The seeds of Alice Keppel’s calamitous fall from grace were sown in January 1918 when a small circulation magazine called Imperialist published an article which sensationally claimed that German spies had infiltrated British society and, by their bedroom activities, triggered a spate of lesbianism and homosexuality which by now was running out of control.The German high command, it was claimed, had a book containing the names of 47,000 figures in all walks of British life who were either gay or lesbian and thereby vulnerable to blackmail.
Little did Mrs Keppel, by then 50 years of age, realise that within weeks she would find herself centre-stage in this unfolding drama — which, rather than merely a scurrilous sideshow, was in fact a plot to drag the Royal Family into the most sordid court case ever heard in Britain.
It was realised that, in order to discredit Alice — and, in his thinking, by extension the Unseen Hand organisation — Billing intended to expose the adulterous relationship she’d had with King Edward VII.
Though the facts were known in high society, they had never been published, but once questions were asked in court, the whole nation would know.
The editor of the magazine was Noel Pemberton Billing, a loose cannon with a sinuous mind who didn’t care what he said to get on in life.
Spencer’s first act as an employee was to come up with the information about ‘the 47,000’ — in effect a little black book containing the names of Privy Councillors, chorus-boys, wives of Cabinet ministers, diplomats, poets, bankers and members of the Royal Household.