Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, (Edward Antony Richard Louis; born 10 March 1964) is the youngest of four children and the third son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. At the time of his birth, he was third in line to succeed his mother; as of 2016, he is ninth in line.
Prince Edward Antony Richard Louis was born at Buckingham Palace, on 10 March 1964, the third son and fourth and youngest child of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Baptised on 2 May 1964 in the Private Chapel at Windsor Castle by the then Dean of Windsor, Robin Woods; the Prince’s godparents were: Prince Richard of Gloucester (his mother’s first cousin); the Duchess of Kent (his mother’s first cousin by marriage, for whom Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, his mother’s aunt by marriage, stood proxy); Princess George William of Hanover (his paternal aunt); the Prince of Hesse and by Rhine (his first cousin twice removed); and the Earl of Snowdon (his maternal uncle by marriage). As a child of the Sovereign, Edward was styled from birth as His Royal Highness The Prince Edward.
As with his older siblings, a governess was appointed to look after the Prince and was responsible for his early education at Buckingham Palace. At the age of seven, Edward was then sent to Gibbs School before attending, in September 1972, Heatherdown School, near Ascot in Berkshire. He then, as his father and elder brothers had done before him, moved to Gordonstoun, in northern Scotland, and was appointed Head Boy in his last term. Edward obtained a C-grade and two D-grades at A-level, and after leaving school spent a gap year abroad, working as a house tutor and junior master for two terms in September 1982 at the Wanganui Collegiate School in New Zealand.
Upon his return to Britain, Edward matriculated at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he read history. His admission to Cambridge caused some controversy at the time, since his A-level grades were far below the standard normally required, “straight As”, for Oxbridge entrance. Prince Edward graduated in 1986 as BA (lower second class honours) and proceeded Master of Arts (Cantab) in 1991, making him the fourth of only five members of the Royal Family in history to have obtained a university degree.
Prince Edward made two very public attempts to pursue a career but, after failing at both, returned to his life as full-time member of the royal family.
On leaving university, Prince Edward joined the Royal Marines as an officer cadet, having been sponsored by the Marines with £12,000 towards his tuition at Cambridge University on condition of future service. However, in January 1987 he dropped out of the gruelling commando course after completing just one third of the 12-month training. Media reported, at the time, that the move prompted a berating from Prince Philip who “reduced his son to prolonged tears.”
After leaving the Marines, Edward opted for a career in entertainment. He commissioned the 1986 musical Cricket from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, for his mother’s 60th birthday celebration, which led to a job offer at Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Theatre Company, where he worked as a production assistant on musicals such as The Phantom of the Opera, Starlight Express, and Cats. His duties reportedly involved making tea for the artistic staff. While there he met actress Ruthie Henshall, whom he dated for three years.
Edward’s first foray into television production was the programme The Grand Knockout Tournament, informally known as It’s a Royal Knockout, on 15 June 1987, in which teams sponsored by him, Princess Anne and the Duke and Duchess of York competed for charity. The media attacked the programme; it was later reported that the Queen was not in favour of the event and that her courtiers had all advised against it.
In 1993, Edward formed Ardent Productions, under the name of Edward Windsor from 1995, and Edward Wessex from 1999. Ardent was involved in the production of a number of documentaries and dramas, but Edward was accused in the media of using his royal connections for financial gain, and the company was referred to by some industry insiders as “a sad joke” due to a perceived lack of professionalism in its operations. The Guardian opined that “to watch Ardent’s few dozen hours of broadcast output is to enter a strange kingdom where every man in Britain still wears a tie, where pieces to camera are done in cricket jumpers, where people clasp their hands behind their backs like guardsmen. Commercial breaks are filled with army recruiting advertisements”.
Ardent’s productions were somewhat better received in the United States and a documentary Edward made about his great uncle, Edward VIII (the late Duke of Windsor) in 1996, sold well worldwide. Nonetheless, the company reported losses every year it operated save one when Edward did not draw a salary. An Ardent two-man film crew was alleged to have invaded the privacy of his nephew, Prince William in September 2001, when he was studying at the University of St Andrews, against industry guidelines regarding the Royals’ privacy. The Prince of Wales was reportedly angered by the incident. In March 2002, the Prince announced that he would step down as production director and joint managing director of Ardent to concentrate on his public duties and to support the Queen during her Golden Jubilee year. Ardent Productions was voluntarily dissolved in June 2009, with assets reduced to just £40. Edward’s original backers in the venture are said to “have lost every penny”.
The Prince met Sophie Rhys-Jones, then a public relations executive with her own firm, in 1994. Their engagement was announced on 6 January 1999. Edward proposed to Sophie with an Asprey and Garrard engagement ring worth an estimated £105,000: a two-carat oval diamond flanked by two heart-shaped gemstones set in 18-carat white gold.
Their wedding took place on 19 June 1999 in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. This was a departure from the weddings of Edward’s older siblings, which were large, formal events at Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s Cathedral. On his wedding day, Prince Edward was created a hereditary peer as Earl of Wessex with the subsidiary title of Viscount Severn, again breaking from a tradition whereby sons of the Sovereign were created royal dukes. It was however revealed that the Queen wishes that he be elevated from the rank of Earl to Duke of Edinburgh after that dukedom, held by Prince Philip since 1947, reverts to the Crown (namely, after “both the death of the current Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales’ succession as King” ), and for his children to be styled as the children of an Earl, rather than as Prince/ss and Royal Highness (as previous Letters Patent issued by King George V stipulated).
The Earl and Countess have two children: Lady Louise Windsor, born 8 November 2003, and James, Viscount Severn, born 17 December 2007, and they reside at Bagshot Park in Surrey.