Sarah, Duchess of York

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Duchess of York (more)
Sarah, Duchess of York, Gahanga Cricket Stadium 1 (October 2017) (cropped).jpg
The Duchess in Rwanda, October 2017
Born Sarah Margaret Ferguson
(1959-10-15) 15 October 1959 (age 58)
London Welbeck Hospital, London[1]
Spouse Prince Andrew, Duke of York
(m. 1986; div. 1996)
House Windsor (by marriage)
Father Ronald Ferguson
Mother Susan Barrantes
Signature Sarah's signature

Sarah, Duchess of York (Sarah Margaret; née Ferguson; born 15 October 1959), commonly referred to by the media as "Fergie", is a British writer, charity patron, public speaker, film producer and television personality. She is the former wife of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. She is the younger daughter of Major Ronald Ferguson and Susan Barrantes (née Wright). Sarah has two daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York, who are respectively seventh and eighth in the line of succession to the British throne.

Early life[edit]

Sarah Margaret Ferguson was born on 15 October 1959 at London Welbeck Hospital. She is the second daughter of Major Ronald Ferguson (1931–2003) and his first wife, Susan (née Wright; 1937–1998).[2] After Sarah's parents divorced in 1974, her mother married polo player Hector Barrantes in 1975[3] and moved to Trenque Lauquen in the Argentine pampas. Sarah stayed at the 480-acre (1.9 km2) Dummer Down Farm at Dummer, Hampshire, her father's home since age 8.[4] Major Ferguson married Susan Deptford in 1976 and had three more children: Andrew, Alice, and Elizabeth.

Sarah attended Daneshill School, Stratfield Turgis and then Hurst Lodge School, Ascot.[5] After finishing a course at Queen's Secretarial College at the age of eighteen,[6] Sarah went to work in a public relations firm in London. Later she worked for an art gallery, and then a publishing company.

Marriage to Prince Andrew[edit]

The Duke and Duchess of York on their wedding day

On 19 March 1986,[7] Prince Andrew (fourth in line to the throne at the time) and Sarah Ferguson announced their engagement.[8] Prince Andrew had known Ferguson since childhood, and they had met occasionally at polo matches, and became re-acquainted with each other at Royal Ascot in 1985.[9] Prince Andrew designed the engagement ring himself. It consists of ten diamonds surrounding a Burmese ruby. He chose the Burmese ruby to complement Sarah's red hair.[10]

After securing the Queen's permission (which was required by a British law, the Royal Marriages Act 1772, for children of the monarch), Andrew and Sarah were married in Westminster Abbey on 23 July 1986. The Queen bestowed the title Duke of York upon Prince Andrew, and, as his new wife, Sarah automatically assumed her husband's royal and ducal status and became Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York.

The Duchess of York at the Royal Welsh Show, 1991

In January 1988, during a formal trip to New York to attend a fundraising event, the Duchess was attacked by a young man at the entrance of her hotel.[11] The man, who was screaming "murderers 3/8" and had the Irish Republican Army flag in his hands when he rushed at Sarah, was "charged with attempted assault on the Duchess and assault on a federal agent".[11] Later a State Department press officer stated that "she was unharmed in the incident".[11] In March 1988, the Duke and Duchess of York visited California.[12] The trip was described by two British newspapers as a "brash, vulgar, excessive, weak-humored exhibition by two royals".[12] The couple were defended by city officials of Los Angeles who stated that the criticism was "awful" and offending, and observers described the Duke and his wife's behaviour as friendly, and said that they fulfilled their duties.[12]

The couple became parents on 8 August 1988, with the birth of their daughter, Beatrice Elizabeth Mary. Their second child, another daughter, Eugenie Victoria Helena, was born on 23 March 1990.[13] During her marriage, the tabloid press ridiculed the Duchess after her weight climbed to 15 stone 10 pounds (100 kg) (220 lbs) labelling her unflatteringly as the "Duchess of Pork".[14]

By 1991, the marriage was in trouble, and the couple had drifted apart. While her husband was away on naval or royal duties, the Duchess was frequently seen in the company of other men, notably Texan multimillionaire Steve Wyatt.[15] The Duke and Duchess of York finally announced their separation on 19 March 1992.[16]

In August 1992, surreptitiously taken photographs of the Duchess sunbathing topless with John Bryan, an American financial manager, were published in the British tabloid Daily Mirror. The Duchess endured widespread public ridicule contributing to her further estrangement from the British royal family.[17] In 1995, the Queen's younger sister Princess Margaret, who had received a bouquet of flowers sent by Sarah, wrote in a letter to the Duchess: "You have done more to bring shame on the family than could ever have been imagined".[18]

After four years of official separation, the Duke and Duchess announced the mutual decision to divorce in May 1996.[19] In the years after her divorce, the Duchess claimed that she had received £15,000 a year as a divorce settlement and cited her deal as a spokeswoman with Weight Watchers as her main "source of income".[20][21][18] However, subsequent information given by senior officials to The Sunday Telegraph revealed that Sarah had received a lump sum settlement of £3 million.[22][23]

By her divorce on 30 May 1996, she retained the style Her Royal Highness with the style of other divorced peeresses, eliminating the preface "The" before "Duchess of York". However, in accordance with letters patent issued in August 1996 regulating post-divorce royal titles, Sarah ceased being a Royal Highness, as she was no longer married to the Duke of York.[24] Her current name, thus, is Sarah, Duchess of York. Should she marry again, Sarah would lose the use of the style of "Duchess of York".

Since the divorce, Sarah still attends some functions with her daughters, such as the investitures of the Duke of York into the Royal Victorian Order and the Order of the Garter, on which occasions she is afforded the courtesy of treatment as a member of the Royal Family.[25] The Lord Chamberlain's Diamond Jubilee Guidelines mention the Duchess specifically as being a member of the Royal Family in her own right.[26][27]

Personal life after divorce[edit]

Sarah and her daughters in 2004
Sarah, Duchess of York, and Elizabeth Nabel pose for a picture backstage at The Heart Truth Red Dress Collection Fashion Show, 4 February 2005

After her divorce, the British tabloids became critical of Sarah's lifestyle. It was alleged that she lost 250,000 euros worth of jewels in 1995, while travelling with her dresser Jane Andrews, who was suspected of stealing them.[28][29][30][31] The Duchess's commercial interests have included an eleven-year endorsement with Weight Watchers, product development and promotion with Wedgwood and Avon.[32]

In the mid 1990s, the Duchess reportedly had a £4.2 million deficit in her bank account which she paid off by going on "a four-year earning spree" in the US.[22][23]

Until 2004, the Duke of York and his former wife shared the family's home, Sunninghill Park in Berkshire. That year, the Duke moved to the refurbished Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park, previously the home of his grandmother, who resided there until her death in 2002. In 2007, the Duchess rented the neighbouring Dolphin House; a fire at Dolphin House in 2008 caused her to vacate the premises and move into Royal Lodge with her former husband.

In 2009, Sarah participated in a much-criticised ITV "experiment"[33] in which she joined families in a council estate to advise them on proper living. She stayed for ten days in Northern Moor, a suburb area in Wythenshawe, Manchester, England, and the result was The Duchess on the Estate, transmitted on ITV1 on 18 August 2009. A previous, similar television venture, The Duchess in Hull, in which Sarah advised lower-income families on diet and behaviour received similar criticism.[34]

In August 2013, Sarah was invited to stay at Balmoral Castle with Andrew and their daughters as guests of the Queen, and in September 2013, in response to a question about the possibility of remarrying Andrew, Sarah said "He’s still my handsome prince, he’ll always be my handsome prince."[35][36]

In 2015, the Duchess assumed residence in Verbier, Switzerland, where she and the Duke of York own a chalet. She also maintains a rented apartment in Eaton Square in London and a room at Royal Lodge.

In April 2016, Sarah was named in the Panama Papers.[37]

Cash for access[edit]

In May 2010, Sarah was filmed by the News of the World offering access to Prince Andrew for £500,000 by Mazher Mahmood, an undercover reporter posing as an Indian businessman.[38] On the video made as a documentary source for the story, which is publicly available, Sarah is heard to say that "£500,000 when you can, to me, open doors".[39] She is seen taking away a briefcase containing US$40,000 in cash. Exposure surrounding the incident increased Sarah's public profile and notoriety. Sterling Publishers substantially increased the print run of Ashley Learns About Strangers, the Duchess's latest book for children; however, the notoriety did not translate into additional book sales.[40] In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Sarah explained her behaviour by saying that she had been drinking prior to soliciting the cash, and was "in the gutter at that moment".[41]

As a result of the "Cash for access" scandal, Sarah was not invited to the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.[42]

In November 2016, it was reported that Sarah intended to sue News Group Newspapers (parent company of the News of the World) and its owner Rupert Murdoch for £25 million in damages citing her "loss in earnings" as well as the subsequent "distress" that the media sting brought to her as the main reasons.[43] In January 2018, it was reported that the actual amount the Duchess was seeking was £45 million.[44]

Further debt problems[edit]

Sarah, Duchess of York, at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival

It was reported in August 2010 that the Duchess might declare voluntary bankruptcy with debts of £5 million,[45] though other sources had suggested she owed about £2 million.[46]

In March 2011, it was reported that Jeffrey Epstein had helped the Duchess avoid bankruptcy by paying off some of her debts. The payments were reportedly made after intervention from the Duke of York.[47] In the summer of 2011, Finding Sarah aired on the OWN network. One episode of the U.S.-filmed reality series depicted Sarah meeting with Suze Orman, the internationally known financial advisor, receiving from Orman a strict lecture and practical advice on how to resolve her financial issues.[48]

Criminal charges and international arrest warrant[edit]

On 13 January 2012, the Ministry of Justice of Turkey issued an international arrest warrant for the Duchess. She had travelled to Turkey in 2008, and covertly filmed a Turkish State Orphanage. The Turkish authorities alleged that the Duchess made a false declaration when entering the country (in relation to her motives for visiting Turkey), trespassed into a Turkish Government institution and also invaded the privacy of children.[49] These charges carry sentences of up to 22 years imprisonment. Turkey and Britain have an extradition treaty; however, Home Office officials have stated,

Under UK extradition law a judge must order the discharge of [an extradition request] if it is not an offence under UK law and in the country requesting extradition. In this case there is no offence in UK law so there will be no extradition.[50]

Turkey maintains that the Duchess distorted information about the orphanage and used an isolated incident in a smear campaign against the Republic of Turkey. Turkey invited international human rights organisations to inspect any orphanage of its choosing to show its transparency in relation to the issue.[51][52]

On 5 May 2012, the trial began into the charges brought by the Ankara State Prosecutor's office. Cansu Sahin, representing Ferguson, who was not present, told the Ankara court that her client has apologised and would like to plea bargain with the prosecution.[53][54]

Charity work[edit]

Since her marriage to Prince Andrew, and continuing after the divorce, Sarah has been involved with a number of charities.

Sarah, Duchess of York, and Dr. Vivian Pinn, NIH associate director for women's health, at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, Bethesda, USA, June 1998

In 1990, the Duchess became patron of the Teenage Cancer Trust. Sarah has since opened most of the charity's various units, including those at Middlesex Hospital, University College London, St James’s University Hospital, Cardiff University Hospital and Royal Marsden Hospital.[55] In 1993, the Duchess founded Children in Crisis, a children’s charity focused on education and grant making to international programmes. The Duchess serves as Founder and Life President.[56] In June 1998, the Duchess made a brief trip to Bethesda in order to receive an award from the Journal of Women's Health.[57] She also visited the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center.[57] NIH associate director for communications said, "The Duchess has many opportunities to talk to women via television, at lectures and through print media interviews" and was interested "in learning from NIH scientists what major health messages she should deliver to women, based on the research conducted through NIH."[57] The panelists briefed Sarah on medical research topics and major health messages regarding women. Information was shared on the Women's Health Initiative, obesity, breast cancer, and osteoporosis.[57]

In 2003, the Duchess joined the American Cancer Society at a congressional briefing. Sarah, Duchess of York, was a founding supporter of the American Cancer Society's Great American Weigh In,[58] an annual campaign (modelled after the Society's Great American Smoke Out) aimed at raising awareness of the link between excess weight and cancer. In 2006, the Duchess established The Sarah Ferguson Foundation[59] based in Toronto, which derives funds from Sarah's commercial work and private donations with the aim of supporting charities internationally that serve children and families in dire need. Included under this umbrella organisation is her patronage and support of several British charities, including Mental Disability Rights International, the African-Caribbean Leukaemia Trust, Tommy's, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, and CARE International.[60] In 2008, the Duchess became patron of Humanitas, a charity focused on providing children with education, healthcare and family support.[61]

Sarah, Duchess of York, with Heather Melville and Marcis Skadmanis in Lancaster House, London, June 2017

In 2010, the Duchess became a supporter of the Mullany Fund,[62] whose aim is to support British students wishing to study medicine or physiotherapy. In 2011, the Duchess became the global ambassador for Not For Sale, a charity focused on human slavery.[63] In 2013, the Duchess, along with her former husband, the Duke of York and their daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, founded Key To Freedom, a business structure for women in vulnerable situations in India who can sell their wares through the British retailer Topshop. In 2014, the Duchess was appointed an ambassador for the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London.[64][65] In 2015, the Duchess revealed her special connection with India & polo when she attended as a chief guest of HVR BARODA CUP in New Delhi, India under the invitation of Harshavardhan Reddy chairman of HVR SPORTS.[66] In 2016, the Duchess collaborated with British contemporary artist Teddy M and her daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, to create the first ever Royal graffiti. The painting, titled Royal Love, was painted on the lawn of Royal Lodge and features graffiti by the Duchess and Princesses. The painting was exhibited in London at the Masterpiece Art Fair, Chelsea in June/July 2016 and later auctioned at private dinner for a five figure sum. The proceeds from the sale of the painting were donated to the charity, Children in Crisis. British GQ magazine published an exclusive on the creation of the painting.[67]


In May 2004, Sarah hosted an eleven-minute production featurette on Universal's DVD Peter Pan, titled The Legacy of Pan. Five months later, Walt Disney Feature Animation released a special DVD The Cat That Looked at a King, with Sarah's voice in the role of the Queen; the story is derived from the Mary Poppins books by P. L. Travers. Sarah had a producing role (credited as "Sarah Ferguson") in the 2009 Jean-Marc Vallée film The Young Victoria, starring Emily Blunt and featured a background player role for Sarah's daughter Princess Beatrice.[68][69] It was Sarah who conceived the idea for a film based upon the early years of Queen Victoria. She had been interested in the queen since her marriage to Prince Andrew, and had written two books about her with the help of an historian. The Victoria-Albert relationship in particular drew her into the queen's history, as she believed there were parallels between their marriage and her own with Prince Andrew, as they both "fought for their love" in the midst of public scrutiny.[68]

TV and radio[edit]

  • Health advisor in The Duchess in Hull on ITV1.
  • In the United Kingdom:
    • Guest editor on BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
    • Regular contributor to BBC Radio 2's primetime lifestyle show Steve Wright.[70]
    • Previously co-produced and served as presenter in a documentary for BBC television called In Search of the Spirit.[71]
    • Hosted an 8-part panel talk show on Britain's SkyOne television in 1998.
    • Appeared in an episode of the Vicar of Dibley.[72]
    • Travelled to Romania and Turkey for the documentary, Duchess and Daughters: Their Secret Mission, shown on ITV1 on 6 November 2008, investigating poor treatment and conditions in children's institutions in those two countries.[73]
    • 5 March 2009 – The Graham Norton Show, BBC Two.[74]
    • 18 August 2009 – The Duchess on the Estate, ITV1 (about Northern Moor, Manchester).[75]
    • 1 September 2009 – Loose Women, ITV1.[76]
  • In the United States:

Cultural references[edit]

  • The 2006 title of R&B/Hip Hop singer Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson's debut album, The Dutchess (dutchess is a variant spelling of duchess dating to the 17th century[84]) was a reference to the fact that the two are associated with the same surname. According to various media outlets, the Duchess of York called Fergie after the release of her album and remarked: "Fergie, it's Fergie... Now that you've done this, you have to sing at a concert for my foundation, 'Children in Crisis'."[85] Fergie agreed and committed to charity concerts in London and New York City.
  • In November 2006, Sarah was honoured for her AIDS campaigning at the New York AIDS Film Festival.[citation needed]
  • In February 2007, Sarah was named Mother of the Year by the American Cancer Society.[86]
  • On 22 March 2001, Sarah was referenced in an episode of Gilmore Girls. Trix, Mr. Gilmore's mother, said to Emily Gilmore and Lorelai Gilmore (after they were arguing), "Raising your voice during high tea, who ever heard of such a thing. It's like Fergie all over again."[87]

Titles, styles, honours and arms[edit]

Titles and styles[edit]

  • 15 October 1959 – 23 July 1986: Miss Sarah Margaret Ferguson
  • 23 July 1986 – 30 May 1996: Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York
  • 30 May 1996 – 21 August 1996: Her Royal Highness Sarah, Duchess of York
  • 21 August 1996 – present: Sarah, Duchess of York

Upon marriage, Sarah became "Her Royal Highness The Princess Andrew, Duchess of York, Countess of Inverness, Baroness Killyleagh".[88][89]

Immediately after her divorce she retained the style Her Royal Highness; however on 21 August 1996, letters patent were issued which removed the style from divorced former wives of princes.[24] She remained titled Sarah, Duchess of York, in keeping with the standard form of address for former wives of peers.[26]







Name Birth Marriage Issue
Princess Beatrice of York 8 August 1988
Princess Eugenie of York 23 March 1990


Sarah once described her family as "country gentry with a bit of old money". She is descended from both the Stuart and Tudor houses. On her father's side, Sarah is a descendant of King Charles II of England via two of his illegitimate sons, Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond, and James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth. By her paternal great-great-grandfather Henry Brand, 2nd Viscount Hampden and her maternal great-grandfather Mervyn Wingfield, 8th Viscount Powerscourt, Sarah also descends from Lady Anne Palmer.[91][92][93][94] Lady Anne was the eldest child of Royal mistress Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland; she was acknowledged by King Charles II and adopted the surname Fitzroy.

She has aristocratic ancestry, being the great great-granddaughter of the 6th Duke of Buccleuch, a great-granddaughter of the 8th Viscount Powerscourt and a direct descendant of James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Abercorn and of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, making her a distant cousin of her ex-husband Prince Andrew, Duke of York and also of Diana, Princess of Wales. Her paternal grandmother was Marian Montagu Douglas Scott, a first cousin of Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott, who married Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, an uncle of Queen Elizabeth II.[95]

Sarah also has connections to the United States. Through ancestors of her great-great-grandfather, Mervyn Wingfield, 7th Viscount Powerscourt, Sarah is probably a descendant of Adam Winthrop, grandfather of Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John Winthrop, and is thus connected to the Winthrop Family.[96]



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External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
The Duke of Edinburgh
Chancellor of the University of Salford
Succeeded by
Professor Sir Walter Bodmer