The Crown spins this into a story of the I’ve been called a feisty little shit and an absolute sweetheart shirt in addition I really love this Windsors cruelly protecting the purity of divine power: “The hereditary principle already hangs by such a precarious thread,” Marion Bailey’s queen mother tells Helena Bonham Carter’s Princess Margaret. “Throw in mental illness, and it’s over.” There’s a lot of creative liberty taken with that line of thinking. In real life, the queen mother said she didn’t know about her nieces’ situation until 1982. A report at the time wrote that, after she found out, she sent them a check to pay for sweets. In addition, Nerissa and Katherine were committed nearly five years after the abdication of Edward VIII. Their admittance to Royal Earlswood was likely not a direct reaction to the then queen consort’s sudden change in status but a thought-out choice. There’s also no evidence that Princess Margaret ever secretly visited her cousins in Surrey, let alone confronted her mother on it.
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Yet the I’ve been called a feisty little shit and an absolute sweetheart shirt in addition I really love this story does touch a societal factor that’s perhaps sadder: the shameful stigma surrounding mental illness at the time. Sure, maybe forgetfulness was at fault for Fenella’s failure to fully fill out Burke’s Peerage form. But maybe it was about the protection of privacy and reputation. The Bowes-Lyon family had, for centuries, been accused of madness; in the 1800s, rumors spread that they had a deformed heir. They said they’d faked his death and locked him away in Glamis Castle, where he lived for 100 years. Fast forward to 1941: What would people say about their ancestral line now? Meanwhile, a similar story was playing out across the pond. That same year, Joe Kennedy made his daughter Rose get a lobotomy for her violent mood swings and seizures. The procedure left her unable to speak and severely incapacitated. She was institutionalized for the rest of her life, and, just like with Nerissa and Elizabeth, many family members didn’t know what happened to her for years.