Countess Lola Montez – who was she?
Wagner hated her, as did the chief of police in Warsaw. King Ludwig of Bavaria fell in love with her picture before the starlet’s radical politics caused him to deport her.
Yet her remarkable charisma and star quality endeared her to the theatre-going public across the globe, introduced her to a string of lovers and cemented her reputation as one of the personalities of the day. And it was all based on a lie.
Countess Lola Montez & Her Humble Beginnings In Ireland
Eliza Gilbert was born in 1821. Rumours dogged her early life, with local tongues wagging with gossip that she was illegitimate. What is certain, however, is that she was born into a family of the Protestant Ascendancy. So, well-to-do and with a loose grasp on Irishness.
As she grew up, she became noted for her dark complexion; she was striking in comparison to many of her contemporaries. When she was 16, her mother tried to marry her off to a gout-ridden man of 60 in India. Predictably, Eliza was appalled at the idea. So much so, that she absconded with another man. Her elopement eventually ended in divorce and a solo trip to London.
Her ex-husband seemingly dodged a bullet – many of her future lovers would turn up dead.
This life-defining decision said much about the type of person Eliza was. Women simply did not travel alone or do such things; the agency, the singular autonomy she personified was evident throughout her life.
And what happened next is history that would pass into legend.
London, Royal Blood & A Stage Name
Enter Lola Montez. The Limerick lady was reborn, with a convincing tan but a dodgy accent. She was a dancer who traded on notoriety. After all, her dance steps were as lacking as her Spanish twang and she relied on provocative performances.
She was probably a more sensual version of Petter Sellers – famous for his exaggerated French accent in The Pink Panther. Undoubtedly, they shared equal amounts of sexual success.
She danced the spider dance – she looked for the MacGuffin all over her body. The routine culminated with her lifting up her skirt. This type of titillation was often designed to raise a performer’s profile and snag a wealthy male suitor, thereby allowing the dancer to enter early retirement.
This is not how Lola’s life panned out. After a short while in London, she was recognized for the incognito Irish woman she was. Robbed of her Iberian intrigue and mystique, she high-footed it to Paris and beyond.
On the continent, she beguiled Alexandre Dumas, Franz Liszt and King Ludwig of Bavaria, leaving political chaos in her wake.
Off to the continent
Blindboy – another Limerick luminary – advances the idea that modern celebrities are a mere facsimile of Lola. She did punk before punk was a thing; not for nothing, she was the first woman ever photographed smoking a cigarette. Lola also strutted around the United States with a bullwhip.
She lived, it has to be said, some unique experiences. In her first encounter with King Ludwig, he allegedly asked if her breasts were real. A quick dagger to her blouse, handled by Lola herself, proved their existence, curing the king of his (s)existential crisis in the process.
Ludwig lavished her with titles. She, in turn, bent his ear with liberal, political ideas picked up from her bohemian friends back in Paris. The elites distrusted her radical notions.
Her position as a courtesan became compromised after she fell foul of the Jesuits. In her role as Spanish royalty, playing the part of a Catholic was inevitable. In reality, she would have grown up with a deep distrust and even hatred of Catholics and Irish people. Perceptive to her underlying dislike of them, the Jesuits uncovered her real identity and a string of infidelities to boot.
The king abdicated and Lola escaped to Switzerland, where more romantic misfortune was waiting.
Countess Lola Montez: A Star Extinguished in New York
Eventually, the courtesan toured Australia and controversy followed, from unpaid debts to public spats. To many, she was an upstart, an unbearable rebel. For others, her independence and control over her own life were empowering. She always worked under her own auspices, dabbled in playwriting and was a crack pistol shot.
Lola’s life came to an end at the age of 40. The tertiary effects of syphilis took its physical toll on the internationally renowned personality.
She lived out the last years of her life as a beauty influencer, and her books on toilet habits and grooming proved she could write. Her audience, which had always been primarily male, became primarily female.
Lola’s death was tragic, solitary and a sad coda to a life of extraordinary dimensions. Her autobiography embellished many details, feeding the legend even further. But her massaging of the facts was not really necessary, given the people she mesmerized and her limitless influence.
And all of it based on an audacious lie.
Thanks for reading!