Betsy’s Circle: Scandalous Pauline Bonaparte

Pauline Bonaparte 2
Portrait of Pauline Bonaparte by Robert Lefevre, Image from Wikimedia Commons

Betsy was often told that she looked like her sister-in-law Pauline Bonaparte, shown above in one of her revealing gowns. Pauline, however, had a much more scandalous reputation than Betsy.

As a young woman, Pauline fell in love with Louis-Marie Stanislas Fréron, the proconsul of Marseille, but her mother objected to the match. Napoleon then married off his fifteen-year-old sister to one of his officers, General Charles Leclerc. However, Pauline couldn’t be happy with any man for long. She had a voracious sexual appetite (a trait that several of the Bonapartes shared). While she and LeClerc were stationed in Saint-Dominque, she took several lovers—despite the fact that she was plagued with illness. Pauline had an exasperating personality: arrogant, willful, capricious, narcissistic, and promiscuous.

After LeClerc died of yellow fever, Pauline returned to France. Defying Napoleon’s opinion about the proper mourning period, she married again within a year to Prince Camilo Borghese. They lived in Italy. Pauline quickly grew bored with him and continued behaving as riotously as before. They say that one of her lovers was the violinist Paganini. Other rumors say that she suffered from sexually transmitted diseases. While in Italy, Pauline posed semi-nude for the sculptor Canova, who created a famous statue of Pauline as a reclining Venus.

Pauline had only one child, a boy named Dermide, fathered by her first husband. Dermide died when he was six, and Pauline—true to her volatile nature—kept promising to make various nephews her heir and then changing her mind and rescinding the offers. In one area of her life, however, she did remain loyal. She stood by her brother Napoleon and was the only one of his siblings to visit him in his first exile on Elba.

Cancer was the scourge of the Bonaparte family, and Pauline was no exception. She died of the disease at the age of 44.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Betsy’s Circle: Scandalous Pauline Bonaparte

  1. Ginni

    It seems that Napoleon inspired quite a bit of loyalty in his family. They all seemed to rally around him, regardless of the situation. Pauline was a beauty, wasn’t she! Very similar to Betsy and I think they must have been quite a bit alike in personality too, the part about being headstrong, NOT the promiscuity!

    • Not necessarily. He was their passport to fame and status. Some, like Elisa, were truly devoted to him. Lucien often disapproved of Napoleon’s actions. And Jerome . . . well, he wanted to BE Napoleon without having to do all the work to get there. They were a complicated family.

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