Monday, July 1, 2024




A Bytes post on Lola Montez was suggested to me by friend and relative Peter W,  who had been reading about her and had become fascinated.

So here it is, Peter . . .


Lola Montez, photographed in 1860

Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld (1821 – 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. At the start of the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states, she was forced to flee. She proceeded to the United States via Austria, Switzerland, France and London, to return to her work as an entertainer and lecturer.

Early life:

Eliza Rosanna Gilbert was born into an Anglo-Irish family, the daughter of Elizabeth ("Eliza") Oliver, who was the daughter of a former High Sheriff of Cork and member of Parliament for Kilmallock in County Limerick, Ireland.

In 1823 the family moved to India, where her father died not long after. Her mother, who was then 19, married Lieutenant Patrick Craigie the following year. Craigie quickly came to care for the young Eliza, but her spoiled and half-wild ways concerned him greatly. Eventually, it was agreed she would be sent back to Britain to attend school, staying with Craigie's father in Montrose, Scotland. But the "queer, wayward little Indian girl" rapidly became known as a mischief-maker. 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.

Eliza's determination and temper were to become her trademarks.

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

Lola Montez portrait by Joseph Heigel before 1840

When she had her London debut as "Lola Montez, the Spanish dancer" in June 1843, she was recognised as "Mrs. James". The resulting notoriety hampered her career in England, so she departed for the continent, where she had success in Paris and Warsaw. At this time, she was almost certainly accepting favours from a few wealthy men, and was regarded by many as a courtesan.

In 1844, Eliza, now known as Lola Montez, made a personally disappointing Parisian debut.

She met and had an affair with Franz Liszt, who introduced her to the circle of George Sand. After performing in various European capitals, she settled in Paris, where she was accepted into the city's literary bohemia, becoming acquainted with Alexandre Dumas, with whom she was also rumoured to have had a dalliance.

In Paris she met Alexandre Dujarrier, "owner of the newspaper with the highest circulation in France, and also the newspaper's drama critic". Through their romance, Montez revitalised her career as a dancer. Later on, after the two had their first quarrel over Lola's attendance at a party, Dujarrier attended the party and, in a drunken state, offended Jean-Baptiste Rosemond de Beauvallon. When Dujarrier was challenged to a duel by de Beauvallon, Dujarrier was shot and killed.


In 1846, she arrived in Munich, where she was discovered by and became the mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. There was a rumour that when they first met, Ludwig asked her in public if her breasts were real. Her response to the question was to tear off enough of her garments to prove that they were. She soon began to use her influence on the king and this, coupled with her arrogant manner and outbursts of temper, made her extremely unpopular with the Bavarian people (particularly after documents were made public showing that she was hoping to become a naturalised Bavarian subject and be elevated to nobility). Despite opposition, Ludwig made her Countess of Landsfeld and Baroness of Rosenthal on his next birthday in 1847, and along with her title, he granted her a large annuity.

Lola Montez (1847), painted for Ludwig I of Bavaria

Lola Montez (Gouache 1847)

King Ludwig I of Bavaria

For more than a year, she exercised great political power, which she directed in favour of liberalism, anti-Catholicism, and in attacks against the Jesuits. Her ability to manipulate the king was so great that the Minister of State, Karl von Abel, was dismissed because he and his entire cabinet had objected to Lola being granted Bavarian nationality and the title of Countess. The students at Munich 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 insistence, to close the university.

In March 1848, under pressure from a growing revolutionary movement, the university was re-opened, Ludwig abdicated in favor of his son, King Maximilian II, and Montez fled Bavaria. Her career as a power behind the throne was permanently at an end. It seems likely that Ludwig's relationship with Montez contributed greatly to his forced abdication despite his previous popularity.


After a sojourn in Switzerland, where she waited in vain for Ludwig to join her, Lola 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. However the terms of her divorce from Thomas James did not permit 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 scandalised maiden aunt. The Healds resided for a time in France and Spain, but within two years, the tempestuous relationship was in tatters, and George reportedly drowned in 1856. 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.

American career:

From 1851 to 1853, Lola performed as a dancer and actress in the eastern United States, one of her offerings being a play called Lola Montez in Bavaria. In May 1853, she arrived on the west coast in San Francisco, where her performances created a sensation.

Lola Montez with Alights-on-a-Cloud, 1850s

Lola Montez, lithograph

Lola Montez in 1851, daguerreotype

She married Patrick Hull, a local newspaperman, in July and moved to Grass Valley, California, in August. Her marriage soon failed; a doctor named as co-respondent in the divorce suit brought against her was murdered shortly thereafter.

Lola remained in Grass Valley at her little house for nearly two years. The restored property went on to become California Historical Landmark No. 292.

Australia tour:

In June 1855, Lola departed the U.S. to tour Australia and resume her career by entertaining miners at the gold diggings during the gold rush of the 1850s. She arrived in Sydney on 16 August 1855.

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."

Her Spider Dance consisted of her jiggling and wiggling imaginary spiders out of her costume before raising her skirt high enough so that the predominantly male audience would realise that she was wearing no undergarments.

She earned further notoriety in Ballarat when, after reading a bad review of her performance in The Ballarat Times, she attacked the editor, Henry Seekamp, with a whip.

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 after insulting them following some mild heckling.

She departed for San Francisco on 22 May 1856

Later life in the US:

Lola failed in her 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 Chauncey Burr. She spent her last days in rescue work among women.


By 1860, Lola 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 and is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Lola Montez's grave in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York


Lola is said to have whipped any man who dared interrupt one of her shows.

Poster for Lola Montes (Montez), Theatre Royal, Melbourne, 1855

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.