A Princess Arrested in the Four Courts, 1864

Madame Laetitia Bonaparte Wyse, possibly wearing one of Mr Russell’s confections.

From the Waterford Mail, 17 February 1864:


Wyse v Lewis

This was an action brought by Madame Letitia Bonaparte Wyse, widow of the late Thomas Wyse, formerly British ambassador at Greece, against Mr William Lewis, of Messrs Lewis and Howe, solicitors, of Nassau-street, in this city to recover damages for an alleged neglect by the defendant of the plaintiff’s business.  

The plaintiff is the cousin-german of the present Emperor of France, and daughter of Prince Canino, a relative of the Emperor Napoleon I.    In the year 1824 the plaintiff was married to Sir Thomas Wyse, who died in 1861, but after his death a bill was produced made by him in violation of his marriage articles, by which he left his estates to his brother.  The plaintiff was advised to take proceedings in the Court of Chancery to assert her rights, and obtained a letter of introduction to the defendant, who undertook to act as her solicitor.

The plaintiff, about June 1862, having occasion to buy some items of clothing, bought them at Mr Edward Russell’s establishment in Dawson Street, and the price amounted to £20 7s 8d.  She mentioned the matter to the defendant, and observed that she had only French money with her, and the defendant then undertook to pay Mr Russell’s bill.  The plaintiff then wrote a note on the bill to the effect that the defendant would pay it, and sent it back to Mr Russell, who subsequently sent it by his collector to Mr Lewis, on which occasion the defendant promised that if the collector called back in half an hour he would settle it, but, although frequent calls were later made, Mr Lewis could not be seen.

An advertisement for Mr Russell’s wares. Who could resist?

On the 21st April 1862, Mr Russell issued a writ against the plaintiff, service of which was substituted on Mr Lewis, who (as it was alleged) never gave any information thereof to the plaintiff, and the first she heard of it (as alleged) was after she had removed Mr Lewis and employed Mr Valentine Dillon.

The plaintiff was arrested in July 1863, in the courtyard of the Four Courts, and brought off in the custody of the bailiff to the Sheriff’s office in Morgan Place, where, having paid the money and costs, she was discharged after about an hour’s delay.

The defendant’s case was that he had not made any promise whatsoever to Mr Russell’s bill, and had no money of the plaintiff’s to pay it; that the plaintiff knew that the bill was unpaid, and had been informed that an action would be brought on it, and that she had better not come to Ireland for some time.

After some deliberation the jury found for the plaintiff £500 damages.

This must be one of the earliest actions by a client against their solicitor. William Lewis survived in business longer than Edward Russell, who was already into his second bankruptcy by the time of this case. Selling goods to ladies on credit was a risky business – unless the lady in question had a genuinely rich husband!

Had Thomas Wyse been alive, he would have been liable for Madame Laetitia’s debts – and perhaps it might have been worth it. The famous alluring charm of the woman born a princess and known in her younger days as ‘the Venus of the Bonapartes’ seems to have worked its magic indiscriminately on Dublin jurors and European noblemen alike.

Read more about her career here!

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Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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