Mistress of Francisco Solano Lopez, dictator of Paraguay

Charleville, Co. Cork / France / Paraguay

1833 – 1886

Eliza Lynch, ‘the Queen of Paraguay’, was born in Charleville, Co. Cork in 1833. Little is known of her early life. Following the breakup of her first marriage, made when she was just sixteen years of age, she went to live with her mother in Paris. The European capital of fashion and the meeting-place of Europe’s elites for centuries, was the backdrop against which Lynch and Francisco Solano Lopez became lovers in 1854, setting in train a story of love and tragedy, glamour and war.

In 1854, Lynch was a remarkably beautiful woman of twenty years; as the current dictator’s son, Lopez was leader of the first Paraguayan diplomatic mission to Europe. Their first months together were dazzling and exciting, as Lynch accompanied Lopez on his missions all over Europe.

In late 1854, Lynch and Lopez travelled separately to Buenos Aires. Lynch gave birth there to the couple’s first son, Francisco, joining Lopez in Asunción, Paraguay, in May 1855. They would go on to have five more children, all of which were “illegitimate” in the prevailing view of the time, but Lopez’s paternity was recorded in the catholic baptismal records.

 Lynch’s life in Asunción was materially comfortable. She had a fashionable city residence and a country estate. Her home became a social hub and she its glittering hostess, but she was not popular with everyone; one contemporary derisorily remarked that her mansion “stank of Paris.”

 When Lopez succeeded his father as dictator in 1862, suddenly Lynch could no longer be sneered at. She was the ‘queen of Paraguay’, able to indulge her love of the arts, bringing international theatre groups to Asunción and organising lavish public festivals.

But her happiness was not to last. Lopez’s wild ambition drove him to a devastating war with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in 1864 – 1870. The war literally decimated Paraguay’s male population, and halved its female population. In January 1870, Brazilian forces took Asunción and Lynch, Lopez and their children fled. After two months on the run, the family were captured. Lynch witnessed the executions of her lover and her eldest son, and was deported to Britain with her four surviving children.

Lynch’s troubles continued in London. Another of her children died within weeks of their arrival, she had few resources, and her extensive Paraguayan properties were confiscated. To defend her ruined reputation in South America, she wrote and published a short memoir, Exposición y protesta.

Lynch died in Paris in July 1886, and was buried in the famous Père Lachaise cemetery. But in death, as in life, she continued to polarise opinion. In 1961 the dictator General Stroessner declared her a Paraguayan national hero and her remains were exhumed and returned to Asunción. Her reputation, long maligned outside of Paraguay, has recently been rehabilitated by Anne Enright’s 2002 historical novel, The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch, and Michael Lillis and Ronan Fanning’s biography in 2009.

Thanks to herstorian Dr. Angela Byrne for this week’s herstory.