The Life of Lola Montez – Courtesan, Dancer & Actress

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Lola Montez was born and christened Maria Dolores Eliza Rosanna in 1821 in Ireland.(1) She displayed a fiery nature and ‘wild ways’ from an early age. She lived all over the world and led a colourful life including living and working as a dancer, courtesan and actress. Notably, she entertained miners in the Victorian Goldfields after sailing to Australia in 1855.

Lola began her life as courtesan after her marriage to Lieutenant Thomas James ended after five years due to James’ adultery. Penniless, to support herself, she took favours from wealthy men. During this period Montez landed in Spain where she trained as a dancer and began calling herself Donna Lola Montez.(2) “Her dancing enabled her to travel the world and gain access to people of power and influence, both politically and culturally”.(3) She made her debut in London dancing in front of royalty but was hissed off the stage by the crowd after they recognised her as James’ wife.

Her most famous liaison was with Ludwig I of Bavaria whom she became mistress to in 1846 shortly after arriving in Munich posing as a Spanish aristocrat.   Montez’s power over Ludwig and her increasing influence and control of the government made her unpopular with the Bavarian people. Ludwig’s decision to make Montez Countess of Landsfeld was not also not welcome. The affair came to an end when amidst rising discontent and revolutionary fervour, Ludwig abdicated in 1848 forcing Montez to flee. She waited for Ludwig in Switzerland, but he never came.

In the years from 1851 – 1853 Lola worked as an actress and dancer in the United States where she was a hit. Her performances created a sensation.


In 1855, she sailed to Australia where she came to entertain the miners on the back of the 1850’s Gold Rush. Many stories abound from Lola’s time in Australia. She performed her famous ‘Spider Dance’ in Melbourne, allegedly lifting up her dress to reveal no underclothes. She also performed in Castlemaine and Ballarat where she gained notoriety for her scandalous behaviour.  She attacked the editor of the Ballarat Times, with a whip after he wrote a bad review.  She was threatened with arrest for her various escapades – audacious were her performances in the theatre and brazen her behaviour off the stage!

Montez was ageing, yet still needed to work and attempted a come back in the American theatre. She spent her final days helping women involved with rescue work. She died in 1861 at the age of 39 after being ravaged by the effects of syphilis.(4)
References:

  1. Michael Cannon, ‘Montez, Lola (1818–1861)‘, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/montez-lola-4226/text6815, published first in hardcopy 1974, Accessed online 12 January 2018.
  2. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Lola Montez, Encyclopedia Britannica, Oct 17, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lola-Montez. Accessed online January 11, 2018.
  3. Culture Victoria, Lola Montez and her Notorious Spider Dance, https://cv.vic.gov.au/stories/a-diverse-state/goldfields-stories-lola-montez-star-attraction/lola-montez-and-her-notorious-spider-dance/ Accessed online 12th January 2018.
  4. Michael Cannon, ‘Montez, Lola (1818–1861)‘, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/montez-lola-4226/text6815, published first in hardcopy 1974, Accessed online 12 January 2018.