From the award-winning historian and author of Revolutionary Mothers comes the
remarkable life of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, whose marriage in 1803 to
Jérôme Bonaparte, the youngest brother of Napoleon, became inextricably bound
to the diplomatic and political nineteenth-century histories of the United
States, France, and England.
In Wondrous Beauty,
Carol Berkin tells the story of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte’s audacious, outsized life. We see how the
news of the union infuriated Napoleon, who banned the
then-pregnant Betsy Bonaparte from any European port and gave his brother an ultimatum: remain married to the “American girl” and
forfeit all wealth and power—or renounce her, marry a woman of
Napoleon’s choosing, and reap the benefits.
Jérôme quickly ended the marriage and was made king of
Westphalia. Meanwhile, Betsy fled to England, gave birth to her son and only child,
Jérôme’s namesake, and was embraced by the English press, who boasted that
their nation had opened its arms to the cruelly abandoned young wife.
Betsy later returned to Baltimore a wiser, independent woman, refusing to seek social
redemption or a return to obscurity through a quiet marriage to a member of
Baltimore’s merchant class. Instead she was courted by many, indifferent to
all, and initiated a dangerous game of politics—a battle for a pension from Napoleon—which
Using Betsy Bonaparte’s extensive letters, Berkin makes
clear that Betsy disdained America’s obsession with moneymaking, its growing
ethos of democracy, and its rigid gender roles that confined women to the
parlor and the nursery. She sought instead a European society where women
created salons devoted to intellectual life—and where she was embraced by many who
took into their confidence, such as Madame de Staël, Madame Récamier, and the
aging Marquise de Villette (goddaughter of Voltaire).
Wondrous Beauty is
a riveting portrait of a woman torn between two worlds—and a stunning revelation of an extraordinary age. Download and start listening now!