This is for my indie author friends. A little wisdom about marketing by Walt Whitman. Not much has changed has it?
Category Archives: Extra Tidbits
John Carroll by Rembrandt Peale [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Although Betsy Bonaparte’s family was Presbyterian, she had a Catholic wedding because Catholicism was the religion of the Bonapartes. The man who married Jerome and Betsy was none other than the first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States.
John Carroll was born in 1735 in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. He came from a prominent family and was a cousin of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, one of Maryland’s four signers of the Declaration of Independence. Because there were no Catholic schools in the United States at the time, John Carroll was educated in France and Belgium. He was ordained as a Jesuit priest in either 1767 or 1769. A few years later, in 1773, the pope issued a decree suppressing the Jesuit Order, largely for political reasons. Carroll traveled to England and then returned to Baltimore the following year.
After the American Revolution, Carroll became a leader of U.S. Catholics. In 1789, the Vatican appointed him the bishop of the diocese of Baltimore, which at the time included the entire United States. Carroll was consecrated the following year.
Bishop Carroll oversaw the construction of the first Catholic Cathedral in the United States, which was the Cathedral of the Assumption in Baltimore. He was instrumental in the founding of Georgetown University and the establishment of St. Mary’s College and Seminary. Liturgically, he was ahead of his time in promoting the reading of the liturgy (the formal church service) in English rather than Latin. On the other hand, he was a slave owner and only toward the end of his life did he come to advocate the gradual freeing of slaves.
In 1808, Carroll became an archbishop with jurisdiction over four other bishops in the United States. He died in Baltimore in 1815.
Jerome Bonaparte by Sophie Lienard, via Wikimedia Commons
So, there’s a problem with the title of this post that I’m guessing a lot of people don’t even know about because it’s usage that has become quite common. Allow me to digress from Jerome for a moment. When I was a young child, I received a lot of praise for my ability to draw recognizable faces. So in third grade, when we were given the art assignment of creating a drawing to represent February, I proudly drew two side-by-side ovals and then put Washington’s portrait in one and Lincoln’s portrait in the other. I put in a lot of effort to make the faces look as much like the presidents as I could. I wrote “Happy Birthday George Washington and Abraham Lincoln” across the top like a banner. (This was in the days when we honored each of their birthdays separately instead of lumping them into President’s Day.)
My teacher refused to hang the picture because they were dead, and it’s not proper to wish happy birthday to a dead person. I was crushed that she would be so picky about a technicality of usage instead of noticing how hard I’d worked on the art.
Here we are, decades years later, and I still remember that rule, but as you can see, I decided to break it. Yesterday was the 229th anniversary of Jerome Bonaparte’s birth, and I’m saying happy birthday to him. Take that, Mrs. Brown.
I can’t give you the usual biography here, because that would give away way too much of the plot of my novel. So instead, I’ll share one humorous story about Jerome that I included in The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte.
[Betsy] sat up in bed, wrapped her arms around her knees, and smiled at the memory of a story he told during their last dance. When Jerome was fifteen, Napoleon had taken him to live in the Tuileries in the hope of imparting discipline to the baby of the Bonaparte clan. Napoleon, however, was often away on government business, and during his absences, Jerome discovered the delights of shopping in Paris. After one such trip, the First Consul found that his youngest brother had purchased an elaborate shaving set whose articles were made of gold, silver, mother of pearl, and ivory—and ordered that the bill of 10,000 francs be sent to the palace. “This is ridiculous! You do not even have a beard!”
The boy looked longingly at the objects his brother had confiscated. “I know. But I just love beautiful things.”
Happy birthday, Jerome. I hope wherever you are, you’re surrounded by beautiful things.
Betsy and Jerome had one child, a son, whom Betsy named Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte. Among his mother’s family, however, he was known as Bo.
I haven’t said much about him before because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. However, I ran across this letter the other day when I was checking something else, and I found it amusing. As it doesn’t relate to any of the events I cover in the novel, I decided to share it here. Betsy wrote it from Europe to her father and describes events that took place when her son was merely sixteen:
Bo was very much attended to by all hands in Europe, and admired by every one. Some ladies in Rome ran after him so much that I feared his being spoiled, although he seemed quite unconscious of it, supposing probably that women old enough to be his grandmother could not be foolish enough to fall in love with him. It is certain that his beauty attracted great attention; a German princess told me that she had followed him once in Geneva, at a ball, from room to room, to look at him, and that he was the handsomest creature she ever saw. He certainly is the handsomest boy I ever saw of his age, and in all respects the finest creature possible. His modesty and good sense alone prevent his being spoiled, for I assure you he received attentions sufficient to have turned much older heads.
By most accounts, Betsy was a vain woman, so I think there may be a bit of mother’s exaggerated pride here. But it still tickles me to think of middle-aged princesses trailing after her son because he was so “beautiful.”
Dolley Madison by Gilbert Stuart, via Wikimedia Commons
One of Betsy Bonaparte’s more surprising friendships was with Dolley Madison. On the surface, the two women seemed to have little in common, yet they had an amiable relationship that lasted many years. For example, while Dolley was in the White House, Betsy often looked in on Dolley’s son at his boarding school near Baltimore. And Dolley Madison once gave Betsy the commission of buying her a turban or anything fashionable on her next trip to Europe because she so admired Betsy’s taste.
Dolley Madison, born Dolley Payne, was raised as a Quaker in Virginia. Her family moved to Philadelphia when she was a teenager. When Dolley was twenty-two, she married a young lawyer named John Todd, with whom she had two sons. Tragedy soon struck, however. The terrible yellow fever epidemic of 1793—which wiped out some 11 percent of Philadelphia’s population—killed both her husband and her younger son, who was only three months old.
Within a year, Dolley had met and married James Madison, a bachelor who was seventeen years older than she was. As the main author of the U.S. Constitution, Madison was an important political figure, so this new relationship thrust Dolley into a much different social sphere than she had been used to.
She proved to be more than up to the task. After Thomas Jefferson became president, James Madison became his secretary of state and Mrs. Madison served as the hostess for the widowed president. After eight years, Madison succeeded to the presidency, and Dolley Madison officially became the first lady. She was famous for her entertaining. The following description comes from my forthcoming novel The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte:
Under Mrs. Madison’s direction, Benjamin Latrobe had transformed the oval drawing room into a blazingly colorful salon that was the talk of Washington. Latrobe had repainted the walls sunflower yellow, highlighted moldings with strips of pink wallpaper printed with white and dark green leaves, hung crimson velvet curtains with gold tassels, and laid a carpet with a red, blue, and gold arabesque pattern. Dolley Madison held open houses every Wednesday in the lavishly decorated room. So many people attended—sometimes as many as 400 in a day—that the regular event became known as Mrs. Madison’s “crush or squeeze.”
Dolley Madison became a beloved national hero during the War of 1812. When it became evident that the British were going to take Washington, D.C., in August 1814 and that it would not be possible to protect the President’s Mansion, Dolley stayed to oversee the removal of as many precious and important items as possible—including a full-sized portrait of George Washington. It is this action for which she is best remembered today.
Although Dolley and James Madison remained devoted to each other, Dolley did have one major sorrow. Her surviving son Payne Todd was an irresponsible alcoholic. His behavior was a trial to his mother, particularly after James Madison’s death. Because of Payne’s heavy spending, Dolley Madison spent much of her later years in poverty.
Lady Morgan, line engraving by Robert Cooper, after Samuel Lover, via Wikimedia Commons
Another one of Betsy’s friends was Sydney, Lady Morgan, a prolific novelist and hotly discussed personality. If Betsy’s letters to her friend are to be believed, literary society positively fawned over the woman. (I’m allowing for the fact that there might be a bit of exaggeration in the way that we do with our friends.)
She was the daughter of Robert Owenson, a Irish comedic actor, and Jane Hill, the daughter of an English trader. Sometime in Sydney’s late adolescence (no one knows her exact age because she was too vain ever to reveal how old she was), the family had financial difficulties, and Sydney went to work as a governess. She also began her literary career by publishing a collection of poems. Her pen name was Glorvina.
Sydney Owenson then turned to writing novels: St. Clair (1804) and The Novice of St. Dominick (1806), both of which were highly romantic works. Some of her influences were Goethe and Rousseau. Then came the book that won her fame, The Wild Irish Girl (1806), a novelistic love song to her native land.
In 1812, she married a physician, Sir Thomas Charles Morgan. Two years later, she wrote what is regarded as her best book, O’Donnel, a realistic portrayal of Irish peasant life. It was not long after this that she met Betsy Bonaparte in Paris. They became close friends and conducted a lively correspondence that lasted for years. Many of Betsy’s letters to Lady Morgan have an astonishing candor. I think the two women saw each other as kindred spirits. They shared the qualities of worldliness, vanity, and ambition, as well as a love of culture and travel. Of herself, Lady Morgan wrote, “I am ambitious, far, far beyond the line of laudable emulations, perhaps beyond the power of being happy. Yet the strongest point of my ambition is to be every inch a woman.”
One interesting tidbit about her is that she was less than four feet tall (according to a plaque in the Victoria and Albert Museum). In addition to her novels, Lady Morgan also wrote surveys of France and Italy (which met with mixed reviews), and an autobiography that contains much of her correspondence.
Saturday, I described one of the assassination attempts on Napoleon Bonaparte. There were two others that I know of. On Christmas Eve 1800, royalist plotters planted a wagon with a bomb, known as an “infernal machine,” along the route that Napoleon was going to take to the opera. Napoleon was running late that evening and ordered his coachman to drive more quickly than expected, so he passed by before the explosion occurred. Reportedly, more than 50 people were killed or wounded by the device.
In 1804, the French police received word that royalists were plotting once again to overthrow Napoleon. The report implicated the Duc d’Enghien, a young prince of the house of Bourbon, which had ruled France before the Revolution. Most historians today believe that, although there was a plot, the report about Enghien was false. But at the time, Napoleon acted on it immediately. He sent French dragoons secretly across the Rhine into Baden, arrested the duc, and brought him to France for a trial. Enghien was found guilty and executed by firing squad within a week. The affair of the duc d’Enghien incensed the rest of Europe. Napoleon had violated the sovereignty of another state to take Enghien prisoner, and the trial and execution were conducted with unseemly haste. The affair gave Napoleon’s enemies damning evidence to support their claims that he was an upstart tyrant.
The discovery of the plot had an equally dramatic effect on Napoleon. He became paranoid that he would be killed and all that he had accomplished would be undone. So he agreed with minister of police Joseph Fouché that the only way to prevent future such attempts was to change the consulate into a hereditary empire, with Napoleon as the emperor. That way, even if Napoleon should die, his heirs would continue to rule.
Five years later, the assassination plot of Friedrich Staps caused Napoleon to reach an equally momentous decision. He loved his wife Josephine, but she was already in her mid-forties and had proven unable to give him a son. Still worried about the stability of his empire should he be killed, Napoleon decided to divorce Josephine. He formed an alliance with Austria, which until then had been one of France’s bitterest enemies, and married the Archduchess Marie Louise. She was a member of one of the great royal houses of Europe and trained to do her duty. She was also, apparently, sensual. The only thing reported about their wedding night is that after the relationship was consummated, she turned to Napoleon and said, “Do it again.” (At least, that’s what Nappy claimed later.) Whether that story is true or not, she did accomplish her purpose and in a year, gave Napoleon a son.
Empress Marie Louise by François Gérard, via Wikimedia Commons
Anne Louise Germaine Necker, baronne de Staël by Jean Nicolas Laugier, via Wikimedia Commons
One of Betsy’s literary friends was Germaine de Staël, who was a colorful and controversial figure on the European scene.
She was born Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker to Swiss parents in Paris in 1766. Her father was a Genevan banker who became Louis XVI’s finance minister. Like Betsy, she exhibited the qualities of wit, intellectual curiosity, and lively conversation as a child. She was married at the age of twenty to Baron Erik de Staël-Holstein, the Swedish ambassador to France. It was not an affectionate marriage but gave her status as the wife of a diplomat.
Madame de Staël first gained literary fame by publishing Letters on the Works and Character of J.-J. Rousseau in 1788. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, her work exhibited a “mixture of Rousseau’s enthusiasm and Montesquieu’s rationalism.” Despite the Revolution, she remained in France until 1793, and then she moved to England to be with her lover, Louis de Narbonne, who had been one of Louis XVI’s ministers.
After the Reign of Terror ended, she returned to Paris and began the most illustrious stage of her career. She alternated between living in Paris and at her chateau in Coppet, Switzerland. Madame de Staël held a noted salon, where intellectuals could converse about important ideas of their day, and she published several essays. She also took a new lover, the politician and writer Benjamin Constant, who introduced her to German romanticism.
Madame de Staël wrote two novels, Delphine and Corinne, that were infamous in their day because they exposed the limits imposed on independent and creative women. Napoleon disapproved of her work—he was a traditionalist in his views of women’s roles. As a liberal, Madame de Staël opposed him politically, so that deepened his dislike. In about 1803, Napoleon exiled her to a distance of at least 40 miles from Paris. During the remainder of his reign, Coppet was her home base.
In 1810, she published her most important work, a study of German culture. She returned to Paris after Napoleon’s downfall, but lived only a few more years, dying in 1817.
Just a few accessories that belonged to the real Betsy Bonaparte, with a portrait showing her wearing the tiara. She was 37 or 38 and living in Europe when the painting was made.
Everytime I see the photograph of this jewelry and small handbag, I think how fashionable they would have been in the 1960s!
This tiara features seed pearls and garnets.
Painting in the collection of the Maryland Historical Society, photograph by Michael Chatlien, 2011
Among the French emigrés that Betsy and Jerome knew in the United States were Victor and Gabrielle du Pont, of the famed Du Pont family.
Victor Marie du Pont was born in Paris on October 1, 1767 — 246 years ago today. At the age of 17, he began to work with his father in the Bureau of Commerce. France was still a monarchy at the time. In 1788, the year before the French Revolution, du Pont went to the United States to work with the French minister here. Over the next few years, du Pont traveled back and forth between the two countries, but in 1800, the entire Du Pont family moved to the United States for good.
Victor du Pont established a trading company in New York and helped provide supplies to the French troops in Santo Domingo. Victor’s company went bankrupt, partially because the French government didn’t pay him. (There are also reports that du Pont went deeply into debt entertaining Betsy and her husband. Jerome was the emperor’s baby brother after all.) Victor’s brother, Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, was more successful. He founded the chemical company that still bears the family name.
In 1811, Victor and his family moved to Delaware, where he founded a wool manufacturing company. He eventually served in the Delaware State House and State Senate. One of his sons was a rear admiral during the Civil War.