We take a look at a little-known prince, who would have been an uncle to The Queen.
John Charles Francis of Wales was born in 1905, at York Cottage on the Sandringham Estate. John was the youngest child of George, The Prince of Wales (future George V) his wife, Mary. He was sixth-in-line to the throne upon birth.
His christening was held at St Magdalene’s church in Sandringham. His godparents included: King Carlos I of Portugal, The Duke and Duchess of Sparta, Prince Carl of Denmark, Prince John of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, The Duke of Fife and Princess Alexander of Teck.
From around the age of four, John, known by many as Johnny, suffered from epilepsy. His uncle, The Duke of Albany, also suffered from epilepsy, but lived until adulthood with it, so it was hoped his condition would improve over time. He also had what is now believed to be autism, due to repetitive behaviour, a symptom of the condition; this would also explain his misbehaviour as a child. He lived at Sandringham with his nanny and siblings, treated as a normal member of the family.
After his father had ascended the throne, John became: The Prince John, the traditional styling of a younger son of a King.
It was undecided by his parents whether to send him to school, as his older brother, George (future Duke of Kent), closest to John in age, began in 1912. Upon the outbreak of WWI, John began to be seen less and less in public and rarely saw his parents who were conducting many engagements, and his older brothers and sisters were at school or now in the military.
His seizures worsened during this time and The Prince was sent to live at Wood Farm, a small cottage at Sandringham, with his nanny, Charlotte or ‘Lala’. Queen Alexandra, his grandmother, ensured the upkeep of a garden on the estate for John’s enjoyment; his education had ceased due to his lack of progress, and he became further isolated. Queen Mary, unusually, sent for local children to play with and befriend her son, as it was noted he was quite lonely. One young girl, Winifred Thomas, attended in the hope her asthma would improve in the country air, staying with her aunt and uncle who worked on the estate’s stables.
George V’s children: Albert, John, Henry, Mary, Edward and George
The epileptic fits soon became worse and more regular, which worried his siblings when they witnessed them.
John spent Christmas Day with his family at Sandringham House in 1918, but a few weeks later, in January, aged 13, John suffered a severe seizure and died in his sleep at Wood Farm.
Queen Mary wrote in her diary that it was ‘a great shock’ but that ‘death came as a great relief. […] Little Johnnie looked very peaceful’. The news, when broke to the public, was the first that was mentioned of Johnny’s ill-health, so came as a surprise. The isolation of John was not unusual, as epilepsy was considered a mental illness with confinement the best treatment for sufferers.
The Prince has not been well-remembered but in 1998, a Windsor family photo album was discovered which brought Johnny back into the public’s attention. In 2003, The Lost Prince was published and in 2008, a documentary on Channel 4 entitled Prince John: The Windsors’ Tragic Secret, was aired, telling the Prince’s story.
photo credit: the lost gallery via photopin cc and W. & D. Downey, London, SW – St. Nicholas MagazineNational Portrait Gallery, London: NPG x136042
How sad. I’m glad he is being remembered now at least.
Fortunately people are much more enlightened about what epilepsy really is, rather than it being deemed a “mental” illness.
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