Lola Montez

Mystery surrounds the birth date and place of Eliza Rosanna Gilbert (possibly Limerick, c. 1818 – New York, 1861), but only her first three years were “spent in the gray chill of Ireland” (according to biographer Bruce Seymour) before she left for India, where her father was employed as an army ensign. Sent to England to complete her schooling, she eloped with an Irish army officer who brought her back to Ireland in 1837 to marry her.

Bored by life in the Irish countryside, she returned on her own to England in 1840 and two years later initiated divorce proceedings. Having to fend for herself, she took up dancing, passing herself off as a noble woman of Andalusian origin called ‘Lola Montez’. Armed with good looks and with a talent for self-promotion superior to her talent for dancing, Lola Montez toured across northern Europe, causing a degree of controversy along the way. Franz Liszt, who she met in Dresden in 1844, promised to arrange her début at the Opéra in Paris. Indeed, on March 27 of that year, she appeared for the first time at the Opéra, which stood at 12 rue Lepeletier (9th arrondissement) until its destruction by fire in 1873.

Reviews of Lola’s performance were mixed. Le Siècle found it sensational that in full view of the public she should detach one of her garters and throw it to her admirers. But a critic at Le Journal des Théâtres was less impressed, writing that “Mlle. Lola Montez doesn’t know how to dance; she doesn’t know the first elements of choreography.”

 The Opéra in rue Lepeletier
 The Théâtre de la Porte Saint Martin (rebuilt after its destruction during the 1871 Commune)
How Lola Montez managed to make a living after these decidedly mixed reviews and the early curtailment of her performances at the Opéra is a little mysterious, but she was probably a courtesan and/or “kept woman” for a number of men. In autumn 1844, she met the wealthy newspaper owner and journalist Alexandre Henri Dujarier who established Lola as his mistress, moving her into an apartment beside his own at 39, rue Laffitte (9
th arrondissement, house no longer exists). Dujarier also arranged for Lola to appear at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint Martin (10th arrondissement) in March 1845. Alas, despite a steady stream of propaganda from Dujarier’s newspaper, Lola again got bad reviews. But worse was to come. Just as Lola was relaunching her dancing career, Dujarier was killed in a duel in the Bois de Boulogne on the outskirts of Paris. Dujarier’s funeral took place at Notre Dame de Lorette (9th arrondissement), with Honoré de Balzac and Alexandre Dumas père among the pallbearers. Although Dujarier was buried in Montmartre cemetery, there are today no traces of his tomb.

Entrance to the Jardin Mabille
With her protector’s death, Lola’s already slim chances of making a career in Paris vanished completely. She lived off the 20,000 francs left to her by Dujardin and largesse of other men for a while before moving to Germany. She arrived back in Paris in the spring of 1846 for the trial of Dujarier’s killer, but then went back to Germany, where she caused legendary mayhem at the court of Ludwig I in Bavaria. But who was she really? There were growing doubts that she was who she said she was. On March 27, 1847,
La Presse related a "very curious" report that appeared in an Irish newspaper stating that Montez "was not born in Spain at all, but in Ireland, from the marriage of a highly distinguished Spaniard and a Miss Watson, native of Dublin. Brought by her parents to Madrid, Don Francesco Montes' daughter married a Spanish officer, now dead. The marriage was not a happy one. Lola Montez took up with a rich Irishman who brought her to Dublin and then London. Abandoned by her protector, the young lady studied choreography and had great success in the Dublin theatre under the name of Betsy Watson. As one knows, she was less well received at the Opéra in Paris."

 420, rue Saint Honoré
Although barred from remarrying under the terms of her divorce nine years earlier, she tied the knot with a much younger man called George Heald in London in 1849. To escape a bigamy trial, she took herself off to mainland Europe with her new husband, living for a time in a fashionable hotel in the rue de Rivoli (1
st arrondissement). After a tumultuous stay in the south of Spain at Christmas 1849, Lola made her way back to Paris in early 1850, moving into an impressive mansion known as the Château Beaujon off the Champs Elysées (8th arrondissement, since demolished). Presumably at the end of his tether, Heald abandoned Lola during the course of that year. With money running run,  by autumn 1850 Lola was living in a relatively modest apartment at 420, rue Saint Honoré (1st arrondissement). In 1851, she moved to another apartment at 362, rue Saint Honoré and performed at the Jardin Mabille, an open-air dancehall on what is now the Avenue Montaigne (8th arrondissement). Lola Montez left Paris definitively in November 1851 and went to the U.S., where she died in 1861.

Select Bibliography
Lola Montez: A Life (1995)
Bruce Seymour

The Uncrowned Queen: The Life of Lola Montez (1972)
Ishbel Ross