Newly-Uncovered Details About Queen Elizabeth’s ‘Banished’ Cousins

Newly-Uncovered Details About Queen Elizabeth

Major scandals have rocked the British royal family for centuries. Time normally erases public knowledge about past incidents, but occasionally old drama reemerges. Netflix’s The Crown, for instance, is notorious for reminding its audience about Buckingham Palace’s dirty laundry. Recently, the show re-exposed the public to Queen Elizabeth’s cousins Katherine and Nerissa, who vanished from public life for less than savory reasons.

Unaware Princess

When Princess Margaret visits a therapist in an episode of The Crown, her counselor isn’t surprised that the royal has appeared in her office. She alludes to a pair of sisters who were associated with Margaret. The Princess was shocked.

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Discovering The Lies

In the show, Margaret and her older sister Elizabeth find that their family lied about their cousins Katherine and Nerissa being dead. Instead, they were sent to Royal Earlswood Hospital, a state-funded mental institution. Could such a deception have happened in real life?

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Reality Of The Situation

Well, the actual royal family was a little more clued in. In reality, both women knew that Katherine and Nerissa were in the sanatorium once known as, “The Asylum for Idiots and Imbeciles.” Of course, that doesn’t sound like a place fit for royalty.

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Committed Women

They weren’t the only ones with royal blood at Royal Earlswood Hospital. The Queen Mother’s cousins, Rosemary, Etheldreda, and Ideona, were committed to the facility on the same day as the others.

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Royal Relations

Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon were Fenella and John Herbert Bowes-Lyon’s third and fifth daughters who were born in 1926 and 1919, respectively. John was one of the Queen Mother’s older brothers.

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Unlucky Family

The family was besotted with health issues: Katherine and Nerissa both had mental ages of about three and weren’t verbal. Their father died in 1930, leaving Fenella to provide full-time care for the girls, alone.

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New Home At Royal Earlswood

Soon after his death, Fenella resorted to sending her daughters to Redhill, outside of Surrey. In 1941 they were shipped to the Royal Earlswood Hospital — Nerissa was 15 and Katherine was 22.

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Bad Conditions

The facility wasn’t known for its cleanliness. Patients were overcrowded, and the care team was often understaffed. For years the royals lived a quiet and lonely life at their institution. And in 1987, the public learned about their existence.

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No Comment

This was because Nerissa passed away that year and was buried at a grave that was only marked with her serial number and plastic name tag. “We have no comment about it at all,” Buckingham Palace said. “It is a matter for the Bowes-Lyon family.”

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No Visitors

Katherine outlived her sister, dying in 2014 at the age of 87. The rest of the royal family never visited any of their relations in the institution, though there are some sources who claim Fenella did visit her daughters until she died in 1966.

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Nothing’s Recorded

There aren’t any official records of these visits. And the family even secretly declared Nerissa and Katherine dead in the mid-1900s. Though their family wasn’t acknowledging them, the women seemed to recall their royal roots.

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Royal Reflexes

If Katherine and Nerissa saw the royal family on TV, they would salute or curtsy to them. The poor girls existed at a time where mental disabilities threatened a family’s reputation — influenced by eugenics, the genetic belief system the Nazis loved.

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Unhealthy Association

“The belief was if you had a child with a learning disability, there was something in your family that was suspect and wrong,” Jan Walmsley, an Open University professor and expert in the history of learning disabilities, said. However, John and Fenella didn’t give up on all their children.

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Doing It For Anne

The Bowes-Lyons had one daughter, Anne, who would become a princess of Denmark. Fenella was likely concerned with Anne’s prospects if her suitors learned about her other sisters and decided to hide them.

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The First Asylum

The sisters lived in England’s first asylum for the mentally challenged. When Nerissa was admitted she was described as, “Very affectionate … can say a few babyish words,” by one of the hospital’s practitioners. The staff did have questions about the duo.

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Forgotten Inside

Though the women were generally liked among the staff, their care team noticed that they never had visitors. “I never saw anybody come,” Dot Penfold, another person in the ward, said. “The impression I had was that they’d been forgotten.” Could that be true?


Sending Funds

Though the Queen Mother states she learned about the sisters in 1982, someone in the royal family definitely knew about them. They were sending the two 125 pound payments yearly. Once she knew they were actually alive, the Queen Mother sent them another check.

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Some Supplies

With the money, Nerissa and Katherine were able to purchase candy and toys, but Elizabeth herself never appeared, even after their monetary gift. She also didn’t correct the girls’ public records.

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Abuse Allegations

The Royal Earlswood eventually closed in 1997 after former staff members came forward with abuse allegations. One nurse claimed that patients were being abused at the hospital. Now, the building has been converted into luxury apartments.

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Uncertain Future

We’re not sure where Katherine was living between the institution’s closing in ’97 and her death in 2014, but we do know that Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t a part of the planning process once the palace received news about the asylum’s closing. While the royal family may appear callous in this situation, the truth is that nobility has a historical connection to strange and often debilitating illnesses that they try to cover up.

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Baby John

When the Windsors welcomed their 5th child, Prince John, in 1905, not many expected that a few years later he would all but vanish. See, when John was born in 1905, his birth was heralded by the royals and all of Britain. His full name was John Charles Francis, and according to the royal record, he was a “large and handsome” baby. That wouldn’t be all he was, though.

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Early Days

The sweet summer child was baptized in August of that year, at the Church of St Mary Magdalene at Sandringham, an estate where he would spend much of his childhood. He was informally known as “Johnnie,” due to the family’s history of unlucky associations with the name John.

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Busy Household

At first, John had a normal childhood, playing happily with his siblings Henry, Edward, Albert, Mary, and George. Their parents were busy doing royal things, so the kids were most often supervised by their nanny, Charlotte “Lala” Bill. John was particularly close with her.

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So Far, So Good

John’s father, George, was a disciplinarian, but was also affectionate towards his kids. His mother encouraged all the children to confide in her. Through this healthy relationship with their parents, the youngsters turned out nice and polite.

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Breaking The Mold

John, in particular, was singled out as being uniquely “charming and amusing” by his great-aunt, the Dowager Empress of Russia. He made “quaint,” unfiltered remarks that sent everyone in the room into chuckles — early signs of a personality that differed from the rest.

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Unique Qualities

Those differences came into a clearer focus when John was four years old. His father told President Theodore Roosevelt “all [his] children [were] obedient, except John,” probably because John was the child who was least disciplined. George doted on him more than the others.

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Epilepsy Diagnosis

The reasons behind this special treatment soon became clear. John began to show possible signs of autism, and he had his first epileptic seizure in late 1909. He was too ill to attend his parents’ coronation in 1911. George’s kindness for the boy increased with his level of required care.

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Little-Researched Condition

John’s health continued to worsen over the next few years. There was a stigma against epilepsy at the time, since treatment didn’t really exist, but the family hoped it would go away on its own, like the Duke of Albany’s condition had.

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Further Conflict

In addition, John started to display repetitive behaviors. Not understanding that he needed to behave properly and follow the strict royal rules for decorum, he became somewhat disobedient and rebellious, leading him into trouble.

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Brotherly Bond Broken

As he reached the age of 11, John’s public appearances and involvement in the family’s public activities decreased. Another blow was dealt when his closest sibling, his brother George, went away to preparatory school. John’s health prevented him from also attending.

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Rumors Fly

Tidbits about the young prince leaked out, and for many years, the public believed John had been shut away, scorned, and hidden because he was different. The press was merciless, running with every rumor they heard about the beleaguered boy.

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His seizures, instead of improving, worsened and seriously impeded his daily life. In 1916, not knowing what to do, the family set up a peaceful residence for him on the neighboring property of Wood Farm.

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Tragic Decline

Nurse Lala was stationed there to care for John full-time, but things were tough. Though his mother arranged for local children to come play with him and his siblings visited when he felt well, the separation from his family didn’t help. Formerly “mascot of the family,” his energy was flagging.

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In January 1919, John’s seizures hit a breaking point. He passed away in his sleep after one especially bad episode. The family was heartbroken, but Queen Mary wrote that they were relieved that he’d gone peacefully and would no longer suffer.

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John’s funeral was a humble private affair, though every single one of the Sandringham estate staff attended. They brought heaps of flowers to place on the small grave at St. Mary Magdalene, the same church where he was baptized.

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Family Coldness

Not everyone was sad about John’s passing. His older brother Edward VIII, who had himself been hiding away and was living abroad since his abdication from the British throne, was nonplussed. He wrote to Wallis Simpson about his feelings.

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Clinical Detachment

“No one would be more cut up if any of my other 3 brothers were to die than I should be,” he wrote, “but this poor boy had become more of an animal than anything else and was only a brother in the flesh and nothing else.”


Missed By Others

This unfavorable letter tainted the public opinion of John’s circumstances for decades. People believed the whole family was as cold as Edward, but it simply wasn’t true. Even Lala grieved his loss. She kept a picture of him above her fireplace, alongside a letter he’d written, reading, “Nanny, I love you.”

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In His Memory

Queen Mary gave many of John’s books to his friend and Wood Farm companion, Winifred Thomas, with personal inscriptions in his honor. Edward later apologized to his mother for his harsh words, saying he felt like “a cold hearted and unsympathetic swine”.

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Tough Call

Though John’s seclusion seems strange in retrospect, the truth is that epilepsy wasn’t well understood at the time. The family tried to do what would be best for John. Still, Edward always regretted his harsh words, especially once he was embroiled in a scandal of his own.

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