In A Nutshell
Maria Dolores Eliza Rosanna was born in Limerick, Ireland, changing her name to Donna Lola Montez when she studied in Spain as a dancer. After a few failed marriages and a few short-term lovers (including Alexandre Dumas), she assumed the identity of Spanish nobility and ended up the object of the affections of King Ludwig of Bavaria. He installed her as Countess, which didn’t go over well with the masses, who ran her out of the country. He abdicated the throne in disgrace.
The Whole Bushel
The life story of Lola Montez reads like a fiction novel written by someone with a very, very vivid imagination. However, she left far too much chaos, destruction, and disgrace in her wake to be fiction.
She was born in Limerick, Ireland, in 1818 to a naval ensign and his 14-year-old wife. First educated in France and Britain, she was first married when she was 19. She eloped with her husband, but her adultery on the ship bound for India encouraged their divorce. She stopped by Spain on the way home, where she got some training as an exotic dancer. When she returned to London she tried to start a career as a dancer but was chased off the stage when she was recognized.
She returned to the continent and started traveling, during which time she took numerous lovers—including Alexandre Dumas and Franz Liszt. After a current lover was killed in a duel, she headed off to Munich.
It was in Munich that she met King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who was 61 years old at the time he fell in love with her. For a time, she was both a dancer and a personal favorite to the king, but it wasn’t long before he had given her a place to stay, a steady income, and an amount of power that, by all accounts, went directly to her head. Her hotel room soon became a mansion that the king purchased for her, and she assembled companions and handmaidens to see to her desires when the king wasn’t with her.
The people of Munich found her highly untrustworthy and very, very abrasive from the beginning. It wasn’t long before people were rioting and protesting the amount of power that she had over the government, over political decisions, and over the king. It was only when the king found out the truth about her that he abdicated the throne, and Lola fled the country.
Her broken heart didn’t last too long, as she was married again to a British Guards officer a year later. She was then arrested for bigamy. After being released, she fled to Spain, where that husband met an untimely drowning death. From there, she went back on the stage; part of her act involved a whip and a pistol, where she ended up doing little more than inciting assaults, fights, scandals, and riots in the audience.
After touring Europe and Australia, she eventually headed to the United States with a young man she had appointed as her manager. He never made it, as he was lost overboard somewhere around Fiji. Lola traveled across the country and attempted to renew her career, but failed as by all accounts her hard, scandalous life was taking its toll on her. She eventually settled in California, where she bought a house in Grass Valley.
In a bizarre turn for the exotic dancer and courtesan to Europe’s rich, famous and royal, she began working with the gold mining towns of California, getting investors to help build up what was, by that time, a flagging industry in many places. By some accounts, she regretted her lifestyle and those that she had ruined along the way. This may have been partly related to the fact that she was well into the advanced stages of syphilis. She married again, and she eventually returned to Australia. She died in 1861, and was buried in Brooklyn.