HistoryThe Wessexes

#OnThisDay in 1999: Prince Edward marries Sophie Rhys-Jones

Today the Earl and Countess of Wessex celebrate their 18th wedding anniversary.

The couple met in 1993 at a tennis event and began dating afterwards, ultimately for six years before an engagement.

The prince proposed with an engagement ring from Garrard & Co. worth an estimated £105,000. Sophie’s engagement ring is set in 18-karat white gold and features a two-carat oval diamond surrounded by two heart-shaped diamonds. It is reportedly the most expensive royal engagement ring ever purchased.

In a break from tradition, Prince Edward and Sophie decided to marry in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. The prince’s elder siblings all married at either St James’ or Westminster Abbey.

Their engagement was announced on 6 January 1999, and from the start the couple emphasised their desires for a low-key royal wedding devoid of ceremonial elements. Not even the prime minister was invited to the wedding.

The dress code was also more relaxed, and as it was an early evening wedding, the guests were required to wear evening dress, not formal court dress. The Queen Mother balked at the request, and wore a hat to the ceremony regardless.

Prince Edward walked to the church instead of taking a car, flanked by his supporters – his two older brothers, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York.

Sophie arrived at the church in the Queen’s Rolls Royce, and was walked down the aisle by her father, Christopher.

Sophie’s wedding dress was designed by Samantha Shaw. What is especially unique about Sophie’s dress is that she worn a long overcoat made of ivory silk organza, with tulle and silk crepe and covered in 325,000 pearls and cut-glass beads, but the dress underneath has never been publicly seen and no photographs have ever been revealed of the actual dress.

Another mystery is the provenance of Sophie’s wedding tiara. The pieces came from the Queen’s private collection and were arranged by the crown jeweller, but some royal websites think the pieces might’ve belonged to Queen Victoria herself. The rest of Sophie’s wedding jewellery came from her husband, who designed the black and white pearl necklace and matching earrings as a wedding gift. Sophie gifted Edward with a pocket watch.

Even their wedding cake bucked tradition: a seven-tiered Devil’s Food cake topped by tiny tennis rackets in a nod to where they’d first met. There was also no balcony kiss.

The Queen created her son and daughter-in-law the Earl and Countess of Wessex and Viscount and Viscountess Severn, with the understanding that when the title reverts to the Crown, they will be created the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh – a title currently held by the Prince’s father, and particularly fitting given their dedication to the Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme.

The couple continued to work for a few years after their wedding, but became full-time royals during the Queen’s Golden Jubilee year to support her. They routinely represent the Queen on tours, and at royal weddings throughout Europe, as well as focusing on the Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme.

In 2003, the couple’s first child, a daughter named Louise Alice Elizabeth Mary, was born. She was born prematurely on 8 November due to a placental abruption. She is currently 11th in line to the throne, and is perhaps most noted for being one of the Duchess of Cambridge’s attendants at her 2011 wedding.

On 17 December 2007, the couple’s second child, a son named James Alexander Philip Theo, was born. He is currently 10th in line to the throne, and recently joined the rest of his immediate family at the Queen’s 90th Birthday celebrations – his first major public appearance as a member of the Royal Family.

The couple and their children reside at Bagshot Park in Surrey, within Windsor Great Park.

About author

Jess is a communications professional and freelance writer who lives in Halifax and has a passion for all things royal, particularly the British Royal Family.