What do Kaiser Wilhelm II, Prince Albert of Monaco, King Edward VII, and Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich have in common? At one point or another, La Belle Otero managed to lure them into her bed. Famed for her beauty and skills between the sheets, La Belle Otero made an absolute fortune off of rich men that lusted after her. Her story is a wild one—try not to get too hot and bothered.
1. She Had A Terrible Start
In the small, Spanish village of Valga, a poor peasant woman gave birth to a little girl by the name of Agustina del Carmen Otero Iglesias, better known today as Carolina “La Belle Otero.” She was the second child out of seven, all with different fathers. With so many mouths to feed, Otero and her family didn’t have much in the way of money. She did, however, have her dignity—but a tragic event took that away from her too.
2. He Robbed Her Of Her Innocence
La Belle Otero was just a child—only 11 years old—when a horrific event altered the course of her life. While walking towards the fields near the village, the local shoemaker pounced on the little girl. He then dragged Otero, helpless and terrified, into the woods, threw her to the ground, assaulted her, and violated her.
Afterward, the shoemaker fled, leaving La Belle Otero to her fate. Even at such a young age, however, Otero was determined to survive.
3. They Tried To Heal Her
Using every bit of willpower left in her body, La Belle Otero crawled home. Her physical state was horrific, and her mental state was likely just as bad. Luckily, a talented surgeon managed to patch up her physical wounds, while local nuns tended to her mental ones. Despite the care and attention she received, the horrible event changed her.
Just a year later, at the age of 12, Otero left the village entirely. She was on her own.
4. She Ran From Home
When La Belle Otero left her village, she was more or less completely broke. To survive, Otero did the only thing she could do to keep herself warm and fed: she sold her body. For two years, she wandered from village to village, hawking her beauty to keep herself alive. Then, in the summer of 1882, she arrived in Barcelona, where she met the man that took her life in an unexpected direction.
5. She Met Her Savior
The stories of how La Belle Otero met Paco, a professional dancer, vary wildly, but here’s the story that’s most likely the truth: To avoid being caught in the cold and rain, Otero snuck into a dingy little bar. Miserable and in tears, Otero was just about to get as comfy as she could when Paco stumbled upon her. Instead of reporting her to the authorities, Paco did something that completely shocked the poor young woman.
6. He Became Her Tutor… And More
Paco took La Belle Otero in, gave her clean clothes, food, a warm place to stay, and soon became her companion in the bedroom. That wasn’t all Paco did though. Eventually, Paco taught Otero how to dance. These lessons honed Otero’s beauty into a deadly weapon, and it utterly bewitched the men around her. Paco, seeing an opportunity, proposed a deal to Otero that saved her from a life of poverty.
7. They Became Partners
The deal Paco proposed was simple: he would provide La Belle Otero with a steady stream of clients, income, and a sense of security. In exchange, Otero would entertain men in cabarets all over Spain, both as a dancer and in the bedroom. She agreed. From roughly 1883 to 1889, Otero made a relatively good living as a nomadic dancer—until Paco screwed her over.
8. He Fell In Love With Her
At this point, La Belle Otero was becoming rather famous. Her dancing improved considerably, and she even sang. The cabarets she performed at were becoming increasingly classy, and the clients she entertained were no longer just anyone that offered her food and shelter; instead, her clients now consisted of mayors and other well-off patrons.
Then, in 1889, Paco did something that completely shattered their relationship. Unfortunately, he went and fell in love with her—and her flow of clients stopped completely.
9. He Ruined It All
You see, Paco wasn’t content with sharing La Belle Otero anymore. He wanted her to marry him, abandon her career, and become a loving housewife. Otero was decidedly uninterested in his suggestion—and honestly, she didn’t really need him anyway. After all, she was the one bringing in all the income. Realizing that she had outgrown Paco, Otero got ready to leave him. Then, fate handed her a solo career on a silver platter.
10. She Found An Escape
La Belle Otero was dancing at a modest little cabaret in Marseille when she crossed paths with a man named Ernest André Jurgens. Jurgens was an experienced theater manager, known for finding and booking quality acts. When he set his eyes on Otero, though, all of his professionalism and experience flew right out the window. He was completely entranced by Otero’s beauty. Otero, for her part, saw him as her one-way ticket to freedom.
11. She Seduced Him
La Belle Otero invited Jurgens for one wild night in bed, and that was all it took for her to wrap him around her little finger. Not only did Jurgens sign the relatively unknown dancer for a long-term theater contract, but he even agreed to give her top billing. With her future secured, Otero ditched Paco, left for Paris with Jurgens, and prepared herself for a life as an international star.
12. She Didn’t Impress Him
By late 1889, La Belle Otero arrived in Paris, ready to become the best performer the world had ever seen. Unfortunately, she discovered that stardom would not come easily to her. For one, her assigned theater coach, Bellini, thought of her as a talentless hack; Jurgens had to pay through the nose for Otero’s coaching sessions. For another, Otero was unknown to most on the international stage. Jurgens was about to change all that.
13. He Hyped Her Up
In preparation for La Belle Otero’s debut in New York, Jurgens turned on the hype machine for her arrival. Within months, people were clamoring for Otero, the “mysterious Spanish beauty [and] international Queen of the Dance.” People speculated wildly about her past, which both Jurgens and Otero encouraged. By the time she actually stepped onto the stage on October 1, 1890, expectations were impossibly high. Otero could not afford to fail.
14. She Was A Smashing Success
La Belle Otero knocked her debut performance out of the park. Several major New York newspapers raved about her; The New York Times wrote that, “She appears to dance all over. Every muscle, from her dainty toes to the crown of her head, is brought into play, and the consequent contortions are wonderful and, at times, startling.” Loved by critics and audiences alike, Otero was now a star, and her fortunes were about to change in a big way.
15. Everyone Wanted Her
From her debut onwards, La Belle Otero’s shows sold out night after night in New York; in fact, every major theater in the U.S. wanted her on their stage. She made powerful friends who indulged her with expensive gifts and jewels; one patron alone showered Otero with almost a quarter of a million dollars worth of jewels. It’s just too bad that not everyone was happy with Otero’s success…
16. He Ruined His Life For Her
As her success and fame grew, La Belle Otero began to drift away from Jurgens. Although Otero still treasured him as a friend and capable manager, Jurgens wanted more. To win back her love, he lavished her with increasingly expensive gifts, while plunging deeper and deeper into debt. But then, he went too far.
Eventually, Jurgens began embezzling money from the theater he worked at. Sadly, his efforts to win the heart of La Belle Otero were for naught.
17. She Became An Entrepreneur (Of Sorts)
La Belle Otero, being the enterprising young lady she was, discovered that men were willing to pay her insane amounts of money for just one night in bed with her. Her dancing and singing was a good way to advertise her presence, but the real money was made after the show, where she entertained men that could afford her prices. Jurgens, unable to bear the thought of Otero being with other men, left. She was on her own.
18. She Earned Her Fortune
As it turned out, La Belle Otero did just fine on her own. In 1892, she reached St. Petersburg, where she continued to dance for the public and entertain wealthy men at their private parties. It was at these private parties where Otero truly made her fortune—for an exorbitant price, anyone with the clout and coin could hire Otero for the wildest night of their life.
And, of course, La Belle Otero made sure their night was worth her price.
19. Her Parties Were Wild
While in St. Petersburg, a wealthy colonel hired La Belle Otero for a private party attended by rich nobles and officers alike. Otero agreed to attend, and her entrance was so wild, it’s unforgettable. Eight men carried her to the party on a six-foot-long silver tray, much to the astonishment of the party-goers. One nobleman was so beguiled by her beauty that he gifted her a million roubles, and begged her not to leave him.
His begging didn’t keep her in the city for long, however. A couple of months and over a million roubles later, the wandering dancer moved on.
20. She Became A Class Act
In late August of 1892, La Belle Otero returned to Paris. She used her newly acquired funds to set up shop in the Étoile district and even managed to book shows at the famed Cirque d’Êté, a prestigious vaudeville house. She performed at the classy establishment for a short two weeks, much to the delight of theater-goers. At the end of her run, Otero moved on to perform for another establishment, but her act became decidedly more risqué.
21. She Performed At Scandalous Shows
The establishment that La Belle Otero performed at was the Bal Tabarin. The Bal Tabarin was a “pleasure palace,” famous for its “fishing game.” In this game, “The gentlemen would dangle pieces of gingerbread on a line from a balcony over the dance floor [and] any girl who was interested tugged on the line as an invitation to dance.” It was during one of these games where a very, very rich man literally hooked onto Otero.
22. She Reeled Him In
The man’s name was Albert, Prince of Monaco. La Belle Otero knew immediately that this man would be the next to add to her fortune, and quickly got ready to do what she did best. Things wouldn’t be quite so easy this time for Otero, however. As she put it, “He was not a very virile man and I don’t think he got his money’s worth.” If she thought that made her any less desirable to the Prince though, she couldn’t be more wrong.
23. She Captured His Heart
Despite Albert’s painful awkwardness in the bedroom, La Belle Otero managed to capture his heart. Albert was happy for others to see him with his new, beautiful mistress, and she was happy to take the apartment and expensive jewels that Albert offered her. Even years later, she still managed to describe every jewel she received with pinpoint accuracy.
In this way, Albert became the first of Otero’s many royal lovers.
24. He Gave Her Extravagant Gifts
In 1894, La Belle Otero went on tour, which put a pause in the budding “relationship” between herself and Albert. This didn’t mean that she put a pause on seducing the other men she met along the way, however. While performing in Cairo, Egypt, Otero met with the viceroy, who gifted her an enormous diamond ring worth half a million francs after she stayed with him for three days. And this wasn’t the most extraordinary thing that happened to her either.
25. He Moved In With Her
After La Belle Otero returned to Paris, she met His Serene Highness, Prince Nicholas of Montenegro. He was immediately taken by her grace, beauty, and charm, of course, and the two began a relationship. But there was a bizarre twist. Prince Nicholas actually moved into the apartment shared by Otero and Prince Albert of Monaco.
Even stranger still, everyone was pretty happy with the arrangement. The same couldn’t be said for Otero’s next lover.
26. She Offered Her Services Out Of Pity
Most of La Belle Otero’s bedroom partners had the dough to pay for her company, but Otero’s next lover was definitely far from the usual type of client she entertained. This lover’s name was Edmond, a penniless artist who deeply admired Otero. Knowing he couldn’t afford her services, he did little more than send her love notes and watched her from afar.
Otero eventually took pity on him, but her act of charity led to his tragic end.
27. She Took Him In
After days of letting Edmond admire her from afar, La Belle Otero invited him into her home, and led him straight into her bedroom. After spending her morning with him, she sent the besotted young man on his way. Otero recalled: “Before he left he said he would have something to give me which would make me remember him forever.”
What he had in mind, however, was not something Otero could’ve imagined, even in her wildest dreams.
28. She Never Forgot Him
A few days later, horrific news regarding Edmond reached her. The young man had thrown himself under the wheels of a coach. It was one of the most twisted “gifts” that La Belle Otero ever received, and definitely left a vivid memory in her mind. Still, Otero, saddened as she was by Edmond’s abrupt end, was used to men taking desperate measures to capture her heart. What was less common was her going after men herself.
29. She Became The Huntress
Very few men ever got under La Belle Otero’s skin, but a traveling Prussian strongman named Sandow was one of the exceptions. While performing in London, Otero caught wind of the fact that Sandow was also performing in the city; that was when she made her move. She sent him a note, requesting that he visit her.
Her lack of a reply shocked her, but she remained undeterred. If he wasn’t going to come to her, she would go to him.
30. She Didn’t Give Up
One evening, La Belle Otero cut her performance short and raced to intercept Sandow in his dressing room. When Sandow entered his dressing room after the show, Otero’s presence flattered him, but her charms had little effect on him. Frustrated, she made up a bold lie: she invited him to a “supper party” at her hotel.
Sandow naively agreed, and Otero practically skipped back to the hotel to prepare for his arrival.
31. She Was Tenacious
Sandow was in for a surprise. La Belle Otero had no supper party planned. When he arrived at her hotel, all he found was Otero, dressed to the nines and ready to invite him into her bed. After an hour or two of unsuccessful attempts to seduce Sandow, Otero sent him off in a huff. Otero’s ability to judge men wasn’t always on point, but that wasn’t true when it came to her ability to judge other women.
32. She Taught Others The Art Of Seduction
Throughout her career, La Belle Otero successfully trained women she deemed worthy in the art of dance and seduction. In 1896, Otero was drinking at a bar when she noticed a filthy but beautiful streetwalker named Lizette. Despite Lizette’s physical state, Otero saw potential in her, and recalled that, “This was a girl that was wasting her talents on ten-franc pickups.” And so, Otero took Lizette in and transformed her completely.
33. Her Lessons Changed Them
For the next four weeks, La Belle Otero taught Lizette everything she knew: how to dress, how to walk, how to act, how to use makeup, and of course, how to satisfy men. Otero’s training was so effective that a friend of Prince Albert’s eventually took Lizette in. Needless to say, Otero’s training was a resounding success. Unfortunately, her own successes were beginning to run dry.
34. They Hated Her
La Belle Otero’s next tour took her to Italy. Having seen so much success in New York, Paris, London, and more, Otero was confident that Italy would receive her with the same warmth. Their actual reaction to her performance shocked the dancer to her core. Her audiences absolutely hated her performance; in Bologna, the crowd actually booed her off the stage. she did not take this well.
After some thought, she concluded that the Bolognese had poor taste. Irritated, La Belle Otero returned to Paris, and people quickly learned not to say the word “Bologna” in her presence.
35. He Came Back To Haunt Her
In the early morning of December 29, 1896, La Belle Otero heard a faint knocking on her hotel door. She extracted herself from the gentleman she was hosting to see who it was, and was shocked by the man on the other side of the door. It was Jurgens, her ex-manager, who had been trying to see her for days. Overcome by pity at Jurgens’s sorry state, she tried to lend him a hand, but her attempt ended in tragedy.
36. He Disappeared From Her Life
Since La Belle Otero was still entertaining her guest, she asked Jurgens to return and leave later. Jurgens answered her with a strange silence, but she thought little of it at the time. Instead, she turned around to grab her purse, thinking he might need financial aid. When she turned back to the door, Jurgens was gone. Otero didn’t know it, but that was the last time she would see him.
37. She Broke His Heart
After La Belle Otero left Paris for a New York tour, she learned that Jurgens’s body had been found in a hotel back in Paris. Jurgens had apparently left the gas on in his room, and despite the lack of any note or other record, the authorities came to the conclusion that Jurgens had taken his own life. To make matters worse, the public assumed Jurgens took his own life due to heartbreak.
For La Belle Otero, the loss of Jurgens was a disastrous blow to her career.
38. She Moved Up In The World
Unsurprisingly, no one was in any hurry to book La Belle Otero after her disastrous New York tour. Well, it’s a good thing she had another “hobby” to occupy her time. She next set her sights on King Edward VII, then called “Dirty Bertie.” But it wasn’t easy. Most of his time was occupied by another mistress—who just happened to be wildly jealous.
39. They Almost Got Caught
Like La Belle Otero, Lillie Langtry was in show biz. But that just meant that Bertie could have Otero on his arm whenever Langtry was off performing somewhere. However, it was an affair with an expiry date. After a seriously close call in Bertie’s customary private room at the restaurant he took Langtry too, he slipped out of her life. She took it in stride, though—he wasn’t the only one she had her eyes on.
40. Royalty Kept Her Going
Even when she had one powerful suitor, La Belle Otero had her eyes on the next rung up on the ladder. Take, for example, her affair with Russia’s Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich. And, reportedly, his brother, Grand Duke Peter. They were great catches, but they were the tsar. If you can believe it, she actually had the gall to ask Nikolai for an introduction to Tsar Nicholas II. And, if you can believe it, it worked.
They began an affair and she spent some time at the great theaters of Russia. She seemed genuinely fond of him, despite what she described as his timid, frightened nature and rank body odor. The one caveat? La Belle Otero said his tastes in the bedroom were so unusual that even she was surprised by them.
41. She Became An Addict
La Belle Otero hopped from royal to royal, all of whom were more than happy to pay the dancer for her company. She needed the jewels they lavished upon her too, especially since she developed a particularly bad habit. That habit was gambling, and it stemmed from one particular, adrenaline-pumping night. Otero first discovered gambling at Le Rêve, a gambling hall in Paris.
That night, Otero, experiencing a serious case of beginner’s luck, won round after round at the gambling tables. By the morning, she managed to turn 10 francs into 395,000 francs.
42. She Lost Their Support
After that night, La Belle Otero caught the gambling bug, and it dominated her thoughts from then on. While she continued to throw her fortune away at the gambling halls, her royal connections were crumbling too. Prince Albert of Monaco, however, did reach out to her, but the consequences of his very public affection for her probably caused more trouble for Otero than it was worth.
43. They Banished Her
On November 10, 1898, Prince Albert made the shocking decision to take La Belle Otero to Monaco with him. She knew this was a mistake, but had little choice. When she stepped foot into Monaco, her worst fears came true. Prince Albert’s wife had local authorities take Otero to the border, and kicked her out of the country.
Just a year later though, the country clamored for her return for an unbelievable reason.
44. She Kept Their Economy Afloat
By 1899, Monaco invited La Belle Otero back to their casinos; you see, Otero literally spent so much money gambling that her banishment put a dent in Monaco’s economy. When she wasn’t gambling, Otero continued to tour and entertain men, earning a pretty penny along the way. Still, it wasn’t enough.
By 1901, she managed to spend every last bit of cash she earned. She needed a miracle, and she needed one soon.
45. They Came To Her Rescue
Three very important men came to La Belle Otero’s rescue: the Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, King Nicholas I of Montenegro, and a wealthy American man. They set her up in a four-story stone house in France, where she lived for the next seven years. Otero knew she couldn’t rely on just her good looks forever though.
She needed a way to make herself stand out above the other women in her industry. With this thought in mind, Otero made her next daring move.
46. She Created A Spectacle
On April 30, 1902, La Belle Otero took to the air in a hot air balloon, shocking the public. Few men, and even fewer women, had ascended into the air on a hot air balloon before, so Otero’s airborne adventure became the talk of the town for weeks. Soon after, she ascended again, with a man named Baron Lepic. According to Otero, the two became members of the mile high club—did you expect anything less?
Despite this daring feat, Otero was slowly becoming a joke to the public—all for a very unfair reason.
47. They Insulted Her
Simply put, La Belle Otero was aging. Sure, she was only 34 years old in 1903—hardly old!—but the Parisian public thought otherwise. During her shows, cries of, “Hello Grandma! How’s your poor old bones?” came at her from all members of the audience. It was clear that Otero needed to change her career if she wanted success, but who would be willing to lend her a hand?
48. She Changed Careers
In 1905, a man named Paul Franck made a startling suggestion to La Belle Otero: why not learn how to act? After giving it some thought, Otero gave it a go, and found, to her surprise, that she was a fine actress. It was a total game-changer. From Paris to Madrid, critics celebrated her acting and showered her with praise. Otero remained unsatisfied though; all this time, she had a burning passion hitherto unrevealed to the world.
49. Her Dream Came True
Her true passion and desire was to sing opera, which she revealed to the public in early 1909. La Belle Otero spent several years training, before taking on the role of a lifetime: she played Carmen, in the famous opera of the same name. Although she only got to play as Carmen twice, audiences and critics loved her—not bad at all for a 43-year-old! Having gotten her wish, Otero was ready to retire—but her final days were bittersweet.
50. She Spent Everything She Had
From her retirement to her last days, La Belle Otero spent nearly all her money at the casinos. With only a couple hundred francs to her name, Otero lived out the rest of her life in increasing states of poverty, but still managed to eke out a relatively normal life. When the end came for her, it was April 10, 1965.
La Belle Otero lived to the ripe old age of 97 years old—nearly a century. There’s no doubt that during that time, she easily packed in enough scandal, action, and heartbreak for five centuries or more.