Today in 1999 saw Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys Jones tie the knot, in a more informal royal wedding at St George’s Chapel. Relive their special day in this ‘Royal Rewind’.
Edward had met Sophie in 1993, as she worked in PR, at a tennis event! Sophie stepped in for someone at the last minute, leading her to meeting the 29-year-old Prince.
Their engagement was announced on 6th January 1999, after a five-year romance, with a photo call in the gardens of St James’s Palace. Her engagement ring is comprised of a two-carat oval diamond, flanked by two heart-shaped stones. They are set in 18-karat white gold in the piece made by Garrard.
Ahead of the ceremony, in a TV interview, Prince Edward said that his love for Sophie was ”the most important thing of all,’ prompting comparisons to Prince Charles’ engagement interview comment in 1981…
Edward was asked if he feared for his own marriage, given the experiences of his brothers and sister. ”You don’t think about it,” he said. ”Anybody who presumably decides to get married is doing it for the very best intentions. They are going in there because they hope it is going to last.”
Sophie had been asked about her role moving forwards, as she still ran her own PR firm at the time: ”I certainly see it more in a supporting role to Edward rather than rushing off and forging my own path, going off and taking on the mantle of various charities.”
”I also think there is The Queen and the rest of the Royal Family doing an exceptionally wonderful job in a public role. I don’t see a massive need for me to go out there and do the same thing.”
The Countess of Wessex would dissolve her firm and become a working royal in
The Queen grants titles
The couple were granted the titles of Earl and Countess of Wessex on their wedding day.
This title broke with royal tradition of bestowing a royal dukedom upon marriage. It was revealed that the Monarch wished for Prince Edward be created Duke of Edinburgh after Prince Philip, when the title reverts to the Crown – ie, after the death of the current Duke and The Queen, who is legally Duchess of Edinburgh.
The couple’s children were also to be styled as those of an Earl, rather than prince or princesses, with an HRH style; they are legally entitled to this as grandchildren of the Monarch via the male line.
Recently, the Countess has said that her children are very unlikely to use the style when they reach adulthood, which they could choose to do.
The wedding day outfits
For the big day, Edward, 35, and Sophie, 34, asked guests to come in formal evening wear, as the wedding took place at 5pm.
The Queen wore a lilac lace dress from Hardy Amies, a matching Frederick Fox feathered headdress with pearl accents, and her Williamson diamond brooch.
Similarly, Princess Anne and Princess Margaret wore head pieces, while The Queen Mother chose to wear a hat, which are not worn to evening occasions.
Prince Charles chose to be a little different with a grey morning suit, rather than the dark ones worn by Edward and Andrew.
The groom wore tails with a custom waistcoat from John Kent, and an unusual tie printed with dogs!
The bride chose a panelled, beaded dress-coat with fluted sleeves, created in ivory silk and embellished at the neckline with pearl and crystal beading. Sammantha Shaw designed the outfit.
Her young attendants, wearing black capes, carried the train, and the boys also donned Tudor-style bonnets.
What we see of Sophie’s dress on the day, is however, just the coat part, and beneath is a more fitted dress. You can see a more fitted sleeve peaking out, as well as the shoulder of the ‘real’ dress beneath.
The almost-medieval style of the coat was complemented by the architecture of St George’s Chapel, and the traditional caped look of her bridesmaids and pageboys.
The white pointed shoes featured a v-shaped vamp, and small heel.
Sophie’s wedding tiara and jewellery
Sophie was loaned a tiara from The Queen, which she continues to wear to this day. It was a new piece to royal watchers on the day, showing three sections of four palmette scroll motifs. The tiara came from Garrard who designed and remodelled it.
One theory as to the provenance of the tiara is that the motifs are detachable segments of from Queen Victoria’s regal circlet, as impressions in the circlet’s box seem to match these shapes, says From Her Majesty’s Jewel Vault. You can see the (naked-looking) regal circlet here.
NB: Interestingly, in 2019, the Countess wore her wedding tiara again, but in a slightly remodelled format. The motifs were arranged closer together, with some extra height added – it looks much better, I think!
Prince Edward had designed the distinct necklace and earrings set for his fiancee as a wedding gift; made of black and white pearls, the necklace is in the form of a cross and groups of three pearls. The earrings are two pearls, one of each colour, joined to form a stud and drop.
In return, the bride had given her soon-to-be husband a gold pocket watch.
Edward and Sophie’s wedding ceremony
The couple had decided on Windsor for their big day, to provide more intimacy to the occasion – even if the world was watching! They didn’t want it to be a state occasion, but a family one, which makes sense in line with Edward’s position, and future, in the line of succession (seventh in 1999, now he is 11th). No politicians were invited, just family and friends.
The BBC however was allowed to film the day, broadcasting to an estimated 20 million people across the globe.
The Prince of Wales and The Duke of York acted as Prince Edward’s supporters, the royal equivalent of a best man.
Edward, Charles and Andrew walked from the Upper Ward of Windsor Castle down to the chapel for the ceremony, past members of the public who had been admitted to see parts of the special day. Some 8,000 people had been invited, and almost all were locals of Windsor.
Ms. Rhys-Jones arrived with her father a royal Rolls Royce; cheers erupted as she exited the car beneath her veil at the steps of the chapel. Her father, Christopher, walked the bride down the aisle, while a fanfare by the Royal Marines was played.
Sophie chose to say ‘obey’ in her vows, that she would ‘love, honour and obey’ her husband during the ceremony, which was conducted by the Bishop of Norwich. A full video of the service can be seen at the bottom of this article.
While everything went without a hitch, the groom had difficulty placing the ring on Sophie’s finger! The band was a (royally traditional) Welsh gold ring. This source has been used for royal wedding rings since 1923.
After the ceremony, the newlyweds took a carriage ride through the castle grounds and out into the town of Windsor, before heading back to the castle for their reception.
The Countess sent her wedding bouquet, of cala lillies, roses and ivy, to Westminster Abbey to rest on the Grave of the Unknown Warrior. This was a tradition started by the Duchess of York (future Queen Mother), in an act of remembrance for her brother didn’t return home after World War One.
— Westminster Abbey (@wabbey) May 20, 2018
Guests first gathered in the Waterloo Chamber and the Grand Reception Room for canapés, before heading to St George’s Hall for a buffet-style dinner of beef stroganoff.
The Earl and Countess of Wessex chose a 10-foot-tall chocolate ‘Devil’s Food’ wedding cake, made by Linda Fripp. It was decorated with daffodil and tennis rackets to represent Sophie’s heritage and how the couple met.
Geoffrey Shakerley was chosen to photograph the wedding; he later admitted that Prince William’s face was swapped out from another photo of him looking happier in some of the released shots to the press!
Her Majesty granted the couple Bagshot Park as their marital home, just a short drive from Windsor.
The Earl and Countess are the only royal couple of The Queen’s children to not have divorced.
You can relive the day with this video: