Meet Duchess Sophie: What to Know About Prince Edward's Wife

The Duchess of Edinburgh is taking on more and more responsibility as the royal family's needs change.

The British royal family has called for all hands on deck, and Sophie Rhys-Jones, Duchess of Edinburgh has stepped up. The 59-year-old wife of Prince Edward helped lead a major royal event for the first time this month while King Charles III continues his cancer treatment. Pundits are saying that this is a strong sign for the monarchy, and for Prince Edward and Rhys-Jones.

Rhys-Jones is married to 60-year-old Prince Edward, the youngest child of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. The two are in the headlines after leading the Entente Cordiale at Buckingham Palace on April 8. This ceremonial military event celebrates the agreement between the U.K. and other countries who opposed Germany in World War I, and this year was particularly auspicious as it was the 120th anniversary. French soldiers paraded through the palace grounds, and pundits were surprised but not displeased to see that Prince Edward and Rhys-Jones were the highest-ranking royals on hand.

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(Photo: VICTORIA JONES/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The king is undergoing some kind of outpatient treatment for cancer, but the details are unclear. What we know is that he is continuing to work on his day-to-day duties, but will take an indefinite break from public events and engagements. Meanwhile, Kate Middleton is undergoing chemotherapy, meaning the heir, her husband Prince William, is busy attending to her as much as possible. That leaves it to Queen Camilla and the king's siblings to stand in for the family when necessary.

For Prince Edward and Rhys-Jones, these kinds of roles are relatively new. BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond told reporters from OK that the couple "thoroughly deserve the recognition they are now getting." She went on: "They have always been quietly devoted to their various causes, but their work has been overshadowed by other royals. I suppose every cloud has a silver lining... and as the King calls on them to take a more prominent role, Edward and Sophie are showing they are very much up to the task."

Rhys-Jones comes from a middle-class family, though with ties to aristocracy and even royalty in the distant past. After college, Rhys-Jones worked in public relations, and met Prince Edward while she was working for Capital Radio. At the time, the prince was dating one of her friends, but when they encountered each other a few years later, he was single and they struck up a relationship. They were married in June of 1999 in a relatively small ceremony by the standards of the royal family. On their wedding day, Prince Edward was created Earl of Wessex, elevating their status in the system of aristocracy.

Rhys-Jones reportedly grew close with the queen even before she and Prince Edward became engaged, and she was welcome at Buckingham Palace early on. They had a daughter, Lady Louise in November of 2003 and a son, James in December of 2007. The children are not referred to as "princess and prince" or "royal highness," though as of last year, they are styled as "children of the duke."

Rhys-Jones and her husband carried out official royal duties from then on, patronizing organizations related to the arts and to sports accessibility for the differently-abled, among other causes. Upon the death of Prince Philip, Prince Edward was created Duke of Edinburgh, meaning Rhys-Jones is now the Duchess of Edinburgh. The title is not hereditary, and will return to the crown upon their deaths.

The Earl And Countess Of Wessex Visit Vauxhall City Farm
(Photo: Chris Jackson / Getty Images)

More importantly, when King Charles took the throne, his siblings became his Counsellors of State. This means that they can carry out certain specified duties for the king when needed, provided they are authorized by letters patent. The current counsellors include Queen Camilla, Prince William, Prince Harry, Prince Andrew, Princess Beatrice, and Princess Anne.

Royal pundits have praised Prince Edward and Rhys-Jones recently for setting an example as hard-working royals who are relatively low in the line of succession. Bond said: "They are also serving as excellent role models to their great nephews and niece – showing that you can be a 'spare' or even a 'spare to the spare' and make a real success of working as a valued member of the Royal Family." With the working royals spread thin and health concerns distracting its senior members, the institution is leaning on people like Rhys-Jones more than ever.