EVERYONE has heard of Queen Elizabeth II’s father King George VI and his older brother Edward VIII – who abdicated the throne in 1936 – but few know about their forgotten royal brother.
George VI and Edward VIII had three brothers: Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who served as Governor-General of Australia and had two sons, George, Duke of Kent, who was an RAF officer and had three children, and little Prince John. Prince John was born in 1905, but was a sick child and tragically died young. He was the youngest child of George V, who came to the throne in 1910, and was nicknamed Johnnie.
John spent his early life at Sandringham with his five siblings – four brothers and one sister, Princess Mary.
He was described as “charming and very amusing” by the Dowager Empress of Russia and “very quaint” by Princess Alexander of Teck.
George V once told US President Theodore Roosevelt that “all [his] children [were] obedient, except John”, apparently because John alone seemed to escape punishment.
However, in 1909 it was discovered that John had epilepsy and also showed signs of a disability, probably autism.
Prince John died when he was just 13 years old (Image: GETTY)
Mary of Teck with her six children in 1906 (John is the youngest) (Image: GETTY)
He did not attend his father’s coronation in June 1911, because it was considered too risky for his health.
However, critics accused the family of hiding him because he was deemed not “presentable to the outside world”.
During his time at Sandringham, John exhibited repetitive behaviours and insubordination and it was even said he “simply didn’t understand he needed to behave”.
Nevertheless, he was still a “fully-fledged member of the family” and frequently appeared in public until he was around 11 years old.
Sandringham Estate (Image: GETTY)
However, he never attended school and after the outbreak of World War 1 rarely saw his parents, who were often on official duties, or his siblings, who were either at boarding school or in the military.
John slowly disappeared from the public eye and no official portraits of him were commissioned after 1913.
Then in 1916, his health deteriorated, with his seizures becoming more frequent and severe.
He was sent to live at Wood Farm with his governess “Lala” Bill, away from the public eye.
Prince George (later King George V) and his family in 1906 (John is the youngest) (Image: GETTY)
With a lack of educational progress, the last of his tutors were dismissed and his formal education ended.
Physicians warned that his ill health meant he may not reach adulthood.
At Wood Farm, John was remembered as a tall and muscular figure, but only ever seen at a distance and escorted by his retainers.
His grandmother Queen Alexandra maintained a garden at Sandringham House especially for him and it became one of his “great pleasures”.
He was cared for by his governess and befriended local children, whom his mother Queen Mary gathered to be his playmates.
One of these playmates was Winifred Thomas, a young girl from Halifax, who had been sent to live with her aunt and uncle in the hope her asthma would improve.
As his seizures intensified, however, his governess became wary of him seeing other people.
She wrote: “We [dared] not let him be with his brothers and sister because it upsets them so much, with the attacks getting so bad and coming so often”.
Prince John with his siblings in 1910 (Image: GETTY)
Biographer Denis Judd claimed John’s “seclusion and ‘abnormality’ must have been disturbing to his brothers and sister”, as he had been a “friendly, outgoing little boy, much loved by his brothers and sister, a sort of mascot for the family”.
He spent Christmas Day 1919 with his family at Sandringham House but was driven back to Wood Farm at night.
Then, on January 18, 1919, he suffered a severe seizure and died in his sleep.
His mother Queen Mary wrote that “death came as a relief” to her young son, who was just 13 at the time of his passing.
She wrote in her diary that the news was “a great shock, tho’ for the poor little boy’s restless soul, death came as a great relief”.
Mary continued: “[She] broke the news to George and [they] motored down to Wood Farm.
“Found poor Lala very resigned but heartbroken. Little Johnnie looked very peaceful lying there.”
Queen Mary later wrote to a friend: “for [John] it is a great relief, as his malady was becoming worse as he grew older and he has thus been spared much suffering.
Prince John riding a horse in 1910 (Image: GETTY)
“I cannot say how grateful we feel to God for having taken him in such a peaceful way, he just slept quietly into his heavenly home, no pain, no struggle, just peace for the poor little troubled spirit which had been a great anxiety to us for many years, ever since he was four years old.”
She added that “the first break in the family circle is hard to bear, but people have been so kind and sympathetic and this has helped us much”.
George V described his son’s death as “the greatest mercy possible”.
John was buried at the nearby St Mary Magdalene Church, and his funeral was attended by Sandringham House staff, who stood around the gates and covered his grave in flowers.
Prince John with his brother Prince George and their cousin Prince Olav (Image: GETTY)
The service was conducted by John Neale Dalton and John’s doctor, Dr Brownhill.
John’s illness was disclosed to the wider public only after his death, with a January 20 article in the Daily Mirror making the first public mention of his epilepsy.
John’s alleged seclusion during his life has, on occasion, been brought forward as evidence of the inhumanity of the Royal Family, but records show the prince was in many ways treated more favourably by his parents than his siblings.
What’s more, he was still a very visible member of the Royal Family until he was 11, when his condition became too severe to continue.
Nevertheless, his story seems to have been lost in the 101 years since his death, and few around today are familiar with it.
Source: EXPRESS CO UK