Elizabeth Monroe married future President James Monroe when she was only seventeen in 1786. The couple first lived in Virginia, but traveled as the future president began his political career. In 1794, President Washington sent them to Paris during the French revolution, as James was appointed U.S. Minister to France.
There they became well-liked. Mrs. Monroe took on European fashion and social customs, and earned herself the romantic nickname of la belle Americaine. The Monroes helped to build social networks for their young country in European circles and their elegant attitudes helped warm up foreign acceptance of the United States and its new form of democracy.
Marquis de Lafayette was an American hero, one of only eight people in history to be granted honorary citizenship of the United States. His work in the Revolutionary War was instrumental in ensuring victory against Britain. The Monroes would get the chance to help repay the favor during the heat of the conflict in France, when Lafayette’s wife Adrienne de Noiolles de Lafayette was being held in prison awaiting execution by guillotine. Mrs. Monroe insisted on visiting her in prison, and this “unofficial” intervention made it clear that the Americans would not be pleased if any harm were to come to her. After this visit, Adrienne was released.