Queen Elizabeth has three sons – Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward – and all of them have married at least once. And the Queen has had to navigate a relationship with a new woman every time. However, according to those on the inside, these relationships weren’t always happy. One was, though – that of the Queen and her favorite daughter-in-law.
The Queen has had four daughters-in-law in all. There was the late Diana, the wife of Prince Charles. After her came a second partner for Charles: Camilla. Prince Andrew was married to Sarah Ferguson before divorcing her. And Prince Edward, the youngest child of the monarch, is married to Sophie, Countess of Wessex.
Being a daughter-in-law of the Queen obviously comes with a good few privileges. You have access to the Queen’s extensive jewelry collection, for a start – she often loans out some of the most beautiful items to relatives for special occasions. For example, Diana’s famous Lover’s Knot Tiara actually belonged to the Queen.
This goes for granddaughters-in-law as well. Kate Middleton has worn a lot of the Queen’s jewels, including the Lotus Flower Tiara, the Irish Guards Brooch and – just like Diana – the Lover’s Knot Tiara. Prince Harry’s wife Meghan Markle has done so as well. Her wedding tiara belonged to Queen Mary before being passed down to Queen Elizabeth, for example.
And those who’ve married into Queen Elizabeth’s direct line also appear to have a touching way of referring to the monarch. They know her as “Mama.” Sophie has been heard calling the Queen this at Buckingham Palace, for instance, and Diana also reportedly used the nickname. Royal experts think Kate and Meghan most likely do, too.
However, the Queen’s relationships with her daughters-in-law have had ups and downs, to say the least. It’s no secret that Diana was desperately unhappy in her relationship with Prince Charles, and naturally this affected her interactions with the rest of his family as well. Diana alleged that when she went to the Queen for help, she received none.
But in the end it was reportedly the Queen, after an apparent consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who advised Prince Charles and Diana to divorce. Diana was allegedly displeased by this intervention, but she did nonetheless divorce her husband. And then, just a year later, she was killed in an automobile crash.
There was a massive outpouring of grief after Diana’s death. The royal family, who after all displayed stoicism as a major part of their brand, were caught in the middle of a crisis they’d never seen coming. Eventually the Queen ordered the flag over Buckingham Palace to be lowered to half-mast, even though it wasn’t tradition to do so.
Not long afterwards, the Queen delivered a televised speech from Buckingham Palace. She paid tribute to her late daughter-in-law, saying, “She was an exceptional and gifted human being. In good times and bad, she never lost her capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness. I admired and respected her.”
It would have been easy for some to consider the speech mere damage control. But a letter from that time unearthed in 2017 revealed that the Queen had been genuinely upset about Diana’s death. She wrote to her lady-in-waiting Lady Henriette Abel Smith, “It was indeed dreadfully sad, and she is a huge loss to the country.”
Complicating matters all the more, of course, was the fact that Prince Charles had an affair with another woman after marrying Diana. This was Camilla Parker-Bowles. The Queen had reportedly learned of the relationship and disapproved. Nonetheless, Prince Charles wouldn’t be turned away from Camilla.
According to some sources, during the early 2000s the Queen privately expressed a strong dislike for Camilla. Journalist Tom Bower claimed in his 2018 book Rebel Prince: The Power, Passion and Defiance of Prince Charles that the Queen once referred to her future daughter-in-law “that wicked woman” after having “several martinis” behind closed doors.
Eventually, after several years had passed following Diana’s death, Prince Charles married Camilla. This presented a difficult dilemma for the Queen, however. Both bride and groom were divorcees, and the Queen as current monarch is head of the Church of England, which disapproves of divorce.
As a result, the Queen simply didn’t go to the first part of her son’s second wedding. She did, however, attend the blessing ceremony and the reception afterwards. And she reportedly gave a speech that dispelled rumors of discord, telling the guests, “I’m very proud and wish them well. My son is home and dry with the woman he loves.”
Moreover, things between the Queen and Camilla seem to be better than ever these days. The Queen referenced her in the speech she gave at the 70th birthday party of Prince Charles, for instance, and has assigned Camilla important roles in the royal family. She even made Charles’ wife the inaugural vice-patron of the Royal Commonwealth Society.
The Queen has had an equally chaotic relationship with Sarah Ferguson, the one-time wife of Prince Andrew. The marriage took place in 1986, and for a while the woman nicknamed “Fergie” seemed to be the new star of the royal family. Diana even informed her biographer that she believed Ferguson usurped her position.
That didn’t last, however. In 1992 Ferguson and Prince Andrew separated, and then she was caught in a compromising position with another man. When photos of the incident were published, the Queen was reportedly furious. Ferguson was with the Queen at Balmoral at the time, in fact, and she was apparently told to remove herself from the Queen’s home.
Nonetheless, Ferguson was able to bounce back into the Queen’s good books. In 1996 she divorced Prince Andrew, but made an unusual request. She informed Harper’s Bazaar magazine in 2011, “When I met with Her Majesty about it, she asked, ‘What do you require, Sarah?’ And I said, ‘Your friendship,’ which I think amazed her because everyone said I would demand a big settlement.”
Ferguson isn’t necessarily popular among the rest of the royals, though. Allegedly, Prince Philip refuses to go anywhere near her. And although both of them attended Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding, she was notably positioned where he couldn’t see her. Moreover, Prince Charles also reportedly doesn’t like her either.
In fact, Fergie is sometimes referred to as the Queen’s least liked daughter-in-law. But who’s the favorite? Well, by all accounts that would be Sophie, Prince Edward’s wife. Born a non-royal named Sophie Rhys-Jones, the young woman married the prince in 1999 and received the title Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex.
Unlike the other royal daughters-in-law, Sophie more or less stays out of the spotlight. Her wedding to Prince Edward wasn’t even shown on television – it was that low-key. And Prince Edward and Sophie remain the only royal couple of their generation to have remained together. There’s never been a hint of discord between them, in fact.
In 2019 newspaper The Sun spoke to some royal insiders about the relationship between Sophie and the Queen. An unnamed source said, “If Sophie Wessex is staying at Sandringham, then you can pretty much guarantee the Queen will ask her – usually last thing on a Saturday night – if she would like ‘a lift’ to the church.”
“And the same happens at Balmoral,” the insider continued. “The Queen likes to be completely calm before church and she finds Sophie’s presence soothing… Who gets the backseat is also one of those quirky royal ways that signals who is in favor. For example, Princess Anne may be staying at the same time, but how often do you see her in the Rolls?”
Another source, this one described as a “senior royal aide,” also spoke to The Sun newspaper about Sophie. They said, “She is trusted and relied on by the Queen in a way I couldn’t say applied to the Duchess of Cambridge or the Duchess of Cornwall. She is like another daughter to Her Majesty, they are that close.”
“The Queen is also mindful that Sophie’s marriage has survived where her other children’s relationships have failed,” the anonymous aide added. “And she knows that is in no small way down to Sophie’s dedication. She is aware, as Edward’s mother, what a tricky creature he can be.”
The insider continued, “And not only has Sophie flourished as a dedicated, albeit still relatively junior member of the royal family, she has brought up two teenagers who are well-balanced, sporty, amusing and delightful.” In fact, Sophie’s daughter Lady Louise Windsor is reportedly the Queen’s favorite grandchild.
A friend of Sophie’s also spoke to the newspaper. They said, “In her early days of marriage Sophie set herself a series of tasks – she’s quite driven and focused like that – of learning how to ride properly, how to fish, how to shoot game and, more recently, carriage driving.” These were apparently all things the royals approved of.
“[Sophie] was not a natural rider – she’s had lots of lessons from the grooms at Windsor,” the friend added. “But she’s certainly assured enough to accompany the Queen in gentle hacks around the Balmoral estate or Windsor Great Park.” However, Sophie did draw the line at her young son going shooting. “She was probably the only mother in the family that would dare over-rule her husband,” the pal observed.
And, according to another courtier, Sophie even managed to coax the Queen into seeing The Crown, the Netflix series based on her life. They said, “It was only when Sophie mentioned that everyone seemed to be talking about it – and why didn’t they give it a try, with the proviso that if they didn’t like episode one then they wouldn’t carry on – that she agreed for it to be shown at Windsor Castle one weekend.”
“She sat down to see it one Saturday at teatime when she and Sophie often have a ‘TV date’ to watch old films,” the courtier explained. “This time Edward was with them but not Philip, who refused to be involved. And the three of them loved it, although apparently the Queen kept interrupting to point out when things were wrong. But then I suppose you would if it was about your life, wouldn’t you?”
Moreover, Sophie and the Queen apparently have a shared interest in military history. Sophie’s friend told The Sun that this was “a key to the pair’s closeness.” They added, “They’ve watched countless films together and at weekends the pair are sometimes gone for hours, poring over documents in the Royal Archives, which are kept at Windsor Castle.”
“Sophie is hugely well read on her military history,” the anonymous insider added. “She’s proud of her knowledge of military campaigns, and she and the Queen can chunter on for hours about whether this general or that admiral made the right move in some battle or other. If Philip is around, he just raises his eyebrows and goes into another room.”
Sophie has only had one major scandal since marrying into the royal family. In 2001, not long after her wedding, an undercover reporter recorded their meetings. Sophie was caught on tape making some unflattering comments about various British politicians, including the prime minister of the time, Tony Blair.
To make matters worse, Sophie had also talked about the royal family. While most of what she said was actually quite complimentary, she suggested that Prince Charles would not be allowed to wed Camilla Parker Bowles so long as the Queen Mother was in the picture, and speculated that the British people wouldn’t accept Camilla as a queen.
Since then, though, Sophie has been scandal-free. Some think she could offer advice to the younger royals such as Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle on how to maintain a royal life. The countess’ friend told The Sun that “as someone who found her early days as a royal bride testing to negotiate, [Sophie would] simply suggest that Meghan slow down – there’s no rush.”
Sophie has apparently met Meghan Markle and had a talk with her in the time before she and Prince Harry chose to step down as royals. Another insider told The Sun, “Sophie was one of the first to invite Meghan, on her own, to Bagshot for tea. They got on perfectly well, but Sophie could feel they were never going to become the best of friends.”
Kate Middleton might be another story, though. In a 2020 documentary titled Edward & Sophie: The Reluctant Royals, journalist Rebecca English said, “One friend tells me that as we move into the next phase of the monarchy, it will be critical for the Duchess of Cambridge to have a female sounding board. They genuinely couldn’t think of anyone better to provide that than loyal, trustworthy Sophie.”
In the documentary, commentators speculated that since Prince Harry and Meghan had stepped down from their royal duties, Sophie and Edward might be handed bigger roles in the future. Journalist Ayesha Hazarika stated, “They’ve probably been the couple that’s given the Queen the least amount of grief, certainly in recent years. Edward’s the only child that hasn’t gotten divorced.”
The Queen does get on fine with Kate and Meghan, though, despite the latter stepping away from the royal family. The monarch appears to support her decision, in fact, even though initially there were reports that she was angry. And as for Kate, apparently the Queen has come to rely on her more and more.
There’s a possibility the Queen is looking to Sophie to shoulder more responsibility as well. In January 2020 royal reporter Phil Dampier told the Daily Mail, “Sophie would be perfect to take up some of the slack, and I think she has the potential to be a royal superstar given the chance.” So, we may be seeing much more of her in the future.