The date is 29th July, 1981, and it’s Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s marriage ceremony, and the Queen has arrived at Saint Paul’s Cathedral and is oscillating her hand to the masses as two women in their middle ages, in their misshapen, loose-fitting dresses, walk with an ungainly gait up to the T.V and wave and present arms back at the Queen, making animated sounds, but incapable to articulate conversation.
It was a moving moment, recalls one of the nurses who cared for them, as she recollects pondering with a collegue how, if the situation had been different, these two women would certainly have been guests at the marriage ceremony.
The two females were Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon, nieces of the Queen Mother and first cousins to the Queen, who had been detained since 1941 in the Royal Earlswood Asylum for Mental Defectives, at Redhill in Surrey.
Their last recounted callers were in the 1960s, and even though it was an open secret in the Royal Earlswood, and in the confined locale, that the asylum housed close-knit family members of the Royal Family, to the extended globe their presence had been annihilated.
Burke’s Peerage had pronounced them both to be long departed, on misinformation furnished by the family. In fact, Nerissa didn’t pass away till 1986, aged 66, and Katherine continues to be living, at 85, she is the identical age as the Queen.
Their shocking story came to light soon after Nerissa’s death, when reporters ascertained she was laid to rest in a grave marked simply by a plastic name tag and a serial number.
The ensuing scandal, which provoked a nameless source to produce a gravestone for Nerissa, made little difference to her sister’s life. Katherine received no callers at the asylum, and as her aunt, the Queen Mother, lived on into cossetted old age, Katherine did not own even her own undergarments, at least till her concluding years there, and had a dress from a shared closet.
Presently there is a story that tells of the Queen’s concealed cousins, born in an epoch when children with learning disabilities were a family’s scandalous secret, even though these children were of no difficulty to look after, but they were playful, like wayward children.
There are photos of Katherine Bowes-Lyon that display an unmistakable likeness to the Queen, and the sister’s story was an everyday familiarity at the asylum. If the Queen or the Queen Mum were ever on T.V, the two women would bow, extremely majestic, exceedingly low. Without a doubt there was some sort of recollection, and it is so saddening. Just imagine of the life they might have had, these two pretty sisters who didn’t have any articulation, but they’d point and make sounds.
Today they’d probably be given speech therapy, and they’d correspond much better, and even though it did not seem it back then, they probably understood more than one would like to think.
Nerissa was born in 1919, and Katherine in 1926. Their father was John Bowes-Lyon, one of the Queen Mother’s older brothers and the son of the Earl of Strathmore. John died in 1930 and was survived, until 1966, by the girls’ mother, Fenella.
The sisters were unlucky to have been born in a period when mental disability was looked at as an intimidation to aristocracy and associated to lewdness, feckless breeding and frivolous offences, the traits of the underclasses, comparisons approved by well-received believe in the science of eugenics, shortly to be embraced by the Nazis.
So it was thought that if you had an infant with a learning disability, there was something in your family that was dubious and wrong. For the Bowes-Lyons, this was a stain that could intimidate their social position and contaminate the conjugal chances of their other children. Nerissa and Katherine’s pretty and healthy sister Anne became the princess of Denmark by her second marriage, by her former marriage, she was the Viscountess Anson and mother of the aristocracy photographer, the deceased Lord Lichfield.
The imposing Royal Earlswood was the countries leading purpose built asylum for people with learning disabilities. Nerissa and Katherine were 15 and 22 respectively when they were admitted, and Nerissa’s medical records classified her as an idiot, and that she made indecipherable sounds all the time, but was exceedingly loving, and could speak a few babyish words.
Patients solely wore their own clothing if they had visitants, but for Nerissa and Katherine, there were not many if any callers, no one actually came, it was as if they had been neglected, and from the late 1960s, a surge of shame disclosed conditions in asylums that were critically understaffed and congested. The Royal Earlswood was closed in 1997, because it was stated that inmates were being mistreated.
The imposing edifice has since been transformed into luxury flats, whilst Katherine is supposed to be living in a care home in Surrey. Her relation with her family continues unaltered.
I have worked with people with learning difficulties, and it makes my skin crawl to believe these two young women were treated like this. Of course owing to loss of knowledge and awareness, there was a tremendous stain linked with people who had learning difficulties, particularly if from royal blood. Nevertheless with the economic resources of the Royal family these women could have been provided with for much better. Thank God times have transformed!
I feel extremely sorry for both these women, deserted the way they were. I think that at the time, and the situations were different then, but not to even be acknowledged by their family is an offence. That could be rectified today, as much as conceivable, by social calls from the young nobles, a suitable care home, and first-class medical attention.
The Queen could readily see all of that now. The only thing that would prevent this that the Queen has an unresponsive emotion.