Lola Montez: Life story and Interesting Facts about the Glamorous and Dangerous Irish Dancer

Lola Montez was an Irish dancer and actress who rose to fame as a Spanish courtesan and mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Despite spending most of her childhood in India, she was educated in Scotland and England. In 1842, Lola was 19 years old when she eloped with Lieutenant Thomas James; five years later, the couple separated, and in 1843 she began a career as a dancer.

Lola’s gorgeous good looks started to become almost impossible to deny as a teenager, and she developed the features that would make her famous for decades to come. Her mischievous personality was matched by her large, dark eyes, jet-black hair, and small, heart-shaped face.

Lola had uncontrollable rages as a girl, but when she grew up, these temper tantrums didn’t go away. When she reached the height of her fame, she carried a whip everywhere she went, lashing it out at anyone she disapproved of, including the general public, bored theatregoers, and critics who gave her poor reviews. Over the years, she upgraded her whip to a more powerful one.

Childhood and early life

She was born February 17, 1821, in Grange, Sligo, Ireland, as Maria Dolores Eliza Rosanna, the daughter of Ensign Edward Gilbert and his 14-year-old wife who claimed Spanish descent. When her father died in 1824, her mother married Major John Craigie, who later became an adjutant-general in the British army in India. Lola was educated at boarding institutions in the United Kingdom and France. When she was 19, her mother forced her to marry an elderly judge; instead, she eloped with Lieutenant Thomas James, whom she married in Ireland on July 23, 1837. James took her to Simla, India, in 1839 but started a relationship with another woman. Lola returned to England in 1842, and James won a judicial separation because she committed adultery on the ship.

Career as a dancer

Lola went to Spain and trained as a dancer. She adopted the name, Donna Lola Montez. She made her stage debut in front of royalty on June 3, 1843, at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London; despite being attractive and accomplished, she was shouted off the stage when she was identified as James’s wife. She fled to Europe and began performing in Warsaw, Paris, and other European cities, considered provocative. Eventually, she became the mistress of Franz Liszt, Alexandre Dumas, and Alexandre Dujarier, part-owner of La Presse. After Dujarier was killed in a duel, Lola went to Munich as a Spanish noblewoman. King Ludwig I of Bavaria fell in love with her, bought a big house, and settled an annuity. Lola had much power; ministries rose and fell at her bidding, and radical university students went for her. Ludwig created her Countess Marie von Landsfeld on August 25, 1847, but the Bavarian aristocracy and middle class rejected her. Street riots broke out against her influence on February 7, 1848, and thousands marched on the palace on February 10 to demand she be expelled. When Ludwig was shown proof of her infidelities and background, he abdicated her from the throne. The annulment of Lola’s Bavarian rights forced her to flee to Switzerland. She returned to London in April 1849 and married a young Guards officer on July 19, 1849. She was arrested and charged with bigamy on August 6 but released on bail. She fled to Spain with Heald, where he drowned the following year.

Return to stage

When Lola returned to the stage, she toured Europe and America with a cowhide whip and a pistol, and she was involved in countless assaults, scandals, and legal actions. She performed her notorious “Spider Dance” for the first time in gold-rush San Francisco. She married Patrick Purdy Hull, owner of the San Francisco Whig, on July 1, 1853. A few days later, he filed for divorce with a German doctor as co-respondent, and the doctor was found shot dead in nearby hills.

Lola Montez Spider Dance

Lola performed the ‘Spider Dance’ at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, when her audience diminished on September 13. Her skirts were so high that the audience could see she was completely bare underneath. The Argus blasted her performance as ‘utterly subversive’ to public morality the next day. Families stopped coming to the theatre, and the theater began to lose money.” The press criticized her, but Melbourne’s mayor, who served as a magistrate, refused to arrest her.

The fall of Lola Montez

Lola failed to make a comeback in various American cities due to her rapid aging. In 1857, she arranged to deliver a series of moral lectures in Britain and America written by Rev. Charles Chauncy Burr. Her repentance seems genuine, but her body started to waste away after contracting syphilis.

Lola Montez cause of death

As Lola reached her late 30s, she was suffering from a tertiary stage of syphilis. During this stage, the disease can affect neurological functions and cardiovascular health. Lola Montez suffered a massive stroke in 1860, possibly because of untreated syphilis. By this time, her body was already wasting away, and it became fatally frail. She contracted pneumonia in the winter and died exactly one month before her 40th birthday, on January 17, 1861. She is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Below are some rare historical photos of Lola Montez from over the years.

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Written by Alicia Linn

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