The Spanish Dancer and the King

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Lola Montez (1847), painted by Joseph Karl Stieler for Ludwig I of Bavaria and his Schönheitengalerie

In a previous post, we took a look at the life of Ludwig, the Mad King of Bavaria.  (Please see this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/ludwig-mad-king/)  He was not the only odd ball in the Wittelsbach family.   The grandfather for which he was named had a distinctly overbearing personality and an obsession beautiful actresses.  Ludwig came to the throne at the age of thirty-nine and cut a rather unimpressive figure.  He was known as a stingy eccentric, who liked to wander the streets of Munich dressed in threadbare clothes and carrying a broken umbrella.  As previously mentioned, he loved beautiful women and courted a string of women to whom he wrote reams of bad poetry.  His first wife, Queen Theresa, was a notable beauty, however, he preferred to find his muses outside of his marriage.  At his palace in Nymphenburg, he decorated the walls with thirty-six portraits of women he found attractive.  These ranged from chambermaids to nobility, even just women he passed on the street and was drawn to.  Sadly, when it came to actresses, Ludwig usually disappointed as instead of giving them something pretty and highly pawnable he gave them his own bad poetry.  I’m sure that is exactly what they were looking for.

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King Ludwig I, c1860. source: Wikipedia

Ludwig met his match in raven haired and tempestuous, Lola Montez.  Lola was born Maria Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert in County Sligo, Ireland.  She claimed to be descended from Spanish Royalty through her Moorish mother, but this was a dubious claim at best.  She was educated in Britain and France, but spent a significant amount of time in India after she eloped with an army lieutenant  They divorced and she hit the London stage billed as Lola Montez, the Spanish Dancer in June 1843.  She was booed off the stage as she was recognized as an army wife.  For anyone less determined and single minded this would have been the end of the story.  Not Lola.  She retreated to the continent and won fame for her beauty and celebrity and her trademark “Tarantula Dance”.  There she had a string of affairs with the notables of the day, and usually they did not end well.  She could include among her lovers Franz Liszt, Alexandre Dumas and a French journalist Dujarrier.  When Dujarrier was killed in a duel, he left Lola 20,000 francs so she was rather well set.  Except, Lola liked the high life and she needed more cash.  On to Bavaria and an audition at the State Theater.  At the audition she was told her dancing might cause offence to the extremely moral theater manager.  Not taking no for an answer, Lola stormed to the palace and demanded an audience to plead her case to Ludwig himself.  Ludwig was a sucker for beauty.  Legend says she cut her bodice strings with a letter opener and exposed her breasts when Ludwig asked if they were real.  Apparently they passed muster as the sixty year old king was instantly smitten with the twenty-five year old dancer.  

Lola remained on the Munich stage for only two performances, then was whisked away for her primary role as mistress to the king.  It was a good thing he was a king because he was as ugly as Lola was beautiful.  He had never cut a dashing figure, but in his old age he had gotten worse.  He lost his hair and his teeth and a large cyst in the middle of his forehead.  However, Lola gritted her teeth and though of England as it were.  Ludwig had her portrait painted and added to his collection at Nymphenburg.  Ludwig showered her with gifts, a castle, money and even made her the Baroness Rosenthal and Countess of Landsfield.  Decisions of state were subject to Lola’s opinion, and the cabinet at that time were called the “Lolaministerium”.  Lola did not endear herself to anyone else but the king.  She had a habit of boxing the ears or even horse whipping anyone who displeased her.  She carried around a huge bulldog wherever she went and swore voraciously.  The papers of the day called her “the Apocalyptic Whore”.  She had to go.

Matter came to a head and an angry mob demanded she leave the country.  Ludwig tried to brave it out, but no one was having it.  Lola had to go and was banished from the country.  Ludwig was forced to abdicate in favor of his son.  Lola went on to more adventures in both England and America, after a succession of marriage died of pneumonia a month before her 40th birthday.  Ludwig never saw Lola again, but did continue to send her poetry through the mail.  Lucky her.

ER