Earl of Wessex

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Earldom of Wessex
Coat of Arms of Edward, Earl of Wessex.svg
Creation date 19 June 1999
Monarch Elizabeth II
Peerage Peerage of the United Kingdom
First holder HRH The Prince Edward
Present holder HRH The Prince Edward,
1st Earl of Wessex
Heir apparent James, Viscount Severn
Remainder to the 1st Earl's heirs male of the body lawfully begotten
Subsidiary titles Viscount Severn
HRH The Prince Edward, the current Earl of Wessex

Earl of Wessex is a title that has been created twice in British history, once in the pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxon nobility of England and once in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. The region of Wessex (the ‘West Saxons’), in the south and southwest of England, had been one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (the Heptarchy), whose expansion in the tenth century created a united Kingdom of England.

First and second creations

Wessex was one of the four earldoms of Anglo-Danish England.[1] In this period the earldom of Wessex covered the lands of the old kingdom of Wessex, covering the counties of the south of England, and extending west to the Welsh border. During the reign of King Canute the earldom was conferred on Godwin at some time after 1020.[2] Thereafter Godwin rose to become, in King Edward's time, the most powerful man in the kingdom.

On his death in 1053 the earldom passed to Godwin's son, who later became King Harold II and died at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Following the Norman conquest in the winter of 1066, King William bestowed the earldom on William FitzOsbern, his most trusted companion.[3] FitzOsbern continued to help William consolidate his new realm until his death in Normandy in 1071.

Following this the earldom was reduced in power and regional jurisdiction, and passed to FitzOsbern's son, Roger, as the earldom of Hereford.[4]

Third creation (current)

In 1999, Queen Elizabeth II's youngest son, Prince Edward, married Sophie Rhys-Jones. Younger sons of the monarch have customarily been given dukedoms at the time of their marriage, and experts had suggested the former royal dukedoms of Cambridge and Sussex as the most likely to be granted to Prince Edward. Instead, the Palace announced that Prince Edward would eventually succeed to the title Duke of Edinburgh, currently held by his father.[citation needed] In the meantime, in keeping with the tradition of a monarch's son receiving a title upon marriage, but preserving the rank of duke for the future, Prince Edward became the first British prince in centuries to be specifically created an earl, rather than a duke. His wife Sophie became The Countess of Wessex. In the newspaper, The Sunday Telegraph reported that he was drawn to the historic title Earl of Wessex after watching the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love, in which a character with the title 'Lord Wessex' is played by Colin Firth.[5]

The current Earl of Wessex is also Viscount Severn.[6] This title is used as a courtesy title by the Earl's son, who was born on 17 December 2007.

The heir apparent is the present holder's son James, Viscount Severn (b. 2007). The Earl's son is currently the only person in the line of succession to the titles of Earl of Wessex and Viscount Severn.


  1. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 1007: "In this year also was Edric appointed alderman over all the kingdom of the Mercians.", 1017: "This year also was Alderman Edric slain at London".
  2. Mason p33
  3. Crouch p100
  4. Crouch p108
  5. Richard Eden (12 December 2010). "Royal wedding: Prince William asks the Queen not to make him a duke". The Telegraph. Retrieved 12 December 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. The London Gazette: no. 55536. p. 7011. 28 June 1999. Retrieved 2 October 2015.