They are the royals who were kept at arm’s length, albeit for starkly different reasons.
Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon, severely disabled cousins of the late Queen, were cared for in an asylum and listed as dead from 1963, even though they were very much alive.
Prince John, the youngest child of King George V, was hidden away from the public spotlight at Sandringham’s Wood Farm, due to his severe epilepsy.
And Prince Charles Edward, the grandson of Queen Victoria, was sent away as a teenager from his home to Germany, where he got wrapped up in Nazism and died penniless, stripped of his English titles and honour.
They are barely spoken about now, symbols of an age when things were very different, when illness was poorly understood and, in Charles Edward’s case, war destroyed the unity of England and Germany’s intertwined royal families.
Katherine and Nerissa Bowes Lyon, severely disabled cousins of the late Queen, were cared for in an asylum and listed as dead from 1963, even though they were very much alive. Above: Katherine (left) and her sister
When disability was a family’s mark of shame
Nerissa was born in February 1919, with her sister arriving seven years later. Within months of their births, it was clear they had severe disabilities.
Their father, John Herbert Bowes-Lyon, was one of the future Queen Mother’s brothers.
He and his wife Fenella had already experienced the tragedy of losing their first daughter early in their marriage.
Nerissa and Katherine were born in an era when mental disability was seen as a sign that a family was suspect or wrong in some way.
John Bowes-Lyon, broken by his daughters’ plight, died aged just 44 in 1930.
The girls’ tragic story only became public knowledge in 1987, after Nerissa passed away the previous year.
Journalists discovered she had been buried in a grave marked only by a plastic name-tag and a serial number – M IIII25.
Katherine Bowes-Lyon is seen at her care home. She died in 2014 aged 87
Nerissa was born in February 1919, with her sister arriving seven years later. Within months of their births, it was clear they had severe disabilities. Their father, John Herbert Bowes-Lyon, was one of the future Queen Mother’s brothers
The sisters had even been listed as dead in the 1963 edition of Burke’s Peerage, which said Katherine had died in 1961 and Nerissa 19 years earlier.
They were initially secretly sent to Arniston School in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, an institution that had been set up for handicapped children of high society figures.
Then, in 1941 following the outbreak of the Second World War, Nerissa and her sister were transferred to the Royal Earlswood Asylum for Mental Defectives, at Redhill in Surrey.
Nerissa would remain at the institution for the rest of her life.
Earlswood was the first purpose-built asylum for people with mental disabilities, but was a far cry from today’s standards.
The shocking story of their incarceration came to light shortly after Nerissa’s death, when journalists discovered she was buried in a grave marked only by a plastic name-tag and a serial number
The two sisters were the nieces of the Queen Mother; their father John Bowes-Lyon was her brother, making them first cousins to the Queen
Patients were only given their own clothes when they had visitors, and at least one former nurse claimed patients were abused.
Incredibly, Katherine and Nerissa were sent to Earlswood on the same day that their maternal cousins Etheldreda, Idonea and Rosemary – daughters of Coldstream Guardsman Henry Fane and his wife Harriet Trefusis – were also admitted.
Although Rosemary died in the early 1970s, her sisters continued to share a ward with the Bowes-Lyons.
Whilst Katherine and Nerissa were initially visited by their mother and sister Anne, the family meetings became less and less frequent because Katherine and Nerissa were unable to communicate in any meaningful way.
Speaking in a 2011 Channel 4 documentary, Onelle Braithwaite, who as a nurse cared for the girls, said: ‘If the Queen or Queen Mum were ever on television, they’d curtsey – very regal, very low. Obviously there was some sort of memory.
In 1941, following the outbreak of the Second World War, Nerissa and her sister were transferred to the Royal Earlswood Asylum for Mental Defectives (pictured), at Redhill in Surrey. It was later renamed the Royal Earlswood Hospital
‘It was so sad. Just think of the life they might have had. They were two lovely sisters.
‘They didn’t have any speech but they’d point and make noises, and when you knew them, you could understand what they were trying to say.
‘Today they’d probably be given speech therapy and they’d communicate much better. They understood more than you’d think.’
Former ward sister Dot Penfold added: ‘They were no problem to look after but they were mischievous, like naughty children.
‘Katherine was a scallywag. You could scream at her and she’d turn a deaf ear.’
The Queen Mother with her daughters Princess Elizabeth, future Queen Elizabeth II, left and Princess Margaret, right, in 1937. The Queen Mother was only told that her nieces were still alive in 1982
The Daily Mail told in 1987 how the Queen Mother had only been told the sisters were still alive in 1982.
She is said to have immediately responded with an offer of support and sent presents.
The depiction of the sisters and their treatment in Netflix series The Crown provoked ‘frustration’ among their relatives.
Princess Margaret, played by Helena Bonham Carter, was seen being told of their existence by a therapist.
Appalled, she was seen lambasting her mother, played by Marion Bailey, who then said in the show: ‘I went from being the wife of the Duke of York, leading a relatively normal life, to being Queen.
The Daily Mail told in 1987 how the sisters’ existence had become public knowledge
‘At the same time my family, the Bowes-Lyons, went from being minor Scottish aristocrats to having a direct bloodline to the crown, resulting in the children of my brother paying a terrible price.
‘Their illness, their imbecility – their professionally diagnosed idiocy and imbecility – would make people question the integrity of the bloodline.
‘Can you imagine the headlines if it were to get out? The idea that one family alone has the automatic birthright to the crown is already so hard to justify, the gene pool of that family better have 100 per cent purity.
‘There have been enough examples on the Windsor side alone to worry people… if you add the Bowes-Lyon illnesses to that, the danger is it becomes untenable.’
But David Bowes-Lyon, 73, whose father was a first cousin of the Queen Mother once removed, said the storyline was ‘complete fantasy’.
He said Margaret was well aware of the girls’ existence, and ‘knew who they were in every respect’.
Katherine outlived her sister by nearly two decades, passing away aged 87 in 2014. She was moved to a care home in Surrey after Earlswood closed in the 1990s.
A loveable rogue boy prince hamstrung by illness
Exactly a month before Nerissa was born, when the Bowes-Lyon family were still only known as Scottish aristocrats, the youngest child of King George V died away from the public eye.
The 13-year-old Prince John, who was found to be suffering from epilepsy in the early years of his life, suffered a fatal fit at the secluded Wood Farm on the Sandringham Estate.
Prince John with his sister Princess Mary and his mother, Queen Mary. The little boy was kept out of the public eye due to his epilepsy
Prince John was the youngest of King George V and Queen Mary’s six children and the fifth boy
Prince John (left front) is seen with his four brothers and sister Princess Mary at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight
It was there that he had been sent after his epileptic fits became more frequent and severe.
At the time, there was virtually no treatment for epilepsy, and those who suffered from it were shown little sympathy.
He went from playing a full part in public family life to having to live totally away from the spotlight and his family, with his parents visiting him less and less as his condition showed no signs of improvement.
The Daily Mail’s obituary of the youngster told of a love of pranks which saw him dubbed ‘the demon’.
Prince John is seen with his brother Prince George in 1909, ten years before his death
The Prince is seen with his parents in a rare public outing, to the Great Allied War Photographic Exhibition in 1919
On one occasion he daubed his face with colour from his sister Princess Mary’s paint set before bursting in to a lunch party being held by his parents at Sandringham.
Another incident saw him climb into a car and then start it up, before he was ‘rescued without any harm done’.
John’s life was covered in award-winning TV drama The Lost Prince in 2003.
The favourite grandson who descended into Nazism
Queen Victoria’s grandson Prince Charles Edward, the Duke of Albany, was another royal who was kept at arm’s length by his family.
Born at Claremont House in Surrey in 1884, the Prince, whose first cousins were King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II, was his grandmother’s favourite grandson.
But the elderly monarch ultimately made a decision that would change his life forever.
Despite the fact he could not even speak German, Victoria made him the Duke of Saxe Coburg and Gotha, the principality where her late husband, Prince Albert, had come from.
Queen Victoria’s grandson Prince Charles Edward, the Duke of Albany, was another royal who was kept at arm’s length by his family
Aged just 16, he was forced to leave his home to take up his Dukedom, which saw him gain control of 13 castles in Germany and Austria, hunting lodges, a power station and thousands of acres of farmland.
The Daily Mail’s 1933 report of the Duke’s visit to see the King and Queen at Sandringham
The Kaiser married Charles Edward off to his niece, Victoria, and sent him to enroll in Germany’s top military academy.
So when the First World War broke out in 1914, the thoroughly British Charles Edward found himself fighting for Germany.
His woe deepened when King George V, under political pressure, dropped the German Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family name, replacing it with Windsor.
After Germany’s defeat in the war, George removed his cousin’s British titles and his status of Royal Highness, and he was declared a ‘traitor peer’.
With the Kaiser having been forced to abdicate and Communism now on the rise in Germany, Charles Edward chose to ally himself with the increasingly popular Nazis.
By the time that Adolf Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany, Charles Edward was a fervent supporter.
When King George V died in 1936, Charles Edward did return for the funeral, but, because he had been stripped of the right to wear British military uniform, instead donned German military attire, including a stormtrooper’s helmet.
As president of the newly-formed Anglo-German Fellowship, when his cousin King Edward III began his ill-fated 11 months on the throne, Charles Edward tried to engineer personal dealings between the monarch and Hitler.
Edward’s abdication to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson scuppered the plan.
But the disgraced former monarch did then go to Germany to meet Hitler in 1937.
Charles Edward (front right in German military uniform) is seen in his role as president of the German Red Cross, inspecting in an institution in the 1930s
Charles Edward (left) is seen with SS doctor Ernst-Robert Grawitz in 1937. Gawitz was involved in the funding of programs aimed at eradicating homosexuality. He also headed experiments on inmates at concentration camps
Charles Edward’s links with Nazism deepened when Hitler made him president of the German Red Cross, a role which saw him preside over a horrific programme of enforced euthanasia.
It saw 100,000 mostly disabled people, including children, murdered by the Nazis because they were deemed unworthy of life.
After the Second World War broke out, Charles Edward’s three sons fought for Germany, with one dying on the Eastern Front.
Charles Edward is seen in his German uniform, with a Swastika pinned to his lapel
Though he was warned by Hitler not to fall into the hands of the Americans amid Germany’s defeat in 1945, that is exactly what happened to the wayward Prince.
His sister Princess Alice, who was alone among the royals in standing by him, flew to Germany and found him starving in a prisoner-of-war camp, ‘scavenging on a rubbish dump to find a tin to eat from’.
Put on trial and accused of being a Nazi, Charles Edward claimed he had not known of any of the crimes committed by the regime.
But the court concluded he was an ‘important Nazi’ and confiscated his homes and estates.
Almost bankrupted by the fines that he was also slapped with, Charles Edward was allowed to live in a cottage in the stables of one of his estates, after only escaping prison because of his poor health.
Unable to ever return to Britain, he did get one final piece of comfort when he went to a cinema to watch a film of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953.
Charles Edward is seen in ceremonial uniform in 1932. He achieved the senior rank of Obergruppenführer
Speaking in 2007, his granddaughter Victoria said he ‘would have cried’ at the sight, knowing that he could have been there too. ‘I think that must have been the worst moment,’ she added.
In 1954, the Prince who as a 16-year-old Eton schoolboy had been forced to leave his homeland passed away aged 69.
He died in the bed that, aged 16, he had brought with him from Claremont House as a memento of England.
But despite the love of the country of his birth, Charles Edward’s descent into the clutches of Nazism meant he became an object of embarrassment for the royals.