Lola Montez - Uncrowned Queen of Bavaria
After auditioning for the State Theatre, Lola was told her dancing might cause moral offence by the theater's manager. He'd heard rumors of her scandalous performances elsewhere. Determined to defend her reputation, and probably banking on Ludwig being taken by her allure, Lola stormed the palace unannounced to plead with the King Ludwig of Bavaria himself for help. There is a legend that Lola cut the strings of her bodice with a letter opener when the King asked her if her bosoms were real. No matter what really happened, Lola got her wish. The King agreed to let her dance and, ironically, Lola made her debut in a play called The Enchanted Prince.
At the time that they met, Lola was 25 years old and Ludwig was 60. Ludwig I (1786-1868) was responsible for turning Munich into a cultural mecca. He was the son of King Maximilian I and Wilhelmina of Hesse-Darmstadt, and one of his godfather's was Louis XVI of France. He sponsored artists, writers, craftsmen, and architects. While he was quite free with the country's money, he wasn't quite as free with spending it on his family. The occasion of his marriage to Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810 was the first ever Oktoberfest. His father had forged an alliance with Napoleon I of France, which Ludwig objected to, but he dutifully joined the Emperor's wars with the Bavarian troops. His father owed his crown to Napoleon. Maximilian was forced to consent to the marriage of Ludwig's sister Pauline to Napoleon's step-son Eugene de Beauharnais. Despite the inauspicious beginning, Pauline and Eugene ended up quite happy. Ludwig disliked and feared French political connections. He became King of Bavaria in 1825.
During the early years of his reign, Ludwig undersaw the completion of Germany's first raildroad line in 1835. He had several beautiful buildings constructed including the Walhalla Temple, modeled after the Parthenon in Greece. In his early years, his policies as King were quite liberal for the time. However, as time progressed, Ludwig's reign became more oppressive, he began to impose censorship and high taxes.
Lola's career on the Munich stage lasted a scant two performances. Ludwig became smitten by Lola, and the dancer enjoyed a new role – as his mistress. Within weeks she had a powerful hold over Ludwig. She agreed to sit for a portrait which would be included in Ludwig's renowed Gallery of Beauties, which included portraits of more than 30 women. During her sittings, Ludwig would join her, spending the time getting to know her better. He'd fallen hopelessly in love with her, and Lola claimed to return his feelings. During the next few months, the king remodeled a stately home for her, spending millions of dollars along the way.
Ludwig's advisors, friends, and family warned him that Lola was nothing but an adventuress, but the more they tried to persuade him, the more stubborn he became. He refused to believe what he considered to be lies about his Lola. Ludwig became determined to fulfill her every wish of which there were many. Lola, convinced of her own nobility, wanted a title of her own. Ludwig obliged by making her Countess of Landsfield, despite the fact that only Bavarian citizens could be enobled, and the Council of Ministers refused to grant Lola citizenship. In response, Lola convinced him to replace them with ministers who were more sympathetic. The previously pro-Catholic government was now swinging more incline with Lola's own anti-clerical, liberal positions.
It was during this period in Bavaria that Lola's animosity toward the Catholic church fermented. Although Lola's family were Irish, they were also Protestant, and her stepfather Craigie was more than likely Presbyterian. Bavaria was a very Catholic country and the Jesuits were horrified at the king's behavior and the insult to the queen. Lola had developed a long standing paranoid suspicion of the Jesuits. Whenever things went wrong for her later in life, as they often did, she would attribute this to sinister jesuitical plots.
Lola was soon to learn that being a royal mistress was not all it was cracked up to be. She hungered for social acceptance from the nobility in Munich but it was not forthcoming. Most of her admirers of course were men who sought to see advancement at court through the King's mistress. If Lola had only been more diplomatic, like Madame de Pompadour, coaching her requests with sweet nothings and a pleasing disposition, things might have been different, and her reign as Leopold's mistress might not have ended in disaster. Unfortunately, Lola was of a different temperment. She had more in common with Charles II virago of a mistress, Barbara Castlemaine. However, the days when royal mistresses could get away with raking in the coins from the royal coffers were long over.
As the people of Munich turned against Lola, she even more arrogant and demanding. On one occasion she slapped two men who objected to her relationship with Ludwig and, on another, she was trapped inside a shop by a mob after her dog attacked a passing Jesuit. Lola's final fatal mistake was when she convinced Ludwig to close down the university, after the Catholic student protests against her, ended up in a brawl between the anti-Montez students, and her own loyal group of students, social outcasts like her, called the Allemania. One student was killed in the melee. A riot ensured when Lola appeared on the scene, leading her to seek shelter in the nearby Theatinerkirche.
An irate crowd of 2,000 students gathered and made their way to city hall where a petition was presented to the King asking him to reopen the university. Ludwig refused. As hatred against her grew to a fever pitch, Ludwig's entire cabinet resigned. Lola's affair with the King had toppled the government. Lola was forced to flee the city, taking refuge in Switzerland. Ludwig was pressured into rescinding her citizenship, revoking her title, and publishing an order for her arrest. Nine days later in 1848, the King also abdicated in favor of his son Maximilian. The whole sorry affair lasted less than two years. Still the King loved Lola until he died 7 years after her death. Despite having cost him his throne, Ludwig continued to write to Lola for three years, and to send her an annual allowance of 70,000 gulden, until he was finally convinced of her infidelities while his mistress, and he cut her off.
Forced into exile, Lola finally returned to London. She was down but she was not out. Within months, she had met and married Army officer George Trafford Heald who came from a rich and distringuished family. He was seven years younger than she was. But the marriage was bigamous, although Lola was divorced from Captain James it was on the proviso that neither one was able to remarry unless the other one died. An elderly relative dug up the dirt in order to get rid of Lola, and she had to flee to France or face life behind bars. George put up the bail money for her, and followed her to the continent.
They traveled together through France, Italy and Spain, quarelling and making up incessantly. At one point, during a particularly nasty fight, she stabbed him. George and Lola quickly ran up huge gambling debts in Paris and George eventually deserted his wife in 1850. Lola, alone yet again, ended up back on the stage to help pay her bills – in America. P.T. Barnum offered to sponsor her tour, but Lola refused to be one of many of the acts in his circus. Instead, she signed with a manager named Edward Willis, who bought her story of being an improverished Spanish noblewoman. He was convinced that she would conquer America the way Columbus had once conquered it.
She arrived in New York in 1852, dressed like a man, with spurred boots and a riding whip, which she used immediately on an admirer who dared to grab onto her coat tails. Once in the States, however, the controversy began anew and Lola was forced to buy an even bigger whip – using it on impolite reporters and restless audiences. She toured the country for three years, purchasing a house in Grass Valley, Nevada where she lived in between tours. While in San Francisco, she married her third husband (again bigamous), a newspaper man by the name of Patrick Hull in 1853 in a Catholic ceremony no less, despite the fact that Lola had been raised Protestant.
They set off on a tour of the Gold Rush towns, Lola not one to travel lightly, brought along 50 trunks that contained silk drapery, gilt mirrors, as well as a stupendous wardrobe of clothes. Again the marriage didn't last, and Hull left Lola after two months of marrriage. Lola clamed in her autobiography to have been married a fourth time to a German baron. Unlucky in love, she is said to have written, "Love is a pipe we fill at eighteen and smoke until forty. Then we rake the ashes till our exit."
While living out west, Lola showed another side to her character than that of the horse-whipping femme fatale. She began to devote her time to helping out troubled women. There is a legend that she took the young Lotta Crabtree under her wing, teaching her how to dance and to command the stage. She became a model citizen of Grass Valley, much admired by the other townsfolk. She kept a menagerie of pets including a tamed grizzly bear which she took for walks.
However, after awhile, Lola needed money again. She entertained lavishly as visitors found her. She decided to go down under, to tour Australia, where she made a sensation with her Spider Dance and not in a good way. Over the years, Lola's performances had lost their sublety, and had become downright vulgar for the times. In Melbourne, when an editor had the temerity to call her performance immoral, she went after him with her whip. The Australian tour a failure, Lola was forced to lick her wounds and go home.
Once again, Lola was unlucky in love. She had fallen in love with her tour manager, Ned Fellin, who fell over board mysteriously on the voyage back to the States. When Lola was questioned about his disappearance, she said, "I have been wild, and wayward, but never wicked." Lola returned to America to present a series of literary lectures. It turned out that Lola was a formidable and eloquent lecturer, far better than she was a dancer.She even wrote several books, an autobiography, and a book called Timeless Beauty: Advice to Ladies & Gentleman.
By the year 1857, Lola's thoughts began turning toward religion, her own spiritual state, even thoughts of death. It seemed that she had become remorseful over her life. As New York sweltered in a heat wave in June 1860, however, she suffered a stroke. The condition left her unable to move or speak for several months. News of Lola's illness reached her mother, who was now Lady Craigie. She travelled to America on the pretext of seeing her daughter for what might be the last time, but it appeared that her actual purpose was to find out whether or not Lola still had any of the jewels that Ludwig had given her. but, by December, she had recovered enough to hobble outside for a breath of fresh air on Christmas Day. It was to prove the death of her. Lola developed pneumonia and, on January 17, 1861 – a month before her 40th birthday – she died. Her life quickly passed into legend.
She's buried in Green-Wood Cemetary in Brooklyn, NY. Her headstone was inscribed with a name she never used – her maiden name of Eliza Gilbert preceded by Mrs. One of her more recent biographers, Bruce Seymour, recently paid to have her grave spruced up.
Lola lived life on her terms, and sometimes she paid a high price for her reckless, adventuresome spirit. The late romance novelist Tom Huff, who wrote as Jennifer Wilde, based one of his novels on Lola Montez, called Dare to Love, a title that could apply to Lola's own life . No one could say that Lola didn't seize life with both hands and try to mold it to her will.
For further reading:
Cupid and the King - Princess Michael of Kent
Lola Montez: Her Life and Conquests - James Morton
Lola Montez: A Life - Bruce Seymour
Book of Courtesans - Susan Griffin