The King of Bohemia is threatened with public embarrassment and disgrace if evidence of his past relationship with Irene Adler should come to light. He's about to be married to a young Scandinavian princess, and if her family finds out about his brief fling with Miss Adler, then it's almost certain that the forthcoming wedding will be called off. It's absolutely imperative, then, for the king to retrieve any evidence of his involvement with Irene before it's too late. The king's at his wit's end; only the legendary Sherlock Holmes can possibly help him.
But before going to see the famous detective, the king makes a series of cack-handed attempts to obtain the potentially embarrassing items still in Irene's possession. He gets some of his underlings to resort to all manner of criminal acts such as burglary and theft to get back the love letters and the photograph of the king and Irene together. When none of these methods work, he tries to bribe Irene, offering her a substantial sum of money for the items' return. But she doesn't play ball. Irene is determined that no other woman shall have her former lover, and intends to send the photograph and the letters to the king's prospective in-laws if he should go ahead with his forthcoming marriage.