Lola Montez

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Lola Montez, Gräfin von Landsfeld
Lola Montez photographed by Antoine Samuel Adam-Salomon, 1860
Eliza Rosanna Gilbert

17 February 1821
Died17 January 1861(1861-01-17) (aged 39)
Other namesDonna Lola Montez, Maria Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld
Occupation(s)Dancer, actress, lecturer, author
Lieutenant Thomas James
(m. 1837; div. 1842)
George Trafford Heald
(m. 1849; div. 1850)
Patrick Hull
(m. 1853; div. 1853)
Partner(s)King Ludwig I of Bavaria (1846–1848)

Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld[1] (17 February 1821 – 17 January 1861), better known by the stage name Lola Montez (/mnˈtɛz/), 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 Gräfin von Landsfeld (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[edit]

Lola Montez portrait by Joseph Heigel [de] before 1840
Lola Montez's lithography
Lola Montez with Alights-on-a-Cloud, 1850s

Eliza Rosanna Gilbert was born into an Anglo-Irish family, the daughter of Elizabeth ("Eliza") Oliver, who was the daughter of Charles Silver Oliver, a former High Sheriff of Cork and member of Parliament for Kilmallock in County Limerick, Ireland.[2]: 4  Their residence was the former Castle Oliver which stood a thousand yards to the south-west of the current castle by the same name. In December 1818, Eliza's parents, Ensign Edward Gilbert and Eliza Oliver, met when he arrived with the 25th Regiment. They were married on 29 April 1820, and Lola was born the following February, in the village of Grange in the north of County Sligo, refuting persistent rumours that her mother was pregnant with her at the time of the wedding.[3] The young family made their residence at King House in Boyle, County Roscommon, until early 1823, when they journeyed to Liverpool, England, and later departed for India on 14 March.[2]: 4 

Published reports differ regarding the actual date of Eliza's birth. 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 is the year that 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, in Connacht, Ireland, on 17 February 1821.[4] At the time of her birth, all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. She was baptised at St. Peter's Church in Liverpool, England, on 16 February 1823, while her family was en route to her father's post in India.[citation needed]

Shortly after their arrival in India, Edward Gilbert died of cholera.[5] 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.[6] 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.[6] 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.[7]

At the age of ten, Eliza was moved again—this time to Sunderland, England, where her stepfather's older sister, Catherine Rae, set up a boarding school in Monkwearmouth with her husband. Eliza continued her education there.[6][8] Eliza's determination and temper were to become her trademarks. Her stay in Sunderland lasted only a year, as she was then transferred to a school in Camden Place (now Camden Crescent), Bath, for a more sophisticated education.[6][9]

In 1837, sixteen-year-old Eliza eloped with Lieutenant Thomas James, and they married.[10][11] The couple separated five years later, in Calcutta, India, and she became a professional dancer under a stage name.[10]

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.[10] At this time, she was almost certainly accepting favours from a few wealthy men, and was regarded by many as a courtesan.[12]

Coat of arms given to Montez when she was made Countess of Landsfeld by Ludwig I of Bavaria

Life as a courtesan[edit]

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

In 1844, Eliza, now known as Lola Montez, 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. 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 would meet Alexandre Dujarrier [fr], "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 [fr]. When Dujarrier was challenged to a duel by de Beauvallon, Dujarrier was shot and killed.[13]

In 1846, she arrived in Munich, where she was discovered by and became the mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria.[13] 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.[14][15] 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, 25 August 1847, and along with her title, he granted her a large annuity.[16][17][18]

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.[16][17] 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.[19]

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.[12][19] It seems likely that Ludwig's relationship with Montez contributed greatly to his forced abdication despite his previous popularity.[20]

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.[20] But 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.[20] 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.[11] 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]: 283 

American career[edit]

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, Lola performed as a dancer and actress in the eastern United States, one of her offerings being a play called Lola Montez in Bavaria.[16] In May 1853, she arrived on the west coast in San Francisco,[20] where her performances created a sensation, but soon inspired a popular satire, Who's Got the Countess?[21] 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.[11]

Lola remained in Grass Valley at her little house for nearly two years.[22] The restored property went on to become California Historical Landmark No. 292.[23] Lola served as an inspiration to another aspiring young entertainer, Lotta Crabtree, whose parents ran a boarding house in Grass Valley. Lola, a neighbour, provided dancing lessons[24] and encouraged Lotta's enthusiasm for performance.

Australia tour[edit]

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.[12]

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."[25]

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.[7][11] Although the "Lola Montes Polka" (composed by Albert Denning) is rumoured to have been inspired by this event, the song was published in 1855 and the incident with Seekamp occurred months later in February 1856.[12] 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.[26]

She departed for San Francisco on 22 May 1856.[12] On the return voyage her manager was lost at sea after going overboard.[11][11]

Later life in the U.S.[edit]

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.[11][27][28] She spent her last days in rescue work among women.[16] 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.[29]


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

By 1860, Lola was showing the tertiary effects of syphilis, and her body began to waste away.[30] 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 | Æ. 42".[11] ("Æ." abbreviates aetate, Latin for "at the age of".)

In popular culture[edit]


  • Montez, L. (1858). The Arts of Beauty, Or, Secrets of a Lady's Toilet: With Hints to Gentlemen on the Art of Fascinating. Dick & Fitzgerald.
  • Bunbury, Turtle. (2016). '1847 – A Chronicle of Genius, Generosity & Savagery. Gill Books. ISBN 9780717168347.
  • Burr, C. C. (1860). Autobiography and lectures of Lola Montez.


  1. ^ Burr, C. Chauncey, Autobiography and lectures of Lola Montez, James Blackwood, London (1860) at Google Books
  2. ^ a b c Seymour, Bruce (1996). Lola Montez, a Life. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300063479.
  3. ^ "Lola Montez 1821-1861". Sligo Town. Archived from the original on 2 May 2018. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  4. ^ Roper, Anne (2006). "Her name was Lola". RTÉ Television. Archived from the original on 4 May 2008.
  5. ^ "Lola Montez". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d Conliffe, Ciaran (16 March 2015). "Lola Montez, the Spider Woman - Part 1 - Headstuff". Headstuff. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  7. ^ a b von Reynolds, Shola (18 May 2016). "Meet Lola Montez: Dancer, Countess, Whip-Wielding Socialist". AnOther. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  8. ^ "Racy Life of Our Lola". Sunderland Echo. 2006. Retrieved 30 March 2008.
  9. ^ Raffael, Michael (2006). Bath Curiosities. Birlinn. p. 134. ISBN 978-1841585031.
  10. ^ a b c Collins, Pádraig (16 July 2014). "An Irishman's Diary on the glamorous and dangerous Lola Montez". The Irish Times. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Cannon, Michael (1974). "Lola Montez (1821–1861)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Vol. 5. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. ISSN 1833-7538. Archived from the original on 26 November 2012. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  12. ^ a b c d e "1861 – Death of Eliza Gilbert (Lola Montez)". Stair na hÉireann/History of Ireland. 17 January 2014. Archived from the original on 31 March 2019. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  13. ^ a b Greene, Robert (2000). The 48 Laws of Power. Penguin Books. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-14-028019-7.
  14. ^ BBC - Woman's Hour - January 2007
  15. ^ James Morton, Lola Montez - Her Life and Conquests (2007)
  16. ^ a b c d Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Montez, Lola" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  17. ^ a b Reynolds, Francis J., ed. (1921). "Montez, Lola" . Collier's New Encyclopedia. New York: P. F. Collier & Son Company.
  18. ^ The Vault at Pfaff's.- An Archive of Art and Literature by the Bohemians of Antebellum New York
  19. ^ a b Ripley, George; Dana, Charles A., eds. (1879). "Lola Montez" . The American Cyclopædia.
  20. ^ a b c d Greene, Robert (2000). The 48 Laws of Power. Penguin Books. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-14-028019-7.
  21. ^ Kamiya, G. (31 May 2014). "Notorious Lola Montez kept the men in S.F. panting". SFGate. San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on 1 June 2014. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  22. ^ Marshall Dill, Jr., Germany: A Modern History (University of Michigan: Ann Arbor, 1970) pp. 104–5.
  23. ^ "Home of Lola Montez". Retrieved 27 July 2008.
  24. ^ "Lotta Crabtree and Lola Montez". Standing Stones. Retrieved 1 April 2016.
  25. ^ Michael Cannon, Melbourne After the Gold Rush, pp. 313–4
  26. ^ Seymour, Bruce, Lola Montez: a life, Yale University Press, 1996, p.347
  27. ^ Varley, J. F. (1996). Lola Montez: The California Adventures of Europe's Notorious Courtesan. Arthur H. Clark Company. ISBN 978-0-87062-243-4. OCLC 32892255.
  28. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Gilbert, Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  29. ^ Relayed in "Personal," New York Tribune, 21 November 1859, p. 5, col. 4.
  30. ^ Collins, Pádraig (16 July 2014). "An Irishman's Diary on the Glamorous and Dangerous Lola Montez". The Irish Times. Retrieved 26 October 2022.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ "Lola Montez on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  33. ^ Archived 3 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  34. ^ "Loloa Montez" Presented by the Elizabethen Theatre Trust, Columbia, 33OEX 9262
  35. ^ "Lola Montez". IMDb. 16 February 1959. Archived from the original on 9 February 2017. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  36. ^ "Book Review criticizing this inclusion". Archived from the original on 27 October 2009. Retrieved 8 December 2010..
  37. ^ "Trestle - What's On - Our Productions - Archive - Lola: the life of Lola Montez".
  38. ^ Carew, Andrew. "Joanna Newsom Have One On Me". Archived from the original on 1 July 2012. Retrieved 15 October 2011.

Further reading[edit]

  • Browne, Nicholas, Castle Oliver & the Oliver Gascoignes
  • Mackinlay, Leila, Spider dance: A novel based upon incidents in the life of Lola Montez
  • Morton, James, Lola Montez: Her Life & Conquests, Portrait, 2007
  • 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[edit]