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Sophie, Countess of Wessex

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Countess of Wessex (more)
File:Sophie, grevinna av Wessex.jpg
The Countess at the wedding of Princess Madeleine of Sweden and Christopher O'Neill in Stockholm, June 2013
Born (1965-01-20) 20 January 1965 (age 57)
Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, England
Spouse Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
(m. 1999)
Issue Lady Louise Windsor
James, Viscount Severn
Full name
Sophie Helen[1]
House Windsor (by marriage)
Father Christopher Rhys-Jones
Mother Mary O'Sullivan
Religion Church of England

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, GCVO (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 tenth and eleventh in line to the British throne.

Early life

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] She has an elder brother, David, and was named after her father's sister, Helen, who died in a riding accident in 1960. 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 a four-bedroom 17th-century farmhouse in Brenchley, Kent. 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]


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 (later exposed for perjury in Southwark Crown Court[6]), 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".[7] 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.[8]


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.[9] 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-carat white gold. This engagement ring was made by Asprey and Garrard (now Garrard & Co) and is worth an estimated £105,000.[10] 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, Prince Edward was created a hereditary peer as Earl of Wessex with the subsidiary title of Viscount Severn, and the Queen declared her intention that he be elevated as Duke of Edinburgh when that title reverts to the Crown. Following their union, the couple moved to Bagshot Park, their home in Surrey.

The Earl and Countess have two children:

The children, by 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.[11] With the 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.[12] 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. It was discovered that she was suffering from an ectopic pregnancy and the foetus had to be removed.[13] 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.[14]

Royal duties

The Countess at the England vs Germany 2010 Women's Hockey Champions Trophy Bronze Medal Match

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.[15] 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.[16] 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 senior 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, Crown Prince Felipe of Spain (now King of Spain), the Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg, the 40th birthday celebrations for the Prince of Orange (now King of the Netherlands) and the Prince of Monaco's wedding and enthronement.

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.[17] 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.[18]

On 26 March 2015, she attended the reburial of Richard III of England in Leicester Cathedral.[19]


The Countess of Wessex has been criticised for accepting two sets of jewels from the royal family of Bahrain during an official day-long[20] 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.[21]

Critics said the countess should sell the gems and give the proceeds to political protesters in Bahrain. Denis MacShane, then a Labour MP and previously a 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.”[21]

Gift guidelines

Royal Family guidelines and procedures relating to gifts published by HMG 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."[20]

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Titles and styles

  • 20 January 1965 – 19 June 1999: Miss Sophie Rhys-Jones[22]
  • 19 June 1999 – present: Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex[23]

Sophie's style and title is alternatively: Her Royal Highness The Princess Edward, Countess of Wessex,[23] Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, Dame of Justice of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem.


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


Honorary military appointments

Sophie dressed as Honorary Air Commodore on a visit to Kandahar
Canada Canada
United Kingdom United Kingdom


Arms of Sophie, Countess of Wessex
Coat of Arms of Sophie, Countess of Wessex.svg
The Countess bears the arms of her husband, Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, impaled with her father's.[28]
Coronet of a Child of the Sovereign
Quarterly, 1st and 4th, Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or armed and langed Azure, 2nd Or a lion rampant Gules armed and langued Azure within a double tressure flory counterflory of the second, 3rd Azure a harp Or stringed Argent, the whole differenced with a label of three points Argent with the central point charged with a Tudor rose; impaled with a shield quarterly Gules and Azure a lion rampant regardant within an orle Or (for Rhys-Jones).
Dexter, a lion rampant gardant Or crowned with the coronet of the rank of a child of the Sovereign proper; Sinister a wyvern Azure, gorged with a coronet Or composed of crosses pattées and fleurs de lis a chain affixed also Or.
(Welsh: Hateful the man who loves not the country that nurtured him)
The Royal Victorian Order circlet.
The Badge of the Order of St John.
Maltese Cross (optional as DJStJ).
Other elements
Insignia of GCVO appended
Coat of Arms of Sophie Rhys-Jones.svg
Prior to marriage, Sophie Rhys-Jones had her arms redesigned by the Garter Principal King of Arms Sir Peter Gwynn-Jones, based on a 200-year-old previous coat of arms, which had never been officially recognised. The new grant of arms applied to her father Christopher with remainder to his older brother Theo. The grant alludes to her family's noble Welsh heritage and one of her ancestors the warrior Elystan Glodrydd, Prince of Ferrig (represented by the Lion). The colours of red and blue is also the colours of the Royal Fusiliers Regiment, in which members of her family have served. She is quoted saying: "It's wonderful, I'm absolutely thrilled", "It's not modern and different, because it is representative of my family's heritage, so it's in keeping with that."[28]
Previous versions
Previous versions were depicted without the Royal Victorian Order, in which she was only appointed in 2010, but superimposed upon the badge of the Order St John (as DJStJ). Prior to her marriage, she bore her father's arms on a lozenge only.


Sophie descends from the Lancastrian King Henry IV of England.[29] She is also distantly related to the family of the Viscounts Molesworth by the descent of her paternal grandmother – Margaret Patricia Molesworth (1904–1985) – from Robert Molesworth, 1st Viscount Molesworth. Sophie's paternal grandfather, Theophilus Rhys-Jones (d.1959), was headmaster of St Peter's School, Harefield, Exmouth, Devon.[30]

See also


  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Peerage genealogy
  4. Biography of Paul Bettany
  5. "PR girl turns princess". BBC News. 11 June 1999. Retrieved 22 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Tulisa Contostavlos drugs trial collapses". BBC. 21 July 2014. Retrieved 2 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Palace denies reports of Sophie insults". BBC News. 2 April 2001. Retrieved 8 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Sophie and Edward quit business roles". BBC News. 2 March 2002.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "History – Prince Edward's wedding (pictures, video, facts & news)". BBC. Retrieved 27 December 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Crown jewels: The fabulous rings which sealed the love of Europe's royal couples". HELLO! magazine. UK.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Sophie Wessex at 50 – a countess the Queen can rely on". The Telegraph. 17 January 2015. Retrieved 25 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. The Queen tells the Duchess of Cambridge to curtsy to the 'blood princesses’
  13. "Baby joy for Sophie and Edward". BBC News. 6 May 2003. Retrieved 5 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Countess gives birth to baby boy". BBC News. 17 December 2007. Retrieved 27 October 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Scott, Burke; Aimers, John (October 2001). "Wessexs' Tour a Triumph". Canadian Monarchist News. Monarchist League of Canada (Autumn 2001). Archived from the original on 8 July 2009. Retrieved 27 October 2008. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Sophie takes first steps towards a royal career". The Daily Telegraph. 19 February 2003. Retrieved 23 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Sawer, Patrick (8 January 2012). "How a routine royal visit spelt trouble for the Countess of Wessex". The Daily Telegraph. London.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Harris, Carolyn (15 February 2012). "Royals of the Caribbean: The 2012 Diamond Jubilee Commonwealth Tours Begin". Retrieved 22 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Richard III: Leicester Cathedral reburial service for king". BBC. 26 March 2015. Retrieved 2 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 Staff writer (7 January 2012). "Countess of Wessex's Bahrain jewel gift criticised". BBC. Retrieved 9 January 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. 21.0 21.1 Bloxham, Andy (6 January 2012). "Countess of Wessex criticised for accepting jewels from Bahrain". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 9 January 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "Official website of the British monarchy – HRH The Countess of Wessex". Royal Household.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. 23.0 23.1 "The Countess of Wessex – Titles". Retrieved 10 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. 24.00 24.01 24.02 24.03 24.04 24.05 24.06 24.07 24.08 24.09 24.10 24.11 "Honours and appointments: The Countess of Wessex". Royal Household. Retrieved 1 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "The Countess of Wessex appointed to the Royal Victorian Order" (Press release). Queen's Printer. 20 January 2010. Retrieved 20 January 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. "The Earl and Countess of Wessex Receive Centennial Medal" (Press release). Government of Saskatchewan. 7 June 2005. Retrieved 27 October 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. [1]
  28. 28.0 28.1 Sophie's new coat. BBC News. 19 May 1999. Retrieved 14 November 2010.
  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. Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, volume 2, 2003. pages 2721–2731.

External links

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