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The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Contents Page
The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Semper Quarens - Always Looking

Lola Montez

Sepia tone portrait of Irish actress and dancer Lola Montez (1818-1861) from LIFE Magazine Archives, published 1901.

Early Life

Lola Montez’s mother willed 500 pounds Lola’s grandfather – this was a veritable fortune. She married Edward Gilbert, a junior army officer with whom she had one daughter – Lola.

Lola was born in a pink castle in Limerick – Castle Oliver was built in a Scottish style from sandstone by two nieces of Silver Oliver. It was owned by the Trench family until 1978.An englishman, Nick Brown, saw it in 1998. He bought it on advice of mother and restored it. It is now a hotel.

Lola’s life of intrigue and her open-relationship with the truth stemmed from her mother who claimed to be Señorita Oliverres de Montalva, “of Castle Oliver, Madrid.” Lola’s mother claimed direct lineage from Francisco Montez, a famous toreador of Seville. Her mother was actually the youngest of 4 illegitimate children fathered by Charles Sliver Oliver and his mistress at Castle Oliver.

Off to India

Lola eloped at 15 with Thomas James, an officer of east india co (by all accounts a “smart looking man with bright teeth and bright waist coats”). They sailed to India, causing a sensation on arrival due to their 17 year age difference. She did not stay long, returning to England in 1842, alone. She now adopted the pseudonym Lola Montez, “a dancer from Spain”.

As a showgirl she received rave reviews for her looks and less favourable remarks on her dancing. She was a flop in Paris but hugely successful in Berlin and Warsaw. During this time she entertained herself with many affairs including a brief swing with the composer, Liszt. The affair ended after he gave a certain dinner party. During the evening Lola burst in, danced on a table and drenched a duke in soup.


At a performance in Munich (preceeded by her reputation the cheers were mingled with a few hisses “due to the report that” she “was an English Freemason, and wanted to destroy the Catholic religion”) she was noticed by the aged King Ludwig. Smitten, he gave her an allowance, a house, had her portrait painted and her foot sculpted in marble. He infuriated local nobles by making her a countess. She pandered to him for money, interefered in politics and military affairs. She united people – universally hated, riots broke out in her ‘honour’. Lola was forced to leave and Ludwig abdicated.

Back in london, the inimitable Lola married a young guardsman. Lola was a person of great infamy by now, and her dealings were the stuff of gossip columns. Wise to Lola’s past, an aunt of the young guardsman had Lola arrested for bigamy. Fearful of her anger, the young man was found drowned.

Whirlwind Global Tour

From this time rarely stopped anywhere for long. She spent time in Paris working on her memoirs, which were serialised in le pays, and holding dinner parties of great notoriety.

After a stop in NY (“Scandal does not necessarily create a great dancer,” declared one critic) she toured america – NY, Boston, Albany, Buffalo, San Fran and of course, she married again. This short lived marriage to a young newspaper editor was not to Lola’s taste and she took off to tour goldmining towns. During this time her pet grizzly bit her hand.

In a slightly odd final engagement, Ms Montez toured Australia, lecturing “on beauty”. She died back in New York aged 43 of pneumonia and is buried in Green-wood cemetery Brooklyn New York.

Posthumous Fame

Max Ophül’s 1955 film of the life of the famous 19th century femme fatale – Lola Montez follows a beautiful Irish woman around Europe working as a dancer and moonlighting as a political spy. Her conquests included Franz Liszt, Fréderic Chopin, Prosper Merimée, Alexander Dumas senior and King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Her life ended as a religious recluse after appearing as a circus act when her fortunes fell. This time at the circus is primary emphasis of the film with the cynical ringmaster (Sir Peter Ustinov) exposing her loves and her shame. In truth Lola met PT Barnum but did not perform in his circus.

Lola Montez and Castle Oliver by Melicina Lennox-Cunningham, Sunday Miscellany, RTE Radio 1, Sunday 8th February 2009
Castle Oliver, where Lola was born
The Magnificent Montez – From Courtesan to Convert, Horace Wyndham, Release Date: May 12, 2007 [EBook #21421]. Can be read online at The Project Gutenberg

This article was posted by on Tuesday, February 17th, 2009 at 04:11.
It is archived in Biography, History, Irish Women, Wild Women and tagged , , , , , .

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