Author(s): Nigel Cawthorne
The extraordinary true story of Eliza Lynch, doctor's daughter in Ireland, courtesan in Paris and, in Paraguay, the Empress of South America.
Born in Ireland in the 1840's, Eliza Lynch left the country as a young girl, fleeing the potato famine with her parents. As a young woman, she became one of Paris most celebrated courtesans, until she was persuaded by the son of the dictator of Paraguay, to leave Paris for South America, where he promised he would make her Empress of the entire continent.
Back in Asuncion, they embarked on a programme of extravagant building (the grandiose buildings they commissioned included a replica of the Palais Garnier), acquisition (Eliza's collection of jewellery was legendary), hospitality (Eliza was known to attend balls dressed as Elizabeth I, highly impractical, given the weather) and, finally, war. Paraguay declared war on a coalition that included not only all the other states in S American, but also the USA, France and Britain. By the time their reign was over, Paraguay's population had been devastated. Eliza died in poverty in Paris.
Buried in Pere Lachaise, her corpse was dug up at dead of night in 1961, and smuggled back to Paraguay, where General Stroessner planned, despite the condemnation of the Church, to make her the centre of an Evita-style cult. Her body lies there to this day.