Jerome Bonaparte: Napoleon Bonaparte’s Youngest Brother

Jerome Bonaparte was Napoleon‘s youngest sibling. He was born on the island of Corsica on 15 November 1784 and was barely three months old when his father died. Napoleon soon became responsible for his education, something that Jerome was unwilling to apply himself to as everything other than his studies was of more interest to him.

Jerome Bonaparte

Early nineteenth century portrait of Jerome Bonaparte. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1800, Jerome joined the navy at the age of fifteen, and as a relative to the First Consul, he was promoted rapidly. He was commanding a brig of his own and was a lieutenant de vaisseau by the end of 1802, and, by 1806, an admiral. However, it was not always smoothing sailing for the young man because some escapades on shore at Brest resulted in a rebuke from his older brother Napoleon:

“I am waiting with impatience to hear that you are on board your ship, studying a profession intended to be the scene of your glory. If you ever mean to disgrace your name, die young; for if you live to sixty without having served your country, you had better not have been born.”[1]

On 16 August 1801, Jerome received another note from his brother about life in the navy.

“I’m glad to hear you are getting used to the life of a sailor. There’s not a better career in which to win a name for yourself. Go up aloft, get to know every part of the ship; and when you come back from your voyage, I hope to hear that you are as active as any powder-monkey. Don’t let anyone dictate your profession to you. Make up your mind that you are going to be a sailor. I hope you already have learnt to keep your watch, and box the compass.”[2]

In the summer of 1803, when a British Blockade occurred, Jerome traveled to the United States and was soon invited to Baltimore by Commodore Joshua Barney. He had served in the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War and would also later serve in the War of 1812. The 19-year-old Jerome arrived in Baltimore in September, and, a month or so later, he accompanied Barney to Washington where he met President Thomas Jefferson on the 25th. Jefferson invited him to return the next evening to dine with him, and the President received confirmation stating, “Mr. Bonaparte will have the honor of dining with the president of the United States tomorrow, 26 Oct.”[3]

Joshua Barney. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

While in Baltimore, Jerome met 18-year-old Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson, the daughter of a prosperous Baltimore ship-owner and merchant named William Patterson. Jerome first saw her in the fall at the horse races and was “fired at once.” A few days later, the couple were formally introduced at a ball given by Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Although Jerome’s English was rudimentary, Elizabeth was fluent in French.

Elizabeth Patterson. Triple portrait by Gilbert Stuart 1804. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Jerome found himself so fascinated by her wondrous beauty and charm that he forgot about France and his brother Napoleon. He then became intent on marrying the stunning beauty and the wedding was planned a few weeks later on 3 November. However, after Elizabeth’s father received an anonymous letter stating that Jerome had “ruined” other young ladies, he withdrew his support for the marriage. Elizabeth was just as much in love with Jerome as he was with her and being unwilling to give him up, she threatened to elope. Her father thus gave in and the pair were married on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1803.

The Mayor of Baltimore performed the civil ceremony, and a religious one was sealed by John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the United States. To further seal the deal a marriage contract was drawn up by Alexander J. Dallas, afterward Secretary of the Treasury, and witnessed by M. Sotin (the French Consul at Baltimore), Alexander Le Camus (Jerome’s secretary), and other leading citizens. At the wedding, one gentleman who was shocked by what the bride wore and noted:

“All the clothes worn by the bride might have been put in my pocket. Her dress was of muslin, richly embroidered, of extremely fine texture. Beneath her dress she wore but a single garment.”[4]

When Napoleon learned of Jerome’s marriage, he was unhappy because he had plans for his brother and they did not include an American wife. He commanded Jerome to return immediately and to do so by himself. Jerome set sail from the United States in March of 1805, but aboard was his pregnant wife. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, Napoleon refused to allow her to set foot on French soil. Jerome decided it was best if he went alone to try and change his brother’s mind, and, so, she sailed for England, where she gave birth to their son (Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, nicknamed Bo) on 5 July at 95 Camberwell Grove in London.

Elizabeth, whom Napoleon referred to as “Miss Paterson,” would never see her husband again except for a moment in 1817. After Jerome’s return to France, Napoleon told his brother he would face ruin if he did not give Elizabeth up. Napoleon also wrote the following letter to his mother about the affair:

“M. Jerome Bonaparte has arrived at Lisbon with the woman he is living with. I have ordered the prodigal son to travel by Perpignan, Toulouse, Grenoble, and Turin, and to report himself at Milan. I have told him that if he varies this route he will be arrested. Miss Paterson … has taken the precaution of bringing a brother with her. I have given orders that she is to be sent back to America. If she attempts to evade these orders, and appears either at Bordeaux or in Paris, she will be escorted to Amsterdam, and put on board the first ship for America. As for the young man himself, I shall only give him one interview. If he shows himself unworthy of the name he bears, and seems inclined to persist in his liaison, I shall show him no mercy. If he shows no disposition to wipeout the dishonor with which he has stained my name by deserting the colours for a wretched woman, I shall utterly disown him, and perhaps make an example of him, to teach young officers, the sanctity of military service, and the enormity of the crime they commit, if they prefer a female to the flag. Assuming that he comes to Milan, I want you to write to him. Tell him that I have been like a father to him. Tell him that it is his sacred duty to obey me, and that his only hope is to do as I command. Get his sisters to write too; for once, I have pronounced his sentence, I shall be inflexible, and his whole career will be ruined.”[5]  

With no choice, it was not long before Jerome acquiesced to his brother’s demands. Napoleon then made him an imperial prince, gave him the rank of rear-admiral, and named him to the Légion d’honneur. In the meantime, Napoleon worked to ensure that Jerome would divorce Elizabeth and that an ecclesiastical court would nullify the marriage. After considerable delay and an internal struggle, Elizabeth was later declared divorced from Jerome by a special decree and an act of the state legislature of the General Assembly of Maryland in 1815.

In the meantime, despite Elizabeth and Jerome’s marriage not yet dissolved, Napoleon ordered his brother to marry Catherine, the daughter of the elector of Württemberg, on 22 August 1807, in the Royal Palace at Fontainebleau, France. In addition, on 8 July1807, Napoleon made Jerome King of Westphalia for obeying his wishes. Around this same time, an anecdote about the new King surfaced:

“On the evening of his nomination as King of Westphalia, Jerome Bonaparte gave a supper to Pigault le Brun and another friend, at the Palais Royal. When the repast was over and the bill presented, his Majesty found that neither himself not his guests could muster enough to settle it. In this dilemma the host was summoned and the difficulty explained to him. He asked the names of his debtors, but when the two friends announced themselves as the chamberlain and librarian of the King of Westphalia, the host, thinking it a joke, said, ‘I suppose you will tell me next that your fat companion is the King of Westphalia.’ ‘Precisely,’ replied the newly-appointed monarch. But the landlord, believing he had to deal with a set of rogues, declared they should relate their pretensions to the guard; upon which, Jerome in a terrible taking, offered his watch as a pledge and departed. The trio were scarcely out of the house when the restaurateur discovered the imperial cipher on the watch, and flew with it to the Commissary of Police. The Commissary posted to the Prefect, the Prefect to the Minister, and the Minister to the Emperor. The next day, his Majesty of Westphalia departed to enter on the government of his kingdom.”[6]

Jerome Bonaparte

Jerome as King of Westphalia. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Napoleon had formed Westphalia from several states and principalities in northwestern Germany that were later reorganized by him into the Confederation of the Rhine. As to the King of Westphalia, Jerome ran the country as he saw fit, which included spending too much money. In fact, Jerome’s expenses were comparable to those of Napoleon’s court, which was vastly larger. Napoleon tried to rein Jerome in and even refused to support his brother financially, but Jerome would not listen, and the two brothers grew apart. In 1813, Jerome’s kingdom fell to Sixth Coalition allies and he fled to France where his wife Catherine was waiting.

During Jerome’s marriage to her, they had three children: Jerome Napoleon Charles, Mathilde, and Napoleon. The children were all considered successfully. For instance, Jerome Napoleon served in the army of his maternal uncle, King William I of Württemberg; Mathilde became a prominent hostess during and after the Second Empire; and Napoleon served as a close advisor to his cousin Napoleon III and used his family ties to his uncle to make himself popular.

Throughout Jerome’s marriage to Catherine, he had affairs while she remained faithful, despite knowing of his womanizing ways. After she died in 1835, 56-year-old Jerome married his third wife, 28-year-old Justine Bartolini-Baldelli in 1840. She was the widow of the Italian Marquess Luigi Bartolini-Baldelli. Their marriage was a religious ceremony performed in 1840 with a secret civil ceremony happening some years later, on 19 February 1853 in France.

At the time Jerome and Justine’s marriage, she was rich and he was suffering under heavy financial debts. His marriage to her helped alleviate his money problems but also afforded him the ability to continue living in a luxurious lifestyle in Florence. Jerome requested their marriage be morganatic as he did not wish to recognize her officially and insisted upon everyone, including himself, calling her Madame la Marquise. At the time, she agreed, but later she tried to be officially recognized, which failed. Justine followed Jerome to France in 1847 and resided with him in Paris with his son Napoleon. However, his son intensely disliked her and did everything possible to alienate his father from her. It worked, because Jerome took a mistress and sent Justine back to Florence.

During Napoleon I’s Hundred Days, Jerome joined with him to help him regain power and was welcomed back with open arms. The exiled Emperor always thought highly of his brother’s military capabilities and placed Jerome in command of the 6th Division of the II Corps under General Honoré Charles Reille. At Waterloo, Jerome’s division was to make an initial attack on Hougoumont as Napoleon hoped to draw in the Duke of Wellington’s reserves. Whatever the intent, Jerome enlarged the assault such that his division became completely engaged attempting to take Hougoumont to the exclusion of any other possible deployment and did not significantly weaken Wellington’s center. Ultimately, Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo marked his end as a powerful force in Europe.

He was soon exiled to St. Helena where he lived out days until he died on 5 May 1821. After Napoleon’s overthrow, Jerome was given the title of the Prince of Montfort in July of 1816. Around that same time, someone provided this description of him:

“The Prince de Montfort (Jerome) is short and slight, and resembles his brother Lucien more than the others. He is said to have most of the expression of Napoleon; but I should think judging from the busts and likenesses, that Louis has most of the noble outline of the Emperor. The whole family, so far as I have known them, are certainly very intellectual and well-informed.”[7]

Jerome Bonaparte

Jerome Bonaparte in later life. Author’s collection.

Under the title of Montfort, Jerome lived for many years “unregarded” and “almost forgotten.” However, in April of 1847, he petitioned the French Chamber to allow him to return to France. His petition was rejected but was done so by such a small majority, Louis Philippe I saw him as no threat and decided to yield. Jerome then returned to France and received a small pension.

When the coup d’etat of 1851 happened and Jerome’s nephew, Louis Napoleon, came to power as Napoleon III, Jerome regained some stature. He was recognized as the heir presumptive to the re-established imperial throne, became President of the French Second Republic, assumed several official roles (including Marshal of France from 1850 onward), and served as President of the Senate in 1852.

After a lingering illness, 76-year-old Jerome died on 24 June 1860. He was buried in Les Invalides, the same spot where his older brother Napoleon was transferred to and buried on 15 December 1840. Jerome left no provisions for his son with Elizabeth, but his wife Justine was luckier. Napoleon III granted her a pension and she lived out her life in Florence, dying in 1903, at the age of 91. Many newspapers published notices of Jerome’s death, and besides a rehash of his marriages, children, and his infamous divorce from Elizabeth, one newspaper stated:

“His court is said to have been more like the reception rooms of a republican president than the court of a king, and a degree of familiarity prevailed which offended pedantic sticklers for etiquette.”[8]


  • [1] Dover Telegraph and Cinque Ports General Advertiser, “The Late Prince Jerome Bonaparte,” June 30, 1860, p. 2.
  • [2] J. M. Thompson, Letters of Napoleon (Read Books Limited, 2013), p. 179.
  • [3] Barbara B. Oberg, “To Thomas Jefferson from Jerome Bonaparte, 25 October 1803,” The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 41, 11 July–15 November 1803 Founders, Online, National Archives
  • [4] E. L. Didier, The Life and Letters of Madame Bonaparte (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1879), p. 8.
  • [5] J. M. Thompson, p. 246–47.
  • [6] Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, “Anecdote of Jerome Bonaparte,” January 6, 1852, p. 1.
  • [7] J. F. Cooper, Gleanings in Europe: Italy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981), p. 74.
  • [8] Reading Mercury, “Death of Prince Jerome Bonaparte,” June 30, 1860, p. 8.

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