The Crown: The Hereditary Principal
November 24, 2020 7:55 AM - Season 4, Episode 7 - Subscribe

Princess Margaret finds her current fling is a friend of Dorothy, has a health scare, and seeks more duties only to be rebuffed (again) and demoted. As she tries to deal with her depression, she discovers she has cousins, locked up in an institution for "mental defectives" and officially declared dead.

The fear with the cousins, both Bowes-Lyons (the Queen Mum's family) as expressed in the show, is that knowledge of their existence and problems would throw doubt on the bloodline of the Queen.

The real history shows that the public (without Margaret's help) became aware of them in 1987, and that there is no record of the Royals ever visiting them, although their mother Fanella Bowes-Lyon (nee Trefusis) visited them regularly. The incorrect information in Burke's Peerage is blamed on false information from Fanella.
posted by nubs (6 comments total)
 
I always enjoy the Princess Margaret episodes, in general, and this one was enjoyable - even if it is clear that Margaret's role in the "centre of the family" is over. Seeing the show allow her to become a bit of the voice of the audience this season has been fun, and her comments about how the family treated the Bowes-Lyon sisters does seem to echo public sentiment at the time.
posted by nubs at 7:57 AM on November 24, 2020 [1 favorite]


In the AV Club comments for this episode, a poster has related a slightly different rendering of the story. Briefly, after the death of the QM’s “favorite brother”, the widow was left with four children, two of whom were severely disabled. As was customary at the time, they were sent away. The family was well off and did not need financial aid from the royal family. This version places them in care ten years earlier, 1932 or so. Well before the abdication and when Elizabeth herself was still young. There’s still no real explanation for the death dates.

In writing the script, Margaret was the last person I would’ve assigned to uncover the story and become concerned about it. It felt shoehorned into her arc and mainly to give HBC a spotlight episode in a decade where Margaret apparently wasn’t doing much except hanging in Mustique. (And why there is no mention of her children, I don’t know.) In the end, it didn’t show her visiting or making their life better, which of course she didn’t although the AV Club poster said the QM sent gifts every year after the story came out.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:09 AM on November 24, 2020 [2 favorites]


I’d like to think that in the 1980s, most people understood the difference between developmental disabilities and mental illness. Margaret fretting about becoming like her cousins took me out of the story.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 11:59 AM on November 24, 2020 [4 favorites]


I agree, computech_apolloniajames. It almost felt in poor taste to me.
posted by all about eevee at 12:31 PM on November 24, 2020 [2 favorites]


Much has been made on how easy it was to get your posh but mentally ill - or just sufficiently different - family members locked away from sight in an institution back then (and the show has already covered the case of Princess Alice of Battenberg on Philip's side) - less on how the specific instance of a patient that they were, in fact, royalty - would no doubt be greeted with a wan "of course you are, dear!". For this reason, I enjoyed the inter-cutting between dinner time in royal and psychiatric institutions.
posted by rongorongo at 7:13 AM on November 26, 2020


Most people probably did understand the difference between developmental disabilities and mental illness by the 1980s, but Margaret was educated by a governess in the midst of the eugenics movement (maybe a bit after its heydey, but very much alive and well in the 1930s and 1940s when Margaret was young). I thought her worry was more about a vague "hereditary taint," which is very much in line with how genetic illnesses were considered, at least by non-scientists, in the early 20th century. (For a truly wild and infuriating read, try The Jukes and the Kallikaks; that mindset is 100% what prompted The Family to try and hide Nerissa and Katherine.)

Actually, the show makes a common pop-culture-y genetic error -- the therapist tells Margaret that the "recessive gene" descended from their mother's side, which sparks Margaret's "revelation" that her family's terribleness is just on them. Well, a single recessive gene would have made them asymptomatic carriers. (That's what recessive means.) What they probably meant was an X-linked dominant gene, such as Rett syndrome or Aicardi syndrome (or maybe autosomal dominant. In fact, that's what was reported at the time.

Anyway, my point is, if a show produced in 2020, with easy access to Wikipedia, can make a mistake like that, it's 100% believable to me that a woman educated by a governess to be a "nice young lady" in the 1930s would have a rather shaky grasp on the whole concept of Mendelian inheritance.
posted by basalganglia at 4:26 AM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]


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