Why on earth in 1871 did Bedford Row solicitor Alexander Chaffers begin hounding Pharialde van Lynseele, wife of the international lawyer Travers Twiss QC, regius professor and vicar general to the Archbishop of Canterbury? Spite? Revenge? Public duty?
Chaffers knew Twiss, who had chambers in Lincoln’s Inn, and he knew the much younger Lady Twiss because he had drawn up her will. The real question was how well he knew her. He began his campaign sending bills for extortionate amounts for work he had not done.
Chaffers’ next move was in 1871, to Bow Street Magistrates’ Court, where he filed an affidavit stating that, far from being a respectable Belgian lady before her marriage, Pharialde, now known as Marie in London society, was in fact a well-known prostitute Marie Gelas, with whom he had dallied in hotels all over Europe. He sent copies to various prelates because, he said, he was ‘only doing his bounden duty’. After all, the Twisses had deceived the Lord Chamberlain into allowing Marie to be presented at court.
A prosecution for criminal libel and blackmail followed and in March the next year, Lady Twiss denied all Chaffers’ detailed allegations. She also denied that she was Gelas, although she accepted she knew the woman.
Then, just as Chaffers, who had been in custody unable to find sureties, was about to give evidence, Lady Twiss fled the country.
Ralph Benson, the magistrate, was not pleased. Discharging Chaffers he said, ‘Your conduct in this case, in making it necessary to appear here as you have done, will probably make you to the end of your life an object of contempt to all the world’. But he obliquely added, ‘there may be some truth in the charge you prefer’. Chaffers later published a pamphlet Audi Alterem Partem (listen to the other side) setting out his stall.
Twiss resigned all public appointments and for the rest of his life wrote boring and inaccurate tracts on international law.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor