Lola Montez! The name suggests dark eyes and abundant hair, lithe limbs
and a sinuous body, with twining hands and great eyes that gleam with
a sort of ebon splendor. One thinks of Spanish beauty as one hears the
name; and in truth Lola Montez justified the mental picture.
She was not altogether Spanish, yet the other elements that entered into
her mercurial nature heightened and vivified her Castilian traits.
Her mother was a Spaniard--partly Moorish, however. Her father was an
Irishman. There you have it--the dreamy romance of Spain, the exotic
touch of the Orient, and the daring, unreasoning vivacity of the Celt.
This woman during the forty-three years of her life had adventures
innumerable, was widely known in Europe and America, and actually lost
one king his throne. Her maiden name was Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna
Gilbert. Her father was a British officer, the son of an Irish knight,
Sir Edward Gilbert. Her mother had been a danseuse named Lola Oliver.
"Lola" is a diminutive of Dolores, and as "Lola" she became known to the
She lived at one time or another in nearly all the countries of Europe,
and likewise in India, America, and Australia. It would be impossible
to set down here all the sensations that she achieved. Let us select the
climax of her career and show how she overturned a kingdom, passing but
lightly over her early and her later years.
She was born in Limerick in 1818, but her father's parents cast off
their son and his young wife, the Spanish dancer. They went to India,
and in 1825 the father died, leaving his young widow without a
rupee; but she was quickly married again, this time to an officer of
The former danseuse became a very conventional person, a fit match for
her highly conventional husband; but the small daughter did not take
kindly to the proprieties of life. The Hindu servants taught her more
things than she should have known; and at one time her stepfather found
her performing the danse du ventre. It was the Moorish strain inherited
from her mother.
She was sent back to Europe, however, and had a sort of education in
Scotland and England, and finally in Paris, where she was detected in
an incipient flirtation with her music-master. There were other persons
hanging about her from her fifteenth year, at which time her
stepfather, in India, had arranged a marriage between her and a rich but
uninteresting old judge. One of her numerous admirers told her this.
"What on earth am I to do?" asked little Lola, most naively.
"Why, marry me," said the artful adviser, who was Captain Thomas James;
and so the very next day they fled to Dublin and were speedily married
Lola's husband was violently in love with her, but, unfortunately,
others were no less susceptible to her charms. She was presented at
the vice-regal court, and everybody there became her victim. Even the
viceroy, Lord Normanby, was greatly taken with her. This nobleman's
position was such that Captain James could not object to his attentions,
though they made the husband angry to a degree. The viceroy would draw
her into alcoves and engage her in flattering conversation, while poor
James could only gnaw his nails and let green-eyed jealousy prey upon
his heart. His only recourse was to take her into the country, where she
speedily became bored; and boredom is the death of love.
Later she went with Captain James to India. She endured a campaign in
Afghanistan, in which she thoroughly enjoyed herself because of the
attentions of the officers. On her return to London in 1842, one Captain
Lennox was a fellow passenger; and their association resulted in an
action for divorce, by which she was freed from her husband, and yet by
a technicality was not able to marry Lennox, whose family in any case
would probably have prevented the wedding.
Mrs. Mayne says, in writing on this point:
Even Lola never quite succeeded in being allowed to commit bigamy
unmolested, though in later years she did commit it and took refuge in
Spain to escape punishment.
The same writer has given a vivid picture of what happened soon after
the divorce. Lola tried to forget her past and to create a new and
brighter future. Here is the narrative:
Her Majesty's Theater was crowded on the night of June 10,1843. A new
Spanish dancer was announced--"Dona Lola Montez." It was her debut, and
Lumley, the manager, had been puffing her beforehand, as he alone knew
how. To Lord Ranelagh, the leader of the dilettante group of fashionable
young men, he had whispered, mysteriously:
"I have a surprise in store. You shall see."
So Ranelagh and a party of his friends filled the omnibus boxes,
those tribunes at the side of the stage whence success or failure was
pronounced. Things had been done with Lumley's consummate art; the
packed house was murmurous with excitement. She was a raving beauty,
said report--and then, those intoxicating Spanish dances! Taglioni,
Cerito, Fanny Elssler, all were to be eclipsed.
Ranelagh's glasses were steadily leveled on the stage from the
moment her entrance was imminent. She came on. There was a murmur of
admiration--but Ranelagh made no sign. And then she began to dance.
A sense of disappointment, perhaps? But she was very lovely, very
graceful, "like a flower swept by the wind, she floated round the
stage"--not a dancer, but, by George, a beauty! And still Ranelagh made
Yet, no. What low, sibilant sound is that? And then what confused, angry
words from the tribunal? He turns to his friends, his eyes ablaze with
anger, opera-glass in hand. And now again the terrible "Hiss-s-s!" taken
up by the other box, and the words repeated loudly and more angrily
even than before--the historic words which sealed Lola's doom at Her
Majesty's Theater: "WHY, IT'S BETTY JAMES!"
She was, indeed, Betty James, and London would not accept her as Lola
Montez. She left England and appeared upon the Continent as a beautiful
virago, making a sensation--as the French would say, a succes de
scandale--by boxing the ears of people who offended her, and even on one
occasion horsewhipping a policeman who was in attendance on the King of
Prussia. In Paris she tried once more to be a dancer, but Paris would
not have her. She betook herself to Dresden and Warsaw, where she
sought to attract attention by her eccentricities, making mouths at the
spectators, flinging her garters in their faces, and one time removing
her skirts and still more necessary garments, whereupon her manager
broke off his engagement with her.
An English writer who heard a great deal of her and who saw her often
about this time writes that there was nothing wonderful about her except
"her beauty and her impudence." She had no talent nor any of the graces
which make women attractive; yet many men of talent raved about her. The
clever young journalist, Dujarrier, who assisted Emile Girardin, was her
lover in Paris. He was killed in a duel and left Lola twenty thousand
francs and some securities, so that she no longer had to sing in the
streets as she did in Warsaw.
She now betook herself to Munich, the capital of Bavaria. That country
was then governed by Ludwig I., a king as eccentric as Lola herself. He
was a curious compound of kindliness, ideality, and peculiar ways. For
instance, he would never use a carriage even on state occasions. He
prowled around the streets, knocking off the hats of those whom he
chanced to meet. Like his unfortunate descendant, Ludwig II., he
wrote poetry, and he had a picture-gallery devoted to portraits of the
beautiful women whom he had met.
He dressed like an English fox-hunter, with a most extraordinary hat,
and what was odd and peculiar in others pleased him because he was odd
and peculiar himself. Therefore when Lola made her first appearance at
the Court Theater he was enchanted with her. He summoned her at once to
the palace, and within five days he presented her to the court, saying
as he did so:
"Meine Herren, I present you to my best friend."
In less than a month this curious monarch had given Lola the title of
Countess of Landsfeld. A handsome house was built for her, and a pension
of twenty thousand florins was granted her. This was in 1847. With the
people of Munich she was unpopular. They did not mind the eccentricities
of the king, since these amused them and did the country no perceptible
harm; but they were enraged by this beautiful woman, who had no softness
such as a woman ought to have. Her swearing, her readiness to box the
ears of every one whom she disliked, the huge bulldog which accompanied
her everywhere--all these things were beyond endurance.
She was discourteous to the queen, besides meddling with the politics of
the kingdom. Either of these things would have been sufficient to
make her hated. Together, they were more than the city of Munich could
endure. Finally the countess tried to establish a new corps in the
university. This was the last touch of all. A student who ventured to
wear her colors was beaten and arrested. Lola came to his aid with all
her wonted boldness; but the city was in commotion.
Daggers were drawn; Lola was hustled and insulted. The foolish king
rushed out to protect her; and on his arm she was led in safety to the
palace. As she entered the gates she turned and fired a pistol into the
mob. No one was hurt, but a great rage took possession of the people.
The king issued a decree closing the university for a year. By this
time, however, Munich was in possession of a mob, and the Bavarians
demanded that she should leave the country.
Ludwig faced the chamber of peers, where the demand of the populace was
placed before him.
"I would rather lose my crown!" he replied.
The lords of Bavaria regarded him with grim silence; and in their eyes
he read the determination of his people. On the following day a royal
decree revoked Lola's rights as a subject of Bavaria, and still another
decree ordered her to be expelled. The mob yelled with joy and burned
her house. Poor Ludwig watched the tumult by the light of the leaping
He was still in love with her and tried to keep her in the kingdom; but
the result was that Ludwig himself was forced to abdicate. He had given
his throne for the light love of this beautiful but half-crazy woman.
She would have no more to do with him; and as for him, he had to give
place to his son Maximilian. Ludwig had lost a kingdom merely because
this strange, outrageous creature had piqued him and made him think that
she was unique among women.
The rest of her career was adventurous. In England she contracted a
bigamous marriage with a youthful officer, and within two weeks they
fled to Spain for safety from the law. Her husband was drowned, and she
made still another marriage. She visited Australia, and at Melbourne she
had a fight with a strapping woman, who clawed her face until Lola
fell fainting to the ground. It is a squalid record of horse-whippings,
face-scratchings--in short, a rowdy life.
Her end was like that of Becky Sharp. In America she delivered lectures
which were written for her by a clergyman and which dealt with the art
of beauty. She had a temporary success; but soon she became quite
poor, and took to piety, professing to be a sort of piteous, penitent
Magdalen. In this role she made effective use of her beautiful dark
hair, her pallor, and her wonderful eyes. But the violence of her
disposition had wrecked her physically; and she died of paralysis in
Astoria, on Long Island, in 1861. Upon her grave in Greenwood Cemetery,
Brooklyn, there is a tablet to her memory, bearing the inscription:
"Mrs. Eliza Gilbert, born 1818, died 1861."
What can one say of a woman such as this? She had no morals, and her
manners were outrageous. The love she felt was the love of a she-wolf.
Fourteen biographies of her have been written, besides her own
autobiography, which was called The Story of a Penitent, and which tells
less about her than any of the other books. Her beauty was undeniable.
Her courage was the blended courage of the Celt, the Spaniard, and the
Moor. Yet all that one can say of her was said by the elder Dumas when
he declared that she was born to be the evil genius of every one who
cared for her. Her greatest fame comes from the fact that in less than
three years she overturned a kingdom and lost a king his throne.