King Charles III was in a benevolent mood at the weekend when as a birthday gift for his younger brother Edward, he conferred the title of Duke of Edinburgh onto him, and with it his wife Sophie automatically becomes the Duchess of Edinburgh.
It was Edward, the Earl of Wessex’s 59th birthday and the awarding of the title, strongly associated with the two men’s father Prince Philip, who carried it for more than 70 years right up to his death in 2021, is seen as recognition for the way the couple go about their official duties in an uncomplaining manner, and carry out public engagements for many charities, without seeking attention or headlines.
Apparently Philip was keen to see his youngest child take on the role, but the final decision was for Charles to make, but with his other brother Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, no longer a “working royal” – after his much publicised issues involving the Epstein scandal – Edward has a far more high-profile role to play and this is seen as a title more befitting the position. Indeed, at the end of 2022, Parliament fast-tracked a change in law to add Prince Edward and his elder sister Princess Anne, to the “counsellors of state” who can act on behalf of the King.
It would appear that it was not a complete surprise for Edward as it probably wasn’t a coincidence that the pair visited the city of his new title that very day, to honour the efforts of volunteers in supporting Ukrainian refugees over the past year. He was warmly welcomed and thanked those in attendance telling them that it was a “very special and overwhelming day” for him.
Prince Edward’s former title of the Earl of Wessex has now been passed down to his son, the 15-year-old Viscount Severn and should he marry, then his wife would automatically become the next Countess of Wessex. His daughter, Lady Louise Windsor, does not change her title.
The Duke of Edinburgh is 13th in line to the throne and will retain his newly acquired title for his lifetime.
Philip’s wish was for title to pass to Edward
After Prince Philip died in April of 2021, the title of Duke of Edinburgh automatically transferred to his eldest son Charles, but as soon as he became King, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the title returned to the crown. The decision on who would then be awarded it was at the discretion of Charles and although it was long expected that it would go to his younger brother – and was known to be the wish of Philip – there was no obligation.
Nice Birthday gift
It seems there was never any real doubt though and leaving the announcement until his birthday seemingly is just a nice gesture. The official statement from Buckingham Palace read: “His Majesty The King has been pleased to confer the Dukedom of Edinburgh upon The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Forfar, on the occasion of His Royal Highness’s 59th birthday. The title will be held by Prince Edward for His Royal Highness’s lifetime.”
It went on to say how the new Duke and Duchess will be proud to continue Prince Philip’s legacy of promoting opportunities for young people of all backgrounds to reach their full potential. This will include continuing to support the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme, which Philip created back in 1956 to provide activities and training for young people in both the UK and overseas.
Edward becomes the fifth Duke of Edinburgh
The Dukedom was last created for Prince Philip back in 1947, when he married Princess Elizabeth, who held the title of Duchess of Edinburgh before her accension to the throne in 1952. Prior to that there had been three other occasions.
The first time it was created was in 1726, when the Hanoverian monarch George I gave the title to his grandson, Prince Frederick. In 1764 Prince William – brother of King George III – carried it as part of a joint title of the Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh; before during Queen Victoria’s reign, she recreated it for her second son, Prince Alfred in 1866.
The new Duke makes short thank-you speech
In a short speech whilst in the city of his newly bestowed Dukedom, where he met Ukrainian families who have made it their home since the beginning of the conflict last year, Edward said, “Thank you very much indeed for welcoming us to Edinburgh today on, indeed, a very special and slightly overwhelming day.” He drew laughter from the sizeable crowd when referencing Sophie as his “wife and Duchess” before thanking everyone for their hard work in making “our Ukraine friends feel so very welcome.”
Exchanging Forfar for Edinburgh
Previously, when travelling north of the border into Scotland, Edward would replace his title of Earl of Wessex with his secondary title of Earl of Forfar which he was granted in 2019; but from now on he will simply use Duke of Edinburgh as a more senior Scottish title.
Passion for theatre
Prince Edward was born at Buckingham Palace in March 1964, the fourth and youngest child of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. He entered the Royal Marines before moving into theatre and television production, later forming his own company called Ardent Productions.
However, in 2002 he took on more responsibilities as a full-time working royal, so had to step away from his passion; although one of the 70 plus charities that he is involved with is the National Youth Theatre, which at least gives him opportunity to retain an active interest.
Choosing Wessex over Cambridge
In 1999 he married Sophie Rhys-Jones and the couple were given the titles: Earl of Wessex and Countess of Wessex. He was actually set to become the Duke of Cambridge, but asked his mother if he could instead have the Wessex title because he much preferred the sound of it, and seemingly Her Majesty was happy to oblige.
They have two children: Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor born in November 2003 and James Viscount Severn – who has now become the Earl of Wessex – born in December 2007.
Charities well supported
Together with Sophie, they established the Wessex Youth Trust supporting and advancing registered charities. They have progressively become more and more active, with both, but the new Duchess in particular, proving to be outstanding representatives of the royal family.
In 2012, as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year they visited the Caribbean in a very busy itinerary which included time on the islands of Antigua and Barbuda; Saint Lucia; Barbados; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Grenada; Trinidad and Tobago; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Anguilla; and Montserrat.
Positive reactions all over the world
They have travelled the world, usually as a couple, but also individually, always creating a worthwhile lasting impression. South Africa, Ghana, Brunei, Australia, and Sri Lanka are just a few of the countries that have responded positively to their visits, and earlier this year the two of them ventured to the Cayman Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Bahamas, on a short royal tour of the Caribbean, that seemingly was very well received.
Special relationship with the late Queen
The new Duchess of Edinburgh developed it is said, a very special relationship with Queen Elizabeth II. After the death of Prince Philip, Her Majesty came to rely on Sophie and apparently had the upmost trust in her, treating her according to a royal aide “almost like another daughter.” In return her daughter-in-law made it her personal mission to ensure that the Queen was fully supported at such a difficult time for her.
Sophie so good
She is regarded by the royals as a “safe pair of hands”, particularly after the troubles encountered with the Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Much of her charity work is focused on the disabled community and children’s charities, including NSPCC and Child Line.
She has also taken on the patronage of the Guide Dogs charity, something else very close to her heart, as well as pledging her full support to the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI), which tackles the disproportionate impact of conflict on women and girls.
Indeed, in 2020, she courageously went to South Sudan to campaign against sexual violence in conflict there.
Children to have normal lives
Along with her husband, the couple were determined for their children to have as normal lives as possible, needing to work and make their own way in the world. For that reason they rejected the option of giving their children titles of Prince and Princess, recognising that it would inevitably effect their choices and opportunities, not necessarily for the better (Maybe something the Sussexes might want to consider).
Former Duke of Edinburgh big shoes to fill
Becoming the Duke of Edinburgh is some pretty big boots to step in to. For his father admittedly, the role was more demanding, with a commitment to steadfastly support the Queen, which he undertook with remarkable loyalty and dedication, especially when taking into consideration the naval command that he relinquished, upon his wife ascending to the throne.
He gained widespread admiration and respect for the way in which he retained his strength of character, whilst never shirking his responsibilities. He was still able to express his forthright views on a wide range of subjects, to some people’s frustration and other’s amusement.
New Duke a little less forthright
His brainchild of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards was something that he was incredibly proud of and something that Edward has taken over almost seamlessly. The new Duke’s more retiring nature should see him avoid some of the awkward situations his father managed to get himself into due to his outspoken personality, very often saying the wrong thing, no more so than when on a visit to Australia in 2002, he was heard to ask an Aboriginal businessman whether they “still threw spears at each other.”
Philip had his own “special” way
He refused to be bound by political correctness, and was certainly his own man and many believed he deliberately made his insensitive remarks to actually try and put people at ease, such was his sense of humour.
It was calculated the he completed over 22,000 solo engagements after taking on the role. He retired from public life in 2017 and Edward steadily took on more of his commitments, but come the end of his stint in the position it can be guaranteed he will not approach anywhere near that figure.
Nevertheless, Edward has demonstrated already his dedication to the royal family and will undoubtedly go about his duties with his new title in a way in which his father would be very proud.
Sixtieth present will keep Edward guessing
As for Edward’s big brother, he has created for himself a tricky situation in 12 months time. That is because if you are going to give a Dukedom as a gift for somebody’s 59th birthday, how on earth can you better it for that person’s 60th?
That said, he is the King so presumably anything is possible!