Lola Montez, Gräfin von Landsfeld
Eliza Rosanna Gilbert
17 February 1821
Grange, County Sligo, Connacht, Ireland
|Died||17 January 1861 (aged 39)|
|Other names||Donna 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)
(m. 1853; div. 1853)
|Partner(s)||King Ludwig I of Bavaria (1846–1848)|
Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld (17 February 1821 – 17 January 1861), better known by the stage name Lola Montez (/moʊnˈtɛz/), 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, returning to her work as an entertainer and lecturer.
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.: 4 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. 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.: 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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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 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, "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 on his next birthday, 25 August 1847, and along with her title, he granted her a large annuity.
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. 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 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.: 283
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, but soon inspired a popular satire, Who's Got the Countess? 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. 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 and encouraged Lotta's enthusiasm for performance.
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."
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. 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. 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. On the return voyage her manager was lost at sea after going overboard.
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. 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.
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 | Æ. 42". ("Æ." abbreviates aetate, Latin for "at the age of".)