornblower, where he and Lt. Bush must overcome a psychotic captain.

    I dont recall a similar storyline following “Fifi’s” romantic escapades but would love to see it.

  7. Donald R. McClarey says:

    The episode in which Hornblower met Jerome and Betsy was released in 2003. It was entitled Duty.

  8. tryptic67 says:

    And I was preparing a screenplay … oh well …

  9. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Lifestyles of the Young and Bonaparte!”

  10. Phillip says:


    Go ahead and do your screenplay. As I recall, the Hornblower episode doesn’t approach the detail that Donald relates.

  11. Jason Patterson says:

    Interesting post. I am actually a descendant of William Patterson’s brother Thomas Michael Patterson who settled in South Carolina. In your post you make two historical mistakes: 1) William Patterson wasn’t Catholic, he was Presbyterian from Northern Ireland. He arranged for a Catholic wedding and even he was against her marrying a Bonaparte. 2) He wasn’t a shipbuilder, he was a merchant, like you said the richest after Carroll. He also aided the American Revolution by buying arms from the French and supplying Washington’s army. Other than that you are spot on.

  12. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Thank you Jason. You are correct on both points. One of the sources I consulted was in error. I have amended the post accordingly.

  13. Centinel says:

    Historians generally call the period from 1800 through 1815 as the Napoleonic Wars. That one man can single-handedly plunge an entire continent to fifteen years of near-constant warfare, causing widespread death and destruction, is appalling. Not very many persons in human history can boast the same achievement.

    In my opinion, Napoleon was pretty evil.

  14. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Historians generally call the period from 1800 through 1815 as the Napoleonic Wars. That one man can single-handedly plunge an entire continent to fifteen years of near-constant warfare, causing widespread death and destruction, is appalling.”

    Napoleon has his share of the blame, but I don’t think he can be properly alloted all of the blame. Wars were a frequent feature of life in Europe up to the time of Napoleon, and in that respect the wars of his period were not that unusual. What was extremely unusual was the almost a century of peace and brief wars in Europe ushered in after the Congress of Vienna.

  15. Nathan Ang says:

    Admiral Nelson tried to help the Pope as much as he could. Contrast this with Napoleon, who occupied Rome. So Admiral Nelson, an Anglican, turned out to be more pro-Catholic than Napoleon, a nominal Catholic. This was an exceptional moment of Protestant-Catholic cooperation.

  16. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Catholic refugees in England during the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars helped begin the process of lessening the virulent anti-Catholicism that England had been cursed with since the time of Bad Queen Bess.

  17. Tito Edwards says:

    Napolean was actually an agnostic at best.

    He didn’t care for the Church unless it served him such as his wedding to gain legitamacy in the eyes of Frenchman.

    He’s still one of the closest men in history that resembled the anti-Christ.

    Only Mao, Stalin, and Hitler can claim that crown along with the Corsican.

  18. Donald R. McClarey says:

    I disagree with you as to Napoleon’s religious stance Tito. I agree with the observations of Metternich, his greatest foe:

    “Napoleon was not irreligious in the ordinary sense of the word. He would not admit that there had ever existed a genuine atheist; he condemned Deism as the result of rash speculation. A Christian and a Catholic, he recognized in religion alone the right to govern human societies. He looked on Christianity as the basis of all real civilization; and considered Catholicism as the form of worship most favorable to the maintenance of order and the true tranquility of the moral world; Protestantism as a source of trouble and disagreements. Personally indifferent to religious practices, he respected them too much to permit the slightest ridicule of those who followed them. It is possible that religion was, with him, more the result of an enlightened policy than an affair of sentiment; but whatever might have been the secret of his heart, he took care never to betray it.”

    My thoughts on Napoleon and his religious beliefs are set out here:

  19. Nathan Ang says:

    It is a little-known historical fact that Admiral Nelson almost became a Liberator of Rome. In 1798, Rome was occupied by Napoleon. Nelson persuaded King Ferdinand IV of Naples to take action. With the help of Nelson’s fleet, King Ferdinand and his army entered Rome on November 29, 1798. If their success had been more permanent, King Ferdinand IV and Admiral Nelson would have gone down in history as Liberators of Rome.

  20. Centinel says:

    Actions speak louder than words, and Napoleon committed many acts that can hardly be described as Christian. He killed hundreds of thousands of people in aggressive warfare. Name almost any country in Western Europe, and more likely than not, Napoleon shows up in her history as invader or conqueror. Let’s not forget, either, the Russians and anyone else who opposed him.

    (Some of Napoleon’s battles may have been in France’s self-defense, but in many situations he was the aggressor rather than the defender.)

    “What was extremely unusual was the almost a century of peace and brief wars in Europe ushered in after the Congress of Vienna.” So Napoleon in power brings fifteen years of death and destruction, but Napoleon in exile three thousand miles away affords Europe a hundred years of peace. (Pardon me for using your argument against you.)

  21. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Blaming Napoleon solely for the wars of his time are absurd. The wars brought on by the French Revolution were already in full swing by the time Napoleon arrived on the scene. Britain, and the other powers it convinced to join in wars against France over the years, simply was not going to allow a greatly expanded France to dominate the Continent, as it had waged a similar war to prevent Louis XIV and France from dominating Europe a century before the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon was part of a long historical process of wars between Britain and France to decide which would be the dominant player in Europe and the World. To paint Napoleon as the bogey man in this process betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of this clash of two nations that ended in the Pax Britannica.

  22. Centinel says:

    Look at a map of Europe. Austerlitz, Jena, Moscow, etc. are hundreds of miles away from French soil. Napoleon was not fighting in self-defense.

    At this time, France had beheaded its King and Queen. All the royal houses of Europe were in fear for their lives. You might forgive them a little for being eager to oppose France.

    I will admit though, that it was a little hypocritical of the British to oppose Napoleon and keep the Irish oppressed.

  23. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Austerlitz was fought as a result of Britain convincing Austria to join the Third Coalition against France, France and Britain being at war since 1803 after the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens. Jena was fought as a result of Prussia joining the Fourth Coalition, and being deluded enough to think that it could beat France in a stand up fight. Prussia declared war on France, not the other way around. Moscow was fought as a result of Napoleon’s attempt to keep Russia in the Continental System which involved closing the ports of Europe to trade with Britain. It is impossible to understand the Napoleonic Wars without understanding the ancient rivalry between Britain and France which was the underlying cause of each of these wars.

    As to the royal houses being in fear of their lives, that fear terminated long before Napoleon was crowned as Emperor with the end of the Republican terror. After Napoleon their motivation was chiefly fear of the loss of their jobs, until the nationalism that motivated the masses in France had spread to the masses of the nations fighting France.

  24. Centinel says:

    Way before Austerlitz was fought, Napoleon had made his intentions loud and clear – he wanted to replace most, if not all, of Europe’s monarchies with his own rule. Would-be world conquerors do not deserve the benefit of the doubt. Britain, Prussia, Austria and their allies perceived that Napoleon was a threat. They were on the defensive side, regardless of who technically declared war first.

    The traditional Anglo-French rivalry may have made the fighting more bitter than usual. If the British were a little eager in opposing Napoleon, it is because they knew what was at stake. Even before the Peace of Amiens, Napoloeon intended to cross the English Channel and invade Britain. What Napoleon was planning to do with the British once he had conquered them, you can imagine for yourself.

  25. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Napoleon had made his intentions loud and clear – he wanted to replace most, if not all, of Europe’s monarchies with his own rule.”

    Quite untrue. What Napoleon wanted was to have a continent dominated by the Empire of France. If that goal was served by keeping the local rulers in power he kept them in power, as he did with the Hapsburgs in Austria and the Hohenzollerns in Prussia. From 1793 Britain and France were in a struggle to see which country would dominate Europe and the globe. I like the fact that Britain won that struggle, due to the restraint, usually, with which they exercised their hegemony in the Nineteenth Century, and their commitment to Parliament and the rule of Law, but that does not alter the fact that both Britain and France were aiming for the same goal, the top position among the powers of the globe.

  26. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Oh, and the Brits long before the French drew up invasion plans for England, had made unsuccessful attempts to invade France. Napoleon earned his promotion to Brigadier General by commanding the artillery during the siege of Toulon that drove the British from that French port in 1794.

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