Sophie, Countess of Wessex

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Sophie
Countess of Wessex (more)
Sophie, grevinna av Wessex.jpg
The Countess at the wedding of Princess Madeleine of Sweden and Christopher O'Neill in Stockholm, June 2013
Spouse Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
(m. 1999)
Issue
Lady Louise Windsor
James, Viscount Severn
Full name
Sophie Helen[1]
House House of Windsor (by marriage)
Father Christopher Rhys-Jones
Mother Mary O'Sullivan
Born (1965-01-20) 20 January 1965 (age 49)
Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, England
Religion Church of England

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, GCVO DStJ (Sophie Helen; née Rhys-Jones; born 20 January 1965) is the wife of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Married in 1999, she worked in public relations until 2002 and now assists her husband in his royal duties. The Earl and Countess have two children: James, Viscount Severn, and Lady Louise Windsor, who are respectively ninth and tenth in the line of succession.

Early life[edit]

Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones was born at Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, on 20 January 1965, the second child and first daughter of Christopher Bournes Rhys-Jones (born 1931), a retired tyre salesman, and his wife, Mary (née O'Sullivan; 1934–2005), a secretary,[2] who already had a son, David. Sophie was named after her father's sister, Helen, who died in a riding accident more than a decade before Sophie was born. Her godfather, actor Thane Bettany, is her father's stepbrother;[3] both men spent their early life in Sarawak, North Borneo, then a British Protectorate ruled by the White Rajahs.[4]

Sophie was raised in Brenchley, Kent.[5] She began her education at Dulwich Preparatory School, before moving on to Kent College, Pembury, where she was friends with Sarah Sienesi, with whom she subsequently shared a flat in Fulham and who later became her lady-in-waiting. She then trained as a secretary at West Kent College, Tonbridge.[5]

Career[edit]

She began a career in public relations, working for a variety of firms, including four years at Capital Radio, where she was assigned to the press and promotions department, as well as public relations companies The Quentin Bell Organisation and MacLaurin Communications & Media. She also worked as a ski representative in Switzerland and spent a year travelling and working in Australia. In 1996, Rhys-Jones launched her public relations agency, RJH Public Relations, which she ran with her business partner, Murray Harkin.

In 2001, a News of the World undercover reporter, Mazher Mahmood, posing as a sheikh, recorded the Countess making disparaging comments about certain members of the British Government and appearing to use her royal status in order to gain clientele. The comments were subsequently published in The Mail on Sunday newspaper, and then by other media outlets. Buckingham Palace released a statement saying the reported comments were "selective, distorted and in several cases, flatly untrue".[6] Subsequently, in 2002, both the Earl and Countess announced that they would quit their business interests in order to focus on royal duties and aid the Queen in her Golden Jubilee year.[7]

Marriage[edit]

The Earl and Countess of Wessex at the wedding of the Crown Princess of Sweden in June 2010

Sophie met Prince Edward, the youngest son of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, at a charity event in 1993, and the two began their relationship soon afterwards.[8] Their engagement was announced on 6 January 1999. Edward proposed to Sophie with an engagement ring featuring a two-carat oval diamond flanked by two heart-shaped gemstones set in 18-karat white gold. This engagement ring was made by Asprey and Garrard (now Garrard & Co) and is worth an estimated £105,000.[9] The wedding took place on 19 June of the same year at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, a break from the weddings of Edward's older siblings, which were large, formal events at Westminster Abbey or St Paul's Cathedral. On the day of their marriage, the Queen created Edward Earl of Wessex and Viscount Severn and declared that he would eventually be created Duke of Edinburgh once that title reverts to the Crown. After the union, the couple moved to Bagshot Park, in Surrey.

The couple has two children:

The children, per prior agreement between the Queen and their parents, will either not have or not use (depending on interpretation) the title of Prince(ss), nor the style Royal Highness.

After the death of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 2002, Sophie became the second highest-ranking woman in the U.K.'s order of precedence, preceded only by the Queen, as her brothers-in-law, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, were then unmarried. Due to marriages of the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge and changes in favour of princesses by blood for private occasions, Sophie now ranks after her sisters-in-law, the Princess Royal and the Duchess of Cornwall; her nieces, Beatrice and Eugenie; her niece-in-law Catherine and her mother-in-law's cousin Alexandra.[10] At official occasions, however, she ranks third, behind only her mother-in-law and sister-in-law.

In December 2001, the Countess was taken to the King Edward VII Hospital after feeling unwell, whereupon it was discovered that she was suffering from a potentially life-threatening ectopic pregnancy. Two years later, on 8 November 2003, she prematurely gave birth to her daughter, Louise, resulting from a sudden placental abruption that placed both mother and child at risk, and the Countess had to undergo an emergency caesarean section at Frimley Park Hospital, while the Earl of Wessex rushed back from Mauritius. The Countess returned to Frimley Park Hospital on 17 December 2007, to give birth, again by caesarean section, to her son, James, Viscount Severn.[11]

Royal duties[edit]

The Earl and Countess of Wessex, along with former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Lincoln Alexander, unveil an Ontario Heritage Trust plaque in front of the Toronto Dominion Centre, 2006

The Countess of Wessex began to take on royal duties after her wedding, with her first overseas tour being to the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island in 2000.[12] She also became patron of a number of organisations, including the SAFC Foundation (the charitable arm of Sunderland A.F.C.) and Girlguiding UK. In 2003, she became Patron of Tomorrow's People Trust.[13] In 2006, the Countess also lent her support to the Born in Bradford research project, which is investigating causes of low birth weight and infant mortality.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex at Trooping the Colour in June 2013

The Earl and Countess of Wessex are the primary representatives of The Queen at foreign royal events, especially marriages of heirs apparent. In this capacity, the Countess has attended the weddings of the Crown Prince and Princess Martha Louise of Norway, the Crown Prince of Denmark, the Crown Princess of Sweden, the Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg, the 40th birthday celebrations for the Prince of Orange (now King of the Netherlands) and the enthronement and the wedding of the Prince of Monaco.

In December 2011, the Countess of Wessex joined her husband visiting troops in Afghanistan. On the same trip, the royal couple visited Bahrain, and received two gifts of jewels from the Bahraini royal family and Prime Minister. Given concern about human rights abuses in Bahrain, this gift attracted controversy, with calls for the jewels to be sold, and the proceeds used for the benefit of the Bahraini people.[14] In February and March 2012, The Earl and Countess visited the Caribbean for the Diamond Jubilee, visiting Saint Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla and Antigua and Barbuda. Highlights of the tour included the 50th Anniversary Independence Day celebrations in Saint Lucia, a joint address from both houses of the Barbados Parliament and a visit to sites affected by the recent volcanic eruptions in Montserrat.[15]

Criticism[edit]

The Countess of Wessex has been criticised for accepting two sets of jewels from the royal family of Bahrain during an official day-long[16] visit to the country in December 2011, as she and her husband returned to the UK from a trip to Afghanistan. She was given one set by Bahrain’s king and a second set by the country’s prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa ibn Salman Al Khalifa. Her husband, the Earl, received a pen and a watch as well as a silk rug from the Crown Prince of Bahrain, Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who also gave the countess a silver and pearl cup. The value of the jewellery has not been estimated and its precise contents were not disclosed.[17]

Critics said the countess should sell the gems and give the proceeds to political protesters in Bahrain. Denis MacShane, a former Foreign Office minister, said: “Given the appalling suffering and repression of the Bahraini people, it would be a fitting gesture for the Countess of Wessex to auction these trinkets and distribute the proceeds to the victims of the regime.”[17]

Gift guidelines[edit]

Royal Family guidelines and procedures relating to gifts drafted in 2003 state that "before accepting any gift, careful consideration should always be given, wherever practicable, to the donor, the reason for and occasion of the gift and the nature of the gift itself (..) Equally, before declining the offer of a gift, careful consideration should be given to any offence that might be caused by such action."[16]

Titles, styles, honours and arms[edit]

Titles and styles[edit]

Since her marriage, Sophie has been styled as: Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex.[18]

Sophie's style and title in full is: Her Royal Highness The Princess Edward, Countess of Wessex,[18] Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, Dame of Justice of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem.

Honours[edit]

See also List of honours of the British Royal Family by country

Orders
Medals

Honorary military appointments[edit]

Sophie wearing her Honorary Air Commodore's uniform at Kandahar Airfield
Canada Canada
United Kingdom United Kingdom

Arms[edit]

Issue[edit]

Name Birth Marriage Issue
Lady Louise Windsor 8 November 2003
James, Viscount Severn 17 December 2007

Ancestry[edit]

Sophie is the 11th cousin once removed of her husband, through their common ancestors Nicholas St. John of Lydiard Tregoze and his wife, Elizabeth (née Blount, a relative of royal mistress Elizabeth Blount). By multiple lines, Sophie is a direct descendant of King Edward III.[24] Sophie also descends from the Lancastrian King Henry IV through his son Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.[25][26][27][28][29] She is also of Welsh, Irish, and Scottish ancestry, through her father and her mother respectively, as well as French ancestry, being a descendant of King Henry II of France. Sophie is also distantly related to the family of the Viscounts Molesworth by the descent of her paternal grandmother - Margaret Patricia Molesworth - from Robert Molesworth, 1st Viscount Molesworth.[30][31] Sophie is also a descendent of the Welsh prince and warrior Elystan Glodrydd by her father.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ As a titled royal, Sophie seldom uses a surname, but, when one is used, it is Mountbatten-Windsor.
  2. ^ "Countess of Wessex's mother dies". BBC. 29 August 2005. Retrieved 27 October 2008. 
  3. ^ Peerage genealogy
  4. ^ Biography of Paul Bettany
  5. ^ a b "PR girl turns princess". BBC News. 11 June 1999. Retrieved 22 June 2013. 
  6. ^ "Palace denies reports of Sophie insults". BBC News. 2 April 2001. Retrieved 8 July 2011. 
  7. ^ "Sophie and Edward quit business roles". BBC News. 2 March 2002. 
  8. ^ "History - Prince Edward's wedding (pictures, video, facts & news)". BBC. Retrieved 27 December 2011. 
  9. ^ "Crown jewels: The fabulous rings which sealed the love of Europe's royal couples". HELLO! magazine (UK). 
  10. ^ The Queen tells the Duchess of Cambridge to curtsy to the 'blood princesses’
  11. ^ "Countess gives birth to baby boy". BBC. 17 December 2007. Retrieved 27 October 2008. 
  12. ^ Scott, Burke; Aimers, John (October 2001). "Wessexs' Tour a Triumph". Canadian Monarchist News (Monarchist League of Canada) (Autumn 2001). Retrieved 27 October 2008.  [dead link]
  13. ^ "Sophie takes first steps towards a royal career". The Daily Telegraph. 19 February 2003. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  14. ^ Sawer, Patrick (8 January 2012). "How a routine royal visit spelt trouble for the Countess of Wessex". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  15. ^ Harris, Carolyn (15 February 2012). "Royals of the Caribbean: The 2012 Diamond Jubilee Commonwealth Tours Begin". royalhistorian.com. Retrieved 22 June 2013. 
  16. ^ a b Staff writer (7 January 2012). "Countess of Wessex's Bahrain jewel gift criticised". BBC. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  17. ^ a b Andy Bloxham (6 January 2012). "Countess of Wessex criticised for accepting jewels from Bahrain". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  18. ^ a b "The Countess of Wessex – Titles". royal.gov.uk. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Honours and appointments: The Countess of Wessex". Royal Household. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  20. ^ "The Countess of Wessex appointed to the Royal Victorian Order" (Press release). Queen's Printer. 20 January 2010. Retrieved 20 January 2010. 
  21. ^ "The Earl and Countess of Wessex Receive Centennial Medal" (Press release). Government of Saskatchewan. 7 June 2005. Retrieved 27 October 2008. 
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^ a b Sophie's new coat. BBC News. 19 May 1999. Retrieved 14 November 2010.
  24. ^ Sophie of Wessex descends from Edward III of England through several lines. Sir Nicholas St. John's paternal grandmother, Jane Inwardby, descended from Edward III The Royal Lineage; Sir Lachlan Maclean, 1st Baronet who descends from Edward and Scottish royalty and nobility.
  25. ^ Sir Bernard Burke. A genealogical and heraldic history of the extinct and dormant baronetcies of England, by J. and J.B. Burke, Scott, Webster, and Geary, 1838. pg 546.
  26. ^ Sir Bernard Burke. A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Colonial Gentry, Harrison, 1891. pg 198.
  27. ^ Bernard Burke. A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland, Enjoying Territorial Possessions Or High Official Rank: But Uninvested with Heritable Honours, Volume 4. pg 134.
  28. ^ Sir Bernard Burke. A genealogical and heraldic history of the landed gentry of Great Britain & Ireland, Volume 2, Harrison, 1871. pg 856.
  29. ^ Charles Mosley, editor. Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 volumes (Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003), volume 2, page 2720.
  30. ^ Charles Mosley, editor, Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 volumes (Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003), volume 2, page 2731.
  31. ^ The Royal Lineage of Our Noble and Gentle Families: together with their paternal ancestry, Volume 1. Hazell, Watson and Viney, 1883. pg 31. Google eBook

External links[edit]

Orders of precedence in the United Kingdom
Preceded by
The Duchess of Cornwall
Ladies
HRH The Countess of Wessex
Succeeded by
The Princess Royal