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.
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. 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; both men spent their early life in Sarawak, North Borneo, then a British Protectorate ruled by the White Rajahs.
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. 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 Organisation and MacLaurin Communications & Media. 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.
Sophie met Prince Edward, the youngest son of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, at a charity event in 1993, and the two began their relationship soon afterwards. 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. 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.
The Earl and Countess have two children: Lady Louise Windsor (born 8 November 2003) and James, Viscount Severn (born 17 December 2007).
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. 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.
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. 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.
The Countess of Wessex’s first overseas tour after her marriage was to the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island in 2000. 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. 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. 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.