John Bowes-Lyon

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John Bowes-Lyon death notice in the Times, 11 Feb. 1930

John Herbert "Jock" Bowes-Lyon (1 April 1886 – 7 February 1930) was the second son of the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and the Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne, and the brother[1] of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (the future Queen Elizabeth and later the Queen Mother). He was an uncle to Queen Elizabeth II, although he died when she was a small child.

Early life[edit]

John Bowes-Lyon was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford,[2] where he played first-class cricket for the university side in three matches in 1906 and 1907, playing as a fast-medium bowler.[3]


On 29 September 1914, Bowes-Lyon married The Honourable Fenella Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis (19 August 1889 – 19 July 1966), the younger daughter of Charles Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis, 21st Baron Clinton. They had five daughters, three grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren:

  • Patricia Bowes-Lyon (6 July 1916 – 18 June 1917) died in infancy
  • Anne Ferelith Fenella Bowes-Lyon (4 December 1917 – 26 September 1980) married, on 28 April 1938, Lt.-Col. Thomas William Arnold Anson, Viscount Anson, son of the fourth Earl of Lichfield; they were divorced in 1948. They have two children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She remarried Prince George Valdemar of Denmark on 16 September 1950.
  • Nerissa Jane Irene Bowes-Lyon (18 February 1919 – 22 January 1986)
  • Diana Cinderella Mildred Bowes-Lyon (14 December 1923 – 20 May 1986) married Peter Gordon Colin Somervell on 24 February 1960. They have one daughter:
    • Katherine Somervell (23 August 1961) is a god-daughter of Queen Elizabeth II. She married Robert W.P. Lagneau in 1991.
  • Katherine Bowes-Lyon (4 July 1926 – 23 February 2014).[4]

World War I[edit]

Before the outbreak of World War I, Bowes-Lyon worked as a stockbroker in the City of London for the firm Rowe and Pitman.[1] In 1915, he was posted with the Black Watch. Just prior to the Battle of Aubers Ridge in that year, he accidentally shot himself in his left forefinger; it was amputated the following day. While receiving treatment in the UK, he admitted having experienced a nervous breakdown in 1912 and also suffered from neurasthenia. Late that year, he was posted to the Ministry of Munitions and then in the Territorial Army in 1916. After the war, he was twice threatened with courts-martial after having failed to show on parade for demobilisation. He later returned to his job in the City. On 19 June 1920, he was appointed a deputy lieutenant of Forfarshire.[5]


He died at the family home of Glamis Castle just after midnight on the morning of 7 February 1930 of pneumonia, aged 44, leaving his widow to care for their four young children. (Two of them, Nerissa and Katherine, were severely mentally disabled.)[6] Three days later he was buried at St Paul's Walden Bury.[7]

His widow was a leading guest at the 1947 wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.[8] She outlived him by thirty-six years and died on 19 July 1966, aged 76.

Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon[edit]

Royal Earlswood Hospital c.1854

Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon were two of the daughters of John Herbert Bowes-Lyon and his wife Fenella (née Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis). As John was the brother of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon the Queen Mother, the two daughters were first cousins of Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret, sharing one pair of grandparents, Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and Nina Bowes-Lyon, Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne.[9]

In 1987, it was revealed that Nerissa and Katherine had been placed in Earlswood Hospital for the mentally disabled in 1941. Although Nerissa died in 1986, and Katherine in 2014, both had been listed in Burke's Peerage as being dead since the 1963 edition.[10] Suggestions of a royal cover-up were rejected in the press by Lord Clinton, who thought that his aunt Fenella (the mother of the two daughters) had completed the form for Burke's Peerage incorrectly due to Fenella being 'a vague person'; however, Burke's Peerage included specific dates of death for both sisters.[11] According to a 2011 television documentary about the sisters, "throughout their time at the hospital, there is no known record that the sisters were ever visited by any member of the Bowes-Lyon or royal families, despite their aunt, the Queen Mother, being a Patron of MENCAP" (the charity for people with learning disabilities). Nurses interviewed on the documentary said that, to their knowledge, the family never even sent the sisters a birthday or Christmas gift or card. When Nerissa died in 1986, none of her family attended the funeral. She was buried at Redhill Cemetery.[12] Her grave was only marked with plastic tags and a serial number until her existence was revealed in the media, after which the family added a proper gravestone.[11][13][14]

Three other mentally disabled cousins also lived in Earlswood Hospital. Harriet Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis (1887–1958), sister of Nerissa and Katherine's mother Fenella, married Major Henry Nevile Fane, and 3 of their 7 children lived in Earlswood Hospital: Idonea Elizabeth Fane (1912–2002), Rosemary Jean Fane (1914–1972), and Ethelreda Flavia Fane (1922–1996).[15] Prof. David Danks, then director of the Murdoch Institute,[16] thought that a genetic disease may have killed male members of the family in early childhood and caused mental retardation in females.[17] In 1996 the surviving cousins were moved to Ketwin House care home in Surrey;[18] when it closed in 2001, they were moved to another care home in Surrey.[12]



  1. ^ a b Andrew Morton, "Theirs is the kingdom: the wealth of the British royal family", Publisher Summit Books, 1989, page 86)
  2. ^ BOWES-LYON, Hon. John, Who Was Who, A & C Black, 1920–2016 (online edition, Oxford University Press, 2014)
  3. ^ "Player Profile: John Bowes-Lyon". CricketArchive. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  4. ^ "Peace at last for the Queen's cousin".
  5. ^ "No. 31953". The London Gazette. 25 June 1920. p. 6879.
  6. ^ "Queen Mother's niece by marriage has pauper's funeral". Telegraph, By Chris Hastings, David Bamber and Susan Bisset. 14 Apr 2002
  7. ^ Vickers, Hugo, Elizabeth: The Queen Mother (Arrow Books/Random House, 2006) p.112
  8. ^ Royal Collection: Seating plan for the Ball Supper Room[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ "Descendancy for BOWES-LYON Claude George, 14th Earl of Strathmore & Kinghorn at Family History UK Trees, retrieved 14 Nov 2011
  10. ^ "Queen's Cousin In Mental Hospital", St. Joseph News-Press, 6 April 1987
  11. ^ a b "Royal Nieces Cover-up Denied By Lord Clinton", The Glasgow Herald, 8 April 1987
  12. ^ a b Kathleen Tessaro, The Debutante, Publisher HarperCollins UK, 2010, ISBN 0-00-736601-9, ISBN 978-0-00-736601-9, 384 pages ("Authors note")
  13. ^ "The Queen's Hidden Cousins", Channel 4, 17 November 2011
  14. ^ "Books: The Debutante Archived 27 October 2010 at the Wayback Machine", at, retrieved 14 Nov 2011
  15. ^ "Hon. Harriet Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis" at thePeerage website, retrieved 14 Nov 2011
  16. ^ "The History of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute Archived 11 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine" website, retrieved 14 Nov 2011
  17. ^ "Bowes-Lyon Retardation Gene May Have Killed Males‎", The Age, 9 April 1987
  18. ^ Chris Hastings, David Bamber and Jessica Berry, "Queen's cousin in 'sub-standard' care home", 13 Aug 2000. Retrieved 14 Nov 2011