The Crown is not ‘historically accurate’ says Oliver Dowden
The Queen’s cousins, Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon, featured in an episode of Netflix’s fictionalised drama, The Crown. This immensely popular programme reimagines some of the key events from the Queen’s reign, but has been accused of inaccuracy and even dubbed “trolling on a Hollywood budget” by Prince Charles’ friends. Nerissa and Katherine were the daughters of the Queen Mother’s brother John Bowes-Lyon, but were kept out of the public eye for the majority of their lives due to their severe learning disabilities.
The Crown imagines what would have happened if Princess Margaret had discovered her cousins were alive — rather than dead as declared in the 1963 Burke’s Peerage — and suggests they were hidden away so as not to bring the royal bloodline into disrepute.
Nerissa actually died in 1986 while Katherine passed away in 2014.
They also had three cousins, daughters of the Queen Mother’s sister Harriet, who were also admitted to hospital.
While the public learned of their existence in 1987, the topic was pushed back into the mainstream when Channel 4 aired a documentary called ‘The Queen’s Hidden Cousins’ in 2011.
It claimed the Royal Family never visited these relatives, and did not send any birthday cards or gifts.
Queen Elizabeth II and her cousin Katherine Bowes-Lyon (R)
Nerissa Bowes-Lyon (L) was a niece of the Queen Mother (R)
A former nurse claimed: “They [the sisters] never received anything at Christmas either, not a sausage.”
The programme also alleged that no family attended Nerissa’s funeral and that her grave was marked only with plastic tags and a serial number until public outrage pushed the family to add a gravestone.
A care worker also told the documentary that Katherine was “a lovely person” who enjoyed watching royal weddings.
Speaking before Katherine’s death, they said: “She could really have prospered but instead she’s been left to vegetate.”
While Buckingham Palace officially remained tight-lipped over the divisive programme, an insider said the programme spread “utter lies”.
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John Bowes-Lyon was the father of the two women (L), pictured with his brother Michael
They explained: “The Queen is very, very upset at the thought that this programme is being made which is just not true.
“Both Katherine and Nerissa were visited very regularly by their family but neither could speak, and throughout their lives had the thinking age of four years old.
“They were unable to recognise visitors, often becoming hugely distressed as they struggled to work out who was with them.
“They also both regularly received presents, especially at Christmas, a fact disputed in this supposedly factual documentary.
“Neither sister knew who the presents were from but they enjoyed the moment of receiving a lovely gift.
“If Channel 4 had bothered to get the facts right and ask people who knew the true story, this would be a different matter.
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The Bowes-Lyon family was suddenly pushed into the limelight after Elizabeth married the Duke of York — and later became Queen consort
The Queen Mother as portrayed in The Crown by Marion Bailey
“They just didn’t ask anybody and came up with this upsetting nonsense which brings nothing but hurt.”
The Queen’s cousin Lady Elizabeth Anson also branded the film “cruel and intrusive” when speaking to the Sunday Express.
She claimed Fenella Bowes-Lyon, the Queen Mother’s sister-in-law, visited her two daughters regularly and that she was the only person they recognised.
She added: “Others did visit but it seems that both ladies were distressed, if not terrified, by such visitors and the nurses asked the family gently if these could be discontinued.”
Channel 4’s spokesman said: “The programme-makers approached members of the Bowes-Lyon family to take part in the programme but they declined.
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“However a comment has been provided by Lady Elizabeth Anson.”
The Crown presented the cousins in a similar manner to the 2011 documentary.
While the drama does not present itself as fact, the line between fiction and reality is not always clear within the programme.
The Royal Family has not spoken out directly about the latest season, nor its portrayal of the Bowes-Lyon sisters.
However, a senior royal courtier told the Daily Express: “The Queen realises that many who watch The Crown take it as an accurate portrayal of the Royal Family and she cannot change that.”
Previous reports claimed that the Queen did enjoy season one, but was upset with the portrayal of Prince Philip as a cold and unloving father in season two, while her thoughts on the latest two seasons are unknown.