The Earl of Wessex is not a title that has been used very often throughout royal history – so much so that in the time between the first creation and third creation, the county of Wessex ceased to exist in England. Royal Central is investigating the story behind this historic title and why it was left unused for so long.
The first use of the title was in around the year 1019 when Godwin, Earl of Wessex received it from the Danish King Cnut the Great. Upon his death in 1053, the title was inherited by his son Harold Godwinson who would go on to become the last crowned Anglo-Saxon King of England. Harold Godwinson was killed at the Battle of Hastings and succeeded as king by William the Conqueror.
The second creation of the title was in approximately 1066 when William FitzOsbern, a close relation and counsellor to William the Conqueror, was given the title. When the Earl of Wessex was killed by the Count of Flanders at the Battle of Cassel in 1077, his son did not inherit his title. The use of the Earl of Wessex as a title fell into extinction following FitzOsbern’s death and was not used again for over 920 years.
The current Earl of Wessex is Prince Edward, the youngest child of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. When he married Sophie Rhys-Jones on June 19, 1999, the couple became the Earl and Countess of Wessex. It was an unexpected title for the couple to be given but at the time the palace announced that the Prince would one day succeed his father as the Duke of Edinburgh.
It is widely believed that Prince Edward requested the title of the Earl of Wessex rather than a Dukedom from his mother as a wedding gift after watching Colin Firth portray the character of Lord Wessex in ‘Shakespeare in Love’ (1998). At the time, the Sunday Telegraph reported that Edward was drawn to the historic title.
The next Earl of Wessex will likely be Prince Edward’s young son James who is currently known by his father’s subsidiary title of Viscount Severn. When the current Earl becomes Duke of Edinburgh, the Earldom of Wessex will become his secondary title and, as such, will most likely be used then by his son.