Born in Ajaccio (Corsica) on 15 November 1784 and died in Massy, Essone (France), 24 June 1860, Jerome was rear-admiral (19 September 1806), French Prince (24 September 1806), general of division (14 March 1807), king of Westphalia (8 July 1807 – 2 June 1813), made prince of Montfort by king Frederick I of Wurtemberg (31 July 1816), reinstated in the rank of general of division (11 October 1848), named Governor of Les Invalides (23 December 1848), Marshal of France (1 January 1850), senator (26 January 1852) and President of the Senate (28 January 1852) by the Prince-President Louis-Napoléon. Named French Prince (2 December 1852) and Honourary Governor of Les Invalides (28 December 1852) by Napoléon III, Emperor of the French.
Napoleon's youngest brother was a little more than three months old when their father died on the continent. Their mother being more preoccupied by the survival of the family than with the education of her youngest son, his upbringing was looser than that of his siblings. Napoleon then decided to take his education in hand, and sent him to be educated by the Oratorians at Juilly, prior to a military career in the navy.
Taking advantage of a naval expedition in the Antilles, he sejourned in the United States in 1803. On meeting Elizabeth Patterson, daughter of a rich Baltimore trader, he married her on 24 December, without asking the permission of his mother Letizia (the new Civil Code requiring parental consent for the marriage of persons under 20 years old).
Disapproving of the marriage, in June 1804 Napoleon ordered his brother to separate from Elizabeth Patterson and return to France. Jerome took the ship back to France, accompanied by a pregnant Elizabeth who was never to receive permission to disembark. Abandoned by Jerome, who preferred to be reconciled with his brother (now Emperor of the French) on 6 May 1805, Elisabeth Patterson finally gave birth to a boy (named Jerome-Napoleon Patterson, 1805-1870) in England on 7 July 1805. Back in the United States of America, she received (until 1814) a pension accorded by Napoleon I. After several sojourns in Europe, during which Jerome-Napoleon met the Imperial family, the family council accorded him the right to bear the name “Bonaparte”, although affirming that the marriage of 1803 was legally void.
As part of his programme of marital alliances, Napoleon married his brother Jerome on 22 August to the princess Catherine of Württemberg, daughter of the elector and duke Frederick of Württemberg, who had become king in December 1805 (as with the elector of Bavaria) by “decision” of Napoleon (Treaties of Brünn, signed shortly after the battle of Austerlitz and before the signing of the Treaty of Pressburg). Frederick was also the cousin of the king of Prussia and the uncle of the tsar. Several days earlier, on 16 August, Jerome had become king of Westphalia at 23. He was crowned on 8 December 1807, in Kassel, the capital of his kingdom. Created by Napoleon, the kingdom of Westphalia included the states of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel, the part of Alt-Marck and of Magdeburg (strategically important because of the fortress of Magdeburg) situated on the left bank of the Elbe; the territory of Halle; the Hildesheim lands and the town of Goslar; the Halberstadt lands; the Hohenstein lands; the Quedlimburg territory; the county of Mansfeld; Eischfeld with Trefurth; Mulhausen; Nordhausen; the county of Stolberg-Wernigerode; the state of Hesse-Cassel, with Riteln and the Schauenburg, not including the territory of Hanau and the Catzenellenbogen on the Rhine; the territory of Corvey; Goettingen and Grubenhaugen, with the enclaves of Hohenstein and Elbingerode; the bishopric of Osnabruck; the bishopric of Paderborn; Minden and Ravensberg; and the county of Rietber-Kaunitz. These states were divided into eight departements: the Elbe (with Magdeburg as the administrative centre); the Fulde (with Kassel as the administrative centre and capital of the kingdom); the Harz (with Heiligenstadt as the administrative centre) ; the Leine (with Goettingen as the administrative centre); the Ocker (with Brunswick as the administrative centre); the Saale (with Halberstadt as the administrative centre); the Werra (with Marburg as the administrative centre); the Weser (with Osnabruck as the administrative centre).
Flanked by a secretary of state and four ministers, Jerome was to apply the policy of his older brother, who also appointed three regents to keep an eye on him. Carefree, Jerome took to living extremely pleasurably (and expensively), much to Napoleon's exasperation.
In 1809, when Austria declared war, her allies launched several attacks against the kingdom of Westphalia. Jerome proved unable to reply adequately, so much so that the duke of Brunswick was able to spend a night in Kassel without being troubled. Ordered to support Junot's troops in Bohemia in July 1809, Jerome dragged his feet, provoking the Emperor's wrath. Napoleon famously wrote to Jerome: “You must be a soldier, and then a soldier, and again a soldier; bivouac with your advance guard, be in the saddle night and day, march with your advance guard to have the latest information, or else stay in your harem. You make war like a satrap. Good God, is it from me that you have learned this? From me who, with an army of 200,000 men, am at the head of my skirmishers?” Correspondence, 17 July 1809.
While the finances of the state were more troubled than ever, Westphalia was gripped by agitation as a result of an emerging “national sentiment”. Jerome proved unable to manage the new state of affairs. Moreover, Jerome was unhappy with the increased trust that his brother Napoleon placed in Davout, commander in chief of the Armies of Germany. During the Russian campaign, or Second Polish War, when Napoleon called on Davout to compensate for the inadequacy of his brother, the latter deserted the Great Army and returned to Kassel.
Returning to his “better nature” and concerned by the pressure of Austrian and Russian forces around his territory, Jerome reconstituted an army. After being driven out of Kassel by Tchernitchev's cossacks on 30 September 1813, Jerome managed to return on 16 October, before deciding to seek refuge in France on learning of the result of the battle of Leipzig.
After Napoleon's abdication, Queen Catherine preferred to stay with her husband, who had taken refuge in Switzerland, rather than accept the bribery of her father, who promised her a title in exchange for a separation from the fallen king of Westphalia. Catherine then gave birth to the couple's first son on 24 August 1814 , the prince Jerome, at Trieste. Learning that his brother had returned from the island of Elba, Jerome returned to Paris and followed general Reille's II corps during the campaign in Belgium, performing well twice, notably during the battle of Waterloo. After Napoleon's second abdication, Jerome accepted the proposition of his father-in-law to live in the palace of Göppingen, before he and his wife decided to live more or less independently in Austria, adopting the name “count and countess de Montfort”.
On Napoleon's death, after several years of wandering between Austria and Italy (where their daughter Mathilde, and their second son, the prince Napoleon, were born at Trieste on the 27th of May and 9th of September 1822 respectively), Jerome and his family moved to Rome, living in Madame Mère's palazzo. However, when the agitation provoked by the Bonapartist movement, in which the sons of Louis (in particular the future Napoleon III) took part, displeased the authorities, Jerome was obliged to move to Florence.
In 1835, Queen Catherine died, followed twelve years later by her eldest son, Jerome, a colonel in the army of the king of Württemberg. Briefly engaged to her cousin, Prince Louis-Napoleon, Mathilde married prince Demidoff in 1840. The marriage solved the financial troubles of her father, but ended with a stormy separation refereed by the tsar Nicolas I, in 1847. Moreover, Jerome, who had had many mistresses throughout his life, married at this point the marquise Giustina Bartholini.
King Jerome was finally able to return to France in 1847, Louis-Philippe having abolished law forbidding members of the Bonaparte family to enter France. On the election of his nephew as President of the Second Republic, he became Governor of Les Invalides, Marshal of France and President of the Senate.
He died on 24 June 1860 in his property at Villegenis, near Paris, and was buried in Les Invalides on 3 July.
Irène Delage trans. Paul-Napoléon Calland ed. P.H., June 2006
– Glenn J. Lamar, Jérôme Bonaparte: The War Years, 1800-1815, Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 2000, 176p.
– Bernardine Melchior-Bonnet, Jérôme Bonaparte ou l'envers de l'épopée, Librairie académique Perrin, 1979, 404p.
– André Martinet, Jérôme Napoléon, roi de Westphalie, Librairie P. Ollendorff, 1902, 285p.