Lola was born Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert between 1818 and 1821, either in Grange, County Sligo or Limerick, Ireland--her birth year and birthplace are disputed. Lola's mother, Elizabeth Oliver, was the child of Irish diplomat Charles Silver Oliver, former High Sheriff of Cork and a member of Parliament in County Limerick. Her mother eloped with a soldier, Ensign Edward Gilbert of the 25th Irish Regiment and it was rumoured that she was pregnant with Lola at the time of their marriage. They lived in Boyle, County Roscommon until leaving for 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 terrible Cholera epidemic in India in the early 1800s and Lola's father died of Cholera shortly after their arrival. Lola's mother was only 19, and having disgraced her family with a forced marriage she was now on her own. In an attempt to salvage her reputation, she 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 separated from her mother and sent to Scotland for schooling. There she was shunned for the manners and behavior she had learned in India. 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 in that time.
She was also caught running through the village naked, but no one asked her for an explanation for her behavior and it's possible she was trying to avoid an attack. Lola 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 16-years-old and was told she would be making her public debut in England, but instead found herself in an arranged marriage with a 60-year-old judge. Panic-stricken, Lola turned to a close friend, Lt. Thomas James. 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 he chose Lola instead and 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.
- "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.