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Edward VIII letter describes ‘great relief’ over death of his brother, Prince John

In what is being described as a cold hearted response to the death of his brother Prince John, the future Edward VIII wrote to his mistress at the time, Freda Dudley Ward, that his younger brother’s death was “the greatest relief imaginable or what we’ve always silently prayed for.” At the time of writing, Edward was in Germany visiting British troops and the letter has recently gone up for sale.

Prince John, youngest child of King George V and Queen Mary, died in 1919.

Prince John, youngest child of King George V and Queen Mary, died in 1919.

Prince John was the last child of King George V and Queen Mary born in 1905. John was diagnosed with epilepsy and autism at the age of four and was sent to live on a house on the Sandringham Estate. As John grew older, his condition gradually became more serious although his condition was kept secret from the public until after he died from a severe seizure at the age of 13.

In the deeply cold letter from Edward to his mistress, the future King states, “I arrived yesterday to find a wire from His Majesty to say that my youngest brother had died. I wired back to say that I was returning to England at once for a few days which I thought was a good move. I had great and wonderful hopes of seeing toi tomorrow if the goddess of fortune had been kind to us. I’m so miserable darling as I’ve just got another wire from HM telling me not to return to England and just to carry on. Isn’t it all too heart-breaking.”

It appears that Edward tried to use his brother’s death as a way of returning to England in order to see Freda Dudley Ward though his father, King George V, thwarted his plans and ordered him to remain in Germany. As a result of his father’s orders, Edward missed his brother’s funeral and according to the letter, didn’t even know when the service was being held.

The cold hearted letter continues, “Of course my little brother’s death plunges me in to mourning, don’t think me very cold hearted sweetheart but I’ve told you all about that little brother darling and how he was an epileptic and might have gone West any day. He’s been practically shut up for the last 2 years anyhow, no one has ever seen him except the family and then only once or twice a year and his death is the greatest relief imaginable or what we’ve always silently prayed for.”

The letter is being sold at Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles on Friday and is expected to fetch up to £20,000. Auctioneer Darren Julien commented, “I think the contents of the letter will cause a bit of a stir especially in Britain. It does show Edward’s upset over the death of his brother but it also shows how John was the forgotten prince.”

The letter concludes, “Somehow I don’t think all this mourning will last very long as I think the funeral was today; it looks to me as if as little was being made of it all as possible, this poor boy had become more of an animal than anything else and was only a brother in the flesh and nothing else.”

Edward became King Edward VIII in January 1936 only to abdicate eleven months later in order to marry American twice divorcee, Wallis Simpson. He was succeeded by his brother ‘Bertie’ who became King George VI.

Photo Credit: By G.G. Bain [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Featured Photo Credit: Library and Archives Canada


  • Ricky

    I agree that Prince Edward’s letter shows a rather cold, uncaring attitude toward his brother’s death, especially dying at such a young age. But there are a few things I’d like to point out.

    Prince John was born over 100 years ago, at a time when medical science had a poor understanding of mental illnesses and epilepsy. There were no medications for seizures; the first drug that showed any promise was phenobarbital, which had just been invented. It didn’t come into wide use until years later.

    It must have been hard for people in those times to watch someone they cared about suffering through grand mal seizures. Not being able to do anything to help the person, a common treatment was to restrain them in a straightjacket so they couldn’t injure themselves. For these reasons, many felt the best thing for all concerned would be to institutionalize them where they’d be kept out of sight and cared for by professionals.

    Today we know that epilepsy is a disorder of the patient’s brain chemistry, and the person bears no fault for his condition. But when Prince John was born, a family that produced someone with this condition was deeply ashamed, and it was seen as a social disgrace and not discussed in polite circles. His condition was compounded by mental retardation and autism, as the article states.

    Queen Mary wrote to a friend that she felt it was a release for the boy’s spirit, and how grateful she was to the members of staff who cared for Prince John at a house on the Sandringham estate. Perhaps this is what Edward felt, but he certainly expressed it badly, and his attempt at using the occasion as an excuse to return to his mistress is unforgiveable.

    We must be careful when we judge the past by our present standards. I’m not saying the author of this article was doing that, but I just wanted to add another way of looking at Prince John’s passing in the context of the times.

  • Limabeany

    He is extremely cold and self-centered even for that era, his attempts at sympathy so his mistress wouldn’t think him uncaring are horrendous and convey no sensitivity.

  • Cristina

    Anyone who says this is a cold-hearted letter has never had a family member so sick and with such a low quality of life to the point where death is a blessing, which is clearly what is happening in the case of Prince John.

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