Photo of the Day

Prince John of the United Kingdom, 1910. Photograph of Prince John, fifth son of King George V and Queen Mary. He is wearing a sailor outfit and holding the handle to a four wheeled trolley, possibly on the Sandringham Estate. Photo: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

The ‘Lost Prince’

A mischief maker known as The Imp had a predilection for putting glue on door handles and leaving upturned drawing pins on sofas.

The individual in question was not an embittered footman but Prince John, the youngest child of King George V and his wife Mary.

Prince John, suffered from severe epilepsy and autism and became known as the ‘Lost Prince’ because he was kept away from the public eye. He was sent to live in a house on the Sandringham estate as his condition deteriorated, and he died in 1919 at the age of 13 after suffering a severe seizure.

Since his death the Royal Family’s treatment of one of its more vulnerable members has been the subject of much debate.

One side paints him as a victim of emotionally repressed parents who – ashamed of his condition – confined him to their family estate.

There he was allowed to play only with the children of staff members for fear that news of his condition would leak to high society. One newspaper summed up this approach in a headline describing John as: “The Prince the Royal Family locked away to die at just 13 years old.”

John was, by many accounts, thought to have been cruelly abandoned and locked away by his parents. The ‘crime’ that brought about this ‘abandonment’ was that he had epilepsy. The story is often cited as an example of the cruelty and lack of feeling shown by the British Royal family. Today we know that epilepsy is nothing more that a short-circuit in the wiring of the brain but the legend of Prince John tells how his family were so ashamed of his condition – which to them suggested mental instability – that they virtually abandoned him, locked him away in a remote location and wiped his memory from history. The problem is that this story has passed into legend and ‘common knowledge’ and yet the truth is very different.

It was amongst much fanfare, Prince John Charles Francis was welcomed into the British royal family on July 12, 1905. The newspapers reported on the birth of what would be the final child of Prince George (later King George V) and his wife Mary, Princess of Wales (and later Queen Mary). He was baptized less than a month later, with kings and dukes and princes and princesses acting as his godparents.

Due to the fact that he had older brothers, he was not a serious contender for the throne. Nonetheless, he was instructed literally from birth to display the decorum and elitism suited for those included in the British royal family.

When John was born, his father wasn’t yet the king. The boy was born on the Sandringham Estate and the family home wasn’t a grand palace or palatial mansion. It was small, cluttered and cosy.

The family loved it there. As the baby of the family, young John was much loved. Because there was so little chance that he would be king, he wasn’t treated in the same strict way that his older brothers had been, especially the eldest two, Edward and George. John was a mischievous, happy-go-lucky little boy with a loving nature.

The six siblings were photographed often. The general public had a natural curiosity about them, the children’s parents were proud of their family and photography was a rather new art that was increasing in popularity.

There is some evidence to show that he was a favourite of his royal parents and that he got away with more mischief than his elder siblings had been able to attempt.

King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. King George V, Queen Mary and their 6 children. Very unusual to see a family picture with baby Prince John. He had epilepsy and was sent away to live on a farm where he died after a seizure at age 13.

Prince John of Wales. Prince John (12 July 1905-18 January 1919) youngest son of King George V and Queen Mary.

Observers more sympathetic to his parents argue that they did their best for him when so much of their energy had to be devoted to rallying the country in a time of war.

What we do know is that John father, George V was not a man for modern parenting methods. He once told his friend Lord Derby: “My father was frightened of his mother, I was frightened of my father and I’m going to make damned sure my children are frightened of me.”

His wife was not much better. Apart from deferring to her husband in all things she is said to have donned a psychological suit of armour to cover her shyness. But while John’s elder brothers were cowed by their parents’ approach the signs are that John’s spirit remained untamed.

“Insubordinate and unafraid,” is how one writer summed him up. No less a visitor than President Theodore Roosevelt testified to this by recalling an incident when he was dining with George and Mary at York Cottage.

“Toward the end of lunch the children came in,” the president said later.

“The King was telling me about them in advance – ‘They are all obedient except John. I don’t understand it. Now you watch when he comes in. He will go straight for that cake’. In came the children and sure enough John made a beeline for the cake.

“The King turned to me with an air of pride in the way that the event had justified the prophesy. ‘Now listen to the way he answers me – [raises his voice] John!’ ‘What?’ ‘Don’t say What? when I speak to you. Come here’. Turning to me [he said], ‘Didn’t I tell you so, he’s not obedient and all the other children are so obedient’.”

Royal Playmates: Prince John, Prince Olav (later King of Norway) and Prince George (later Duke of Kent).

King George V & Queen Mary with their six children.

Prince John Charles Francis’ childhood was a picture of nobility until the age of four when, quite suddenly, he fell to the floor in a fit which would later be diagnosed as epilepsy.

This was a cause for concern. Unlike today, where attempts are made by the royal family to show a connection with “the average person,” royalty in the early years of the 20th century purposely kept distant and aloof from the populace.

It was immediately determined that John was a great liability for the royal family and steps needed to be taken to ensure that he was never seen having a seizure in public, which would infer a weakness on the entire family.

After much discussion it was decided to move John and a minimal staff to Wood Farm, a house near the royal residence of Sandringham.

John’s life at Wood Farm is murky, there is not much known about it. We know that he had a nanny and a tutor, and probably a few other servants lived with him.

John was put into the care of a nanny called Charlotte Bill, known to all her charges as Lala. Lala was “the perfect person” to take on the troubled young prince.

Lala reported that John’s seizures upset the other children as they were so concerned about their younger brother’s well-being so a spell away seemed like an excellent plan for everyone. Lala and John went to live on a pleasant small farm. (Today, the home is still used by the royal family). This was only two miles away from his parents’ home and in the grounds. His parents were nearby and they and his siblings visited often. They didn’t didn’t want him to lead a life of isolation and one of the reasons for them choosing the farm was that there were local children he could befriend.

These were the children of estate workers and when they were interviewed as adults, they all remembered John as a friendly boy who was good-natured, kind and happy.

A consistent picture emerges of Lala being very plain speaking, very forthright. She beat the royal children when they were small if they disobeyed but was someone of enormous loyalty, a person of great honesty and capable of massive love that she showed with John. For a time Lala’s efforts were supplemented by those of a tutor but John was not a good student.

Some contemporary analysts speculate that if he were alive today he might be diagnosed with autism.

They cite his well-attested fondness for repetitive tasks such as accumulating a pile of farthings and putting them one by one into the slot of a collection box.

The last of John’s tutors was dismissed when the boy was 11, the assumption being that he had assimilated as much learning as he was ever likely to.

There were certainly signs that John had educational problems.

As John grew older, it became evident that he also had a slight learning disability… It was traditional for the royal sons to be sent away to preparatory school when they were eleven but as John approached that age, it was doubtful that it would be right for him.

His parents, far from ‘sending him into isolation’ believed that it would be a good idea for him to be away from the hustle and bustle of their royal lives for a while and spend time exclusively with Lala and be treated more like a non-royal.

One of his childhood friends Elsie Hollingsworth recalled that his grandmother Queen Alexandra indulged his love of digging and planting by giving him a flower-bed in her garden at Sandringham.

But once the green-fingered prince had gone the gardeners would take out the plants he had put in and replace them with others that were about to flower.

“It never occurred to him that in one week plants had grown flowers that he could pick,” revealed Elsie in 2008.

“He just took it for granted.” John would often include one of these miracle growers as a pressed flower in letters to his parents.

Prince John of Wales, the lost Prince, son of King George V.

Prince John the so called lost prince with his devoted nanny Charlotte”Lala”Bill. The Imp, as mischievous Prince John was called, was deserted by his family.

Prince John said things, perceptive, funny or imaginative, that people remembered long after. He related to the world, it seems, in his own, slightly quirky way. John was quite capable of coherent thought and expression and was interested in the world around him. His garden was one of the great pleasures of his life.

He was friends with some of the children of the servants at nearby Sandringham. Some accounts state that his mother visited him often and very much enjoyed his company. Others state that Mary visited her son infrequently (and his father not at all). There is the story that when out on the grounds surrounding Wood Farm, John was kept on a leash at all times — probably to make sure he didn’t hurt himself if he should have a seizure, but this tactic seems tragic and somewhat menacing to us today.

Every Christmas John was driven from Wood Farm to Sandringham for lunch with his family and then shuttled back soon after the meal was over.

Probably because the general population would find it odd that no mention was ever made about the king and queen’s youngest child, photographs of John would appear on postcards and he was usually present in formal family portraits.

Johns older brother Edward, Prince of Wales, was twenty four when John died. He was rather irresponsible (as his later actions with Wallis Simpson showed). A letter came to light that he had written to one of his many mistresses in which he referred to John in  less than pleasant way. It’s likely that this was simply family banter and Edward was distraught when the letter was made public, apologizing profusely to his mother. But in the eyes of the press, the damage was done.

Edward VIII, then Prince of Wales, with Freda Dudley Smith and her husband, William Dudley-Ward.

Writing to his mistress, Freda Dudley Ward, Edward, then Prince of Wales, described how John had been ‘only a brother in flesh’ and had ‘become more of an animal than anything else.’

Writing to his mistress, Freda Dudley Ward, Edward, then Prince of Wales, described how John had been ‘only a brother in flesh’ and had ‘become more of an animal than anything else’.

He said that John had been ‘shut up for the last two years’ in Sandringham and that the family only visited ‘once or twice a year’.

Over six pages to Freda Dudley Ward, Edward wrote of how he desperately wanted to leave ‘filthy Rheinland and all these Huns’ before learning of John’s death on January 20, 1919:

‘I arrived yesterday to find a wire from HM [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 heartbreaking.

‘Of course my little brother’s death plunges me into mourning; don’t think me very cold hearted sweethearted [sic] 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 even 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.

“But to be plunged into mourning for this is the limit just as the war is over, which cuts parties etc right out.

‘I was so, so happy last night at the thought of seeing toi tomorrow, just a teeny glimpse of toi.

‘What does all the mourning in the world matter to toi et moi? I’m terribly sorry for my sister who was going to a lot of parties in Feb.

‘Somehow I don’t think this mourning will last very long as I think the funeral was to-day; it looks to me as if as little was being made of it all as possible.

No one would be more cut up if any of my other three brothers were to die than I should be. This poor boy had become more of an animal than anything else and was only a brother in the flesh and nothing else.’

Edward wrote the six-page note from Germany, where he was visiting British troops. In it, he appeared to try and use his brother’s death as an excuse to return to England to visit Ms Ward.

But his father thwarted his plans by ordering him not to come back. As a result, Edward didn’t attend his own brother’s funeral and wasn’t even sure what day it was on, his letter reveals.

Romantic: In the handwritten, gushing note to Freda Dudley Ward – or ‘Darling, Darling, beloved little Fredie’, as he calls her. 

In it, the 25-year-old unmarried Prince of Wales told her:

‘This is only just a teeny weeny little scrawl to catch the last post sweetheart & to tell you how fearfully madly I’m loving you this afternoon angel & looking forward to 4.30 tomorrow.

‘Although I only said all this about 12 hrs ago I can’t help saying it all again this afternoon only I mean it even more sweetheart!!’ In an apparent reference to his royal duties, he wrote he was ‘fearfully busy’ but said it distracted him from missing his lover.

‘I just can’t get over all your sweetness to your devoted little boy & he is so so happy this afternoon darling & just not caring for anybody or anything altho he’s fearfully busy – then I don’t have time to realise how much I miss HER & how consequently sad & depressed I am tho hopelessly happy “deep down”!!
‘Bless you my very own darling beloved precious little Fredie Wedie for all your divine love which is all I ask for in this world & the next whatever that may mean.’

– he signs himself as her ‘adoring little David’.

Naughty boy: Edward VIII. King Edward VIII’s foul-mouthed love letter fetched a princely £5,100 at auction in 2013. The love note was sent in 1919 by the then-Prince of Wales to married Freda Dudley Ward, saying he would sleep with her after opera he didn’t want to attend. Photo: Getty Images

Edward, who later abdicated so he could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, wrote hundreds of love letter to his first mistress, Dudley Ward.
Mrs Dudley Ward was his first mistress. Their liaison began in 1918 after a chance meeting at a party in an air raid in London and lasted five years.

Then 23, the socialite was a married mother-of-two whose husband, Liberal MP William Dudley Ward, apparently turned a blind eye to the affair.

By 1919, the prince wrote he was ‘fearfully madly’ in love, and appears to have introduced her to members of the Royal Family, including his brother Bertie, the future King George VI.

Their affair was well-known to aristocrats and politicians.

In 1927, Winston Churchill travelled on a train with the couple, and noted: ‘It was quite pathetic to see the prince with Freda. His love is so obvious and undisguisable.’ The prince sent her thousands of letters and the pair stayed in contact until he met U.S. divorcee Wallis Simpson.
When he met Mrs Simpson, he abruptly severed all ties to his previous love. In a call to the Palace in 1934, Mrs Dudley Ward was told by an operator: ‘I have orders not to put you through.’

She and Mr Dudley Ward divorced in 1931. Her second marriage also ended in divorce. She died in 1983, at 88, and never spoke of the affair.

It was an ominous sign of what was to come. Seventeen years later, David, better known as King Edward VIII, abdicated to be with another lover – and plunged the monarchy into crisis.

In those years when his eldest brother, the Prince of Wales, rose to become King Edward VIII, before casting away his throne for Mrs Simpson, Prince John was seemingly outwardly forgotten.

The six children of King George V and Queen Mary: Albert, Duke of York (later George VI), Mary, Princess Royal, Countess of Harewood; Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor), John (died aged 13), Henry, Duke of Gloucester, and George, Duke of Kent.

Prince John sitting at the wheel of a toy car.1913. Photo: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

When the war began, Prince John was nine years old.  His parents, now on the throne, were busier than ever before. They were important to the morale of the public and were obliged to travel throughout the country on official visits. This means that even had he not been ‘sent away’ John would have rarely seen his parents.

Also John was the only child in the household by now. His siblings were either away at school or, in the case of the older brothers, serving in the forces.

So throughout the war he lived his normal life untouched by the chaos that was raging in Europe. The King and Queen went to see him as often as their busy schedule would allow.

Those who believe in the scheme to hide John’s existence say that there was very little about him in the newspapers during the last few years of his life. This, they say, is ‘proof’ that the King was trying to expunge John from history. The truth is probably far more mundane. What on earth was there to report? And during his final years the war was taking place and any news about any members of the royal family tended to be war-related

Events in Europe were in total upheaval during John’s later years. Even in Russia, there was huge unrest. The Tsar and his family- who were related to John – were massacred in the same year John died.

Prince John was a sensitive boy who often took things said to him too literally. After the death of Edward VII, his grandfather, he was told that dead people “went on the wind”. Days later, he was seen collecting leaves and when asked what he was doing replied: “Collecting grandpa’s pieces.”

His parents, in particular his mother, felt that he needed other children to play with rather than live the somewhat isolated life with just his nanny as company. At Wood Farm, there were several children – the offspring of estate workers – who provided him with company and playmates.

At age 12, his condition having deteriorated, he was settled with his own household at Wood Farm on the Sandringham Estate.

At Wood Farm, John was happy and well-cared-for. Thomas Haverly was a coachman from Windsor Castle, chosen to drive for John because he was known to be reliable. He took the Prince on outings in the country or to the sea and to the ‘big house’ at Sandringham when any members of the family were in residence. Wood Farm also had its own cook and a live-in maid. John also had his nurse, Charlotte Bill, known in the family as “Lala,” and a tutor. An area of the garden was set aside for him with a plaque, ‘Prince John’s garden’ and there were gardeners who helped him tend it. Indoors, he had his books, a pedal car and a ride-on train. Family photos show him riding a bicycle and a horse without assistance.

John spent the last four years of his life at York Cottage on the Sandringham estate, where he was looked after by his devoted nurse, “Lala”. When he travelled to London for a meeting with royal doctors, his car had its blinds drawn in case he brought “disgrace” to the family by having a seizure in public.

It has often been said that John was lonely at Wood Farm. But this is not entirely accurate. He did have a companion there — Winifred Thomas, an eight-year-old girl from Yorkshire (and of similar age to John), who suffered from asthma and had been sent to live in the country with her uncle and aunt. Her uncle George Stratton was the riding master at Sandringham. Soon after Winifred’s arrival, the Strattons received a visit from Queen Mary and Mrs. Bill, who were looking for a friend for John.

Winifred’s delicacy probably recommended her to them and after the visit she played with the Prince almost every day. When he was ill, she sat by his bed while Lala read to them. They went on nature walks together and worked in the garden. No date is given for Winifred’s arrival but it must have happened long before the move to Wood Farm in 1917. Years later, Winifred remembered Prince John having had a bicycle chase with Prince Olav of Norway (later King Olav V of Norway, reigned 1957-1991).

Winifred continued to be close to John during the First World War. She remembered his excitement at watching zeppelins passing overhead at Sandringham in 1916 and his pleasure in meeting ‘a real, live soldier’, her father, Sergeant Frederick Thomas, who visited that same year.

She also remembered John’s mother, Queen Mary, as a loving and interested parent who spent a lot of time with her son — another departure from the accepted view. A passage of the Queen’s diary, written some days after John’s death reads: ‘Miss the dear child very much indeed’’.

Other of the Queen’s diary comments include the following:

‘Tuesday 21st 1919. Canon Dalton & Dr Brownhill conducted the service, which was awfully sad and touching. Many of our own people and the villagers were present. We thanked all Johnnie’s servants, who have been so good and faithful to him.’

She was genuinely moved by their loyalty and went further than simply thanking them. Thomas Haverly’s daughter was given John’s blackboard, which in time passed on through her own family, and Winifred was given a number of his books with Queen Mary’s own hand-written inscription, ‘In memory of our dear little Prince.’ The Queen also treasured photographs of him, her own diary notes of their time together and letters. One of these, written by John to Winifred’s uncle who had broken his arm in a riding accident, reads: ‘Dear Mr. Stratton, I hope your arm is better. Are you going to church? With my love from John.’

Prince John of the United Kingdom. 1918.

Neither of John’s parents was at Wood Farm when he died unexpectedly in the early hours of 18 January 1919. Death came suddenly. At 5.30 a.m., the telephone rang at Buckingham Palace.

Charlotte Bill was on the line, telling the Queen that John had had a severe fit and could not be woken up. Since John turned 13, the fits had grown worse and more frequent. Now, he was dead.

Despite the hour, King George and Queen Mary immediately were driven down to Wood Farm and found Mrs. Bill ‘heartbroken but resigned,’ and the lifeless boy lying as if asleep on his bed.

‘Little Johnnie looked very peaceful …’ the Queen wrote later. ‘He just slept quietly in his heavenly home, no pain, no struggle, just peace for the little troubled spirit.’

The fuller entry from the Queen’s diary reads:

‘Lala telephoned from Wood Farm, Wolferton, that our poor darling Johnnie had passed away suddenly after one of his attacks. The news gave me a great shock, tho for the little boy’s restless soul, death came as a great release. I brought the news to George & we motored down to Wood Farm. Found poor Lala very resigned but heartbroken.

Little Johnnie looked very peaceful lying there … For him is a great release as his malady was becoming worse as he grew older and he was thus been spared much suffering. I cannot say how grateful we feel to God for having taken him in such a peaceful way, he just slept quietly… no pain, no struggle, just peace for the poor little troubled spirit, which had been a great anxiety for us for many years ever since he was four’.

Prince John is buried in the churchyard at Sandringham beneath a plain grey rounded tombstone of smoothed granite. On it are the simple words: “HRH Prince John, 1905-1919.”

It has been said that the Royal family wanted to keep the prince’s condition a secret as it could have shown the Royal blood wasn’t as pure as thought.

After his death in 1919, at the age of 13, Prince John was swiftly written out of the family history. In at least one family tree issued by the House of Windsor, his name was deleted. However those family trees were for the purposes of showing the line of succession and only showed living offspring apparently. However, the press saw this as the king’s attempt to wipe John’s existence from history.

Lala his nanny never married and when she died in 1964 at the age of 89 her relatives found a note written to her by her royal charge that she had treasured all her life: “Nanny I love you, Johnnie.”

The Prince John: a brief history – Royal Central

Prince John of the United Kingdom

Tender letters from the ‘Lost Prince’ – Telegraph

Prince John of the United Kingdom – Wikipedia

Prince John Charles Francis: The Secret Prince – Historic Mysteries

Prince John – Britannia.com

The lost prince: Prince John’s friend recalls the happy joker sent away …

Prince John (1905-1919), son of George V & Queen Mary – The Royal …

Letter: `Lost’ Prince John | The Independent

“Tweedland” The Gentlemen’s club: Prince John, the Lost Prince …

Royal Scandals: Prince John – HubPages

Halifax playmate of the Lost Prince – Halifax Courier

Prince John of the United Kingdom | Unofficial Royalty

 


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