Royal albums: 'Little Johnnie looked very peaceful ...'

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The Independent Online
HE IS, in the photograph, an attractive and normal-looking boy. Yet Prince John, the fifth and youngest son of the Queen's grandfather, George V, was never allowed out in public. He was hidden even from friends of the family and guests at the King's home, York Cottage, on the Sandringham estate, being housed in a separate building. His only playmates were his brothers and sisters, who demonstrated great affection for the boy. Until the publication of today's pictures, only one photograph of him was known to exist.

Prince John had epilepsy. At the beginning of the century, the disorder was considered untreatable. The fear of the royal circle was that the boy might have a fit in public. So he was hidden away. Shortly before his 13th birthday, the severity and frequency of his fits began to increase. Then one evening in 1919, his nurse, Lalla Bill, telephoned from the prince's segregated home at Wood Farm, Wolferton, and told his mother, Queen Mary, that the boy had fallen asleep after a serious fit and could not be woken.

The Queen and King motored down to Wood Farm. Later the Queen wrote in her diary: "Found poor Lalla very resigned but heartbroken. Little Johnnie looked very peaceful lying there." The death, she wrote "came as a great release". He was buried, "very privately", three days later in the graveyard at Sandringham church.