Lola Montez – Life of an Irish Dancer

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Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld, better known by the stage name Lola Montez, 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 Countess of Landsfeld.

She was a dancer, actress, and mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Claimed to be a Spanish dancer but Lola Montez was actually Irish.

Lola Montez (1818-1861) was born Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, in Sligo, Ireland. As it was impossible to imagine herself “spending her day rocking by a fire”, she chose to see the world and lived life on her own terms – “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.” Born ahead of her time, she was a beautiful, reckless and brave woman who captured the hearts of countless powerful men.

Irish Upbringing

Lola was born in Ireland but spent her early years in India, went school in Scotland and England. After studying dance in Madrid, she made her debut as a Spanish ballerina in London in 1847. To look her Spanish dance more authentic, she called herself Lola Montez, spoke with a Spanish accent and claimed to be of Spanish. She became immediately popular especially among men. The London Telegraph in 1847 reported:

“Her figure was even more attractive than her face, lovely as the latter was. Lithe and graceful as a young fawn, every movement that she made seemed filled with melody as she commenced her dance.”

While touring Germany, she became the mistress of Ludwig I of Bavaria, and was eventually made Countess of Landsfeld. The King of Bavaria wasted money on fancy jewelry for Lola, while his people were suffering. The people of Bavaria rioted and demanded Ludwig’s abdication. As a result of his relationship with Lola, he lost his crown and Lola was deported out of the country.

Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets

When Lola first appeared in San Francisco in 1853, it was at the height of the California Gold Rush. She was desperate to create the same amount of attention she had before. In a male dominated gold country, Lola – the fair-skinned woman with the pretty face – instantly drew all men’s attention. Every night, she started her show by saying:

“Good evening, gentlemen. I am Lola Montez. I was born in the year 1830, in Seville, the capital of Andalucia, the land of the serenades and balconies, of troubadours and romance – the fatherland of Miguel Cervantes, of Las Casas, of the Roman Emperors Trajan and Theodosius.”

Lola thrilled gold miners with her famously provocative “Spider Dance.” She wore a sexy costume and fluttered around the stage pretending to be trapped inside a spider’s web.

Life After the California Gold Rush

Lola went to Australia but authorities there branded the Spider Dance immoral. After the disastrous tour in Australia, she moved to New York and made a living giving how-to-keep-your-beauty lectures. A year later, Lola retired and changed her name again to Mrs. Fanny Gibbons. She suffered a stroke and was unable to speak. At the age of forty-two, she died alone and unrecognized in Brooklyn.

Sources:

  1. The Maritime Heritage Project
  2. Chartier, J., et al, With Great Hope: Women of the California Gold Rush, Twodot, Guilford, 2000
  3. Seymour, B,. Lola Montez: A Life, Yale University Press, New York, 1996