Lola was born Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1824 (although this is disputed, this is the date given by Montez in her autobiography). In her lectures she stated that her ancestors were Irish and Moorish-Spanish. Lola's mother, Elizabeth Oliver, was the child of Irish diplomat Charles Silver Oliver, a descendent of the Spanish noble Count de Montalvo, former High Sheriff of Cork, and a member of Parliament in County Limerick.
Elizabeth Oliver was also known to be the most beautiful woman in her social circle. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Oliver eloped with a soldier, Edward Gilbert, and although Montez claimed she was born in the second year of their marriage it was rumoured that her mother was pregnant with Lola at the time of their marriage.
Gilbert was an intelligent man and talented soldier. He was made a Captain in the 44th Irish Regiment before the age of 20. Unfortunately, the marriage and rumors surrounding the marriage of the young couple destroyed any chance that either or both would have been welcomed back into society. The couple lived in Boyle, County Roscommon before Gilbert was sent to India in March of 1823.
Lola Montez (1821-1861). TC-75, Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University. Public Domain.
The timing of the young family was poor. There was a devestating Cholera epidemic in India in the early 1800s and Lola's father died of Cholera shortly after their arrival. According to the autobiography of Montez, her father's best friend, Lt. Patrick Craigie, was also in the room at the time of his death and Gilbert begged Craigie to care for his young wife and child.
Lola's mother married Lt. Patrick Craigie. Craigie, however, either was not familiar with raising young girls or was an impatient man. He did not want little Lola in the home. It was an important experience for Lola, though. A short lesson on the politics of marital relationships and the fact that women had little power or control over their lives.
Lola was sent to Sunderland, England. Craigie's older sister ran a boarding school in Sunderland, but one can imagine Lola was not greeted with open arms. Her stay in Sunderland lasted less than a year before she was sent on to Bath, the largest city in the county of Somerset, England.
The ancient city of Bath was known for its constant flow of tourists who arrived from around the world for a taste of the healing waters, the social scene and entertainment. It was the perfect environment for Lola's friendly, outgoing, confident personality. She quickly learned the art of flirtation and social behaviors and became interested in dancing, as well.
Craigie was promoted to Major and sent to Calcutta. Lola was separated from her mother and lived with the family of Sir Jasper Nichols, commander of the Bengal forces. Nichols had many daughters and Montez was sent to Paris, along with the Nichols' children, to finish her education.
There were many rumors about Lola's behavior at this time. She was marked as a troublemaker for sticking a flower in a man's hat during church. Apparently, that was all it took to destroy a child's reputation. It was also said that she once through the village naked. In contemporary times, the child would be questioned to see if she was attacked, but instead, Lola was victimized by visious gossip. She was only ten years old. It was yet another painful lesson for Lola, this time about society and gossip. Beautiful little girls lived the same dangerous lives as beautiful grown women, and Lola would have to learn how to survive.
Lola was sent to Sunderland, England. Craigie's older sister ran a boarding school in Sunderland, but one can imagine Lola was not greeted with open arms. Her stay in Sunderland lasted less than a year before she was sent on to Bath, the largest city in the county of Somerset, England. The ancient city of Bath was known for its constant flow of tourists who arrived from around the world for a taste of the healing waters, the social scene and entertainment. It was the perfect environment for Lola's friendly, outgoing, confident personality. She quickly learned the art of flirtation and social behaviors and became interested in dancing, as well.
Lola was terrified to learn she was to marry a 60-year-old man. She turned to her mother's travel companion, Lt. Thomas James, and begged for his help. In her memoirs, Montez refers to Lt. James in a way that implies he may have been a lover or deeply admired by Lola's mother, but Lola was so insistent with her pleas for rescue from the planned marriage that James proposed an elopment.
They settled in Ireland, but perhaps "settled" is not the right word to use when discussing the life of Lola Montez. In addition to the scandal created by her young age, Lola's husband was also abusive. He spent his days chasing women and drinking. Lola and her husband returned to Spain, but they were not welcomed by her mother.
At that time, the Irish were experiencing extreme prejudice. The audience was easily led to believe by the man--who had unknown motives--that she was trying to deceive the audience. She was chased from the stage with catcalls and insults. She was considered unemployable due to her tarnished reputation and was passed from one man to another as their beautiful Spanish lover. And she was beautiful, but Lola dreamed of being more than a courtesan. Still, it would be years before she could leave that past behind and fulfill her dream of the dance.
- Gilbert, Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna. Encyclopedia Brittanica Online, 1911. Accessed May 14, 2017.
- "Lola Montez." Death Valley Days. Episode first aired January 4, 1955.
- "Lola Montez." Very Important Passengers. Ship Passengers: 1846-1899. The Maritime Heritage Project ~ San Francisco. Accessed January 16, 2018.
- Montez, Lola. Autobiography and Lectures of Lola Montez. James Blackwood, Paternoster Rowe. London: 1860.
- "Obituary: Death of Lola Montez." News. The New York Times. Originally published January 21, 1861. Accessed online May 12, 2017.
- Roper, Ann. "Her Name Was Lola." Hidden History. Aired March 7, 2007. Accessed on Internet Archive Wayback Machine November 7, 2017.