Valentine’s Day was especially happy for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, also known as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The devoted couple chose 14 February to announce that they’re ‘overjoyed to be expecting their second child’, as their spokesperson emphasised. The baby will be a sibling for their son Archie and eighth in line to the throne.
The partnership between the Queen’s youngest son, Prince Edward, and his wife Sophie, is a similarly strong, happy union. Their 1999 wedding was held in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex also married. To celebrate the union between Prince Edward and Sophie, the Queen granted them the elite titles Earl and Countess of Wessex. (You may be wondering where Wessex is – it’s actually an ancient name for much of South West England.) The couple’s seat is Bagshot Park, near Windsor, where they’ve raised their children, Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.
One of the Queen’s Favourite Relatives
Born Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1965, the Countess of Wessex grew up in Kent in an upper-middle-class family. Her father is a retired businessman; her mother was a charity worker. The Countess enjoyed a career in public relations and embarked on a relationship with her future husband after helping him plan a charity event in 1993. When they married, BBC News highlighted Sophie’s wealth of ‘worldly experience and professional success’.
Since 2002, the Countess of Wessex has been a full-time working member of the Royal Family. As the patron of more than 70 charities and other good causes, she’s clearly inherited her mother’s philanthropic nature. Much of the Countess’s charity work involves supporting women, especially those affected by conflict. In the light of her charity work, The Sunday Times described her as ‘a countess who has found her calling’.
With a reputation for being caring, dedicated and capable, the Countess is believed to be one of the Queen’s favourite relatives. Prince Edward is the only one of the monarch’s four children who hasn’t gone through a divorce. The Queen and Prince Philip recently celebrated their 73rd anniversary, and Sophie admires their relationship. What’s more, the Countess’ business background makes her a media-savvy noblewoman who’s at ease during royal engagements. That’s invaluable during the era of social media and rolling news.
The Evolution of the Countess’s Royal Role
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex made the difficult decision to step away from royal duties and public life last spring. As the couple’s website states, their aim was to escape the distressing ‘media intrusion into their lives’. They now live in the US.
As a result of this major change to the Royal Family, the Countess of Wessex’s role can be seen to be evolving. That’s not to say she’s trying to replace the Duchess; Meghan and her husband remain valued members of the Queen’s circle (responding to the couple’s baby news, a Buckingham Palace statement said, ‘the entire royal family are delighted’).
The Countess has long been a senior royal; it’s only natural for her to assume a more prominent position now. ‘People may pay more attention to what I am doing’ these days, she realises.
In recent months, Sophie has played key roles in high-profile events. She was at the forefront of the VE Day 75 celebrations (during which she talked via video link to an RAF veteran) and joined other senior royals at Windsor Castle for a festive event to thank key workers and volunteers. January saw her represent the Royal Family during an NHS conference, thanking staff for their vital contribution to the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
In the words of Hello! magazine’s Royal Editor, Emily Nash, ‘The Countess is one of the unsung members of the Royal Family’. Now Sophie is increasingly in the royal spotlight, her work may finally receive the public recognition it deserves.
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