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The life and career of the beautiful and notorious Lola Montez, mistress of Ludwig I of Bavaria. Her Spider Dance.

Updated on February 14, 2016


Lola Montez. The start of her climb to fame.

Lola Montez. Royal mistress.

Lola Montez "shakes em up" in America and Australia.

Might just be a very good film.

Lola Montez. Her life in pictures.

The beautiful, and notorious Lola Montez.
The beautiful, and notorious Lola Montez.
Ludwig I of Bavaria was besotted with Lola.
Ludwig I of Bavaria was besotted with Lola.
Sketch of Lola dancing.
Sketch of Lola dancing.
Lola Montez in her later life.
Lola Montez in her later life.

Lola Montez. The start of her climb to fame.

One of the most interesting things about history is not the stories of great men, and great deeds, but the real vibrancy, to be found in tales of our past, is to be found in the stories that retell the lives of those who were close to the great, or who through force of circumstance, or a commanding personality, make an impression on history, way beyond that usually expected from somebody of humble origins, with few connections.
Such a one was Lola Montez, and it is the story of this remarkable and scandalous irishwoman that I would like to regale you with today.

Lola Montez was born, by her account, in the irish city of Limerick, around the year 1820. Lola Montez was not the name she was born with. She adopted that later in her life. Eliza Rosanna Gilbert was the name she was baptised under. She was the daughter of impoverished parents. In 1823 her family moved to India, as her father was an officer in the British Army. Less than a year later he was dead from cholera, and Lola got sent back to Britain , as her mother's new husband could not cope with looking after a very wayward child.

She proved a difficult child for her guardians back home to look after. She once ran through the town naked. She was being looked after by relatives of her stepfather, who found her to be more than a handful. Although she was a very elegant, and intelligent little girl, she had a violent temper. This fiery nature was to be a hallmark of her later career, and got her into trouble again and again.

In 1837, aged 16, Lola eloped with a Lieutenant Thomas James. They lived on the continent for a few years, but the marriage broke up, and Lola returned to London. She started to give performances as "The Spanish Dancer Lola Montez", but when people started to remember that she was Mrs Thomas James, it caused a scandal, and business declined.
The redoubtable Lola departed again for Europe, where she continued her career as a dancer, with more success, although her reputation for being a fiery beauty contributed more to her prosperity than her dancing did, which was considered pretty bad.
It was about this time, also, that she started to take money and jewels off wealthy men in return for "favours".
Her talents as a courtesan, brought her a lot more money and fame than her dancing did. Among her lovers, at this time, were the composer Franz Liszt. She also had an affair with Alexandre Dumas, the author.
After the 1845 death of her lover, newspaperman Alexandre Dujarier, in a duel (unrelated to her), she left Paris.

If you like "off the wall" comedy, you will LOVE this book


Lola Montez. Royal mistress.

The most distinguished notch on the bedpost of Lola Montez was carved in Munich, the capital of The Kingdom of Bavaria. It was in this city that she really "hit paydirt", and where her most notorious affair occurred.
Bavaria in the eighteen forties was ruled by King Ludwig I. He was an amiable, and fairly popular monarch, with a great fondness of the arts, especially Hellenic Arts, and also a great eye for pretty women with curvaceous figures.
Where Lola was concerned, he was a fruit ripe for the picking. The story is told that when she was presented to His "goggle eyed" Majesty, the king asked her if her bosom was real. Lola is supposed to have given him an instant, intimate opportunity to find out for himself.
However it happened, Lola became the mistress of the absolutely besotted king, who showered her with honours and jewelry. He even made her Countess of Landsfeld, with a huge income to support her new dignity. She began to exercise great political power in the kingdom, a lot of it in favour of liberal causes, and against The Church.
But her great temper, and her arrogance, managed to alienate the nobility and people of Bavaria. In the year of revolutions, 1848, Ludwig I lost his throne. Historians consider that his relationship with the rather grasping Lola Montez, was a major contributary factor.

Whatever the reasons, the revolution ended Lola's period as "power behind the throne". She had to flee Bavaria.
After a short sojourn in Switzerland, where she waited in vain for the arrival of her royal ex lover, (needless to say, he didn't arrive), she went back to London. here she met, and bigamously married, a young officer with an inheritance, called George Trafford Heald. But the bigamy was detected, and they had to flee the country.
For a while they lived in Spain and France, but the relationship foundered after two years, and in 1851, Lola, having exhausted the "sugardaddies" of Europe, set sail for The United States Of America.

Might just be a very good film.

Lola Montez "shakes em up" in America and Australia.

Her special dance, which she used to inflame her american audiences, was called "The Spider Dance". She pretended to shake imaginary spiders out of her clothes, and then stamp them on the ground. The potential for putting erotic thoughts into the minds of the unsophicated audiences, by this performance, just added to her allure, and box office success.

Lola Montez danced her way across the USA to San Francisco, where she managed to hook herself a "yank" called Patrick Hull, (a local newspaperman). When this marriage went the way of all her others, she continued living in his house until 1855. She then went off to Australia to try her luck there. It was her intention to entertain, among others, the miners at the gold diggings in Ballarat, by dancing for them.

Her dancing in Australia was not a great success. A performance in Melbourne, where she lifted her skirts so high, that people said they could see that she wasn't wearing any underclothes, shocked even the more broadminded.
She earned further notoriety in Ballarat when, after reading a bad review in The Ballarat Times, she attacked the editor, Henry Seekamp with a whip.
In May 1856 she returned to San Francisco, relieved to have left the turbulent australians behind. I suspect they were glad to see the back of her as well.

The last years in the life of Lola Montez were spent in the United States. She calmed down a bit, and made her living giving lectures on subjects such as gallantry. She also did a bit of acting. Her final home was in New York. She redeemed her reputation by doing a lot of work to rehabilitate "fallen women".
She died in 1861 and was buried in Brooklyn Cemetery, New York. Her tombstone records her name as Mrs Eliza Gilbert, harking back to her origins. In death all the men seem to have been forgotten.

As I said at the beginning of this story, the lives of the minor characters in history are sometimes more worthy of study than those of the great.
Lola Montez lived one of those lives.


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