Lola Montez, dancer, mistress to a king and adventuress, married Thomas James at Rathbeggan, Dunshaughlin in 1837.
Lola was born Eliza Rosana Gilbert in Sligo in 1821. Her father was an ensign in the 25th foot regiment. The family went to India with the 44th foot regiment and Eliza’s father died shortly after arrival. Her mother re-married and Eliza was despatched to her step-father’s relatives in Scotland. A wild and stubborn child Eliza grew up to be a beautiful girl and was sent to school in Bath. Her mother returned from India and made plans for Eliza’s marriage to a suitable older partner. Eliza did not agree and eloped to Ireland with Lieutenant Thomas James of the 21st Regiment of the Honourable East India Company Service, whom she married at Rathregan on 23 July 1837. James was the brother of John James, the vicar of Rathbeggan. John James was from Ballycrystal, Co. Wexford and served as vicar of Rathbeggan from 1832 to 1862. Eliza later commented ‘Run away marriages, like runaway horse, are almost always sure to end in a smash up.’ Her advice to any girl contemplating such a move was ‘they had better hang or drown themselves one hour before they start.’ James and his new wife returned to India but the marriage failed and Mrs James returned to England.
On the journey she is said to have had an affair with Lieutenant George Lennox. Lieutenant James sued for a divorce which was granted with one of the conditions that neither party re-marry during the lifetime of the other.
Eliza now publically branded an adulteress took to the stage. She travelled to Cadiz, Spain to learn Spanish dancing and brought her act to the London stage with her new name Lola Montez. Because of her past she was forced to travel to German where she performed in Dresden and Berlin. Lola was invited to perform before Friedrcih Wilhelm IV and his guest Tsar Nicholas I at Potsdam. She made a scene in Berlin and lashed out at a mounted policeman with her whip. She made another scene at a performance in Warsaw and this contributed to her public profile. Lola then attempted to attach herself to the composer, Franz Liszt. Her performances were not well received in Paris where she became the mistress of a wealthy newspaper owner.
In 1846 Lola performed at the Royal Theatre in Munich. The king, Ludwig I of Bavaria, was immediately taken by her and set her up as his mistress in a small villa. The sixty year old king promised to make Lola a countess and granted her Bavarian citizenship. As a result his cabinet resigned and Lola was created Countess of Landsfeld. Lola managed to frustrate the king’s approaches without giving any concessions. It is said that she virtually ruled Bavaria and afterwards liked to portray that she was a liberalising influence on the country. She was resented by Bavarian society. As countess she created a corps of bodyguards drawn from the university students. In March 1848 an enraged mob attacked her villa and she fled to Switzerland. King Ludwig abdicated the same month.
Lola returned to London where she married coronet Geroge Heald, eight years younger than her. As this broke her divorce agreement Heald’s relatives had her prosecuted for bigamy. The couple fled Britain and travelled on the continent until Heald left Lola in Paris in 1850. The thirty year old Lola travelled to America where she appeared on the stage in New York and San Francisco. In California Lola married a newspaper editor but left him after a few weeks. She stayed in California for two years before going to Australia where she performed in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Lola horsewhipped the editor of a local newspaper and the wife of her manager and this added to her reputation.
Lola returned to America and took up the lecture circuit talking about her life and her secrets for beauty. In 1858 she began her lecture tour of Ireland and Britain. Lola spoke in limerick, cork and Dublin. Lola briefly settled in London before going to New York. Lola suffered a stroke in 1860 and died a year later in New York. It is aid that her relationship with Ludwig inspired the song ‘Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.’