Lola Montez

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Lola Montez
File:Lola montez.jpg
Lola Montez c.1851
Born Eliza Rosanna Gilbert
17 February 1821
Grange, Sligo, Ireland
Died 17 January 1861(1861-01-17) (age 39)
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Nationality Irish
Other names Donna Lola Montez, Maria Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert
Occupation Dancer, actress, lecturer, author
Spouse(s) Lieutenant Thomas James
George Trafford Heald
Patrick Hull
Partner(s) Ludwig I of Bavaria

Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld[1] (17 February 1821 – 17 January 1861), better known by the stage name Lola Montez, was an Irish dancer and actress who became famous as a "Spanish dancer", courtesan, and mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who made her Countess of Landsfeld. She used her influence to institute liberal reforms. At the start of the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states, she was forced to flee. She proceeded to the United States via Switzerland, France and London, returning to her work as an entertainer and lecturer.


Early life

Lola Montez portrait by Josef Heigel before 1840
Lola Montez's lithographie

Lola's mother, Eliza(beth) Oliver was the child of Charles Silver Oliver, a former High Sheriff of Cork and member of Parliament for Kilmallock in County Limerick. Their residence was Castle Oliver. In December 1818, Ensign Edward Gilbert met Eliza Oliver when he arrived with the 25th Regiment. They were married on 29 April 1820, and Lola was born the following February, refuting persistent rumours that her mother was pregnant with her at the time of the wedding.[citation needed] The young family made their residence at King House in Boyle, County Roscommon, until early 1823, when they journeyed to Liverpool, thence departing for India on 14 March.[2]

As with many other aspects of her life, discrepant reports of the birth of Eliza Gilbert have been published. For many years, it was accepted that she was born in the city of Limerick, as she herself claimed, possibly on 23 June 1818; this year was graven on her headstone. However, when her baptismal certificate came to light in the late 1990s, it was established that Eliza Rosanna Gilbert was actually born in Grange, County Sligo, on 17 February 1821.[3] She was baptized at St Peter's Church in Liverpool on 16 February 1823, while her family was en route to her father's post in India.

Shortly after their arrival in India, Edward Gilbert died of cholera[citation needed].

Her mother, who was now 19, married another officer, Lieutenant Patrick Craigie, the following year. Craigie quickly came to care for a young Eliza, but her spoiled and half-wild ways concerned him greatly[citation needed].

Eventually, it was agreed she would be sent back to Britain to attend school, staying with Craigie's father in Montrose, Scotland, at first. But the "queer, wayward little Indian girl" quickly became known as a mischief-maker[citation needed]. On one occasion, she stuck flowers into the wig of an elderly man during a church service; on another, she ran through the streets naked[citation needed].

At the age of ten, Eliza was moved on again – this time to Sunderland, England. When her stepfather's older sister, Catherine Rae, set up a boarding school in Monkwearmouth with her husband, Eliza joined them to continue her education.[4][better source needed]

Eliza's determination and temper were to become her trademarks. Her stay in Sunderland lasted only a year, as she was then transferred to Bath for a more sophisticated education[citation needed].

In 1837, 16-year-old Eliza eloped with Lieutenant Thomas James, and they married.[citation needed] The couple separated five years later, in Calcutta, and she became a professional dancer under a stage name[citation needed].

She had her London debut as "Lola Montez, the Spanish dancer" in June 1843, but she had been recognized as "Mrs. James". The resulting notoriety hampered her career in England and she departed for the Continent[where?]. At this time, she was almost certainly accepting favours from a few wealthy men, and was regarded by many as a courtesan.[5]

Life as a courtesan

Lola Montez (1847), painted by Joseph Karl Stieler for Ludwig I of Bavaria and his Schönheitengalerie
Lola Montez (Gouache by Carl Buchner, 1847)

In 1844, Lola made a personally disappointing Parisian stage debut as a dancer in Fromental Halévy's opera, Le lazzarone. She met and had an affair with Franz Liszt, who introduced her to the circle of George Sand.[6] After performing in various European capitals, she settled in Paris, where she was accepted in the rather Bohemian literary society of the time, being acquainted with Alexandre Dumas, père, with whom she was rumoured to have had a dalliance. After the 1845 death of her lover, newspaperman Alexandre Dujarier, in a duel unrelated to her, she left Paris.[7]

In 1846, she arrived in Munich, where she was discovered by and became the mistress of, Ludwig I of Bavaria.[7] The rumour was, at the time they met, Ludwig had asked her in public if her bosom was real, to which her response was to tear off enough of her garments to prove that it was.[8][9] She soon began to use her influence on the King and this, coupled with her arrogant manner and outbursts of temper, made her unpopular with the local population (particularly after documents were made public showing that she was hoping to become a naturalized Bavarian citizen and be elevated to nobility). Despite the opposition, Ludwig made her Countess of Landsfeld on his next birthday, 25 August 1847. Along with her title, he granted her a large annuity.[10][11]

For more than a year, she exercised great political power, which she directed in favor of liberalism, against the conservatives and the Jesuits.[10][11] Her influence became so great that the ultramontane administration of Karl von Abel was dismissed because that minister objected to her being made Countess Landsfeld. The students of the university were divided in their sympathies, and conflicts arose shortly before the outbreak of the revolutions of 1848, which led the King, at Lola's instigation, to close the university.[12] In March 1848, under pressure from a growing revolutionary movement, the university was re-opened, Ludwig abdicated, and Montez fled Bavaria, her career as a power behind the throne at an end.[5][12] It seems likely that Ludwig's relationship with Montez contributed greatly to the fall from grace of the previously popular king.[13]

After a sojourn in Switzerland, where she waited in vain for Ludwig to join her, she made one brief excursion to France and then removed to London in late 1848. There she met and quickly married George Trafford Heald, a young army cornet (cavalry officer) with a recent inheritance.[13] But the terms of her divorce from Thomas James did not permit of either spouse's remarriage while the other was living, and the beleaguered newlyweds were forced to flee the country to escape a bigamy action brought by Heald's scandalized maiden aunt.[13] The Healds resided for a time in France and Spain, but within two years, the tempestuous relationship was in tatters, and George reportedly drowned.[14] In 1851 she set off to make a new start in the United States, where she was surprisingly successful at first in rehabilitating her image.[2]

United States

Lola Montez in 1851, daguerreotype by Southworth & Hawes
A caricature by David Claypoole Johnston from the period showing Lola Montez leaving Europe for the United States.

From 1851 to 1853, she performed as a dancer and actress in the eastern United States, one of her offerings being a play called Lola Montez in Bavaria.[10] In May 1853, she arrived at San Francisco.[13] Her performances there created a sensation, but soon inspired a popular satire, Who's Got the Countess?.[15] She married Patrick Hull, a local newspaperman, in July and moved to Grass Valley, California, in August. This marriage soon failed; a doctor named as corespondent in the divorce suit brought against her was shortly after murdered.[14] Montez remained in Grass Valley at her little house for nearly two years.[16] The restored Home of Lola Montez went on to become California Historical Landmark No. 292.[17] Montez served as an inspiration to another aspiring young entertainer, Lotta Crabtree. Lotta's parents ran a boarding house in Grass Valley, and Lotta soon attracted the attention of her neighbor Montez, who encouraged Lotta's enthusiasm for performance.


In June 1855, Montez departed for a tour of Australia to resume her career by entertaining miners at the gold diggings during the gold-rush of the 1850s, arriving at Sydney on 16 August 1855.[5]

Historian Michael Cannon claims that "In September 1855 she performed her erotic Spider Dance at the Theatre Royal in Melbourne, raising her skirts so high that the audience could see she wore no underclothing at all. Next day, the Argus thundered that her performance was 'utterly subversive to all ideas of public morality'. Respectable families ceased to attend the theatre, which began to show heavy losses."[18] At Castlemaine in April 1856, she was "rapturously encored" after her Spider Dance in front of 400 diggers (including members of the Municipal Council who had adjourned their meeting early to attend the performance), but drew the wrath of the audience by insulting them following some mild heckling.[19]

She earned further notoriety in Ballarat when, after reading a bad review in The Ballarat Times, she allegedly attacked the editor, Henry Seekamp with a whip[citation needed]. The "Lola Montes Polka" (composed by Albert Denning) is rumored to have been inspired by this event[citation needed], however, the song was published in 1855 and the incident with Seekamp occurred months later in February 1856[citation needed].

She departed for San Francisco on 22 May 1856[citation needed]. On the return voyage her manager was lost after going overboard.[14]

Later life in the U.S.

Rapidly aging, Lola failed in attempts at a theatrical comeback in various American cities.

She arranged in 1857 to deliver a series of moral lectures in Britain and America written by Rev. Charles Chauncy Burr.[14][20][21]

She spent her last days in rescue work among women.[10] In November 1859, the Philadelphia Press reported that Lola Montez was

"living very quietly up town, and doesn't have much to do with the world's people. Some of her old friends, the Bohemians, now and then drop in to have a little chat with her, and though she talks beautifully of her present feelings and way of life, she generally, by way of parenthesis, takes out her little tobacco pouch and makes a cigarette or two for self and friend, and then falls back upon old times with decided gusto and effect. But she doesn't tell anybody what she's going to do."[22]

By then she was showing the tertiary effects of syphilis and her body began to waste away. She died at the age of 39 on 17 January 1861. She is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, where her tombstone states: "Mrs. Eliza Gilbert / Died 17 January 1861".[14]


  • Her life was portrayed in the 1922 German film Lola Montez, the King's Dancer. Montez is played by Ellen Richter.
  • Lola Montez has been mentioned by several writers as a possible source of inspiration for the character Irene Adler in Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story, "A Scandal in Bohemia".[23] The character bears certain similarities to Montez, as a popular performer who influences national politics through her relationship with a powerful individual.
  • Montez was portrayed by Martine Carol in the film Lola Montès (1955), based on the novel La Vie Extraordinaire de Lola Montès by Cecil Saint-Laurent, directed by Max Ophüls and co-starring Peter Ustinov and Oskar Werner.
  • Montez was the last role played by Conchita Montenegro, in the film Lola Montes (1944), with a moralizing script, directed by Antonio Román.
  • Montez's time in the Australian goldfields was the subject of the musical Lola Montez staged in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney in 1958 starring Mary Preston. The musical was liked by critics but did not become a commercial success.[24] A recording of the musical was released on LP in 1958 in both mono and stereo versions.[25]
  • Montez also appears in Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser, where she has a brief affair with Harry Flashman. She is also a character in the film of the same name, in which she is played by Florinda Bolkan.
  • Montez is featured prominently in Spider Dance by Carole Nelson Douglas, the last work in her Irene Adler mystery series. Montez is rumored to be the title character's mother.
  • She has been portrayed by Carmen D'Antonio in Golden Girl (1951), Sheila Darcy in Wells Fargo (1937), Yvonne De Carlo in Black Bart (1948), and Rita Moreno in an episode of the 1950s TV show Tales of Wells Fargo.
  • In one of J. B. Priestley's last fictional works, The Pavilion of Masks, she is unmistakably the original for Cleo Torres, Spanish dancer and mistress of a German prince.
  • Montez was allegedly the inspiration for Jennifer Wilde's historical romance novel Dare To Love (1978), whose protagonist Elena Lopez is also a British woman passing herself off as Spanish who becomes an exotic dancer. In the book, Elena has an affair with Franz Liszt, becomes friends with George Sand and has a friendship with the king of a small Germanic country obviously based on Ludwig I of Bavaria, then moves to California, all documented as having happened in Montez's life.
  • Montez is also the inspiration for Lola Montero in Edison Marshall's novel Infinite Woman.
  • Trestle Theatre Company created a production titled Lola about the life of Lola Montez.[26]
  • Montez is described in Daughter of Fortune (original Spanish title Hija de la fortuna) by the Chilean-American author Isabel Allende.[27]
  • A feature film Spider Dance (2011) focuses on the latter years of Lola's life and her time in Australia.
  • Musician Joanna Newsom's song and title track "Have One on Me" is about Lola Montez.[28]
  • The Danish band Volbeat has a song on their album Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies entitled Lola Montez. The lyrics reference the spider dance and the incident with Henry Seekamp.
  • It has been asserted that the character "Lola" in the musical Damn Yankees was inspired by Lola Montez, but there is no evidence for this.
  • The British/Irish writer Marion Urch based her epic historical novel An Invitation to Dance (Brandon 2009) on the life of Lola Montez. The novel has been published in the US, Russia (Arabesque) and Germany (Aufbau-Verlag).
  • Lola Montez has two lakes (an upper and lower) named after her in the Tahoe National Forest in Nevada County, California.
  • There is also a mountain named in her honor, Mount Lola. At 9,148 feet, it is the highest point in Nevada County, California.


See also


  1. Burr, C. Chauncey, Autobiography and lectures of Lola Montez, James Blackwood, London (1860) at Google Books
  2. 2.0 2.1 Seymour, Bruce (1996). Lola Montez, a Life. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300063479.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Her name was Lola". RTE Television. Archived from the original on 4 May 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Racy Life of Our Lola". Sunderland Echo. 2006. Retrieved 30 March 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Lola Montez". Ballarat History Central. Archived from the original on 2004-06-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[self-published source]
  6. (source: Langer)
  7. 7.0 7.1 Greene, Robert (2000). The 48 Laws of Power. Penguin Books. p. 77. ISBN 0-14-028019-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. BBC - Woman's Hour - January 2007
  9. James Morton, Lola Montez - Her Life and Conquests (2007)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Montez, Lola". Encyclopedia Americana.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1  Reynolds, Francis J., ed. (1921). "Montez, Lola". Collier's New Encyclopedia. New York: P.F. Collier & Son Company.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 Wikisource-logo.svg Ripley, George; Dana, Charles A., eds. (1879). "Lola Montez". The American Cyclopædia.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Greene, Robert (2000). The 48 Laws of Power. Penguin Books. p. 78. ISBN 0-14-028019-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 Cannon, M. (1974). "Montez, Lola (1818–1861)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 5. Australian National University. Archived from the original on 2012-11-26. Retrieved 2014-06-01. External link in |work= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Kamiya, G. (2014-05-31). "Notorious Lola Montez kept the men in S.F. panting". SFGate. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2014-06-01. |archive-url= is malformed: save command (help); External link in |work= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Marshall Dill, Jr., Germany: A Modern History (University of Michigan: Ann Arbor, 1970) pp. 104 through 105.
  17. "Home Of Lola Montez". Retrieved 27 July 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Michael Cannon, Melbourne After the Gold Rush, pp.313-4
  19. The Intrepid Females of Forty-Nine, historic hwy
  20. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  21.  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Gilbert, Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Relayed in "Personal," New York Tribune, 21 November 1859, p. 5, col. 4.
  23. Christopher Redmond, Sherlock Holmes Handbook, Dundurn Press Ltd., 30 October 2009, p. 51; The new annotated Sherlock Holmes: The adventures of Sherlock Holmes; The memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, W.W. Norton, 2005, p.17.
  24. Archived 3 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  25. "Loloa Montez" Presented by the Elizabethen Theatre Trust, Columbia, 33OEX 9262
  26. From Trestle Theatre Company website
  27. Book Review criticizing this inclusion at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009).
  28. Carew, Andrew. "Joanna Newsom Have One On Me". Retrieved 15 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Browne, Nicholas Castle Oliver & the Oliver Gascoignes
  • Mackinlay, Leila Spider dance: A novel based upon incidents in the life of Lola Montez
  • Pastor, Urraca, Lola Montes. Mª Dolores Rosana Y Gilbert, Condesa De Landfeld, Barcelona 1946
  • Saint-Laurent, Cecil La Vie Extraordinaire de Lola Montès (basis for the 1955 movie Lola Montès)
  • Seymour, Bruce Lola Montez, a Life, Yale University Press, 1996
  • Trowbridge, W. R. H. Lola Montez, 1818-1861 in Seven Splendid Sinners, p. 298

External links