3. The House Of Windsor’s Secret Prince
Since the 20th century, princes of the British royal house have lived their entire lives under the glare of the limelight and scrutiny of the public. But one prince has been lost to history. Prince John, the youngest child of King George V and Queen Mary, is hardly known. He was one secret that the House of Windsor tried hard to keep from getting out.
John was born on July 12, 1905, a perfectly normal and happy child who was adored by his parents. But at an early age, John suffered a fit that was diagnosed as epilepsy. It was devastating news to the family, not just because of the illness itself, but also because of the perceived embarrassment it would cause if the public found out. It was decided to send John away to an isolated place safe from curious eyes. It may seem shocking to us today, but for the social mores of the time, putting an ill child—and a prince at that—away in a virtual prison was perfectly acceptable.
John was confined to Sandringham, the family estate in Norfolk, in a house called Wood Farm. His only companions were his devoted nurse, Charlotte “Lalla” Bill, and a male orderly. Though separated from his family and society, John didn’t lose his cheerful disposition. Playing soldier with a wooden sword and paper hat was his favorite game. The niece of a groom, Winifred Thomas, who was about John’s age, later became his closest friend. They spent much time together, cycling and riding ponies around the estate. One positive effect of John’s isolation was that it removed the stress of being a royal.
Whenever John had to see his doctors in London, he would ride in a car with the blinds drawn. Except for occasional glimpses, people never saw him at all. John wasn’t even included in the family photograph taken at Buckingham Palace during his parents’ silver wedding anniversary in 1918.
Despite her depiction as being cold and uncaring, Queen Mary often spent time with John at Wood Farm and delighted in his company. When John turned 13, his seizures became more frequent and serious. In the early hours of January 18, 1919, John had a severe attack and couldn’t be awakened. King George and Queen Mary hurried to Sandringham to find their son dead on his bed. While his parents were in anguish, his elder brother, the future Edward VIII, remarked quite callously that “the animal” was dead and he had no interest in mourning him.
John was buried in the local church and soon passed from memory. Only a few scant references to him can be found in royal biographies.