The fourth season of The Crown has resurfaced the secrets and scandals of the most famous family in the world, focusing on the time frame between 1977 and 1990.
Some of their tales are well known, like the tumultuous marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, whilst others are seldom spoken about, such as the fate of Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon.
In the seventh episode, The Hereditary Principle, viewers see the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, discover that five of their cousins had been discreetly sent to a psychiatric institution in 1941. The royal family then falsely declared them dead.
Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon were two of those cousins, placed in the Royal Earlswood Hospital in Redhill, Surrey. They were daughters of John Bowes-Lyon, the brother to the Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon - meaning they are Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret’s first cousins.
They both had severe learning disabilities, and never learnt to speak. The medical terms of the time classified them as “imbeciles”.
Watch the trailer for season four of The Crown here. Post continues below.
So how did it all play out, publicly and privately? Here’s what we know.
What happened to Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon?
The Crown depicts Princess Margaret as furious about the fate of her cousins upon the revelation and confronted the Queen Mother, who admitted to knowing about them. She said their callous institutionalisation was to protect the public perception of the royal family’s bloodline as “pure”. In the show, the Queen Mother says that after the 1936 abdication of Edward VIII, the family decided to hide the disabilities of George VI’s nieces to avoid international attention.
In The Crown, the Queen Mother says: “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 [Katherine and Nerissa] and their first cousins [Idonea, Etheldreda, and Rosemary] paying a terrible price. 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? What people would say?”