Full name: John Charles Francis
Born: 12th July 1905, York Cottage, Sandringham
Son of King George V and Mary of Teck
Died: 18th January 1919, Wood Farm, Sandringham
Buried: St. Mary Magdalene Church, Sandringham
History has forgotten the youngest child of George V and Queen Mary, and would have been Uncle to our current Queen. Prince John’s short 13-years of life were marred by ill heath and seizures which were kept quiet from the public. Owing to this lack of understanding, speculation was rife that Prince John had endured a sad and lonely life, however more recent research has shown that he had a cheerful childhood, and parents that deeply cared for him.
Prince John, known as ‘Johnnie’ to his family, was born in 1905 during the reign of his Grandfather, Edward VII. His parent’s were Prince and Princess of Wales and the family lived a modest life at York Cottage on the Sandringham estate. As was typical of the time, the royal children were raised by a nanny and only saw their parents at certain allotted times. Prince John spent much of his first years with his brother George, who was closest in age to him.
At the age of four, it became clear that Prince John was an unwell child. He was described as being ‘painfully slow’ and had experienced his first seizure and exhibiting symptoms that would now have been used to suggest autism. Johnnie did not attend his parent’s coronation in 1911 as his health was considered to be too poor, although it was perceived that the royal family were more concerned with their reputation and image. Nevertheless, it was clear his family cared deeply for him, even the strict and lacking-emotion King was known to have shown interest in his youngest child and always treated him with kindness.
It was speculated whether Prince John would attend school as his elder brother’s had done. His brother George had started at St Peter’s Court Prep School in Broadstairs in 1912 and it was reported that Prince John would not be joining him the following academic year. His education was by private tutors at home, and Johnnie proved to be an inquisitive child, keen to learn about the world around him. After this, Prince John was hardly seen in public again, and with the outbreak of war in 1914, his already limited time spent with his family became even more rare.
By 1916 Johnnie’s seizure’s became more severe, and he spent all his time at Wood Farm on the Sandringham estate with his trusted nanny Charlotte ‘Lala’ Bill. His declining health meant his tutors were dismissed and he spent most of time in the gardens in Sandringham. Queen Alexandra kept a special garden just for him. The royal family spent Christmas together for the final time in 1918, which was a joyous occasion after the end of the War, however Johnnie’s health meant his time with the family was limited as his seizures were becoming more frequent and caused great distress to his parents and siblings.
Prince John experienced a major seizure during the night of 18th of January 1919, and died in his sleep. Queen Mary wrote that, ‘how grateful we feel to God for having taken him in such a peaceful way, he just slept quietly into his heavenly home, no pain no struggle, just peace for the poor little troubled spirit which had been a great anxiety to us for many years, ever since he was four years old.’ His funeral took place three days later at St Mary Magdalene Church and was attended by the royal family but also all the house staff at Sandringham.