Sarah, Duchess of York

For other people named Fergie, see Fergie.
Duchess of York (more)

The Duchess opening Teenage Cancer Trust's unit in Leeds, October 2008
Born (1959-10-15) 15 October 1959
27 Welbeck Street, London, England[1]
Spouse Prince Andrew, Duke of York
(m. 1986; div. 1996)
Issue Princess Beatrice of York
Princess Eugenie of York
Full name
Sarah Margaret[2]
House Windsor (by marriage)
Father Ronald Ferguson
Mother Susan Barrantes
Religion Church of England
Occupation Author, spokesperson, film producer, television personality, philanthropist

Sarah, Duchess of York (Sarah Margaret; née Ferguson; born 15 October 1959) is a British writer, charity patron, public speaker, film producer and television personality. She is the former wife of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. She is the younger daughter of Major Ronald Ferguson and Susan Barrantes (née Wright). Sarah has two daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York who are respectively seventh and eighth in line to succeed their grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II as monarch of 16 independent Commonwealth realms.

Early life

Sarah Margaret Ferguson is the second daughter of Major Ronald Ferguson[3] and his first wife, Susan Mary Wright.[4] Sarah's older sister is Jane Ferguson Luedecke, a public relations executive now living and working in Australia. After Sarah's parents divorced in 1974, her mother married polo player Hector Barrantes[5] and moved to Trenque Lauquen in the Argentine pampas. Sarah stayed at the 480-acre (1.9 km2) Dummer Down Farm at Dummer, Hampshire, her father's home since age 8.[6] Major Ferguson married Susan Deptford and had three more children.

Sarah attended Daneshill School, Stratfield Turgis and then Hurst Lodge School, Ascot.[7] After finishing a course at Queen's Secretarial College at the age of eighteen,[8] Sarah went to work in a public relations firm in London. Later she worked for an art gallery, and then a publishing company.

Marriage to Prince Andrew

The Duke and Duchess of York on their wedding day.

On 19 March 1986,[9] Prince Andrew (fourth in line to the throne at the time) and Sarah Ferguson announced their engagement.[10] Prince Andrew had known Ferguson since childhood, and they had met occasionally at polo matches, and became re-acquainted with each other at Royal Ascot in 1985.[11] Prince Andrew designed the engagement ring himself. It consists of ten diamonds surrounding a Burmese ruby. He chose the Burmese ruby to complement Sarah's fiery red hair.[12]

After securing the Queen's permission (which was required by a British law, the Royal Marriages Act 1772, for children of the monarch), Andrew and Sarah were married in Westminster Abbey on 23 July 1986. The Queen bestowed the title Duke of York upon Prince Andrew, and, as his new wife, Sarah automatically assumed her husband's royal and ducal status and became Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York.

The Duchess of York at the Royal Welsh Show, 1991

The couple became parents on 8 August 1988, with the birth of their daughter, Beatrice Elizabeth Mary. Their second child, another daughter, Eugenie Victoria Helena, was born on 23 March 1990.[13] During her marriage, the tabloid press ridiculed the Duchess after her weight climbed to 15 stone 10 pounds (100 kg) (220 lbs) labelling her unflatteringly as the "Duchess of Pork".[14]

By 1991, the marriage was in trouble, and the couple had drifted apart. While her husband was away on naval or royal duties, the Duchess was frequently seen in the company of other men, notably Texan multimillionaire Steve Wyatt.[15] The Duke and Duchess of York finally announced their separation on 19 March 1993.[16]

In August 1992, surreptitiously taken photographs of the Duchess sunbathing topless with John Bryan, an American financial manager, were published in the British tabloid Daily Mirror. The Duchess endured widespread public ridicule contributing to her further estrangement from the British Royal Family.[17] After four years of official separation, the Duke and Duchess announced the mutual decision to divorce in May 1996.[18]

By her divorce on 30 May 1996, she retained the style Her Royal Highness with the style of other divorced peeresses, eliminating the preface "The" before "Duchess of York". However, in accordance with letters patent issued in August 1996 regulating post-divorce royal titles, Sarah ceased being a Royal Highness, as she was no longer married to the Duke of York.[19] Her current name, thus, is Sarah, Duchess of York. Should she marry again, Sarah would lose the use of the style of "Duchess of York".

Since the divorce, Sarah still attends some functions with her daughters, such as the investiture of the Duke of York into the Royal Victorian Order, on which occasions she is afforded the courtesy of treatment as a member of the Royal Family. The Lord Chamberlain's Diamond Jubilee Guidelines mention the Duchess specifically as being a member of the Royal Family in her own right.[20][21]

Personal life after divorce

Sarah, Duchess of York, and Elizabeth Nabel pose for a picture backstage at The Heart Truth Red Dress Collection Fashion Show, 4 February 2005.
Sarah and her daughters in 2004

After her divorce, the British tabloids became critical of Sarah's lifestyle. It was alleged that she lost 250,000 euros worth of jewels in 1995, while travelling with her dresser Jane Andrews, who was suspected of stealing them.[22][23][24][25] The Duchess' commercial interests have included an eleven-year endorsement with Weight Watchers, product development and promotion with Wedgwood and Avon.[26]

Until 2004, the Duke of York and his former wife shared the family's home, Sunninghill Park in Berkshire. That year, the Duke moved to the refurbished Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park, previously the home of his grandmother, who resided there until her death in 2002. In 2007, the Duchess rented the neighbouring Dolphin House; a fire at Dolphin House in 2008 caused her to vacate the premises and move into Royal Lodge with her former husband.

In 2009, Sarah participated in a much-criticized ITV "experiment"[27] in which she joined families in a council estate to advise them on proper living. She stayed for ten days in Northern Moor, a suburb area in Wythenshawe, Manchester, England, and the result was The Duchess on the Estate, transmitted on ITV1 on 18 August 2009. A previous, similar television venture, The Duchess in Hull, in which Sarah advised lower-income families on diet and behaviour received similar criticism.[28]

In August 2013, Sarah was invited to stay at Balmoral Castle with Andrew and their daughters as guests of the Queen, and in September 2013, in response to a question about the possibility of remarrying Andrew, Sarah said "He’s still my handsome prince, he’ll always be my handsome prince."[29][30]

In 2015, the Duchess assumed residence in Verbier, Switzerland, where she and the Duke of York own a chalet. She also maintains a rented apartment in Eaton Square in London and a room at Royal Lodge.

In April 2016, Sarah was named in the Panama Papers.[31]

Cash for access

In May 2010, Sarah was filmed by News of the World offering access to Prince Andrew for £500,000 by Mazher Mahmood, an undercover reporter posing as an Indian businessman.[32] On the video made as a documentary source for the story, which is publicly available, Sarah is heard to say that "£500,000 when you can, to me, open doors".[33] She is seen taking away a briefcase containing US$40,000 in cash. Exposure surrounding the incident increased Sarah's public profile and notoriety. Sterling Publishers substantially increased the print run of Ashley Learns About Strangers, the Duchess's latest book for children; however, the notoriety did not translate into additional book sales.[34] In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Sarah explained her behaviour by saying that she had been drinking prior to soliciting the cash, and was "in the gutter at that moment".[35]

As a result of the "Cash for access" scandal, Sarah was not invited to the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.[36]

Further debt problems

Sarah, Duchess of York, at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival

It was reported in August 2010, that the Duchess might declare voluntary bankruptcy with debts of £5 million,[37] though other sources have suggested she owes about £2 million.[38]

In March 2011, it was reported that Jeffrey Epstein had helped the Duchess avoid bankruptcy by paying off some of her debts. The payments were reportedly made after intervention from the Duke of York.[39] In the summer of 2011, Finding Sarah aired on the OWN network. One episode of the U.S.-filmed reality series depicted Sarah meeting with Suze Orman, the internationally known financial advisor, receiving from Orman a strict lecture and practical advice on how to resolve her financial issues.[40]

Criminal charges and international arrest warrant

On 13 January 2012, the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Turkey issued an international arrest warrant for the Duchess. She had travelled to Turkey in 2008, and covertly filmed a Turkish State Orphanage. The Turkish authorities alleged that the Duchess made a false declaration when entering the country (in relation to her motives for visiting Turkey), trespassed into a Turkish Government institution and also invaded the privacy of children.[41] These charges carry sentences of up to 22 years imprisonment. Turkey and Britain have an extradition treaty; however, Home Office officials have stated, "Under UK extradition law a judge must order the discharge of [an extradition request] if it is not an offence under UK law and in the country requesting extradition. In this case there is no offence in UK law so there will be no extradition".[42]

Turkey maintains that the Duchess distorted information about the orphanage and used an isolated incident in a smear campaign against the Republic of Turkey. Turkey invited international human rights organisations to inspect any orphanage of its choosing to show its transparency in relation to the issue.[43][44]

On 5 May 2012, the trial began into the charges brought by the Ankara State Prosecutor's office. Cansu Sahin, representing Ferguson, who was not present, told the Ankara court that her client has apologised and would like to plea bargain with the prosecution.[45][46]

Charity work

Since her marriage to Prince Andrew, and continuing after the divorce, Sarah has been involved with a number of charities.

In 1990, the Duchess became patron of The Teenage Cancer Trust. Sarah has since opened most of the charity's various units, including those at Middlesex Hospital, University College London, St James’s University Hospital, Cardiff University Hospital and Royal Marsden Hospital[47]

In 1993, the Duchess founded Children in Crisis[48] a children’s charity focused on education and grant making to international programmes. The Duchess serves as Founder and Life President. In 2003, the Duchess joined The American Cancer Society at a congressional briefing. Sarah, Duchess of York, was a founding supporter of the American Cancer Society's Great American Weigh In,[49] an annual campaign (modelled after the Society's Great American Smoke Out) aimed at raising awareness of the link between excess weight and cancer. In 2006, the Duchess established The Sarah Ferguson Foundation[50] based in Toronto, which derives funds from Sarah's commercial work and private donations with the aim of supporting charities internationally that serve children and families in dire need. Included under this umbrella organisation is her patronage of several British charities, including Mental Disability Rights International,[51] the Teenage Cancer Trust,[52] Tommy's,[53] and the Motor Neurone Disease Association.[54] In 2008, the Duchess became patron of Humanitas, a charity focused on providing children with education, healthcare and family support[55] In 2010, the Duchess became a supporter of The Mullany Fund,[56] whose aim is to support British students wishing to study medicine or physiotherapy. In 2011, the Duchess became the global ambassador for Not For Sale, a charity focused on human slavery.[57] In 2013, the Duchess, along with her former husband, the Duke of York and their daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, founded Key To Freedom, a business structure for women in vulnerable situations in India who can sell their wares through the British retailer Topshop. In 2014, the Duchess was appointed an ambassador for the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London.[58] In 2015, the Duchess revealed her special connection with India & polo when she attended as a chief guest of HVR BARODA CUP in New Delhi, India under the invitation of Harshavardhan Reddy chairman of HVR SPORTS.[59]


In May 2004, Sarah hosted an eleven-minute production featurette on Universal's DVD Peter Pan, titled The Legacy of Pan. Five months later, Walt Disney Feature Animation released a special DVD The Cat That Looked at a King, with Sarah's voice in the role of the Queen; the story is derived from the Mary Poppins books by P. L. Travers. Sarah had a producing role (credited as "Sarah Ferguson") in the 2009 Jean-Marc Vallée film The Young Victoria, starring Emily Blunt and featured a background player role for Sarah's daughter Princess Beatrice.[60][61]

TV and radio

Cultural references

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Titles and styles

Upon marriage, Sarah became Her Royal Highness The Princess Andrew, Duchess of York, Countess of Inverness, Baroness Killyleagh.[20][80][81]

Immediately after her divorce she retained the style Her Royal Highness; however on 21 August 1996, letters patent were issued which removed the style from divorced former wives of princes.[19] She remained titled Sarah, Duchess of York in keeping with the standard form of address for former wives of peers.[82]


See also List of honours of the British Royal Family by country






Name Birth Marriage Issue
Princess Beatrice of York 8 August 1988
Princess Eugenie of York 23 March 1990


Sarah once described her family as "country gentry with a bit of old money". She is descended from both the Stuart and Tudor houses. On her father's side, Sarah is a descendant of King Charles II of England via two of his illegitimate sons, Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond, and James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth. By her paternal great-great-grandfather Henry Brand, 2nd Viscount Hampden and her maternal great-grandfather Mervyn Wingfield, 8th Viscount Powerscourt, Sarah also descends from Lady Anne Palmer.[84][85][86][87] Lady Anne was the eldest child of Royal mistress Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland; she was acknowledged by King Charles II and adopted the surname Fitzroy.

She has aristocratic ancestry, being the great great-granddaughter of the 6th Duke of Buccleuch, a great-granddaughter of the 8th Viscount Powerscourt and a direct descendant of James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Abercorn and of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire making her a distant cousin of her ex-husband Prince Andrew, Duke of York and also of Diana, Princess of Wales. Her paternal grandmother was Marian Montagu Douglas Scott, a first cousin of Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott, who married Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, an uncle of Queen Elizabeth II.[88]

Sarah also has connections to the States. Through ancestors of her great grandmother Lady Harriet Marsham, Sarah is a descendant of Adam Winthrop, father of Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John Winthrop and is thus connected to the Winthrop Family.[89]



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Academic offices
Preceded by
The Duke of Edinburgh
Chancellor of the University of Salford
Succeeded by
Professor Sir Walter Bodmer
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