Elizabeth Alice Lynch was born in Charleville, County Cork Ireland to a Catholic father, John Lynch , and a Protestant mother, Adelaide Schnock, in 1833. John Lynch was a physician. Elizabeth changed her name to Elyza Alicia Lynch later in life. Eliza Lynch is the name by which most historians know her. The family was not comfortable in Charleville. Eliza Lynch's eldest sister Corinne was living in France in 1847. She encouraged the family to move to France. The family left Ireland that year and settled in Paris. On 3 June 1850, at the age of fifteen, Eliza Lynch married Jean Louis Armand de Quatrefages, a French military surgeon. Her husband was more than twice her age. The couple moved to Algeria when he was assigned there. Realizing that her lot was little more than to provide sex, she returned to France and left the marriage. She is pictured to the left as a young woman.
Meanwhile, the son of the dictator of Paraguay, Francisco Solano Lopez, pictured to the right was on a diplomatic trip to Europe which doubled as something of a carousing holiday for himself and his entourage. Lynch was living in Paris with her mother, and perhaps a Russian nobleman, when in 1853 she met Francisco Solano López. The pair hit it off. He was struck by her beauty and she probably by the security he offered. Despite arguments with his younger brother Benigno, who did not want the affair to be carried on across the ocean, Solano López left his mistress with the financial resources and necessary instructions to travel to Paraguay, and departed for South America.
Eliza Lynch made the necessary arrangements and now 21, was on a ship to South America pregnant by Lopez with their first child. Eliza Lynch arrived in Buenos Aires in October 1855 and gave birth to a son, who was baptised in a private ceremony as Juan Francisco 'Panchito' López after her arrival in Asunción, Paraguay, in December.
< A drawing of a young Eliza Lynch in the Getty Collection
After an initial bout of depression and culture shock on encountering Paraguay and its people, Lynch learned to take political and financial advantage of her status, despite the unofficial nature of her position and antipathy on the part of López family. By 1858 she was a social leader in the community, despite frequently becoming pregnant and being perceived by the bigoted local elite - particularly by patrician ladies - to be living in sin. Some historians have stated that while in Paris, Lynch was a prostitute or a cortesan and this was used during this period to try and discrdet her. Recent research by historians can find no evidence in police records in Paris and the surrounding communities, nor do royal court records show that she was ever a courtesan.
"Madame Lynch" - as she styled herself, though she was popularly known as "La Lynch" - was something of a snob and delighted in displaying her novel habits to the Paraguayans, refusing to ride sidesaddle and serving elegant French cuisine to guests. She became a lady to be emulated even if she was not admired. Her social reputation placed her on an equal footing with some foreign diplomats, for she did her part to modernize Paraguay. Thus began a cultural transfer of French, rather than English or Irish, customs to replace the native ones. She set the tone with her home and her lover's house, as well as clothing, cuisine, champagne, cosmetics, sewing machines, de rigeur music, formal dances, lithographs and other objects d'art.
Although in her youth Eliza Lynch had been a strikingly handsome woman, By 1861 she looked the part of a mother of five sons. All the boys publicly bore the López name. She rose high in the world in a material sense, recipient of gift after gift from her admiring general. She became the world's largest female landowner. By 1865 she owned several large ranches and at least twenty-six urban properties. During Paraguay's Triple Alliance War against Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, Solano López transferred vast properties into Lynch's name perhaps in order to protect some of his wealth in case he lost the war or had to abdicate. Solano López ordered the sale to Eliza Lynch of over 800,000 acres of state lands and forests located in the Chaco region. In addition, she acquired 12,000,000 acres in eastern Paraguay and another 9,000,000 acres of Yerbales and forests in the contested area north of the river Apa.
What made her life truly less ordinary was the tragedy which struck it. Lopez took power after the death of his father in 1862. Solano López modernized and expanded industry. The Paraguayan government hired more than 200 foreign technicians, who installed telegraph lines and railroads to aid the expanding steel, textile, paper, ink, naval construction, weapons, and gunpowder industries. The Ybycuí foundry, completed in 1850, manufactured cannons, mortars, and bullets of all calibers. River warships were built in the shipyards of Asunción.
This industrial and military growth required some contact with the international market, but Paraguay is and was a landlocked country. Its ports were river ports, and Paraguayan and other ships had to travel down the Río Paraguay and the Río Paraná to reach the estuary of the Río de la Plata (shared by Argentina and Uruguay) and the Atlantic Ocean. Presidente Solano López conceived of a project to obtain ports on the Atlantic Ocean: he probably intended to create a "Greater Paraguay" by capturing a slice of Brazilian territory that would link Paraguay to the Atlantic coast.
Francisco Solano Lopez in a painting reflecting his idea of empire >
To set about on his expansionist intentions, López began to prepare for Paraguay a large army. He encouraged the development of war industries, mobilized a large quantity of men for the Army (mandatory military service had already existed in Paraguay), submitted them to intensive military training, and built fortifications at the mouth of the Río Paraguay. He also set about building riverboats of war.
Diplomatically, Solano López wanted to ally himself with Uruguay's ruling Blanco Party. The party not in power was the Colorado party which was connected to Brazil and Argentina. In 1864, Presidente López thought that the balance of power was threatened when Brazil got involved in Uruguay's internal politics and the struggle for leadership between the Blanco and Colorado parties. In April 1864, Brazil sent a diplomatic mission to Uruguay led by José Antônio Saraiva to demand payment for the damages caused to gaucho farmers in border conflicts with Uruguayan farmers. The Uruguayan president Atanásio Aguirre, refused the Brazilian demands.
Solano López offered himself as mediator, but was turned down by Brazil. López subsequently broke diplomatic relations with Brazil in August 1864 and declared that the occupation of Uruguay by Brazilian troops would be an attack on the equilibrium of the Río de la Plata region. On October 12, Brazilian troops invaded Uruguay. The followers of the Colorado Venancio Flores, who had the support of Argentina, united with the Brazilian troops and deposed Aguirre.
This was the opportunity that lead López to declare war on Brazil. Argentina stayed neutral in this, and that country only declared war on Paraguay when it invaded the Corrientes Province of Argentina. This occurred when Argentina rejected the request that Solano made to use Argentinean territory to move his troops to fight in Uruguay against Brazil.
in short order Lopez found himself at war with Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. What became known as the War of the Triple Alliance decimated his country's population and territory. The war lasted five years but was essentially over after two. For details on the results of the war use this link >
Eliza Lynch supported her lover's plans going so far as to organize a female battalion of soldiers. She herself joined the battle. She was in the field with Lopez and her fifteen year old son when they were killed by Brazilian troops. Run through by a lance and slashed and stuck with swords. The image of Lynch burying Lopez and her 15-year-old son with her bare hands after they were killed in the final standoff has taken on mythic proportions. With the death of Lopez, the war was over. Eliza, who had a British passport, used it to save her life. She was allowed to return Europe where she lived in relative obscurity in Paris. In 1875 she returned to Paraguay on the invitation of president Juan B. Gill, who supported her claims to confiscated property. However, she was again deported to France and settled again in Paris where she died in 1886.
The tomb of Eliza Lynch in Asuncion, Paraguay
In the 1970s, under the influence of nationalist and revisionist historians, Eliza Lynch was proclaimed a Paraguayan national heroine and her remains were removed from a grave in Paris to her adopted country in South America. A central street in Asunción was named 'Madame Lynch' in her honor.
- Barrett, William, Una Amazona (Asunción: Servilibro, 2003).
- Baptista, Francisco, Elysa Lynch, mujer de mundo y de guerra (Buenos Aires:
- Cawthorne, Nigel, The Empress of South America (London: Heinemann, 2003).
- Corral Lafuente, José Luis, "Ficción en la Historia: la narrativa sobre la Edad Media" in Boletín Hispánico Helvético, Vol. 6 (Autumn 2005), pp. 125-139.
Enright, Anna, THE PLEASURE OF ELIZA LYNCH. 230 pp. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.
- Holquist, Michael, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin (Austin TX: University of Texas Press, 1981).
- Lévi-Strauss, Claude, Race et histoire (Paris: Folio Essais, 1987). First edition 1952.
Lillis, Michael and Fanning, Ronan, The Lives of Eliza Lynch, Gill and McMillan.
Murray, Edmundo, Beauty And The Beast, Society for Irish American Studies, Irish Migration Studies in Latin America
Vol. 4, No. 1: January-February 2006
- O'Leary, Juan E., El Mariscal Solano López (Asunción, 1920).
- Rees, Siân, The Shadows of Elisa Lynch: How a Nineteenth-Century Irish Courtesan
Became the Most Powerful Woman in Paraguay (London: Review, 2003).
- Williams, John Hoyt, The Rise and Fall of the Paraguayan Republic, 1800-1870
(Austin: University of Texas at Austin, Institute of Latin American Studies,
1979). Latin American Monographs, N° 48.
See also Eliza Lynch (1835-1886): A Bibliography.
- Raphoz, Fabienne (ed.), Des Belles et des Bêtes: Anthologie de fiancés animaux (Paris: Éditions Corti, 2003).
- Swahn, J.-Ö., The Tale of Cupid and Psyche (Lund, 1955).
- Williams, John Hoyt, The Rise and Fall of the Paraguayan Republic, 1800-1870 (Austin TX: Institute of Latin American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin, 1979).
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