Tragic Facts About Prince John Of The United Kingdom, The Lost Royal

Melissa Gervais

The tragically short life of Prince John of the United Kingdom is one steeped in controversy. After he passed from a secret illness hidden from the public’s view, the mysteries of his life ignited years of speculation and suspicion. So, what was the truth about this “Lost Prince,” and who is to blame for his dark fate? Here are the facts: You be the judge.


1. His Life Began Idyllically

As the fifth son and lastborn child of George, Prince of Wales, and Mary, Princess of Wales, Prince John arrived sixth in line to the British throne on July 12, 1905. Being a prince and all, one would assume that young John would enjoy a life that most others could only dream of living. Regrettably, his terribly brief existence seemed doomed from the start…

2. He Had An Unfortunate Name

When he first came into the world, his parents made an ominous choice for the boy. Styled from birth as His Royal Highness Prince John of Wales, “John” was a seriously odd choice of name for a British royal. Thanks to the disastrous reign and dark end of King John I in the 13th century, royals avoided the name like the plague.

Regardless, the ill-fated youngster was legally named John Charles Francis, although his family more lovingly referred to him as “Johnnie.” And he had a large family, too…

3. He Was The Baby Of The Family

Prince John’s early years were happy. His parents were both loving and affectionate, and as the youngest of six, he spent his childhood at his family’s country home in Sandringham parish, playing with his older siblings: Prince Edward, Prince Albert, Princess Mary, Prince Henry, and Prince George. BTW, the term “country home” is just royal-modest-speak for what’s actually a ridiculously huge mansion on a whopping 20,000-acre estate. Not too shabby, eh?

Still, one part of John’s upbringing might surprise you.

4. His Parents Didn’t Really Raise Him

As is common in royal households, the nanny handled most of the child-rearing. Charlotte “Lalla” Bill lovingly cared for Prince John from the time of his birth until the time of his tragic passing, and the two of them formed an everlasting, unshakable bond. It’s easy to see why because Prince John totally seemed like a fun, spunky kid…

5. He Made Humorous Comments

Kids say the darndest things, and of course, Prince John was no exception. His relative, Princess Alice, once recalled a comical moment when, after he witnessed his mother and father smooch, he exclaimed, “She kissed Papa, ugly old man!” Way to ruin the moment, little buddy. But hopefully, the “ugly old man” just laughed it off because that witty comment was the least of his son’s mischief…

6. He Liked To Cause Pandemonium

It’s probably safe to say that Prince John worshipped chaos. He once crudely dressed himself as a Native American with the help of his sister Mary’s paintbox before dashing into his parents’ fancy dinner party. Then, after his grandpa (who was king at the time) finally decided to acknowledge the rambunctious little boy’s constant pestering of him, Prince John devilishly explained, “There was a caterpillar on your peas. But you’ve eaten it now.”

Whew, boy. The kid loved his pranks…

7. He Played A Lot Of Practical Jokes

Nicknamed “The Imp,” Prince John had quite the reputation for being a prankster. He liked to glue doorknobs and place inverted drawing pins on sofa cushions and chairs, among the many other tricks he liked to play on his family. But, to be fair, every child goes through a pranking phase—it’s perfectly normal. However, in Prince John’s case, there seemed to be something more going on…

8. He Seemed A Little Different

The family let Prince John run roughshod for a heartbreaking reason. Despite being a tough disciplinarian, Prince John’s father, George V, once admitted that “all [his] children [were] obedient, except John” because he couldn’t bear to punish him. You see, by the time Prince John turned four, the small fry became so “painfully slow” and “winsome” that his family grew concerned about his development.

Moreover, something about his behavior seemed slightly…off.

9. He Often Misbehaved

Curiously, Prince John began to exhibit repetitive behaviors. That, combined with his history of mischief and disobedience, eventually led to the worrisome realization that “he simply didn’t understand he needed to [behave].” During a chat with his mother, for example, she once admonished Prince John by saying, “I thought you were going to be good during Lent, John,” to which he cheekily replied, “And so did I, Mother—but no one told me it was going on for so long!”

So, why the strange behavior? Well…

10. He Was Neurodivergent

It turns out that a lot of Prince John’s conduct was probably autism-related. In addition to his aforementioned behavioral difficulties, he always spoke bluntly, wore dreamy facial expressions, and he tended to view the world through his very own unique set of lenses. Of course, nowadays, such a diagnosis would be no great tragedy, as many autistic children go on to live perfectly happy lives…and Prince John should have, too.

Unfortunately, the poor tyke faced far more dire health complications as a result of his other diagnosis…

11. He Suffered From Epilepsy

Prince John experienced his first convulsion when he was only four years old, and as he grew older, his epileptic fits grew more and more frequent. Keep in mind that this occurred during an era when epilepsy was still little understood; thus, treatment options at the time included, among other strange remedies, taking hot baths in mustard water—which I’ll go ahead and assume didn’t work at all.

So, it’s understandable that his family was at a loss on what to do…

12. His Illness Caused Chaos

Because royals really do live in a different world than the rest of us, they truly believed that highborn blue blood ran purer than commoner red. However, because Prince John’s ailments were probably genetic, critics surmise that they caused his family to travel down a disturbing path. They chose to keep as much information about his condition as secret as possible, lest someone call their blood’s “purity” into question.

Unfortunately for John, this ostensibly meant enduring some pretty heartless treatment from his family…

13. He Was Supposedly Forbidden To Appear In Public

Critics claim that Prince John disappeared from view because his family declared him unfit to appear in public. Why? Well, because royals have a tricky relationship with the media, John’s illness presumably embarrassed his relatives, and they worried for their reputation as a result. If that’s true, it’d be pretty dang cold of them. Thankfully, context is everything…

14. He Was Publicly Active

In actuality, Prince John regularly participated as a “fully-fledged member of the family” for most of his childhood. It was only when his health sadly began to deteriorate after his 11th birthday that his public appearances ceased. Regardless, Prince John did end up performing an incredible disappearing act…

15. He Vanished From Official Family Portraits

Okay, it’s kinda hard to excuse this one because it definitely appears like Prince John really did get the cold shoulder here. Apparently, no official portraits of this kid exist after 1913. Like, his family even excluded him from family photographs—including the one taken for his parents’ silver wedding anniversary in 1918. So, what gives? They couldn’t squeeze him in? Were they really ashamed of him? Or was it because he just didn’t want to pose?

It raises a lot of questions. But oddly enough…

16. He Appears In Plenty Of Personal Family Photos

Prince John may not have appeared in many official family photographs, but plenty of unauthorized pictures of him exist. Indeed, two antique photo albums belonging to John’s older brother Edward contain several pictures of the youngster with his family. The photos span for years, from John’s early youth until shortly before his sudden passing.

But photographs aside, he also disappeared in person…

17. His Family Banished Him

So, where did John ultimately disappeared to? Well, when the severity of his epilepsy increased in 1916, John’s family made a devastating choice. They sent him away to live at Wood Farm. Although the naysayers like to argue that the then 11-year-old’s family callously banished and abandoned him there, that perspective really couldn’t be further from the truth…

18. He Stayed Close

It wasn’t like his family shipped him off to some faraway land. In fact, Prince John never even left his family’s property. Wood Farm is a farmhouse on the family’s Sandringham Estate, and it’s only just two miles away from his parents’ home. And technically speaking, it wasn’t like his family sent him off to live there all alone…

19. His Nanny Cared For Him

As his health deteriorated, Prince John’s nanny, Lalla, became his primary caregiver. Undoubtedly, living apart from the rest of his family must have been super rough on him, so it’s somewhat reassuring to know that he still had the support of at least one caretaker whom he’d known all his life. Because at this point, he definitely needed someone in his corner…

20. He Lived In Isolation

Depressingly, Prince John rarely left the Sandringham Estate after the summer of 1916. Instead, he allegedly became “a satellite with his own little household[…]” with just his nanny and house staff to keep him company. That’s not the saddest part. Critics also claim that he rarely saw his parents and siblings because they were always too preoccupied with official royal tasks, military service, and boarding school to come to visit him.

Oh, and speaking of school, he was denied it…

21. His Formal Education Ended

After Prince John arrived at Wood Farm, his parents sacked his tutors, and he no longer received a formal education. Why? Despite the fact that he could still think and express himself coherently, the somewhat shady excuse provided was that he stopped progressing academically. Okay, PSA: If a student has difficulty with their coursework, provide more assistance, not less!

On the other hand…

22. He Didn’t Require A Formal Education

Surprisingly, Prince John may not have gone to school simply because no rule required it for royal children at the time. In fact, Prince Henry, his middle, older brother, was the first son of a British monarch to enroll—their elder brothers and sister didn’t even go—so the concept was still relatively new at the time. Considering John’s health issues, it’s somewhat understandable that he never attended himself.

However, his parents probably should still have kept his tutors for him. Because now, with his tutors gone, Prince John had even fewer people in his life…

23. He Became Incredibly Lonely

Naturally, Prince John grew very lonely. Let’s face it: Mingling with your nanny and house servants just isn’t the same as hanging out with your family and friends. Kids like—and need—to socialize and play with other children. It was obvious that Prince John was at loose ends, and it was high time for someone, ANYONE, in his life to do something about it.

At last, one person did…

24. He Took Up A Hobby

With no friends and no education to keep him occupied, his grandmother, Queen Alexandra—in the cutest, most nanna-esque way ever—suggested that her grandson take up gardening. I mean, come on: Not too many 11-year-olds are into flowers. But it interested John. Amazingly, gardening quickly became “one of the great pleasures of [Prince John]’s life.”

25. His Garden Became His Greatest Joy

From that day forward, Prince John visited his grandmother, who lived all by herself at the grand house on the estate, every week to tend to the flowers in a garden she set aside especially for him. Not only that but—in a sweet move that would melt hearts everywhere—he’d often press his treasured flowers and include them in his letters to his mother and father. Ah, my heart.

Great job, grandma! But she wasn’t done yet…

26. He Was Still Desperate For Companionship

As much as he adored his grandmother and his garden, young Johnnie still knew that something was missing. He understandably still yearned for playmates his own age. So, his grandmother came to the rescue once more. After complaining in a letter to his parents that “[Prince John] is very proud of his house but is longing for a companion,” his mother FINALLY stepped in at Queen A’s behest.

And she did something she had never done before…

27. He Finally Got His Wish

At long last, Prince John’s mother made a shocking decision. She finally addressed the issue of his perpetual loneliness. In an unusual gesture most likely motivated by guilt, Queen Mary violated royal protocol and agreed to find some local youngsters (i.e., commoners) for her son to befriend. Eventually, after a thorough vetting process, Queen Mary and Lalla found some companions for him.

Who would have thought those children would be his friends for life…

28. He Met His Best Friend

Despite the apparent weirdness of getting randomly selected to befriend a local prince, the vetting process surprisingly worked like a charm. Though Prince John successfully made a couple of friends around the estate, Winifred Thomas quickly became his closest friend. She was a young girl he’d actually known from years before and who now serendipitously also resided at Sandringham,

Their reunion seemed like fate…

29. He Started To Live A Semi Normal Childhood

With Winifred by his side, Prince John finally appeared to enjoy his life at Wood Farm. Johnnie and Winifred went on nature hikes and tended to Queen Alexandra’s garden together like two peas in a pod. They also began taking carriage rides and going to neighborhood stores to purchase candy. Thanks to Winifred, Prince John was finally coming out of his shell. Maybe even a little too far out…

30. He Got Into More Mischief

Surrounded by playmates who understood and supported him, Prince John quickly reverted to his old ways, including his mischief-making. Elsie Hollinsworth, another of Prince John’s friends, recalled a humorous incident in which a painter placed a ladder against a window, and Prince John couldn’t resist the urge to climb it and cause his trademark antics. “We were all running around down below, telling him not to fall off, but they got him down in the end. He thought it very funny.”

His friends had other interesting comments about John’s life, too…

31. His Family Didn’t Really Abandon Him

In an unexpected twist to the common narrative about his life, Prince John’s friends, particularly Elsie, absolutely refute the gossip that he was an unhappy kid who never saw his parents, calling the rumors “untrue.” Indeed, Elsie claims that John was actually quite a “happy little child” whose parents regularly came to Sandringham to see him. Hmmm…

So, what triggered the rumor about the young prince’s abandonment, then? Well, it was mostly because of WWI…

32. WWI Kept Him From His Family

Yes, Prince John experienced periods when he didn’t see his parents much, but not for the reasons that the critics claimed—it had nothing to do with their abandoning him. When WWI broke out in 1914, John was only nine years old, and his parents already ascended the throne as king and queen. As you can probably guess, it was literally their job to keep the kingdom’s morale up.

So, while his parents were off traversing the nation on official business, John, whose health was not so great, stayed safe at home in the countryside with his nanny. As for why he lived separately from them in the first place…

33. His Living Situation Could Have Been Much, Much Worse

Sending a small child away to live apart from the rest of his family may sound cruel, but it appears to have been a tremendous mercy in Prince John’s case. Back in the days of yore, people actually considered epilepsy a mental illness, and anyone diagnosed with it wound up confined to epileptic camps and psychiatric facilities, which, honestly, sounds really, really awful.

So, Prince John essentially got a much better deal, given the alternative. His family certainly didn’t send him away because they didn’t care about him…

34. He Retained His Position

Seriously, think about it for a second: If Prince John were indeed on the outs with his family, they would have ousted him from the line of succession—but guess what? They didn’t. Despite his physical and mental deterioration over the years, Prince John retained his place as sixth in line to the throne—fifth, really, once his father became king.

Truthfully, Prince John was far from being on the outs with his family. Rather, he was very much on the ins…

35. He Was The Family Favorite

Between his mischievous sense of humor and his penchant for evading his strict father’s punishments, it might surprise you to learn that Prince John actually received preferential treatment from his parents compared to his siblings. In fact, a thorough examination of the royal archives indicates that he was, in reality, Queen Mary’s favorite child (I mean, he was the baby of the family, after all).

Thanks to his parents’ favor and the fact that he had his own private house, in comparison to his siblings, this prince lived like a king…

36. He Had A Happier Childhood Than His Siblings

Remember: Prince John’s father, George V, earned a serious rep as an incredibly strict disciplinarian, particularly when it came to the boys in the family. As a royal, the man set ridiculously high standards for his children, and even though he didn’t necessarily mean to act…well…mean, he often got upset when his kids didn’t conform—and children rarely conform.

As such, although Prince John’s siblings got the privilege of living as one-percenters with the king and queen, they had highly regulated and dismal childhoods, whereas Johnnie enjoyed a far more relaxed, peaceful upbringing in the country. Well, he did at first, until disaster struck…

37. He Grew Even Sicker

Despite the hope that Prince John’s epilepsy would ease over time, his convulsions surged in their frequency and severity once more. In response, his doctors made a terrifying prediction. They ominously claimed that the poor boy would never reach maturity. Sadly, even though everyone was hoping for the best, they soon began preparing for the worst.

Because once again, his situation began to look grim…

38. His Parents Segregated Him From His Siblings

Although Prince John enjoyed playing with his siblings when his family visited, as his epilepsy worsened, his siblings’ visits suddenly ceased. According to his nanny, Lalla, John’s parents made a difficult choice. They decided to isolate him from his siblings because it hurt them to see him suffer. 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.”

Fortunately, his parents didn’t completely cut him off from them…

39. He Saw His Family On Holidays

It’s difficult to say whether there were any more visits in between, but thanks to the holiday spirit, Prince John got his parents’ blessing to see his family for Christmas. He spent all of Christmas Day in 1918 with his family in the main home before heading back to Wood Farm that same evening. Little could anyone predict, it would be the last time they’d ever see Johnnie…

40. He Had Seven Godparents

Okay, so most people get one or two godparents—three if they’re lucky. But evidently, things are different when you’re a prince because this kid had seven, each with their own set of fancy titles and names: King Carlos I of Portugal; the Duke of Sparta; the Duchess of Sparta; Prince Carl of Denmark; Prince Johann of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg; Alexander Duff, 1st Duke of Fife; and Princess Alexander of Teck. Sheesh.

41. He Passed On

Tragically, on January 18, 1919, Prince John died in his sleep at Wood Farm following a particularly severe seizure. He was only 13 years old at the time. He may have left this world far too early an age, but at the very least, his suffering was over. But for those left behind, their suffering was just beginning…

42. His Loss Was Devastating

Sweet Prince John affected many lives during his short time on earth, most notably that of his devoted nanny, Lalla. She was heartbroken by Johnnie’s passing, to say the least, and for the remainder of her life, Lalla kept a photograph of Prince John above her fireplace mantel, along with a note from him that read, “Nanny, I love you.”

Of course, his parents grieved too…

43. His Family Considered His Death To Be A Mercy

Grief is a complex emotion. Although both Prince John’s parents felt a deep sadness at the news of their youngest son’s sudden passing, they both considered it a blessing in disguise. His mother, Queen Mary, characterized his passing as “a great shock, tho’ for the poor little boy’s restless soul, death came as a great relief […],” while King George regarded it as “the greatest mercy possible.”

One of Prince John’s older brothers, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care very much at all…

44. His Brother Spoke Cruelly About Him

Prince Edward was eleven years older than Prince John, and, admittedly, he never really knew his littlest brother. As a result, his reaction to his brother’s death was absolutely chilling. He saw Johnnie’s passing to be “little more than a regrettable nuisance,” and he even callously referred to him in a letter as “more of a burden than a blessing.” Ouch.

Later on, Edward even went so far as to write to his mother, “No one can realize more than you how little poor Johnnie meant to me who hardly knew him.” Wow. Just wow. Unfortunately, those words endured for a long time…

45. His Brother Helped Spark The Controversy

Despite the fact that it was the discovery of Edward’s photo albums that later disproved much of the scandal surrounding Prince John’s life, he was actually one of the individuals who first contributed to it in the first place: Many critics have since pointed toward Edward’s flippant and disrespectful remarks about Johnnie as proof of the family’s harshness ever since.

It certainly didn’t help that Prince John’s family kept his illness a secret from the public from the get-go…

46. His Illness Wasn’t Public Knowledge

Prince John’s family did a really good job keeping the public in the dark about his condition. Perhaps, even, a little too good of a job. It was only after the Daily Mirror broke the news of Prince John’s passing two days later that the world learned of his epilepsy. That protective secret ended up backfiring spectacularly.

In the end, it really only served to fan the flames of controversy once the public learned the truth later on. But in any event, the word of Prince John’s passing soon spread…

47. Even After Passing, He Was Still A Rule-Breaker

As per royal protocol, Prince John’s burial was supposed to be a private affair. But Johnnie never really obeyed the rules in life, so why change that now? Ergo, instead of only including his blood kin, all the Sandringham House personnel—or, shall we say, his surrogate family—attended the funeral, too. Moreover, as further testament to how much everyone adored the ill-fated young prince, every single resident on the estate gathered outside the gates to pay their respects, and they completely covered his grave with flowers.

But then, something curious happened…

48. History Forgot Him

After the news of Prince John’s passing made its rounds, the media never publicly mentioned him again (at least, not until recent decades, anyway). Instead, all subsequent press stories referred to the king and queen as having only five children instead of six. Even more strangely, almost like a weird occurrence of the Mandela Effect, all subsequent family trees thereafter depicted King George V as fathering five children.

Fortunately, the world remembered him anyway…

49. History Found Him Again

The contentious narrative of Prince John’s life experienced a public revival once again in 1998 following the shocking discovery that his brother’s old photo albums contained pictures of him. After that, the circumstances of his tragically short life and hidden existence inspired a 2003 British television biographical drama about him, aptly titled, The Lost Prince.

50. The Rumors Of His Neglect Were Overblown

Prince John’s seclusion was supposedly demonstrative of the Windsor family’s heartlessness, but it turns out that many of the reports of his mistreatment were somewhat over-exaggerated. In truth, so few details of Prince John’s life and struggles ever reached the public’s ears that gossip and rumor mired a lot of the facts over time.

Thankfully, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Prince John’s situation wasn’t nearly as bleak as the critics made it out to be and that there were many who, in fact, loved him.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

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