| Countess of Wessex
|Born|| 20 January 1965 |
Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford
|Spouse|| Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex|
| Lady Louise Windsor|
James, Viscount Severn
|House||Windsor (by marriage)|
|Religion||Church of England|
United Kingdom and the
other Commonwealth realms
Sophie, Countess of Wessex GCVO (Sophie Helen; née Rhys-Jones; born 20 January 1965), is the wife of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, himself the youngest son of Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Married in 1999, she worked in public relations until 2002 and now supports her husband in his royal duties. The Earl and Countess have two children, Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.
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, 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; both men spent their early life in Sarawak, North Borneo, then a British protectorate ruled by the White Rajahs.
While she was still young, the Rhys-Jones family moved to 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.
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 Organization and MacLaurin Communications & Media. She also worked as a ski representative in Switzerland and spent a year traveling and working in Australia. In 1996, with enough experience behind her, Rhys-Jones then 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'. 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.
The Countess of Wessex is particularly close to her mother-in-law, the Queen, with whom she rides and shares an interest in military history. The Countess is reported to be the first of the Queen's children-in-law with whom she has enjoyed a permanently warm relationship. Due to this fact, The Countess is privileged enough to be the only member of the Royal Family to ride in the State Limousine with HM The Queen at Sandringham on Christmas Day.
Sophie is left-handed like her nephew, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge.
Engagement and marriageEdit
The engagement of Sophie Rhys-Jones and The Prince Edward, the youngest son of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, was announced on 6 January 1999. The couple had met six years earlier, in 1993, at a charity event, and began their relationship soon afterwards.
Their 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 declared her son would eventually be created Duke of Edinburgh, when that title merges with the Crown after both the Queen and Prince Philip die and Charles, who is the heir to his father's title as well as his mother's, has become King – Sophie would then become the Duchess of Edinburgh. Until then The Prince Edward would be Earl of Wessex and Viscount Severn, the latter title reflecting his bride's Welsh origins. Upon her marriage Rhys-Jones became Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex.
After the union, the couple moved to Bagshot Park, in Surrey.
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, she gave birth to a daughter, Lady Louise Windsor, on 8 November 2003. It was a premature birth, resulting from a sudden placental irruption that placed both the 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.
The children, per prior agreement between the Queen and their parents, will either not use or not have (depending on interpretation) the titles of Prince and Princess, nor the style Royal Highness.
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. She also became patron of a number of organizations, including the SAFC Foundation (the charitable arm of Sunderland AFC), and Girlguiding UK. 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 are the primary representatives of her Majesty the Queen at foreign royal events.
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.
In February and March 2012, The Earl and Countess visited the Caribbean for the Diamond Jubilee. The itinerary consisted of St Lucia; Barbados; St Vincent and the Grenadines; Grenada; Trinidad and Tobago; Montserrat; St Kitts and Nevis; Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda. Highlights included the 50th Anniversary Independence Day celebrations in St. Lucia, a joint address from both houses of the Barbados parliament and a visit to sites affected by the recent volcanic eruptions in Montserrat.
The Countess of Wessex has been criticised for accepting two sets of jewels from the royal family of Bahrain during an official day-long 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.
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.”
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 offense that might be caused by such action."
Titles, styles, honors, and armsEdit
Titles and stylesEdit
- 20 January 1965 - 19 June 1999: Miss Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones
- 19 June 1999 - present: Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex
Sophie's style and title in full: Her Royal Highness The Princess Edward Antony Richard Louis, Countess of Wessex, Countess Of Forfar,Viscountess Severn, Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, Dame of Justice of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem.
- 2004: Royal Family Order of Queen Elizabeth II
- 2005: Dame of Justice of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem (DStJ)
- Service Medal Of The Order Of St. John
- 7 June 2005: Commemorative Medal for the Centennial of Saskatchewan
- 2010: Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO)
Honorary military appointmentsEdit
- 2005: Colonel-in-Chief of the South Alberta Light Horse
- Colonel-in-Chief of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment
- United Kingdom
- Colonel-in-Chief of the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps
- Colonel-in-Chief of the Corps of Army Music
- Royal Colonel of the 5th Battalion The Rifles
- Honorary Air Commodore Royal Air Force Wittering
- Ship's Sponsor of HMS Daring