Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon, daughters of the Queen Mother’s brother John Bowes-Lyon were declared dead in the 1963 Burke’s Peerage, which had their death dates as 1940 and 1961 respectively. However, the sisters were actually still alive, living in Earlswood Hospital. They were never visited by any member of the Royal Family and they received no money from them aside from the £125 they paid to the hospital each year for their care.
When Nerissa really died in 1986, only hospital staff attended her funeral.
She was buried in Redhill Cemetery and her grave was only marked with plastic tags and a serial number until her existence came to light in 1987.
The year after Nerissa’s death, the hush up about the sisters came to light and the family decided to add a proper gravestone.
Katherine later died in 2014.
READ MORE: Queen’s uncle Prince John’s illness ‘hidden from public’
Nerissa Bowes-Lyon (left) and Queen Elizabeth II (right)
Nerissa and Katherine were the daughters of the Queen Mother’s brother John Bowes-Lyon
Nerissa and Katherine, born in 1919 and 1926 respectively, were believed to have a genetic condition that caused their learning disabilities.
They had three cousins ‒ daughters of their aunt Harriet on their mother’s side ‒ who were also admitted to the hospital.
Their names were Ideonea Elizabeth Fane, Rosemary Jean Fane, and Ethelreda Flavia Fane.
Despite the family’s treatment of her nieces, the Queen Mother was the patron of MENCAP, a charity for people with learning disabilities.
Royal Earlswood Hospital (left) and Katherine Bowes-Lyon (right)
According to a 2011 TV documentary about Nerissa and Katherine, “throughout their time at the hospital, there is no known record that the sisters were ever visited by any member of the Bowes-Lyon or royal families, despite their aunt, the Queen Mother, being a patron of MENCAP”.
Nurses interviewed on the documentary said that, to their knowledge, the family never even sent the sisters a birthday or Christmas card.
When the story of the sisters was uncovered in 1987, Lord Clinton rejected the idea of a royal cover-up, claiming that their mother ‒ his aunt Fenella ‒ was a “vague person” and may have accidentally completed the form for the Burke’s incorrectly.
However, this is considered unlikely, as Burke’s included specific dates of death for both sisters.
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Princess Margaret was played by Helena Bonham Carter in The Crown
In The Crown season four, Princess Margaret finds out the cousins are still alive and is appalled.
The Netflix drama suggests that Margaret is told about them by her therapist and then tracks them down and sends a friend into the hospital to confirm their identity.
While she never actually visits the sisters herself, she tells the Queen Mother their actions in shunting them away were “wicked, cold-hearted and cruel”.
In a furious rant on the beach, she declares: “Darwin had nothing on you lot! Shame on all of you.”
The Queen Mother insists that the situation is “complicated” and that the five cousins “paid a terrible price” for the abdication of King Edward VIII.
She argues that, after she became the Queen, it meant her family was placed under vastly increased scrutiny.
For one thing, it meant they had direct bloodline to the monarchy through Princess Elizabeth ‒ now Queen Elizabeth II.
She claims that if people knew about the mental disorders in the Bowes-Lyon family, they would “question the integrity of the bloodline”.
The Queen Mother is played by Marion Bailey in The Crown
The Queen Mother says: “Can you imagine the headlines if it got out? What people would say?
“The hereditary principle already hangs by such a precocious thread. Throw in mental illness and it’s over.
“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, it better have 100 percent purity.”
Nevertheless, it is most likely that the five cousin’s genetic diseases came from their mothers, who were sisters.
This would mean there was no genetic link to the Queen Mother’s brother John, thus no link to her or The Crown.