Jérôme Bonaparte

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Jérôme Bonaparte
Portrait by François Gérard, 1811
King of Westphalia
Reign7 July 1807 – 26 October 1813
First MinisterJoseph Jérôme Siméon
Prince of Montfort
Tenure31 July 1816 – 24 June 1860
SuccessorNapoléon Jérôme
President of the French Senate
In office
28 January 1852 – 30 November 1852
PredecessorÉtienne-Denis Pasquier
(Chamber of Peers)
SuccessorRaymond-Theodore Troplong
Born15 November 1784
Ajaccio, Corsica, Kingdom of France
Died24 June 1860(1860-06-24) (aged 75)
Vilgénis, Seine-et-Oise, France
(m. 1803; ann. 1805)
(m. 1807; died 1835)
(m. 1840)
Jérôme Napoléon Bonaparte
FatherCarlo Buonaparte
MotherLetizia Ramolino
ReligionRoman Catholicism
SignatureJérôme Bonaparte's signature

Jérôme-Napoléon Bonaparte (born Girolamo Buonaparte; 15 November 1784 – 24 June 1860) was the youngest brother of Napoleon I and reigned as Jerome Napoleon I (formally Hieronymus Napoleon in German), King of Westphalia, between 1807 and 1813.

From 1816 onward, he bore the title of Prince of Montfort.[1] After 1848, when his nephew, Louis Napoleon, became President of the Second French Republic, he served in several official roles, including Marshal of France from 1850 onward, and President of the Senate in 1852.[2] He was the only one of Napoleon's siblings who lived long enough to see the Bonaparte restoration.

Historian Owen Connelly points to his financial, military, and administrative successes and concludes he was a loyal, useful, and soldierly asset to Napoleon.[3] Others, including historian Helen Jean Burn, have demonstrated his military failures, including a dismal career in the French navy that nearly escalated into war with Britain over an incident in the West Indies and his selfish concerns that led to the deaths of tens of thousands during the Russian invasion when he failed to provide military support as Napoleon had counted upon for his campaign; further, his addiction to spending led to both personal and national financial disasters, with his large personal debts repeatedly paid by family members including Napoleon, his mother, and both of his first two fathers-in-law, and the treasury of Westphalia emptied.[4] In general, most historians agree that he was the most unsuccessful of Napoleon's brothers.[5]

Early life[edit]

Early 19th century enamel with a portrait of Jérôme Bonaparte

Jérôme was born in Ajaccio, Corsica, the eighth and last surviving child (and fifth surviving son) of Carlo Buonaparte and his wife, Letizia Ramolino. His elder siblings were: Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon Bonaparte, Lucien Bonaparte, Elisa Bonaparte, Louis Bonaparte, Pauline Bonaparte, and Caroline Bonaparte.

He studied at the Catholic College of Juilly and Lay College at the Irish College in Paris,[6] and then joined the French Navy in January 1800. Napoleon put him in charge of a French frigate in the West Indies. Fleeing from an incident in which he accidentally shot a British ship and thus could have escalated conflict between the two countries, and fearing his brother's wrath, he fled north under the assumed name of "Mr. Albert" to the United States, where he planned to remain until his brother's temper cooled. While there, he amassed considerable debts and was nearly in a duel due to ruining at least one lady's honor.[7] Upon the boast by an old naval friend that Baltimore had the most beautiful women in the U.S., he made his way to that city (July 1803), where he met Elizabeth Patterson, reportedly the most beautiful woman in Baltimore[citation needed]. On Christmas Eve, 24 December 1803, nineteen-year-old Jérôme married Elizabeth Patterson (1785–1879), who herself was only eighteen. The wedding took place against the bride's father's wishes; William Patterson had received an anonymous letter beforehand which detailed Jérôme's womanizing, his massive debts, and his plans to use the marriage only as a way to stay in style in the U.S. until he could return to his family in France.

Jérôme's elder brother Napoleon was furious about the match - he wanted to marry his siblings into royal families across Europe and to expand the Bonaparte dynasty through marriage. He was unable to convince Pope Pius VII in Rome to annul the marriage, and so after becoming Emperor in 1804 he annulled the marriage himself (by a French imperial decree, on 11 March 1805), as a matter of state. At the time, Jérôme was on his way to Europe with Elizabeth, who was then pregnant. They landed in neutral Portugal, and Jérôme set off to Italy to persuade his brother to recognize the marriage. Elizabeth tried to land in Amsterdam, hoping to enter France so her baby would be born on French soil, but the Emperor barred the ship from entering the harbor. Elizabeth sailed to England instead, and gave birth to her child, Jérôme Napoléon Bonaparte (1805–1870), in London. Jérôme would not attempt to see his son for two decades.

The Emperor followed up his decree of divorce with Roman Catholic and (later) French state divorce proceedings. Jérôme submitted to the Emperor's demands and ended his marriage; in return, he was made an admiral in the French navy (commanding the Genoa squadron from May 1805), a general in the army, King of Westphalia (r. 1807–1813), and an imperial prince, and Napoleon arranged marriage for him to a princess. Elizabeth returned alone to America with her son; she never spoke to Jérôme again. Fearing losing control of her son and her finances to Jérôme, Elizabeth was later declared divorced from Jérôme by a special decree and act of the Maryland General Assembly in 1815.

King of Westphalia[edit]

Jérôme Bonaparte, King of Westphalia, and Queen Catharina

Napoleon made his brother King of Westphalia, a short-lived realm (1807–13) created from several states and principalities in northwestern Germany that had been in the Holy Roman Empire and were now reorganized by Napoleon into the Confederation of the Rhine.

The Napoleonic realm of Westphalia had its capital in Kassel (then: Cassel). Jérôme was married, as arranged by Napoleon before he was divorced with Elizabeth, to Princess Catharina of Württemberg, the daughter of Frederick I, King of Württemberg. A marriage to a German princess was intended to boost the dynastic standing of the young French king.

When Jérôme and Catharina arrived in Kassel, they found the palaces in a plundered state. As such, they placed orders for an array of stately furniture and expensive silverware with leading Parisian manufactures. Local artisans, eager for commissions, oriented themselves with these French models. The king also intended to refurbish his capital architecturally, and the court theatre ranks among the small number of projects realised. Jérôme had it designed by Leo von Klenze and constructed next to the summer residence, previously known as "Wilhelmshöhe", which was changed to "Napoleonshöhe". To emphasize his rank as a ruler, and pander to his own ego, Jérôme commissioned grandiose state portraits of himself and his spouse, Queen Catharina. Other paintings were to celebrate his military exploits, with many of France's most prominent painters taken into his employ. His careless spending continued and stripped the treasury of its funds, putting the new kingdom into debt. This reckless disregard for finances would continue for the rest of his life.

As a model state, the Kingdom of Westphalia was expected by Napoleon to serve as an example for the other German states. It received the first constitution and parliament to be found on German soil (decades before other parliaments, legislatures, reichstags, bundesrats, etc. such as in Frankfurt in 1848). Jérôme imported the Empire style from Paris, bestowing the new state with a modern, representative appearance. The small kingdom thus received more attention since the famous Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years' War a hundred and sixty years earlier in 1648. Thanks to these efforts by King Jerome, Kassel celebrated an enormous cultural upturn.

However, Jérôme's expensive habits earned him the contempt of Napoleon and bankrupted his kingdom. His court incurred expenses comparable to Napoleon's court (which oversaw a vastly larger and more important realm), and Napoleon refused to support Jérôme financially.[8]

In 1812, Jérôme was given command of a corps in the Grande Armée, marching towards Minsk. Jérôme Insisted on travelling "in state." Napoleon reprimanded Jerome for this, ordering him to leave his court and luxurious trappings behind. After the Battle of Mir (1812), Jérome occupied Mir Castle. In pique at Napoleon's order, Jérôme returned with his entire court and train to Westphalia. As a result, tens of thousands of lives were most likely lost during the invasion of Russia.[9] After the defeat in Russia during the following winter, Jerome petitioned Napoleon to allow his wife to go to Paris, fearing the advance of the Allied armies. On the second attempt, Napoleon granted permission.

Jérôme briefly re-entered the army in 1813, when his kingdom was being threatened from the east by the advancing allied Prussian and Russian armies during the German campaign of 1813. He led a small force to challenge their attempt at liberation. Following a clash with an enemy detachment, he made camp with his army, hoping for reinforcements from the French army in the west. However, before reinforcements arrived, the main allied force liberated the capital, Kassel. The Kingdom of Westphalia was declared dissolved, and Jérôme's kingship ended. He then fled to join his wife, the former queen, in France. After Napoleon's final defeat in 1815 during the War of the Seventh Coalition, the Allies would reorganize the former Westphalian territories along with the rest of the German states into a German Confederation with Austrian leadership.

The Hundred Days[edit]

During the Hundred Days, Napoleon placed Jérôme in command of the 6th Division of the II Corps under General Honoré Charles Reille. At Waterloo, Jérôme's division was to make an initial attack on Hougoumont. It is said that Napoleon wished to draw in the Duke of Wellington's reserves. Whatever the intent, Jérôme was allowed to enlarge the assault such that his division became completely engaged attempting to take Hougoumont to the exclusion of any other possible deployment, without significantly weakening Wellington's centre. The episode became another in the long line of his military failures.

Later years[edit]

Bonaparte photographed in the 1850s by Disdéri

Although Catharina was aware of Jérôme's womanizing and many affairs, she remained true to her husband. They had two sons, Prince Jérôme Napoléon Charles Bonaparte (1814–1847) and Prince Napoléon Bonaparte (1822–1891), also known as "Prince Napoleon" or "Plon-Plon." Their second child was a daughter, Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, who was a prominent hostess during and after the Second French Empire of Napoleon III (1852–70).

After the dissolution of his kingdom, Jérôme was given the title of "Prince of Montfort" (French: prince de Montfort)[10] by his father-in-law, King Frederick I of Württemberg, in July 1816.[11] Previously, King Frederick had forced Jérôme and his wife to leave the country in 1814. During their exile, they visited the United States (his second time there). Jérôme later returned to France and joined Napoleon during an attempt to restore the Empire during the "Hundred Days".

Later, Jérôme moved to Italy, where he married his third wife, Giustina Pecori-Suárez. She was the widow of an Italian Marquess, Luigi Bartolini-Baldelli and his mistress during his second marriage.

In 1848, his nephew, Prince Louis Napoleon, became President of the second French Republic. Jérôme was made Governor of Les Invalides in Paris, which was the burial place of Napoleon I--a position which provided a large salary for little work due to his debts and his complete lack of success at previous leadership endeavors. When Louis Napoleon became emperor as Napoleon III, Jérôme was recognized as the heir presumptive to the re-established imperial throne until the birth of Napoléon Eugène, Prince Imperial. Jérôme was named a Marshal of France in 1850, served as President of the Senate (the upper house in the French Republic's parliament, compared with the lower house of the National Assembly) in 1852, and received the title of "Prince Français".

Tomb of Jérôme Bonaparte at Les Invalides

Jérôme Bonaparte died on 24 June 1860, at Villegenis, France (today known as Massy in Essonne). He is buried in Les Invalides.

His grandson, Charles Joseph Bonaparte (son of Jerome "Bo" Napoleon Bonaparte, 1805–1870), served as United States Secretary of the Navy and United States Attorney General in President Theodore Roosevelt's administration, 1901–1909, and addressed the Supreme Court over 500 times. In 1908, he established a Bureau of Investigation within the 38-year-old Department of Justice. The bureau grew under director J. Edgar Hoover and was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I) in 1935.

Another grandson was Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte II, (1829–1893). In the early 1850s, he graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, was commissioned an officer in the United States Army, and served with the Mounted Rifles in Texas on the American southwestern frontier. He eventually resigned his commission and joined the forces of his cousin, the Emperor Napoleon III in his second French Empire.

Among Jérôme Bonaparte's illegitimate children was Baroness Jenny von Gustedt, born as Jeromée Catharina Rabe von Pappenheim (1811–1890). She became the grandmother of the German Socialist and Feminist writer Lily Braun.

In fiction and popular culture[edit]

The 1923 German comedy film The Little Napoleon is loosely based around his life. He is played by Paul Heidemann.

In the Hornblower television series, he was portrayed by British actor David Birkin. The last episode (Duty) introduces Jérôme and Elizabeth ('Betsy'). Adrift in an open boat, they are picked up by Captain Hornblower's ship; Jérôme poses as a harmless Swiss citizen, but Hornblower identifies him. After many diplomatic manoeuvres, the British government decides that Jérôme is of no political importance after all, and he is allowed to return to France while Elizabeth is put aboard a passing American ship.

Jerome and Betsy's marriage is portrayed in the historical novel "The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte" by Ruth Hull Chatlien, published in 2013.

In the 1936 film Hearts Divided, Jerome was portrayed by Dick Powell. Elizabeth Patterson was played by Marion Davies, with Claude Rains as Napoleon.


Descendants of Jérôme Bonaparte and Elizabeth Patterson

Descendants of Jérôme Bonaparte and Catharina of Württemberg


Styles of
Jérôme I of Westphalia
Reference styleHis Majesty
Spoken styleYour Majesty

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Review. London: Henry & Parker. 1860. p. 208. Archived from the original on 27 February 2024. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  2. ^ Taxile Delord (1869). Histoire du Second Empire (1848–1869) (in French). Paris: G. Baillière. Jérôme Bonaparte second empire.
  3. ^ Connelly, 1964.
  4. ^ Burn, 2010.
  5. ^ Schom, Alan (28 October 1993). "One Hundred Days: Napoleon's Road to Waterloo". academic.oup.com. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195081770.003.0004. Archived from the original on 27 February 2024. Retrieved 7 October 2022.
  6. ^ IV Irish Links with Napoleon Archived 24 October 2020 at the Wayback Machine By Dr. Richard Hayes, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 35, No. 137 (Mar., 1946), pp. 63–74 (12 pages), Messenger Publications.
  7. ^ Burn, 2010.
  8. ^ "La Grande Armée" by Georges Blond, translated by Marshall May, p. 303
  9. ^ Burn, 2010.
  10. ^ Grant, Donald (1966). The House of Bonaparte, 1640-1965. p. 10. Archived from the original on 27 February 2024. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  11. ^ Antoine-Vincent Arnault; Antoine Jay; Étienne de Jouy; Jacques Marquet de Norvins (1821). Biographie nouvelle des contemporains (in French). Paris: Librairie historique. p. 239. Archived from the original on 27 February 2024. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  12. ^ Ferdinand Veldekens (1858). Le livre d'or de l'ordre de Léopold et de la croix de fer. lelong. p. 187. Archived from the original on 9 July 2023. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  13. ^ Württemberg (1858). Königlich-Württembergisches Hof- und Staats-Handbuch: 1858. Guttenberg. pp. 55. Archived from the original on 27 February 2024. Retrieved 3 August 2020.
  14. ^ Württemberg (1831). Königlich-Württembergisches Hof- und Staats-Handbuch: 1831. Guttenberg. p. 27. Archived from the original on 30 November 2022. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
  15. ^ Hessen-Darmstadt (1854). Hof- und Staatshandbuch des Großherzogtums Hessen: für das Jahr ... 1854. Staatsverl. p. 6. Archived from the original on 6 May 2023. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  16. ^ Sachsen (1857). Staatshandbuch für den Freistaat Sachsen: 1857. Heinrich. p. 3. Archived from the original on 15 April 2023. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  17. ^ J ..... -H ..... -Fr ..... Berlien (1846). Der Elephanten-Orden und seine Ritter. Berling. pp. 132–134.
  18. ^ Luigi Cibrario (1869). Notizia storica del nobilissimo ordine supremo della santissima Annunziata. Sunto degli statuti, catalogo dei cavalieri. Eredi Botta. p. 115. Archived from the original on 15 April 2023. Retrieved 21 December 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Connelly, Owen. "Jerome Bonaparte, King of Westphalia," History Today ( Sep 1964) 14#9 pp 627–633.

External links[edit]

Jérôme Bonaparte
Born: 15 November 1784 Died: 24 June 1860
Regnal titles
New title King of Westphalia
8 July 1807 – 26 October 1813
Kingdom dissolved
Titles in pretence
Kingdom dissolved — TITULAR —
King of Westphalia
26 October 1813 – 24 June 1860
Reason for succession failure:
Kingdom dissolved in 1813
Succeeded by
French royalty
Preceded by Heir to the French Throne
as Heir presumptive

18 December 1852 – 16 March 1856
Succeeded by