Did the Queen really not know about her cousins? The Crown fact-checked


One of the most heartbreaking storylines in The Crown season four focuses on the true story of the Bowes-Lyon sisters. These were the Queen’s (played by Olivia Colman) cousins who had been institutionalised for decades. In the series, it is portrayed the monarch was unaware of the truth they were still alive – here’s everything you need to know about this and what really happened.

Did the Queen really not know about her cousins?

In episode seven of The Crown, Princess Margaret is seen to be struggling with her mental health.

Urged by Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) to seek help, she ends up visiting a therapist.

However, when she is in the room, she actually finds out the shocking truth about her cousins.

The therapist revealed to her how two cousins she previously believed dead, Katherine Bowes-Lyon (Trudie Emery) and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon (Pauline Hendrickson), were actually alive.

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The sisters were the daughters of the Queen Mother’s (Marion Bailey) elder brother who was known as Uncle Jock.

They had been committed to a mental institution in secret for decades because of an inherited developmental disorder.

The revelation shocks Margaret and in the series, she tells the Queen about it at a family party.

In response, the monarch admitted: “Yes, I remember hearing about Katherine and Nerissa and their terrible problems – but they’re long dead.”

Historian Ed Owens explained: “Their existence became a public scandal in 1987.

“The media revealed that the two women had been secretly sent to the Royal Earlswood Institution for Mental Defectives in 1941.”

By this time, it was revealed the Queen was aware of their existence.

This was confirmed in a statement from Buckingham Palace which acknowledged she knew but felt it was “a matter for the immediate (Bowes-Lyon) family.”

However, it is not clear when she became aware of the truth.

There is no evidence Margaret was the one to uncover what had happened.

In fact, there was no indication any member of the Royal Family had visited them at all.

Owens added: “We are to assume that the royal family preferred to keep them hidden from public view.

“There is no record of their ever having received a visit from the royals.”

While it seems like there was a great deal of creative license used for the storyline in The Crown, the tragic truth was the two women were hidden away from public view.

The Crown season 4 is available to stream on Netflix now.



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