Historical biography Uncategorised

The fascinating Lola Montez since 1860

Lola Montez stimulated a considerable posthumous cultural legacy, remaining a subject of interest in places where she’d lived and performed (including Germany, France, USA, Australia) – but also in places she’d never been. This blog post will highlight a small selection of the works in various media inspired by this controversial performing artist.

Coverage of Montez in the press throughout the 1860s remained fairly intense. The London-based weekly, the Era, had by the time of Montez’s death become a regular source of information on all matters theatrical. Its two-column obituary of Montez (10 February 1861), reproduced from the New York Herald of 21st January demonstrates the range of response that Lola inspired. This obituary was swift to point out her personal faults (“Lola … managed to quarrel with everybody she met”), and to dismiss her skills as a performer (“As an artist she was good for nothing.”). Her début at New York’s Broadway theatre took place “to a crowded house, nearly all men. Everybody was disappointed in her dancing and appearance.” Such was the culture of the time that even Montez’s thinness was cast as a moral issue, a product of her “fast living and incessant smoking”. The Herald/Era is most positive when discussing Lola’s career as a lecturer, as she “attracted large audiences, her manner being very prepossessing, and her delivery excellent.” It also recognized that “Lola was very generous to people about her, and would share her last meal with a friend.” Indeed, at her untimely death Lola was surrounded by friends who “cared for her, and mourned her loss”.1)

Montez had the perfect combination of qualities to sustain her celebrity status: some sympathetic attributes, some marked personal flaws, and a tremendous charisma combined with enough capacity as an entertainer to make herself known in the public sphere. By the end of the decade, she was remembered in a nostalgic manner by Paris’s Le petit Figaro, which in its gossip column (“Causeries”) of 22 June 1869 cast her as “une pauvre errante” (a poor erring one) and the leading player in a piece on actresses who’d managed affairs with royalty. In reviewing her Paris years, it suggested Lola’s engagement as a dancer at the Porte de Saint-Martin was secondary to the negative role that she, as a beautiful woman, was obliged to assume — of selling her charms (“Elle … vendu ses charmes au plus offrant … pour en venir jouer un de ces rôles negatifs dans nos théâtres. Singularité de la vie des belles.”) Of her Bavarian sojourn and subsequent exile, the paper tartly observed that to keep a single, defenceless woman out of the region the garrison’s forces at Munich were doubled.2) And so Le petit Figaro mentions Lola’s capacity to wreak havoc while poking fun at authority for its overblown response to her. In effect, the Parisian press (as did the Anglo-American) traded in on Montez’s fabulous life to generate material, but did not feel so obliged to adopt the moral high ground. As for the Antipodean press, the name of Lola Montez generated the most coverage during her decade as a traveling dancer (the 1850s, some 1000 references), with a similar level of exposure in the decade of her death.3)

As was the case in her life, so it was in death: any purportedly biographical publication about Mme Montez was assuredly a blend of the fictional and of her equally fabulous reality. The tone of the publications reflected the nature of the society in which they were generated — and the role Lola played within that milieu. And so in Germany during or shortly after her Munich period a study of her relationship with the Jesuits, and also of her political significance, came out in print.4) In America – where as a fervent Christian Lola spent her final months in relative seclusion and sobriety – within six years of her death the Protestant Episcopal Society for the Promotion of Evangelical Knowledge had published The Story of a Penitent: Lola Montez. By the early 20th century her persona as an adventuress held a particular appeal in the Anglophone world — as her place within William Rutherford Hayes’s 1908 biographical compilation Seven Splendid Sinners suggests.

Lola has also stimulated a considerable number of creative works in a range of media. Novels, films, a musical, and songs dating into the second decade of the 21st century demonstrate her abiding capacity to generate interest. Some of these works draw on her actual adventures; others create entirely fictional episodes that use the name of Lola Montez to represent an uninhibited adventuress.5)

Sometimes one work might spawn another in a different medium. In 1918 Robert Heymann (1879-1946) adapted and directed a silent film “Lola Montes” on a novel by Adolf Paul (1863-1943), with Leopoldine Konstantin (1886-1965) in the title role. Paul’s novel also led to further Lola-inspired films including The Palace of Pleasure (1926; directed by James Flynn) and Lola Montez: One mad kiss (1930, directed by Marcel Silver and James Tinling). Max Ophuls’s final film, Lola Montès of 1955 is described on YouTube as “a magnificent romantic melodrama, a meditation on the lurid fascination with celebrity, and a one-of-a-kind movie spectacle” (criterioncollection). The trailer gives us a wonderful glimpse of incidents many of which would not have had to rely on fiction, although Lola’s stint as a circus performer in the film was imagined rather than quasi-biographical. Indeed, ‘The Circus’ has become the title for a suite of music by Georges Auric from the film.

Mary Preston in the title-role of the 1958 Australian musical, Lola Montez. The Australian Women’s Weekly, 29 October 1958,

A 1958 musical with music by composer Peter Stannard and lyrics by Peter Benjamin was broadcast on Australian television in 1965, with a particular hit in the song ‘Saturday Girl‘; a CD was released in 2000, with a one-off 60th anniversary production in 2018 by David Spicer.   Lola has also inspired the occasional popular song from musicians working in markedly different styles — including the ‘Latin Folk Exotica’ of Elisabeth Waldo’s 1969 ‘The Ballad of Lola Montez‘ on her Viva California album and the groove metal number ‘Lola Montez‘ on Volbeat’s 2013 album Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies (Universal). In 2017, an acoustic folk concoction ‘The Countess Lola Montez’ was written and performed by Norman and Nancy Blake on Brushwood Songs and Stories (Plectrafone Records).

Lola Montez has attracted and sustained this attention due to her unconventional personal life and behaviour; her characteristic audacity and flair would also have lent sparkle to her performances on stage. The compelling stories surrounding this difficult but fascinating woman have created and sustained her celebrity for over 150 years.

Featured Image

A naked Lola Montez dominating the dwarfed King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Artist not identified. Austrian National Library, Austria – Public Domain. Europeana.


  1. Gale News Vault, accessed 22 September 2023.
  2. “Pour empêcher une pauvre femme, jeune, rieuse, et sans défense de pénétrer dans Munich, on doubla le garnison …”. Théodore de Grave, 1869, “Causeries”, in Le petit Figaro, 22 June. Retronews,, accessed 23 September 2023.
  3. Trove,, accessed 21 September 2023. Not all of these references are to the dancer, as a schooner named for her accounts for a significant portion of these figures.
  4. Paul Erdmann, 1847, Lola Montez und die Jesuiten : Eine Darstellung der jüngsten Ereignisse in München, Hamburg : Hoffman und Campe; Francis, 1848, Lola Montes und ihre politische stellung in München; nach einem englischen berichte und mit einem vorwort des deutschen herausgebers, München, druck der J. Deschler’schen offizin.
  5. See, for example, the ‘Whip Smart’ trilogy by Kit Brennan (2012-2014).

Next post

The next post will report on the progress of Fame and the Female Dancer.

Historical biography Uncategorised

The fascinating Lola Montez in the Antipodes

By Sarah McCleave

Lola Montez ‘In the Green Room’ by John Michael Skipper. Copy: State Library of South Australia, B 9422/4.

The first known reference to Lola in the Antipodean press marked one of her violent escapades – an event that nearly landed her in prison. Under the title ‘A Dancer in Trouble’, The Australian for 24 August 1844 inaccurately described our subject as the nineteen-year-old Mlle Montez, a Spanish dancer and the daughter of a deceased Spanish General, “who has for some time been much admired … for her great talent, is likely to be put in prison for some time.” Whilst in Berlin she attended the ‘grand Review’ on horseback, and when her horse was alarmed by some firing and “rushed amongst the suite of the two sovereigns”, she reacted badly to a gendarme who had struck her horse a blow with his sabre – striking the man across the face with her whip. Lola was subsequently issued with a summons that she reportedly (according to this ‘Letter from Berlin’) tore up. Lola was then arrested “for having manifested marks of disrespect to the orders of justice” – a charge which could have carried a sentence of 3-5 years’ imprisonment. The Adelaide Observer (12 October 1844) repeated the tale in a section of material on ‘Spain’. For nearly three years thereafter the Antipodean papers apparently chose not to run stories concerning Mlle Montez – until she elected to pen a letter concerning her origins, originally addressed to the Paris-based publisher Galignani. This missive found its way into The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser of 25 August 1847:

I was born in Seville in the year 1823. My father was a Spanish officer in the service of Don Carlos; my mother, a lady of Irish extraction, was born at the Havannah, and married for a second time to an Irish gentleman, which I suppose is the cause of my being called Irish, and sometimes English, ‘Betsy Watson ,’ ‘Mrs James’, &c. &c. I beg leave to say that my name is Maria Dolores Porres Montes, and I have never changed that name. As for my theatrical qualifications, I never had the presumption to think I had any; circumstances obliged me at a more advanced age than usual, in consequence of the misfortunes of my family, to adopt the stage as a profession – which profession I have now renounced for ever, having become a naturalized Bavarian, and intending in future making Munich my residence. …

Lola Montez, Munich, March 31. [1847] as reproduced in, accessed 15 July 2023.

The Maitland Mercury distanced itself from presenting this letter as factual reportage, asserting “We do not answer for its authenticity.” (Indeed, the sterling archival research of Bruce Seymour has established beyond doubt that Lola’s origins were 100% Anglo-Irish.1) But as a crafted story of origin this is intelligent in addressing inconvenient biographical details (her identity as ‘Mrs James’ is explained away) while making a bid for her readers’ sympathy (“I never had the presumption … in consequence of the misfortunes of my family …”). Lola is distancing herself from her theatrical career – possibly trying to open doors that would be closed to a mere actress – but subsequent events pushed her back onto the stage, probably not at all unwillingly.

Lola’s connection to king Ludwig I of Bavaria and a series of Bavarian scandals which she generated excited much press coverage in the late 1840s; typical is an oft-repeated report of 32 persons arrested for creating a disturbance when Lola, forced to leave Bavaria as its revolution erupted, passed through Hamburg.2 In Australia, Lola’s consequent celebrity status is affirmed when The Sydney Morning Herald (first among many broadsheets to do so) advised its readers of

Handsomely Framed Engravings Just Landed, in Salacia. Mr Edward Salomon, will sell by auction, at his Rooms, George-Street, Tuesday May 30, at 11 o’clock … [including] Lola Montez – a beautiful engraving in maple and gold frame …

Sydney Morning Herald, 27 May 1848 in

This was followed by another well-circulated report of king Ludwig’s abdication “into temporary retirement with Lola Montez” (The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 July 1848). The inaccuracy of this story was revealed before the month was out, as the Hobart Courier for 29 July 1848 – under the heading ‘Lola Montez and her new admirer’ – recounted her association with Robert Peel 3rd Baronet, “our Charge d’Affaires in Berne”, with whom Lola  – described as a “fair and fiery fury” – is seen promenading on a daily basis, followed by a varied train of gentlemen, girls, and children. Peel, with an “aim to be conspicuous” surely equaled by the object of his admiration, even hosted a dinner for her to which the English ambassador had been invited.

Montez’s bigamous marriage with George Trafford Heald was the next event to receive multiple coverage, led by The Sydney Morning Herald on 20 November 1849. By 11 January 1850 the Melbourne Argus broadcast Lola’s origins as Miss Eliza Gilbert, a former attendee of a boarding school in Monkwearmouth (Sunderland). Eliza’s former drawing teacher Mr Grant remembered a “beautiful and elegant child”, but one who demonstrated an “indomitable self-will”. This revelation did not prevent the Irishwoman from being received as the persona ‘Lola Montez’ when she arrived in Australia some five years later – although the Argus would maintain a critical stance in its subsequent coverage of her. The Antipodean press was engaging with Montez as a personality rather than as a performing artist – until The Goulburn Herald and County of Argyle Advertiser for 13 August 1853 reprinted a review of one of her Californian performances as ‘American News’. The level of interest that Montez could generate on a stage is evident in this account:

Seldom is actress or artist greeted with such a house as was the renowned Countess of Landesfeldt last evening at the American. The building was literally stowed with human beings. …the people … were impatient till [Lola Montez] appeared. In the character of Yelva, Madame Lola’s powers of pantomime were exhibited, and she portrayed the sufferings of the orphan with a great deal of truthfulness and effect … Following this came … the Dance. The dance was what all had come to see, and there was an anxious flutter and an intense interest as the moment approached … She was greeted with a storm of applause, and then she executed the dance, which is said to be her favorite, and has won for her much notoriety. The Spider Dance is a very remarkable affair. It is thoroughly Spanish, certainly, and it cannot be denied that it is a most attractive performance. As a danseuse, Madame Lola is far above mediocrity. Indeed, some parts of her execution was truly admirable. She was heartily applauded … [and] is sure to have fine success with us …

Alta California of 28 May, reproduced 13 August 1853, found in

Australia, by finally acknowledging Montez as a performer, joined other nations in expressing a fascination with her pièce de resistance – the Spider Dance. In 1853, a ball organised by G Pickering of Sydney promised “all the late polkas – and especially Lola Montes’ Spider Dance, which is just now creating such a sensation in Europe and California.”3 Lola brought this sensation to Australia in the latter months of 1855; the sensations that the Argus of Melbourne (20 September) chose to record were shock (“a public exhibition of this kind”) and moral condemnation – the latter directed at any of the theatres who chose to let Montez perform (“they have no right to insult respectable ladies by inviting their attendance”). The Hobart Courier (25 September 1855) gleefully reproduced this journalistic exemplar of moral outrage alongside an eloquent letter Lola had penned in response, in which she reasonably pointed out that the tarantella is a national dance performed by all classes of Spaniards; she is not attempting to cater for a “morbid taste for immoral representations”, but rather views the dance as a piece of “high art”. Montez’s readiness to engage with the press and her skill at identifying the best possible angle from which to present herself promoted her fame as a professional in tandem with renewing her status as a celebrity. In the image below Adelaide-based artist John Michael Skipper (1815-1883) depicts Lola the professional rendering the Spider Dance with vivacity and grace. The featured image for this blog is the same artist’s take on Lola the celebrity – engaging in the provocative act of being a woman who dared to smoke in public.

Lola Montez performing the ‘Spider Dance’ by John Michael Skipper. Copy: State Library of South Australia, B 9422/2.

And yet Lola’s departure from San Francisco for Australia on the Fanny Major (6 June 1855) with a self-assembled theatre company apparently had generated no press coverage at her destination.4 Her Antipodean coverage picked up suddenly and in a sustained manner from 23 August 1855, with her company’s début performance at the Royal Victoria theatre, Sydney,  in “the deeply-interesting drama”, Lola Montez in Bavaria (Sydney Empire, 23 August 1855). Lola gained a favorable review  for her acting from the Sydney and Sporting Review (25 August 1855), which opened by remarking: “This extraordinary and gifted being made her appearance … before the most crowded audience that was ever jammed into the Victoria.” Noting that her notoriety did not prevent her from eventually winning over a “particular” American public, the paper continued by observing,

the Lola Montes of reality, [is] a different personage fromthe Lola Montes of notoriety.Her entrée was modest and elegant, and throughout the long performance she played with a mingled fervour, grace, playfulness, and pathos that fully gained the favour of all.…. We glory in the boldness of the woman who … challenges her tale to be gainsaid.She not only vindicates her character during that particular career, but appeals to history to confirm her statement …

Reproduced in, accessed 14 July 2023.

Lola invariably attracted partisan press coverage, in large part because her celebrity status permeated nearly every account we have of her. Her Antipodean period saw performance successes and failures, the rupture of many professional alliances (she broke with her original company some months into the tour), and the tragic loss of her married lover the actor Frank Folland on the return journey to the USA.5 On her arrival Stateside Lola cultivated a profile as a public lecturer. In this pursuit she was quite successful, as her capacity to engage and fascinate was in this format perhaps less compromised by technical limitations (as compared with her dancing or acting). Lola’s final American years were also marked by her fervent interest in Christianity, by accelerating poor health, and an early death on 17 January 1861 in New York City. Despite the sad brevity of her existence, the eventful life and career of ‘Lola Montez’ continued to exert a fascination that is still evident in our own time.

Next post

The next post will consider the posthumous reception of Lola Montez.


  1. On Lola Montez’s origins, see Bruce Seymour, Lola Montez a Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), pp. 1-8.
  2. Trove’s earliest reference to this story is 27 October 1847 in The Courier (Hobart, Tasmania).
  3. The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 October 1853, p. 2; see, accessed 14 July 2023.
  4. Seymour (page 331) discovered no evidence of advance publicity; independent research on Trove found only three stories connected with Lola Montez during 1855 in the months prior to her arrival, and none of these related to her professional activities. This is in direct contrast with her American sojourn, for which Montez and her Paris agent generated a good deal of advance publicity (see the previous blog).
  5. For Lola’s Antipodean period, see Seymour, pp. 331-349; for her final American years, see Seymour, pp. 350-393.
Historical biography Uncategorised

The fascinating Lola Montez in America

By Sarah McCleave

Lola’s determination to try her luck in America demonstrated her capacity to take on new challenges and her quest for adventure. In her initial four-year sojourn to that country (1851-1855), she traversed a goodly span of the still-expanding United States, developing her skills as an actress and a lecturer while still remaining active as a ‘Spanish dancer’. This blog will focus on the kind of reception she attracted, particularly in the print media.1) Lola had already been an occasional subject of interest in the American press since her London début, where her persona as a “Spanish danseuse who has created a great sensation” was lauded for demonstrating a “bewitching” softness and suppleness (Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, 29 July 1843). Symptomatic of her status as a celebrity, Lola received more intense coverage during her turbulent period in Munich. Philadelphia’s Public Ledger offered a terse account of the Munich riots that served mainly to apportion blame:

Lola Montez the dancer, by her impudent conduct and unpopularity, has occasioned a riot at Munich which compelled her to leave.2

Public Ledger (Philadelphia), 20 March 1848

Lola’s peregrinations since fleeing Munich eventually led her to Paris by late March 1851. She subsequently prepared her return to the stage, placing herself under the tutelage of dancer turned impresario Charles Mabille, who choreographed a tarentella as well as Bavarian, Hungarian, and Tyrolean dances for her. She made important contacts with Americans such as Edward Payson Willis, younger brother of the editor and author Nathanial Parker Willis; Lola also intrigued James Gordon Bennett, editor and publisher of the New York Herald – who would lead his peers in providing Montez with what amounted to free publicity throughout her American period. The younger Willis had encouraged Lola to make an American tour; she duly made provision for this when, on 26 August 1851, she signed a six-month contract with the Parisian-based agents Roux et cie (later reneged in favour of Payson Willis). On 12 September Lola offered a private preview of her repertory at the Jardin Mabille, before undertaking what would be her final European tour through parts of France, Belgium, and what is now Germany.3)

Lola’s arrival Stateside was already anticipated. On 22 August 1851, the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel and Gazette dismissed her as a “notorious courtesan concerning whose probable visit to this country much has been said of late”. By the time Lola had disembarked the Humboldt in New York city on 5 December 1851, her arrival had also attracted the attentions of thespian-turned-caricaturist David Claypoole Johnston (1798-1865). Johnston was inspired to comment on Lola’s capacity to disrupt and to stimulate through a pair of images: directly below we have ‘Lola coming!’ which depicts a pert dancer aloft a departing boat, cheerily saluting a group of variously stunned or bereft men of high station, including an openly distraught king Ludwig (presumably the weeping figure with handkerchief).

1851 Caricature of Lola Montez by David Claypoole Johnston. Private collection.

Johnstone also marked Lola’s arrival with ‘Lola is come!’ (see featured image, above). News editor Bennett takes pride of place to our right, in what would have been the best seat in the house for enjoying Lola’s “bewitching” postures up close — and for determining whether she sported knickers or not. We have an anonymous puritan in the audience, showing both disapproval (through the tract in his hand) and fascination (the expanded iris of his one visible eye as he stares through his fingers at the audacious dancer). It is not known whether the stage manager to the left – keenly anticipating his acquisition of 50% of the proceeds – is Broadway Theatre manager Thomas Barry (at whose theatre Lola made her American début on 29 December 1851) or merely a figure representative of his profession.4)

Lola’s performances attracted both advance notices and reviews in the press. Of the latter, one of the more favourable notices lauded her “great ability” in the pantomime sections of the ballet, Betley the Tyrolean, claiming Montez the equal to the “versatile and expressive mime artist” Céline Céleste. (Céleste had toured the US on several occasions, most recently in 1851.) 5) Montez’s dancing made an impression as “decidedly unique and original”; her acting displayed a capacity to make an ungratefully-written character appear interesting  although her voice lacked projection in its upper range. As to her person, Montez of the “remarkably beautiful” eyes also possessed a “good” figure, “incomparably graceful” action and a “most radiant” smile. (The Mississippi Free Trader, 26 January 1853). On 19 January 1851 , the same paper had already reported on Lola graciously sharing the tributes and bouquets of an enthusiastic audience with her colleagues; this action endeared her to the audience still further.

Tonight she will perform a pas seul … [she] will be original. She copies from no one; she is herself alone.

Mississippi Free Trader (Natchez), 19 January 1853, p. 2

Whether Lola’s authenticity as a performer was mirrored in her off-stage persona is debatable. The generosity she displayed on the Natchez stage may have been calculated to stimulate positive publicity, but if so was certainly not a one-off: the “much beloved” Lola had been reported offering “unbounded” acts of charity to the poor whilst resident on Lake Geneva in 1848; in 1852, she offered a charitable performance for the Disabled firemen at Philadelphia’s Walnut theatre. For the latter act she was rewarded with a formal presentation that was duly recorded in the press.6) And while her regrettable temper underpinned her most audacious actions – including her tendency to brandish whips, pistols, or poison when editors or theatre managers treated her unfavorably 7) – she also demonstrated genuine courage, as this anecdote regarding an encounter with a group of army officers reveals:

Lola Montez is bound to keep herself before the public. It is related that while she was in Montreal she visited a well-known confectionary establishment on Notre-Dame street, and while there was annoyed by the entrance of several young army officers, who, under the pretence of buying something, gazed pertinaciously and unpleasantly at her. After submitting awhile, Lola walked up to the mistress of the saloon and asked, “Madam, how much do these persons owe you?” Her only answer at first was a look of surprise, but on the question being repeated, she was told “One shilling and sixpence.” “Here it is, then,” said Lola, “I would not wish that these gentlemen should lose a single copper in gratifying their curiosity by staring at me.” The officers retreated in confusion.

Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts), 22 October 1857, p. 1

This tale also shows Montez harnessing her capacity to be unconventional to good effect: the socially aggressive officers could not have anticipated her response, nor could they find any answer to it apart from retreat. Within weeks of her arrival, a Milwaukee-based journal offered the following evaluation of Montez’s character:

She is daring, reckless, if you will, and is unwilling to be bound down by the ordinary rules of the social compact. If a gentleman should insult her, she would shoot him, and not expect any one to do it for her.

Wisconsin Free Democrat, 21 January 1852

After four years supporting herself while cultivating her celebrity status in the United States, on 6 June 1855 Lola left her final residence in San Francisco for pastures new — boarding the Fanny Major bound for Sydney.


  1. For a most engaging use of press reports to forge a narrative of Lola’s American years, see Bruce Seymour, Lola Montez a Life (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996), pp. 283-330. This blog has also conducted an independent investigation of America’s Historical Newspapers (Readex). All newspaper references in this blog are taken from this subscription resource.
  2. The Philadelphia Ledger returned to the subject of Lola whenever she became associated with violent scandal: see the article ‘Lola Montez and the Jesuits’ (3 May 1852) that reports on the forcible ejection of an Italian count from her suite at the Howard Hotel; the incident culminated in a pitched row between two groups of men that the paper was happy to report on while painting Lola as a vengeful harpy.
  3. These events are detailed in Seymour, pp. 268-279. While Seymour’s index tentatively attributes the poet Victor Mabille as Montez’s coach and choreographer, it seems far more likely that the dancer Charles Mabille (1816-1858) assumed this role.
  4. It is not possible to identify with confidence Lola’s contact from among several roughly contemporaneous actors known as Thomas Barry. The Irish actor-manager Thomas Barry (1743-1768) was born too late; Thomas Barry Sullivan (1821-1891) was not based in the US at the correct time. It is not known whether the Thomas Barry managing New York’s Broadway theatre in 1851 also managed a Boston theatre in 1856, see
  5. For the review of Montez see Daily Evening Transcript (Boston), 18 March 1852. For the evaluation of Céline Céleste and her American dates, see J. Moody, 2006, Céleste [married name Céleste-Elliott], Céline [known as Madame Céleste] (1810/11–1882), actress and theatre manager. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 25 May 2023, from
  6. For Lola’s actions in Lake Geneva, see the Daily Evening Transcript (Boston), 1 August 1848; for the Philadelphia episode, see the Public Ledger (Philadelphia), 2 February 1852.
  7. For two of her challenges to men of the press, see the Albany Evening Journal, 18 August 1853 and 16 December 1854; for a charge of assault and battery raised in regards to the manager of the Varieties theatre, see the Mississippi free Trader of 26 April 1853.

Next post

The next post will consider Lola Montez’s reception in Australia.

Historical biography Uncategorised

The fascinating Lola Montez: the European years

By Sarah McCleave

The 1820 birth in Limerick of a daughter, Eliza Gilbert, to the recently-wed 14-year old Eliza Olivier and ensign Edward Gilbert would seem to augur nothing more than the swift maturation of a very young mother. And yet Eliza the younger would grow up to become one of the most notorious actress-dancers of the mid-nineteenth century. By adopting an entirely spurious Spanish identity as Lola Montez, this flamboyant Irishwoman cultivated an unconventional performance style and a completely unfettered persona both on and off stage. Her subsequent travels across three continents left a trail of abdication, bigamy, and scandalised spectators in her wake, exerting a fascination on the press and the public that has retained some traction even into the twenty-first century. This first in a series of blog posts will cover her youth and European career.

Eliza’s metamorphosis into the famed Lola Montez could not have been predicted. She was not born into a theatrical family – indeed, her mother, Eliza the elder, was the youngest of four children born of the Cork-based M.P. Charles Silver Olivier and one Mary Green. Olivier married an heiress the year Eliza was born (1805), but arranged that she and her elder sister were bound to a milliner so they could support themselves. Eliza instead fell for the British officer Edward Gilbert, whose own origins are unknown – but in any case his family had no contact with his young wife or daughter, for he and his young wife remained in Ireland until the toddler Eliza was around three years of age, at which time Gilbert arranged to join the Forty-fourth Foot Regiment in India. He would die shortly after arriving in India; in 1824 the widowed Eliza -married a young Scottish lieutenant, Patrick Craigie. Craigie’s posting to Meerut near Dehli in 1826 was the catalyst for sending the child Eliza back to Britain, where she would be cared for by Craigie’s family in Montrose, Scotland. From that time, the young Eliza had a fairly conventional upbringing including periods at different boarding schools. She would not see her mother again until 1837, when the latter arrived to collect her from a school in Bath with a view to taking her back to India to arrange a marriage from within Craigie’s regimental contacts.1) But the teen-aged Eliza instead eloped with a shipboard acquaintance of her mother’s, the lieutenant Thomas James. This marriage did take her back to India for a spell, but the couple were deeply incompatible, and the young Eliza fled what had become a violent union to return to Britain in October 1840. Her shipboard romance with George Lennox (nephew of the Duke of Richmond) was sufficiently public to ruin Eliza’s reputation before she arrived in London — where they carried on the affair until the summer of 1841. Thomas James would consequently sue Eliza for divorce – on terms that did not permit her to re-marry.2)

As a divorced woman, Eliza James’s prospects at that time were few, particularly given her tattered reputation. In 1842 she undertook study in acting, and then dance, with a view to a career on the stage. Her decision to specialise in Spanish dance – which saw her travel to Cádiz to further her training in that national style – acknowledged the impracticality of developing the necessary skills of a classical ballet dancer given her age.3) She returned to England in April 1843 with an invented identity as Maria Dolores de Porris y Montez, using her powers of manipulation to gain the sympathy of James Howard Harris 3rd Earl of Malmesbury, who lobbied theatre impresario Benjamin Lumley of Her Majesty’s Theatre London to feature Signora Montez on his stage. Lola made her stage début in London on 3 June 1843, in a carefully prepared début that saw Lumley invite the critic of the Morning Post to a rehearsal to garner support.4) Lola was duly given an advance billing in that paper (3 June 1843) as being “of the Teatro Real in Madrid”. The London Standard (5 June 1843) also gave a favorable review, describing the dancer as “the perfection of Spanish beauty” before describing her performance of a pas de caractère entitled ‘El Oleano’:

Presently this Andalusian Papagena lifts her arms, and the sharp merry crack of the castanet is heard. She has commenced one of the dances of her nation, and many a picquant grace does she unfold. She seems to extemporise a series of beautiful gestures. each delineating some saucy fancy, and involving a grouping of the limbs charmingly harmonious in design. Now she is haughty, scornful, and assuming, with her figure erect and majestic — now does she stoop on one knee and curve her arms in laughing, mockery over her head. She stamps pettishly with her foot, advances eagerly, then recoils– described quaint half circles with her foot, and archly salutes the house by tapping her castanets merrily together. As a matter of course she is encored, and the second dance appears, if possible, more capricious and prettily wilful than the first.

Standard (London), 5 June 1843, from 19th Century British Library Newspapers.

The critic went on to locate the débutante’s skills within the then-current schools of theatre dancing:

She is evidently a superior pantomimist, and understands the expression which may be evolved by bodily actions and the gesticulation of the limbs. Her play with her arms is quite beautiful, and the inflection of her wrists is free and graceful in the extreme. There is nothing angular in her posturing; her frame seems subservient to an artist-like will, and a suggestion is embodied with an immediate definition of elegance. Such an exhibition as El Olano [sic] of course does not develope [sic] the qualities of exhibitory dancing; it is essentially a pas de caractere, and its requisitions are of the body rather than of the feet; but it may be presumed that the dona has accomplishments even in this direction worth looking at. She has not quite the refinement of Fanny Elssler in her mode of executing the character steps, but she has an equal bouyancy [sic] of manner, and can present phases of satire and frolic to the eye just as happily. We have yet to see whether the comparison may be continued as regards the solemnities and activities of a pas seul

Standard (London), 5 June 1843, from 19th Century British Library Newspapers.

All too soon Lola’s identity as the infamous adulteress Mrs James was recognised, and Lumley withdrew his support. Lola subsequently travelled across Germany – lobbying theatres and members of the nobility directly to gain opportunities to perform. She was a unruly guest to Prince Heinrich of Hamburg before moving on to theatres in Dresden and then Berlin.5) On her return to the German principalities from Warsaw and St. Petersburg she had a brief dalliance with the celebrated composer and pianist Franz Liszt (1844).6) Lola performed very briefly at the Paris Opéra, and also at the theatre Porte St. Martin. Attempts to establish herself in Paris were limited by her lack of technical capacity although her beauty and capacity to entertain were admired.7) Le Ménestrel was prepared to describe her appearances elsewhere as ‘successes’ and to acknowledge the preparations she made towards her 1844 début:

Mlle Lolla Montez se préparer par un travail de tous les jours sous la direction de M. Maze, ancien premier danseur de l’Opéra, à de nouveaux débuts. Cette second épreuve vaudra sans doute à la jeune et belle danseuse la confirmation des succès de Pétersbourg, Varsovie, Lisbonne, Londres, Berlin et Dresde. — Paris ne voudra pas avoir tort contre tant de capitales.

Le Ménestrel, 18 August 1844, p. 4 in RetroNews: La site de la press de BnF.

Lola’s prospects improved when she embarked on an affair with the influential journalist Alexandre Henri Dujarier, but her Paris interlude ended in tragedy when Dujarier was killed in a duel (March, 1846).8)

Lola then left Paris for the spas of central Europe, encountering Lizst again in Bonn. After an affair with diplomat Robert Peel ran its course, Lola formed the intention to seek employment in the theatres of Vienna. En route, she stopped in Munich – trusting that the 1846 Oktoberfest would yield some interesting opportunities.9) Here her conversational wit and her beauty utterly captivated King Ludwig I, and what was meant to have been but a brief sojourn extended to nearly 18 months, during which Lola did little dancing but spent rather more time stirring up social strife after Ludwig commissioned her portrait from Karl Joseph Stieler for his ‘Gallery of Beauties‘, installed her in a residence on the Barerstraße, and granted her the title of Countess of Landsfeld. By February 1848 Lola was driven from Bavaria, having been pursued by angry rioters incensed with the level of influence they perceived her to have over their King. By mid-March Ludwig I had abdicated, but his hoped for reunion with Lola was never to take place. Lola would eventually settle in Geneva for some months, before departing for London in November.10)

Lola Montez by Karl Joseph Stieler (1847), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Unable to resume her theatrical career in city where her true identity was known, Lola eventually met a wealthy man eight years her junior, George Trafford Heald, and within weeks had contracted a bigamous marriage (on 19 July 1847) using her adopted identity. The resultant scandal compelled the couple to flee to the continent, but within three years they had parted ways (July 1850).11) Lola then sought to support herself through writing her memoirs (1851). She was also forming a plan to conquer America.


  1. For the biographical details of Lola’s family background and early years, see Bruce Seymour, Lola Montez: a Life (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1991), pp. 1-15.
  2. For Lola’s first marriage, see Seymour, pp. 16-28. For the precise terms of the divorce, see Seymour, p. 31.
  3. Concerning Lola’s preparations for the stage, see Seymour, pp. 29-30.
  4. For Lola’s encounter with Malmesbury and Lumley’s preparations for her début, see Seymour, pp.32-34.
  5. For further on this period, see Seymour, pp. 43-57.
  6. Seymour appears to suggest that she targeted the musician as a contact before embarking on an affair with him that concluded with Lizst furnishing letters of introduction to his Paris contacts (pp. 65-70).
  7. Rabelais, 9 March 1845, p. 2 as reported in Seymour, p. 77.
  8. For Lola’s Paris period, see Seymour, pp. 71-84.
  9. The period between Paris and Munich is covered in Seymour, pp. 85-101.
  10. Due to a wealth of documentary evidence, Seymour devotes a substantial proportion of his monograph to Lola’s Munich period and subsequent exile, see pp. 95-242.
  11. Lola’s marriage to Heald, the consequent fallout with King Ludwig, and the couple’s shared European exile is covered in Seymour, pp. 243-275.

Next post

The next post will consider Lola Montez’s reception in America.

Historical biography Uncategorised

Guimard to Nielson: Call for contributors 4

Above: Mlle Joséphine Hullin. Source: /BnF.

Below are further proposed themes, subjects, and images for the Dance Biography blog:

“LA GUIMARD in PARIS and LONDON”: Guimard, Marie Madeleine (1743-1816)

Boquet, Louis-René, 1717-1814 (designer). Tancrède Mlle Guimard guerrière 1764 [maquette de costume]. [n.p., 1764]..;2

Gervais, Eugène (after F. Boucher). “Melle Guimard.” Paris,

[between 1840-1860]. The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Humphrey, E. (“The celebrated Mademoiselle G-m-rd or Grimhard from Paris.” [London], 1789. The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Dulertre (artist), and Jean-François Janinet, 1752-1814 (engraver). ‘Mlle Guimard dans le ballet du Navigateur). Paris, 1786.;4

CHILD PRODIGY: Hullin, Joséphine (1808-1838).

Maleuvre (engraver). ‘Mlle Joséphine HULLIN, agée de 4 ans, dans la rôle du Petit Poucet dans la Botte de sept lieues. … Théatre de la Gaité Pantomime.’ A Paris, chez Mme Masson Libraire rue de l’Echelle, No. 10, [1812].

FORTHCOMING. “BORN IN AMERICA” Maywood, Augusta (1825-1877?) by Lynn Matluck Brooks.

 Bedetti, Augusto (Lithographer). ‘Augusta Maywood.’ Ancona: Lit. Pieroni, [1853]. The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Clay, Edward Williams, 1799-1857 (artist). ‘[La petite Augusta, aged 12 years, in the character of Zoloe, in the Bayadere].’ N.Y.,[1838]. The New York Public Library Digital Collections.


Noël, Francisque (lithographer), and F. Marin. ‘Mlle. Zélie Molard. Artiste du Théâtre de la Porte St. Martin. Rôle de Louise dans Le déserteur. Lith. de F. Noël.’ Paris,[184-]. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1840 –

“ADOPTING AN IDENTITY” Montez, Lola (1818-1861)

Dartinguenave, Prosper Guillaume, b. 1815 (Artist), and Adolphe Menut (lithographer).  “Lola Montez.” Paris, [184?]. The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

‘Portrait of Lola Montez,’ [183-?-185-?]. The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

FORTHCOMING on Nautch Girls by Aryama Bej, Jadavpur University.

“THE COST OF FAME” Nielsen, Augusta W. (1822-1902)

Senties, Pierre Asthasie Théodore, b. 1801 (Artist), and Emilien Desmaisons,1812-1880 (Lithographer). ‘Melle. Augusta Nielsen. Première danseuse du Théâtre Royal de Copenhague. Lith. par E. Desmaisons d’après Senties.’ Paris, [1842?]. The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Offers of contributions, on these or other subjects, to the editor Sarah McCleave,