Lola Montez

Marie Dolores 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 Australia, Switzerland, France and London, returning to her work as an entertainer and lecturer.

Lola Montez, Gräfin von Landsfeld
Lola Montez c.1851
Eliza Rosanna Gilbert

17 February 1821
Died(1861-01-17)17 January 1861 (age 39)
Other namesDonna Lola Montez, Maria Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld
OccupationDancer, actress, lecturer, author
Spouse(s)Lieutenant Thomas James
George Trafford Heald
Patrick Hull
Partner(s)King Ludwig I of Bavaria


Early life

Eliza Rosanna Gilbert was born into an Anglo-Irish family, the daughter of Eliza(beth) 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. Their residence was Castle Oliver. 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.[2] 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.[3]

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.

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.[8][6] 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, 16-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 recognized 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]

Life as a courtesan

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 in the Bohemian literary society of the time, being acquainted with Alexandre Dumas, with whom she was rumoured to have had a dalliance. In Paris she would meet Alexandre Dujarier, "owner of the newspaper with the highest circulation in France, and also the newspaper's drama critic." Through their romance, Montez revitalized her career as a dancer. Later on, after the two had their first quarrel over Lola's attendance at a party, Dujarier attended the party and, in a drunken state, offended Jean-Bapiste Rosemond de Beauvallon. When Dujarier was challenged to a duel by de Beauvallon, he was shot and killed.[13]

In 1846, she arrived in Munich, where she was discovered by and became the mistress of Ludwig I of Bavaria.[13] There was a rumour that when they first met, Ludwig asked her in public if her bosom was real. Her response to the question was to tear off enough of her garments to prove that it was.[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 unpopular with the local population (particularly after documents were made public showing that she was hoping to become a naturalised Bavarian citizen and be elevated to nobility). Despite opposition, Ludwig made her Countess of Landsfeld on his next birthday, 25 August 1847, and along with her title, he granted her a large annuity.[16][17]

For more than a year, she exercised great political power, which she directed in favor of liberalism, against the conservatives and the Jesuits.[16][17] Her influence became so great that the administration of Karl von Abel was dismissed because that minister objected to her appointment to Countess. 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.[18] 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.[12][18] It seems likely that Ludwig's relationship with Montez contributed greatly to his fall from grace despite his previous popularity.[19]

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.[19] But the terms of her divorce from Thomas James did not permit either spouse's remarriage while the other was living, and the beleaguered newly-weds were forced to flee the country to escape a bigamy action brought by Heald's scandalized maiden aunt.[19] The Healds resided for a time in France and Spain, but within two years, the tempestuous relationship was in tatters, and George reportedly drowned.[20] 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.[3]

United States 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.[16] In May 1853, she arrived on the west coast in San Francisco[19] 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 shortly after murdered.[20]

Lola remained in Grass Valley at her little house for nearly two years.[22] The restored Home of Lola Montez 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 neighbor, provided dancing lessons[24] and encouraged Lotta's enthusiasm for performance.

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.[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][20]

Later life in the U.S.

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.[20][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]


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. She is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, where her tombstone states: "Mrs. Eliza Gilbert / Died 17 January 1861".[20]

  • Lola's 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."[30] 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.[31] A recording of the musical was released on LP in 1958 in both mono and stereo versions.[32]
  • Montez also appears in Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser, where she has a brief affair with Sir Harry Flashman. She is also a character in the film of the same name (1975), in which she is played by Florinda Bolkan.
  • A character named Lola Montez is featured in the 1948 film, Black Bart, played by Yvonne De Carlo.
  • Montez is featured prominently in Spider Dance by Carole Nelson Douglas, the last work in her Irene Adler mystery series. Montez is rumoured 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), Paula Morgan, and Rita Moreno in separate episodes 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.
  • The actress Paula Morgan played Montez in the 1955 episode, "Lola Montez," of the syndicated television anthology series, Death Valley Days, hosted by Stanley Andrews. Baynes Barron (1917-1982) was cast as Patrick Hull, a newspaperman who became Montez's third husband.[33]
  • 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 2008 production titled Lola about the life of Lola Montez.[34]
  • Montez is described in Daughter of Fortune (original Spanish title Hija de la fortuna) by the Chilean-American author Isabel Allende.[35]
  • A feature film Spider Dance (2011) focuses on the latter years of Lola's life and her time in Australia.
  • Musician Joanna Newsom's title track on the album Have One on Me is about Lola Montez.[36]
  • Danish metal band Volbeat included a song on their album Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies about Montez. Entitled Lola Montez (song), the lyrics reference Montez's spider dance and the incident with Henry Seekamp.
  • 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 honour, Mount Lola. At 9,148 feet, it is the highest point in Nevada County, California.
  • In 2016 American composer John Adams composed a short orchestral piece called "Lola Montez Does the Spider Dance" in celebration of conductor Marin Alsop's 25 years leading the Cabrillo Festival in Santa Cruz, California.


  • 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. "Lola Montez 1821-1861". Sligo Town. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  3. Seymour, Bruce (1996). Lola Montez, a Life. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300063479.
  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. Conliffe, Ciaran (16 March 2015). "Lola Montez, the Spider Woman - Part 1 - Headstuff". Headstuff. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  7. 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. Collins, Pádraig (16 July 2014). "An Irishman's Diary on the glamorous and dangerous Lola Montez". The Irish Times. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  11. Cannon, Michael. Montez, Lola (1821–1861). Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  12. "1861 – Death of Eliza Gilbert (Lola Montez)". Stair na hÉireann/History of Ireland. 17 January 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  13. 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.  Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Montez, Lola" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  17.  Reynolds, Francis J., ed. (1921). "Montez, Lola" . Collier's New Encyclopedia. New York: P. F. Collier & Son Company.
  18.  Ripley, George; Dana, Charles A., eds. (1879). "Lola Montez" . The American Cyclopædia.
  19. Greene, Robert (2000). The 48 Laws of Power. Penguin Books. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-14-028019-7.
  20. Cannon, M. (1974). "Montez, Lola (1821–1861)". Montez, Lola (1818–1861). Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 5. Australian National University. Archived from the original on 26 November 2012. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  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 through 105.
  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. 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.
  31. Archived 3 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  32. "Loloa Montez" Presented by the Elizabethen Theatre Trust, Columbia, 33OEX 9262
  33. "Lola Montez on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  34. admin. "Trestle - What's On - Our Productions - Archive - Lola: the life of Lola Montez".
  35. "Book Review criticizing this inclusion". Archived from the original on 27 October 2009. Retrieved 8 December 2010..
  36. Carew, Andrew. "Joanna Newsom Have One On Me". Retrieved 15 October 2011.

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
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