In season 4 of The Crown, viewers learn about the lives of Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon, cousins of the Queen who were seemingly ‘hidden’ from the public eye and admitted to a mental health institution.
Netflix’s hit period drama explores the inner workings of the British royal family – the glory, the shame, the drama and the closely-guarded secrets.
In the new season, released on Netflix on Sunday 15 November, a large bulk of the narrative is centred on the early relationship between Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana; the incompatibility of their relationship, the fairytale facade and the sadness they experienced behind closed doors.
However, the seventh episode in the season sees the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) discover something about her family that fills her with shame – that her first cousins Katherine and Nerissa, both recorded as having died, were still alive and kept separate from the royal family.
Who were Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon and when did the public find out about them? Here’s everything you need to know.
Who were Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon?
Nerissa, born 18 February 1919, and Katherine, born 4 July 1926, were the daughters of John Bowes-Lyon, the older brother of the Queen Mother.
As such, Nerissa and Katherine were first cousins to Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret, who were born on 21 April 1926 and 21 August 1930 respectively.
Both Nerissa and Katherine were born with severe developmental disabilities.
In the 1963 edition of Burke’s Peerage, a publisher that documents the ancestry of members of the aristocracy in Britain, it stated that the sisters had died – Nerissa in 1940 and Katherine in 1961.
However, Nerissa and Katherine were both still alive at that time, having been admitted to Royal Earlswood Hospital in Redhill, Surrey in 1941, 11 years after their father’s death.
In season 4 of The Crown, Princess Margaret and Queen Elizabeth II are seen delving into record books to find mention of Nerissa and Katherine, only to discover the false record of their deaths.
However, when Princess Margaret does some more digging, she discovers the sisters are still alive, in addition to learning about three more members of her family – cousins of Nerissa and Katherine called Idonea, Rosemary and Ethelreda – who also had developmental disabilities and were being taken care of in the same hospital.
In one scene, Princess Margaret confronts the Queen Mother (Marion Bailey) with anger about the way in which their relatives have been treated.
Helena, in character as Princess Margaret, states: ‘Five members of our close family locked up and neglected!’ with Marion, as the Queen Mother, replying: ‘We had no choice.’
When did the public learn about Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon?
In 1986, Nerissa died at the age of 66.
A year later, the story of the Queen’s cousins broke in the news, including the fact that their deaths had previously been recorded incorrectly.
In the 6 April 1987 edition of St Joseph. News-Press, it stated: ‘A first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, listed in a leading social registrar as dying in 1961, is a long-term patient at a hospital for the mentally disabled, the hospital said today.’
The article stated: ‘The 160-year-old reference book to the nation’s aristocracy lists [Nerissa] as dying in 1940, said publishing director Harold Brooks-Baker.’
The newspaper also included a statement from Buckingham Palace released at the time, following a report published about the Bowes-Lyon sisters in The Sun.
The Palace said the Queen was aware of the report, stating: ‘We have no comment about it at all. It is a matter for the Bowes-Lyon family.’
Following her death in 1986, Nerissa’s grave at Redhill Cemetery was reportedly only marked with plastic tags, with a headstone added to her grave at a later date.
According to The Telegraph, her funeral was only attended by members of staff at the hospital.
Katherine died 28 years later in 2014, at the age of 87.
The Crown season 4 is available to watch on Netflix.
Credit: Original article published here.