Lola Montez 1821-1861

A picture of Lola Montez Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld 17th February 1821 - 17th January 1861, who became better known by her stage name of Lola Montez. She was a dancer and an actress who became famous as a "Spanish dancer", courtesan (or a prostitute with wealthy or upper-class clients), mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who made her Countess of Landsfeld.

Lola's mother, Elizabeth Oliver was the child of Charles Silver Oliver, a former High Sheriff of Cork and Member of Parliament for Kilmallock in County Limerick and her father was Ensign Edward Gilbert of the 25th Regiment. They married on 29th April 1820 at the Holy Trinity Church, Cork with Lola being born the following February, refuting persistent rumours that her mother was pregnant with her at the time of the wedding.

The young family made their residence at King House in Boyle, County Roscommon until early 1823, when they journeyed to Liverpool, and departed for India on 14th March.

For many years it was accepted that Eliza was born in Limerick as she herself claimed, possibly on 23 June 1818, as this year was engraved on her headstone which seemed to make it the literal 'last word'. 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.

During Eliza's school years in India, Scotland and England, she became known as a tempermental, wild and mischevous child, who In 1837, at the age of 16, eloped and married Lieutenant Thomas James. The couple separated five years later in Calcutta, and she became a professional dancer under the stage name of "Lola Montez, the Spanish dancer", her debut tour in June 1843 was successful, but she had been recognized as Mrs James and a scandal arose over the imposture. The resulting notoriety hampered her career in England and she departed for the Continent, where she became famous more for her beauty and quick temper than for her dancing. At this time, she was almost certainly accepting favours from a few wealthy men, and was regarded by many as a courtesan.

In 1844, Lola made an unsuccessful Parisian stage debut as a dancer in Fromental Halevy's opera, Le lazzarone. She met and had an affair with the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, who introduced her to the circle of George Sand.

She left Paris in 1845 and went to Munich where she was discovered by, and became the mistress of, Ludwig I of Bavaria. it is rumoured that at their first meeting Ludwig had asked her in public if her bosom was real, to which she tore off enough of her garments to prove it.

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 the 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.

For more than a year, she exercised great political power, which she directed in favor of liberalism and against the conservatives and the Jesuits. 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. 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.

It seems likely that Ludwig's relationship with Montez contributed greatly to his fall from grace. Her reputation in 19th century Germany was highly negative. Lola, now in Switzerland, waited in vain for Ludwig to join her, she made one brief excursion to France and then to London in late 1848 where she met and quickly married George Trafford Heald, a young army cornet (cavalry officer) with a recent inheritance, 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.

From 1851 to 1853, she performed as a dancer and actress in the eastern United States, with offerings such as a play called Lola Montez in Bavaria and Who's Got the Countess?. 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.Montez remained in Grass Valley at her little house for nearly two years.

A photograph of Lola Montez' headstoneHaving smoked heavily and reportedly also suffering from tertiary syphilis, her health went into decline. She finally moved to Brooklyn, New York, where she spent her last days in rescue work among women.

On 30 June 1860, she suffered a stroke and was partially paralyzed for some time. She contracted pneumonia, lingering for nearly a month before dying one month before her fortieth birthday. She is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, where her tombstone reads: "Mrs. Eliza Gilbert Died 17 January 1861". It also incorrectly reads that she was 42 years old at time of her death.

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This page was last updated on Thursday 5 May 2016.

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