Earl of Wessex

The title Earl of Wessex has been created twice in British history, once in the pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxon nobility of England and once in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. Wessex (the "West Saxons') in the south and southwest of England, had been one of the seven major Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (the Heptarchy) that preceded the Kingdom of England that was unified by Alfred the Great, so the title has carried great weight.

First creation

The Earldom of Wessex was conferred on Godwin by King Canute the Great. The Earldom had previously been reserved by the king. The Earldom passed to Godwin's son, King Harold II, who died in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings. The Earldom was not continued.

Second creation (current)

In 1999, Queen Elizabeth II's youngest son, Prince Edward, married Sophie Rhys-Jones. Younger sons of the monarch are normally given dukedoms at the time of their marriage, and experts had suggested the former royal Dukedoms of Cambridge and Sussex as the most likely to be granted to Prince Edward. However, given the Prince's theatrical links and the Royal Family's policy of "slimming down" their size — and Edward's being seventh in the order of succession to the British throne, the Earldom of Wessex was recreated, Earl being a lesser title than Duke. This was despite the fact that Wessex has had no legal status (i.e., as a county) for centuries. When the Earldom was created, the Palace announced that the Earl of Wessex would be created Duke of Edinburgh after the deaths of his father, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, when that title merges with the Crown.

The Earldom has the subsidiary title Viscount Severn, available for use by the eldest son of the Earl as a courtesy title.

Shakespeare in Love

The 1998 film Shakespeare in Love, featured an entirely fictional villainous Earl of Wessex, played by Colin Firth.

Wessex is engaged to marry Viola de Lesseps (played by Gwyneth Paltrow). Viola poses as a male actor Thomas Kent, and falls in love with William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes). However, she is forced to marry Wessex by Queen Elizabeth (Judi Dench), and at the end, the Earl and Countess of Wessex sail for the American Colonies.

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