The Queen’s Daughter-in-Law Opened Up About The Unconventional Way She Raises Her Royal Children

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, is the woman who married Prince Edward, the youngest of the Queen’s children. Though she’s not as famous as some of the other royals, she’s said to be the monarch’s favorite daughter-in-law. And she has children herself. In 2020 she spoke out about the way she and Edward are raising them.

The Countess maintains an interesting position within the royal family. She’s not a headline-grabber the way some of the others are, but behind the scenes she’s lived a very interesting life indeed. She was born Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones in 1965, and although her childhood wasn’t poor, it was a fairly normal one.

Sophie’s father was a car tire businessman, and her mother a secretary. The young woman went through college, a stint as a bar worker and then a job as a press officer before meeting Prince Edward. She ran into him at a charity event in 1993. By 1999 the pair would be married.

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The wedding took place on June 19, 1999, and it was reportedly observed on TV by around 200 million people. On the day, the Queen gave her son the titles of Earl of Wessex and Viscount Severn. Sophie ended up changing her professional name to Sophie Wessex, and continued to work as a PR agent – but not for long.

Balancing PR work with life as a member of the royal family proved to be impossible for Sophie. In April 2001 she was caught in a media sting allegedly insulting then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie. If that wasn’t bad enough, she also apparently called the Queen “old dear.”

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Buckingham Palace released a long statement defending Sophie. It said that the quotes allegedly from the countess were “selective, distorted and in several cases, flatly untrue.” And furthermore, the Palace said, “A member of the Royal Family such as the Countess of Wessex who is trying to pursue her own career is obviously vulnerable to set-ups such as this.”

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Unfortunately, though, the damage had already been done. The editor of the Mail on Sunday claimed that the quotes were true, and suggested that the Palace publish the full recording of Sophie’s remarks themselves. The countess began slowing down her work in PR and focusing instead on being a royal.

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Yet things got even worse, with 2001 being a terrible year for Sophie. That December she was rushed to hospital after suffering an ectopic pregnancy. This meant the loss of an unborn baby and a life-threatening experience for the mother. The fact that Sophie and Edward had been trying to have children for a while made it even worse.

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Sophie was able to have a child in 2003, but unfortunately it wasn’t easy. The baby – a girl named Louise – was born prematurely and there were major complications. A placental abruption could have killed both mother and child if surgeons hadn’t been able to save them both. And Prince Edward hadn’t been there, as he was overseas in Mauritius.

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The baby was given the full name of Lady Louise Alice Elizabeth Mary Mountbatten-Windsor. “Lady” was a courtesy title – Louise could have been labelled a princess, but her parents decided against it. A few years later she gained a brother, but this time precautions were taken. In 2007 Sophie gave birth to a son via caesarean section.

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James, too, could have had a higher HRH title, but his parents decided they didn’t want that for their children. He would be known as “Viscount Severn.” Prince Edward and Sophie weren’t the only royal parents to do this. Edward’s sister Princess Anne also refused to give her children any titles at all.

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In the years to come, Sophie focused a lot of her royal work around issues that involved children. Since 2003 she has been an ambassador of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. And in 2015 she revealed that young Lady Louise had in fact been born with a sight problem.

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Talking to The Sunday Express newspaper for World Sight Day, Sophie spoke of her daughter’s issues. She said, “Premature babies can often have squints because the eyes are the last thing in the baby package to really be finalized. Her squint was quite profound when she was tiny and it takes time to correct it.”

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In 2016 Sophie revealed that Lady Louise didn’t quite understand yet who her famous grandmother really was. Speaking to Louise Minchin for the BBC, she said that learning her family heritage “happened a little while ago” for her daughter. She explained that the realization had been something “of a shock to the system.”

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Sophie explained, “It was only when she was coming home from school and saying, ‘Mummy, people keep on telling me that grandma is the Queen.’ And I asked her, ‘Yes, how does that make you feel?’ And she said, ‘I don’t understand.’ I don’t think she had grasped that perhaps there was only one Queen.”

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Prince William and Kate Middleton likewise have tried to keep their children shielded from the realities of royal life. And their son is going to grow up to be King one day! In 2018 royal biographer Catherine Mayer claimed to E! News that the royal pair hadn’t actually told their son he would be the monarch one day.

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Mayer said, “With George they are trying to delay that moment of realization and give him normality before they thrust this on him. It will be, nevertheless, part of his upbringing both in terms of what he sees his parents and grandparents doing. And probably quite soon a beginning of an understanding that he is in public life and what that means.”

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Prince William’s own childhood wasn’t normal, but perhaps it was as normal as it could have been under the circumstances. His mother Princess Diana was much more of a hands-on parent than was expected for royals. She took her children to theme parks and fast food places, and insisted they were sent to a public school.

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Diana also made sure they interacted with people less fortunate than themselves. In 1993 she took her sons to visit a Centrepoint homeless shelter. Many years later Prince William became a patron of Centrepoint, and in 2019 he spoke at a gala for the charity about how his mother’s actions had made “a lasting impression” on him.

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In 1995 Diana told Martin Bashir of Panorama her motivations for doing such a thing. She said, “I’ve taken the children to all sorts of areas where I’m not sure anyone of that age in this family has been before. And they have a knowledge – they may never use it, but the seed is there, and I hope it will grow because knowledge is power.”

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In a 2016 documentary called Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, Princes William and Harry remembered how warm and unconventional she was. As Prince William put it, “She was very informal and really enjoyed the laughter and the fun.” Prince Harry remembered how she would sneak the boys some candy.

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Of course, Diana’s early death changed a lot of things. But Prince William and Prince Harry endeavored to follow in her footsteps and give their own children a good range of non-royal experiences. In November 2016 Prince William told the Vietnamese talk show Talk Vietnam that he wanted his kids to have “simple aspirations.”

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Prince Harry took things even further. Like Princess Anne, he decided his offspring wouldn’t get any sort of titles at all. His son with Meghan Markle – who was born in May 2019 – would be referred to by his name of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor and nothing else, even though he could have been the Earl of Dumbarton.

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According to the media, Sophie became friends with Meghan Markle after she joined the royal family and endeavored to help once Archie was born. In December 2019 an inside source told Grazia magazine, “The Queen likes the idea of Sophie being an unofficial mentor to Meghan. Sophie is often at Windsor taking the kids riding on the Queen’s horses and playing at the castle.”

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The source continued, “It’s a quiet lifestyle, very much the kind Harry and Meghan want for their little one. Sophie takes her kids swimming at the indoor pool at Windsor Castle, which is a bit nippy, but perfectly fine. If the Sussexes want their baby to have swimming lessons, they’ll be welcome at the castle.”

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But when Prince Harry and Meghan chose to leave the royal family at the beginning of 2020, it was chaotic. Some inside sources claimed that Sophie would essentially be replacing Meghan in the wake of it all. One person told The Sun newspaper that the Countess should be expecting new duties soon.

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The insider said, “Sophie’s a long-term favorite of the Queen and has been singled out as a person the Palace would like to help ease the burden. She’s very popular with other senior royals like Charles and Camilla, and has proved to be extremely good at public engagements.” But the Palace itself refused to comment.

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Come June 2020 Sophie spoke about Meghan to The Sunday Times newspaper – and talked about her own family as well. On the sudden departure of Prince Harry and Meghan from royal life, which had been dubbed “Megxit” by the press, Sophie said, “I just hope they will be happy. We all try to help any new members of the family.”

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Sophie herself said she found it difficult becoming a member of the royal family. She explained, “Certainly it took me a while to find my feet. The frustration was I had to reduce my expectations of what I could actually do. I couldn’t turn up at a charity and go, right, I think you should be doing this, because that’s what I was used to doing in my working life.”

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The Countess of Wessex continued, “I had to take a really big step back and go, okay, they want you to be the icing on the cake. The person to come in to thank their volunteers and funders, not necessarily to tell them how to run their communications plan.” Sophie has done a lot of charity work over the years as a full-time royal.

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But Sophie didn’t necessarily want her children to follow in her footsteps and be royals. She told the newspaper, “We try to bring them up with the understanding they are very likely to have to work for a living. Hence we made the decision not to use HRH titles. They have them and can decide to use them from 18, but I think it’s highly unlikely.”

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In this case Sophie’s children may end up following in the footsteps of Zara and Peter, the now-grown children of Princess Anne. In 2015 Zara told The Times newspaper, “I’m very lucky that both my parents decided to not use the title and we grew up and did all the things that gave us the opportunity to do.”

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However, just because certain members of the royal family have no titles it doesn’t mean they’re not in line to the throne. At the moment young James is twelfth in line to the throne and Louise is thirteenth. You see, both of them were born before the law which prioritized male heirs was repealed. Peter and Zara are fifteenth and eighteenth.

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In the Times interview Sophie was asked about her children having a “normal life” and she answered, “What’s normal? They go to a regular school. They go to friends for sleepovers and parties. At weekends we do lots of dog walking and stay with friends. I guess not everyone’s grandparents live in a castle, but where you are going is not the important part, or who they are.”

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The Countess made it clear, “When they are with the Queen, she is their grandmother.” She also shared some insight into what her husband Prince Edward was like as a father. She said, “He is very good at barbecues, and the children love those. He takes our son fishing, does a lot of riding with our daughter, he is very engaged as a father.”

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The Queen seems to have a pretty close bond with her granddaughter Louise by all accounts. In 2019 an anonymous source told The Sun, “The Queen loves the fact that Louise and James relish their time at Balmoral. And she has become particularly close to Louise, who seems to have become her favorite grandchild, closely followed by James.”

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The source went on, “Louise also endeared herself to everyone by looking after William and Kate’s children when they were up there.” The Cambridge kids were, of course, younger than her. The insider added, “Louise loves drawing and sketching and was very patiently trying to get Charlotte to do pictures of rabbits and deer.”

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Louise was even once given a special gift by her beloved grandmother, the insider said. According to them, “Because of her obvious artistic skill, the Queen allowed Louise to look through some of the collection of Queen Victoria’s Highlands sketches, which are kept at Balmoral but are rarely dug out these days.”

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The two children of Sophie and Prince Edward certainly seem to be having a good balance between royal life and a normal one. Sophie is, like Diana before her, seemingly keen to instill in her children the importance of helping others. In June 2020, not long after her Sunday Times interview, the Countess began helping St. John’s Ambulance.

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Sophie was seen joining other volunteers in packing PPE to send to hospitals and ambulance crews. And that wasn’t all – the week after that, she spent a day working at the patronage Shooting Star Children’s Hospices’ Weybridge charity shop steaming clothes. Hopefully, her kids will do the same sort of thing one day.

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