The Tragic Story Of Queen Elizabeth’s Hidden Cousins


Queen Elizabeth has an extremely large extended family, and a few of her relatives share a tragic story. The names Nerissa Jane Irene Bowes-Lyon and Katherine Juliet Bowes-Lyon won’t ring any bells. They’re first cousins of Elizabeth, and they lived long lives completely outside the public view. Let’s learn about the hidden cousins.

How The Bowes-Lyon Girls Are Related To The Queen

Nerissa and Katherine were born in 1919 and 1926, respectively, to John Herbert Bowes-Lyon and Fenella Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis. That’s a lot of hyphens. John was the brother of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. This makes Elizabeth and Princess Margaret first cousins.

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A 1963 edition of Burke’s Peerage, the genealogical publisher, listed both Nerissa and Katherine dead, having died supposedly in 1940 and 1961. This was totally false. The sisters were placed at the Earlswood Hospital for the mentally disabled in 1941. The sisters were severely mentally disabled and never learned to talk. Katherine died in 2014, and Nerissa died in 1986.

A Royal Cover-Up?

Debate rages to this day whether or not the royal family knew anything about the sisters. The family sent no money except to pay the boarding fee. A Channel 4 documentary in 2011 discovered there was no record of the sisters ever receiving royal visitors, despite the fact that the Queen Mother was heavily involved in charities for folks with learning disabilities.

The documentary was allegedly distressing to Elizabeth herself, and it caused the sister’s cousin Lady Elizabeth Shakerley vehemently denied any charges of family abandonment. She said she personally helped organize a proper headstone for the sisters. 

She released a statement reading, “For these two very private ladies to have any sort of spotlight turned upon their lives, let alone such a powerful one as provided by national television, appears to Lady Elizabeth to be needlessly cruel.”

The American Royal Family

This story isn’t dissimilar to that of Rosemary Kennedy. The eldest sister of Robert Kennedy, Rosemary suffered from seizures and mood swings in her early 20s. The family patriarch Joe Kennedy had her lobotomized at 23. She lived the rest of her days at an institution in Jefferson, Wisconsin.

Her fate was kept secret from the public for decades, but she was eventually able to reconnect with her family much later in life. It’s distressing to read these powerful stories. It shows how attitudes have changed so much since the last century.

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