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The Earl and Countess of Wessex: What They Taught Us About Royal Duties

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Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, are full-time working royals since 2002 and yet managed to have a quiet family life, maintaining a great deal of privacy of their children.

They taught us one thing. You can be a working royal without dragging yourself into the sea of intrigues. And you can still have a quiet family life despite assuming full-time royal roles.

That is, if the royal chooses to.

As with most royalists know, members of the royal family are expected to be tact all the time to protect the prestige of the throne. That's how magic works on the royal court that made the monarchy thrive in the current century.

Understanding royal roles

It might be futile, but anyone who is joining the very public life of the royal family is expected to embrace the life of public duty and the scrutiny of the public, that's the downside of having HRH titles.

It is a life of privilege but also a life filled with too much intrigues and criticism that one needs to understand to endure the pressure of being in the limelight.

The royal family's main responsibility in life is to be the source of national pride and unity, taking a life of public service to the nation and the commonwealth.

As they do not have any other role in the constitution other than ceremonial, they take performing royal duties very seriously, in sanctity and deep respect.

However, life in the limelight has been always difficult, if not agonizing, for the royals. They are always the subject of intense public scrutiny and criticism. 

Their every move is magnified in public, and constantly watched, they almost do not have life of their own. A slight mistake becomes a front page in newspapers. And most often than not, their private family life suffers. 

The escalating pressures often lead to friction in the marital union. Though the Queen and Prince Philip managed to keep their marriage intact, their children were not.

Three of their fourth children's marriages ended in divorce. However, their youngest able to emulate their enduring marital union. Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex.

The life of working royals

Among the four children of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, only the Earl of Wessex has not divorced.

And that's quite an achievement for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh who were reeling in humiliation with the messy marriages of their three children that dragged the monarchy into unprecedented scandals.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex and the Queen

He also managed to raise a family without much public and media intrusion. His choice not to grant his children royal titles, despite grandchildren in the male-line of the monarch, spared them from having constant media coverage.

Prince Edward and his wife, HRH Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, are the perfect embodiment of what royal life should be - taking royal roles while keeping the family intact. 

The complete opposite of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

While Prince Harry and his wife left the royal family for more freedom doing business dealings and ultimately gave up performing royal roles, the Earl and Countess of Wessex gave up their business dealings in 2002 to become full-time working royals.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex

There's a big difference between understanding royal responsibilities and just thinking about personal gratification and gains. Prince Edward knew better what to do when it comes to media intrusion and keeping his children private.

The Queen's youngest son

Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, is the Queen and Prince Philip's youngest child. He was born, Edward Anthony Louis, on March 10, 1964 in Buckingham Palace. Prince Philip's older sister, Princess Sophie of Hanover, was one of his godparents.

The Queen held her three-month old son, Prince Edward, in the 1964 Trooping the Colors, while Prince Philip looked on

At birth, he was third in line of succession to the British throne, just below his older brothers - Prince Charles and Prince Andrew. Today, with the birth of Princess Eugenie's son, Gus Brooksbank, he was pushed down to 12th. 

And would even push far way below the line soon with the arrivals of new royal babies who will be ahead of him in the line of succession. 

The young Prince Edward with his parents and siblings
The royal family in Balmoral where they often spend summer

Prince Edward attended several private schools including Gordonstoun in Scotland, where his father and siblings also attended.

He obtained his BA degree in History in 1986 at the University of Cambridge's Jesus College. He then joined the Royal Marines.

Prince Edward while in the university

But after the grueling commando training associated with a military life, Prince Edward quit Marines. His decision met with fierce disapproval from his father, Prince Philip, who, at that time was serving as the Captain General of the Royal Marines.

However, despite his decision to leave the military, Prince Edward is still allowed to don his Royal Marines uniform on state occasions. He also gained honorary military medals in later years.

Prince Edward (wearing shorts) with his grandmother, the Queen Mother, and cousins, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones and David Armstrong-Jones, now the 2nd Earl of Snowdon
The Queen Mother and her grandchildren.
Standing from left: Prince Edward, Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and David Armstrong-Jones
Seated: Princess Anne and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones

After he quit the military life, Prince Edward joined theater and television production and established Ardent Productions.

Television Producer

Prince Edward's Ardent Productions, which he formed in 1993, was involved in producing television drama and documentaries, including a documentary about his great uncle, King Edward VIII.

HRH Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex

However, his business dealings were met with intense criticism from the public, accusing him of using his royal connection for financial gains. 

Due to mounting pressure, Prince Edward decided to quit Ardent Productions in 2002 to work full time as a royal, performing public duties in support to his mother, the Queen.

Ardent Productions was ultimately dissolved in 2009.

Marriage and Residence

Prince Edward met Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1994, a PR executive who had a PR company name, RJH Public Relations. They married on June 19, 1999 at St. George's Chapel, Windsor.

Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones on their wedding day

He is the only child of the Queen to be married at St. George's chapel and having a less spectacle wedding ceremony compared to his older brothers.

Following the wedding, Prince Edward and his wife took up residence in Bagshot Park, a wedding present from the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Prince Philip, the Queen and the Earl and Countess of Wessex with baby Lady Louise

Bagshot Park is in Surrey, along the Bagshot heath in Bagshot village, just 11 miles away from Windsor Castle. The couple, however, maintained an office in Buckingham Palace.

Sophie Rhys-Jones

Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones was born on January 20, 1965 and grew up in Brenchley, Kent. Her father is a retired sales director for an importer of an industrial tires and rubber goods. Her mother was Mary O'Sullivan, a charity worker who died in 2005.

Sophie Helen O'Sullivan Rhys-Jones

Like her former sisters-in-law, Diana and Sarah, and current sister-in-law, Camilla, Sophie has a royal pedigree. She descended from King Henry IV of England and her family is related to the Viscounts of Molworth.

Before marrying Prince Edward, Sophie worked as a PR executive of her own company, RJH Public Relation, but years after the wedding, she left her lucrative PR company to become a full-time working royal.

Why Prince Edward not a duke?

Customarily, all sons of the ruling British sovereigns are bestowed with the title of a duke, the highest hereditary peerage title in Britain, ranking just below a prince.

Prince Edward go-carting in Windsor with older brother, Prince Charles. May 1969

However, the Queen bestowed her youngest child an Earldom, Earl of Wessex, with a secondary title Viscount Severn, following the wedding. He was not given the title of a duke because of one reason.

It was announced later that Prince Edward will inherit the title of his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, when it reverts back to the crown upon Prince Philip's death. 

Prince Philip and his youngest son, Prince Edward

And as a preparation for the role, Prince Edward is currently performing all duties related to the Duke of Edinburgh's title, most prominently, the Duke of Edinburgh Award which Prince Philip established in 1960s.

Prince Philip has transferred his directorship role in the Duke of Edinburgh Award to Prince Edward even before his retirement from public duties in 2017.

The Duke of Edinburgh Award is granted to the youth that performed excellent services in science and other fields that promote understanding and solidarity.

Prince Edward is his father's heir to the dukedom of Edinburgh

It was announced also following his wedding that children of the Earl and Countess of Wessex will not be granted prince and princess styles to protect them from royal trappings, instead be known only as children of a British earl. 

Thus, their children are known today as Lady Louise, born in 2003, and her brother, James, Viscount Severn, born in 2007 without HRH styles.

In March 2018, his mother gifted him with another title, the Earl of Forfar, to be used when he is in Scotland.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex

Despite being in the limelight performing royal duties, the Queen's youngest son managed to have a quiet life with his family in Bagshot Park, free from intrigues, unlike his more popular siblings and nephews.

Attending the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden in 2010

They epitomize a close-knit family unit and often seen with their children supporting organizations or attending royal events.

Attending the wedding of Prince Carl Philip of Sweden in 2015

As the Earl of Wessex is the only one among the children of the Queen who did not divorce, he represented the family life of the House of Windsor.

At the 2011 wedding of Prince Albert of Monarco

He and his wife regularly represented the British royal family in royal weddings abroad. They attended the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria in 2010 in Sweden and her brother, Prince Carl Philip in 2015.  

At the wedding of Prince Guillaume, the Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg in 2012

They also represented the House of Windsor during the wedding of Prince Albert of Monaco to Charlene Wittstock in July 2011 and in the wedding of Prince Guillaume, the Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg, to Countess Stephanie de Lannoy in 2012.

Often underrated and not noticed by the public for their life of service in the commonwealth, the Earl and Countess are performing royal duties without much fanfare. 

However, their devotion to royal roles without attracting intrigues is one that endeared much to the aging Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Prince Edward with his parents, The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh

They admired their son's quiet family life and the way they raised their children, keeping them away from intrigues and public scrutiny.

Lady Louise and her brother, James, Viscount Severn are spared from experiencing the lives of their cousins, the Duke of Cambridge, the Duke of Sussex and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, who are always thrust in the news.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex and their children.

It's being said that Prince Philip and the Queen often spent weekends at Bagshot Park for a quiet family moment. The Countess of Wessex is also close to the Queen and one of her closest confidantes.

Royal Patronages and Charities

Prince Edward and Sophie, the Countess of Wessex established a charitable foundation called The Wessex Youth Trust in 1999 to support initiatives and charities for children and the youth. In 2019, they renamed it to The Earl and Countess Wessex Trust.

The Queen with the Earl and Countess of Wessex

According to the Royal Family's website, the foundation will now broaden its initiative, beyond the focus on youth. This includes developing strong relationships with a selected group of charities.

They have royal patronages to more than 70 organizations. 

Prince Edward is patron to Paralympics GB, the Badminton Scotland, the Tennis and Racket Association and the International Real Tennis Professionals Association.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex

He is Vice Patron for the Commonwealth Games Federation and President of the Sports and Recreation Alliance.

He has a total of eight military appointments. Royal Colonel of 2nd Battalion of The Rifles, where his father was the Colonel-in-Chief until July 2020 when the role was transferred to the Duchess of Cornwall.

Prince Edward accompanying the Prince and Princess of Wales in New Zealand tour, 1983

He is also Royal Honorary Colonel of the Royal Wessex Yeomanry and the London Regiment. Commodore-in-Chief of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Honorary Air Commodore of Royal Air force Waddington.

The Countess of Wessex embracing royal role

Among the daughters-in-law of the Queen including the formers, Diana and Fergie, it's only the Countess of Wessex who has a thriving professional career before joining the royal family.

She held a position of an executive who had her own PR company. However, she ultimately gave it up in 2002, before she gave birth to her first child, to become a full-time working royal.

HRH The Countess of Wessex

From then on, much of her day-to-day life is devoted to performing royal duties, either within the United Kingdom or abroad, undertaking hundreds of visits to schools, military bases, charitable institutions, foundations and cause-oriented establishments.

She has strong interest in supporting people with disabilities who want to embrace opportunities in the society. Sophie also chairs Women in Business Group for the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

The Countess of Wessex in front, during the Duke of Edinburgh Diamond Challenge

In 2016, the Countess participated in a challenge to cycle 445 miles from the Palace of Holyrood to Buckingham Palace as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Diamond Challenge to mark the Award's 60th anniversary.

Words of encouragement from Prince Philip at the start of the diamond challenge in Scotland

In 2020, she also took part in London Marathon on behalf of Mencap, a charitable institution for people with autism and learning disability, to which she is the Patron.

The Countess of Wessex taking part in the 2020 London Marathon in support for Mencap

She became the first ever Patron of London College of Fashion where she championed  the college's commitment to better lives where fashion is used to drive change.

The Countess of Wessex is also President of the Girl Guiding UK since 2003.

Just like her brother-in-law, Prince Charles, who is a passionate organic farmer, home gardener, environmentalist and conservationist, Sophie also expressed interest in environment and agriculture.

She held the position of President of the Royal Bath and West Show before becoming patron in 2011. She is also Patron for Association of Show and Agricultural Organizations and Border Union Agricultural Society for its bicentennial year in 2013.

Her military appointments include Royal Colonel of the 5th Battalion of The Rifles, Colonel-in-Chief of the Corps of Army Music and Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps.

She is said to form a close bond with the Queen and Her Majesty's most trusted ally in the royal family, a level of trust and closeness that could not even be applied to Kate and Camilla, according to one royal insider.

The underrated Royals

All throughout these years that the Earl and Countess of Wessex became full-time working royals, ultimately giving up their respective business dealings in exchange to the service of the commonwealth and the Queen, not once they ever complained of the burden of performing royal duties.

The Wessexes

They are also the most underrated royals, barely recognized by the public for their dedication to royal role in the life of public service.

However, the youngest son of the Queen and Prince Philip, the Countess of Wessex and their two children, Lady Louise and James, Viscount Severn, represented the British royal court and the House of Windsor with dignity.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex and their children, Lady Louise and James, Viscount Severn

The Wessexes are the perfect embodiment of what a royal family should be - reflecting a life in public service with devotion to royal duties, yet remain a close family unit. An ideal representation of a nation in crisis, a good unifying symbol and source of inspiration during this troubled time of the pandemic.

The Wessexes joined volunteers in beach cleanup in 2020

Each time the Wessexes are in public as a family unit, we could only wish this is the kind of royal family we would see in the future - intact as a family unit, performing royal duties without the ribbon of controversies and intrigues and not hungry-publicity.

What they taught us about royal duties

Prince Edward sets himself apart from his more popular siblings, the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal and the Duke of York.

Unlike them, he managed to perform his royal role without attracting wide media attention. People never actually bother to notice his works because he is far from the line of succession. 

However, unlike his older siblings, he does not thrust himself in dealings that attract controversy since becoming a full-time royal.

His focus is his family. When not performing royal duties, Prince Edward and his wife spent time with their children, either at home in Bagshot Park or somewhere else.

He prefers to shun them from too much publicity that attracts media attention. The Earl and Countess of Wessex have not also heard complaining with the load of their duties. 

The Wessexes attending Easter Sunday service at St. George's Chapel

They are extra careful with what they just share in public, making sure the reign of the Queen would not be tarnished. 

They have not heard commenting on national issues because royals are always above politics. Sophie, who was a successful career woman before she joined the royal family, maintained her cultured background and never once heard criticizing anyone in the family or giving unsolicited comments.

According to a royal insider as reported by The Express: "Edward has molded into a quiet and efficient figure who does not seek attention".

HRH The Earl of Wessex

Prince Edward is the only child of the Queen and Prince Philip who did not divorce. This June 2021, the Earl and Countess of Wessex will celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary.

Happy 57th birthday Prince Edward!

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