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Sophie, Countess of Wessex

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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
Born Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones
(1965-01-20) 20 January 1965 (age 53)
Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford
Spouse Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
(m. 1999)
House Windsor (by marriage)
Father Christopher Rhys-Jones
Mother Mary O'Sullivan

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 various activities. 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.[1] 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;[2] both men spent their early life in Sarawak, North Borneo, then a British Protectorate ruled by the White Rajahs.[3]

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. Sophie then trained as a secretary at West Kent College, Tonbridge.[4]


She began a career in public relations, working for a variety of firms, including four years at Capital Radio,[5] where she was assigned to the press and promotions department, as well as public relations companies The Quentin Bell Organisation and MacLaurin Communications & Media.[6] 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, for five years.[6][7]


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

While working at Capital Radio, Sophie met Prince Edward, the youngest son of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, for the first time in 1987 when he was dating her friend.[8] She met Prince Edward again 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.

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]

The Earl and Countess have two children: Lady Louise Windsor (born 8 November 2003) and James, Viscount Severn (born 17 December 2007).

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]


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

The Countess of Wessex's first overseas tour after her marriage was 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, she also lent her support to the Born in Bradford research project, which is investigating causes of low birth weight and infant mortality.

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]

Privacy and the media

Violation of privacy

In May 1999, less than a month before her wedding, The Sun published a photo of a topless Sophie with her Capital Radio colleague Chris Tarrant, which was taken during a business trip to Spain in 1988.[20][21][22] Buckingham Palace immediately issued a statement saying, "This morning's story in The Sun is a gross invasion of privacy and cannot be regarded as in the public interest. It has caused considerable distress."[20][22] Prime Minister Tony Blair also condemned the publication of the photograph.[20][21] The Palace made an official complaint to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).[20][21] According to Sophie's business partner the incident had left her "distressed", and she was reportedly "devastated" and felt "she was 'letting the side down’ before her wedding".[22][20][23] Tarrant later said, "There was never, ever the slightest hint of romance between Sophie and myself, let alone these snidey insinuations."[20] Following its publication, the newspaper issued a statement and apologised to Rhys-Jones[20] and the next issue came out with the headline "Sorry, Sophie".[21] It also said that it would again apologise to Sophie in a letter and donate all sale proceeds of the issue to her charities.[21][24] The photo had been given to the tabloid by Kara Noble, a friend and colleague of Sophie, for £100,000.[20][21] Noble later apologised in the following months saying, "I just want to say sorry to everyone who was involved."[25] Both she and the newspaper faced criticism from the public,[20] and Noble was fired from her job at Heart 106.2 FM.[22] The couple later decided not to make a formal complaint.[24]

Media sting

In April 2001, Sophie appeared in the media after she was misled in a meeting at the Dorchester by a News of the World reporter posing as an Arab sheikh, Mazher Mahmood,[26][27] who was later exposed for perjury in Southwark Crown Court.[28] It was claimed by the newspapers that during their "secretly taped" conversation, the Countess had insulted the Royal Family and politicians, calling the Queen "old dear", and referring to Cherie Blair as "absolutely horrid, horrid, horrid", as well as criticising the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, and mocking Leader of the Opposition William Hague's appearance.[26][27][29] It was reported by the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Mirror that the Countess subsequently had sent apology letters to Blair, Hague and Prince Charles.[26]

Buckingham Palace denied the accuracy of the reports saying, "The Countess of Wessex, who is trying to pursue her own career, is obviously vulnerable to set-ups such as this."[26] The Palace released a statement saying the reported comments were "selective, distorted and in several cases, flatly untrue".[26] The Palace officials stated that the Countess hadn't insulted the Queen, the Queen Mother, or the politicians, and the rumours about her difficulties in marriage and her alleged comments about her husband's sexuality were untrue, while according to the Mail on Sunday multiple reliable sources had confirmed these reports.[26] Subsequently, in 2002, both the Earl and Countess announced that they would quit their business interests in order to focus on activities and official engagements on behalf of the royal family and aid the Queen in her Golden Jubilee year.[30]

Jewellery gifts

The Countess of Wessex has been criticised for accepting two sets of jewels from the royal family of Bahrain during an official day-long[31] 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.[32]

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.”[32]

Royal Family guidelines and procedures relating to gifts published by the government 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."[31]

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Titles and styles

Since her marriage, Sophie has been styled as Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex.[33]



Honorary military appointments

Sophie dressed as Honorary Air Commodore on a visit to Kandahar, December 2011
Canada Canada
United Kingdom United Kingdom



Sophie descends from the Lancastrian King Henry IV of England.[39] She is also 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.[40]

See also


  1. ^ "Countess of Wessex's mother dies". BBC. 29 August 2005. Retrieved 27 October 2008. 
  2. ^ "Person Page". 
  3. ^ Biography of Paul Bettany Archived 26 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ "PR girl turns princess". BBC News. 11 June 1999. Retrieved 22 June 2013. 
  5. ^ "Sun apologises to 'devastated' Sophie Rhys-Jones". The Guardian. 26 May 1999. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  6. ^ a b Furness, Hannah (2 July 2012). "Countess of Wessex: the Royal Family's latest style icon?". The Telegraph. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  7. ^ Lowrie, Margaret (20 June 1999). "How 'sensible' and 'royal wedding' add up to 'yawn'". CNN. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  8. ^ "Sophie: Life in the spotlight". BBC News. 2 April 2001. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  9. ^ "History – Prince Edward's wedding (pictures, video, facts & news)". BBC. Retrieved 27 December 2011. 
  10. ^ "Crown jewels: The fabulous rings which sealed the love of Europe's royal couples". HELLO! magazine. UK. 
  11. ^ "Sophie Wessex at 50 – a countess the Queen can rely on". The Telegraph. 17 January 2015. Retrieved 25 April 2015. 
  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. 
  14. ^ "Countess gives birth to baby boy". BBC News. 17 December 2007. Retrieved 27 October 2008. 
  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. 
  16. ^ "Sophie takes first steps towards a royal career". The Daily Telegraph. 19 February 2003. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  17. ^ Sawer, Patrick (8 January 2012). "How a routine royal visit spelt trouble for the Countess of Wessex". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
  18. ^ Harris, Carolyn (15 February 2012). "Royals of the Caribbean: The 2012 Diamond Jubilee Commonwealth Tours Begin". Retrieved 22 June 2013. 
  19. ^ "Richard III: Leicester Cathedral reburial service for king". BBC. 26 March 2015. Retrieved 2 January 2016. 
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Sun apologises in royal picture row". BBC. 26 May 1999. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  21. ^ a b c d e f "Sun says 'sorry, Sophie'". BBC. 27 May 1999. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  22. ^ a b c d "Sun apologises to 'devastated' Sophie Rhys-Jones". The Guardian. 26 May 1999. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  23. ^ Eden, Richard (16 September 2012). "Duchess of Cambridge receives support from Countess of Wessex in topless pictures row". The Telegraph. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  24. ^ a b "Tabloid rapped over topless Sophie photo". BBC. 2 June 1999. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  25. ^ "Noble sorry for Sophie snap". BBC. 19 March 2000. Retrieved 5 February 2017. 
  26. ^ a b c d e f "Palace denies reports of Sophie insults". BBC. 2 April 2001. Retrieved 7 January 2017. 
  27. ^ a b "The fake sheikh and his greatest hits". The Independent. London. 6 September 2005. Retrieved 7 January 2017. 
  28. ^ "Tulisa Contostavlos drugs trial collapses". BBC. 21 July 2014. Retrieved 2 January 2016. 
  29. ^ "Word by word, Sophie digs herself deeper into trouble". The Guardian. 8 April 2001. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  30. ^ "Sophie and Edward quit business roles". BBC News. 2 March 2002. 
  31. ^ a b Staff writer (7 January 2012). "Countess of Wessex's Bahrain jewel gift criticised". BBC. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  32. ^ a b Bloxham, Andy (6 January 2012). "Countess of Wessex criticised for accepting jewels from Bahrain". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  33. ^ "The Countess of Wessex – Titles". Archived from the original on 27 March 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Honours and appointments: The Countess of Wessex". Royal Household. Archived from the original on 2 January 2014. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  35. ^ "The Countess of Wessex appointed to the Royal Victorian Order" (Press release). Queen's Printer. 20 January 2010. Archived from the original on 24 January 2010. Retrieved 20 January 2010. 
  36. ^ "The Earl and Countess of Wessex Receive Centennial Medal" (Press release). Government of Saskatchewan. 7 June 2005. Archived from the original on 11 June 2011. Retrieved 27 October 2008. 
  37. ^ "Garrison Community Council - Upcoming Events". 
  38. ^ a b Sophie's new coat. BBC News. 19 May 1999. Retrieved 14 November 2010.
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ 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