The True Story of Betsy Bonaparte

The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte

Ruth Hull Chatlien

"Tell the emperor that Madame Bonaparte is ambitious and demands her rights as a member of the imperial family."

As a clever girl in stodgy, mercantile Baltimore, Betsy Patterson dreams of a marriage that will transport her to cultured Europe. When she falls in love with and marries Jerome Bonaparte, she believes her dream has come true—until Jerome’s older brother Napoleon becomes an implacable enemy.

Based on a true story, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is a historical novel that portrays this woman’s tumultuous life. Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, known to history as Betsy Bonaparte, scandalized Washington with her daring French fashions; visited Niagara Falls when it was an unsettled wilderness; survived a shipwreck and run-ins with British and French warships; dined with presidents and danced with dukes; and lived through the 1814 Battle of Baltimore. Yet through it all, Betsy never lost sight of her primary goal—to win recognition of her marriage.

Book Excerpt

To Betsy’s distress, September and October passed without word from her husband. Each day that the weather was fine, she walked the three-quarters of a mile around the harbor to the south shore. She climbed up Federal Hill and gazed down the Patapsco River, longing to see an approaching French frigate with a curly-haired commander pacing the deck. Betsy continued taking such walks deep into the autumn, but when the rainy, cold weather of November arrived, she stopped tormenting herself with the hope that Jerome would come.

The stomach pains that plagued her whenever she was distraught returned. While she was nursing Bo, Betsy had forced herself to take regular meals, but now that he was weaned, she barely ate. The emptiness in her stomach seemed a fitting companion for the emptiness in her heart, and she embraced the hollowness as the only fit state in which to be. As Betsy lost weight, her mother fussed at her. “You must take care of yourself. Bo needs you to be alert and strong.”

Dorcas told the housekeeper to make custards and beef tea that could be easily digested. Seeing her mother’s worry, Betsy tried to eat, but every time she took more than a few spoonfuls of food, she felt as guilty as if she had betrayed Jerome by taking another lover.

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Ruth Hull Chatlien has been a writer and editor of educational materials for nearly thirty years, specializing in U.S. and world history. She is the author of MODERN AMERICAN INDIAN LEADERS for middle-grade readers. Her award-winning first novel, THE AMBITIOUS MADAME BONAPARTE, portrays the tumultuous life of Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson Bonaparte. Her second novel, BLOOD MOON: A CAPTIVE'S TALE, retells Sarah Wakefield's ordeal as a captive during the Dakota War of 1862. Her most recent novel, KATIE, BAR THE DOOR, explores a young woman's emotional journey from loss and abuse toward healing. She lives in northeastern Illinois with her husband, Michael. When she's not writing, she can usually be found gardening, knitting, or spoiling her dog Coco.

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