Crouching down in the heat and dust of a make-shift shelter, hair damply sticking to her brow without a thought for the cameras, the Duchess of Edinburgh touched hearts on a low-key visit to Ethiopia this week.
Her visit, which took place at the request of the British Foreign Office, saw Sophie travel to civil-war-ravaged Tigray in the north of the country to meet women and girls whose gender has led them to become victims of unspeakable violence.
Sophie, 58, the wife ofPrince Edward,has become an important international voice on the issue travelling around the world to bear witness to the testimonies of those whose lives have been blighted by sexual violence as a weapon of war.
Approachable yet passionate, the Duchess is rather formidable in her own quiet way -qualities well-recognised by her brother-in-law, the King. And why Sophie is a key player in the coterie of strong female advisers known as Charlies Angels.
Sophie, the Duchess of Edinburgh touched hearts on a low-key visit to Ethiopia this week
Her visit saw Sophie travel to Tigray in the north of the country to meet women and girls, including victims of sexual violence. Tigray has been torn apart by civil war
The death of Queen Elizabeth II last year means we will not see another female monarch for at least three generations – asobering thought given how well our late sovereign and her female ancestors have risen to the occasion.
Some of our mightiest monarchs – from Elizabeth I to Victoria and Boudica – cast off the historic constraints of their sex to earn their place in the history books and, in some cases, define an entire age.
Fortunately, Charles III is surrounded by straight-talking female figures, a theme played out behind the scenes as well.
Front and centre is the kings sister, Princess Anne, a worthy inheritor of their mothers non-nonsense mantle.
Surely it was no coincidence that in her brothers official coronation portrait she was positioned standing at the Kings right hand?
Then theres Catherine, Princess of Wales, who has steadily become the steel marshmallow of the current generation of Windsor women (a reference to the late Queen Mother, whose fluffy exterior hid a hard-boiled core) and on whose shoulders many see the future of the monarchy resting.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II last year means we will not see another female monarch for at least three generations. Pictured:King Charles III, Prince William, Prince Edward and Princess Anne during this year’s Trooping the Colour
Surely it was no coincidence that in her brothers official coronation portrait (pictured), Princess Anne was positioned standing at the Kings right hand
Many see the future of the monarchy resting upon the shoulders of Catherine
And of course there is Queen Camilla herself, once so vilified but whose quiet dignity and loyalty to the Crown has seen her transformed into one of her husbands greatest assets.
Indeed, the fact that Charles court has become so female-centric is in no small part down to his wife of 18 years, the undoubted power behind the throne.
The Queen can do more with half a raised eyebrow than many a courtier could ever hope to achieve, says one insider who knows the set-up well.
Its a power she uses wisely and because she has such common sense approach to all this business of monarchy, its brought a very welcome energy to the operation.
Given the dwindling number of working royals available, each of these women will play an ever-more important role over the next few years.
Delivering the huge number of patronages and engagements that we have come to expect from the Royal Family means the likes of hard-working Princess Anne, who still quietly carries out more than 400 duties annually, are going to be ever-more necessary.
A raised eyebrow from Queen Camilla can achieve far more than many courtiers could. She has become one of her husbands greatest assets
The fact that Charles court has become so female-centric is in no small part down to his wife of 18 years. Pictured: Charles and Camilla on a visit to Armagh in May
Given the dwindling number of working royals, the women in his ‘coterie’ will play an ever-more important role. Pictured: The Princess Royal, the King and Queen Camilla at the Braemar Gathering
The King with the Princess Royal by his side mourn their mother, the late Queen Elizabeth II at the St George’s Chapel committal service
Is it too much to ask of a woman of 73?
Hilariously no-one would ever dare ask her, one source tells me, so they can only presume the answer is no, and just let her get on with it.
Shes an absolute chip off the old block and she, recently made clear, the Royal Family still needs her given recent departures, one source says, referring to an interview she gave to Vanity Fair.
Princess Annehad cautioned against the younger royals determination to shake-up the system saying: Please do not reinvent that particular wheel.
The source added: She will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with her brother, with minimal fuss, and after the drama of the last few years thats exactly what he needs.
But its not just a case of sharing the Kings workload that will make these loyal lady lieutenants so invaluable.
The institution has long been a matriarchal one, regardless of who has the top job. And it is the women who ultimately manage, smooth out and improve relationships when they hit the skids, one former courtier tells me.
Monarch and heir: Prince William with his father pictured in February 2020. We will not have another female monarch for at least three generations
The Prince of Wales kisses his father, Charles, at the Coronation. Both men are supported by loyal, capable women
Pictured: Camilla, then Duchess of Cornwall, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, at the Prince of Wales’s 70th Birthday Patronage Celebration held at Buckingham Palace in May 2018
It was the Princess of Wales who very engineered the first conversation between estranged brothers William and Harry after the Duke of Edinburghs funeral in 2021
The Princess of Wales and the Queen [then Consort] were the architects of the rapprochement between the King and Prince William when their relationship was somewhat rocky a few years ago. The men in this family can be quite hot-headed and stubborn at times.
And, unbelievably, given what Prince Harry had to say about her in his book, the Queen [Camilla] was instrumental in bringing Meghan into the family at the beginning and trying to make her feel welcome.
It was the Princess of Wales who very publicly engineered the first conversation between estranged brothers William and Harry after the Duke of Edinburghs funeral in 2021, an act of instinctive thoughtfulness and compassion.
Exactly, says my source.
If the King and Harry are ever to be reconciled, let alone the two brothers, it will be by the guiding hand of the female members of the family.
And let us not forget that this not just a question of ensuring that everyone gets on at Christmas. Its about the smooth running of global institution. Theres real pressure on them here.
As the two youngest working women in the family, Kate, 41, and Sophie, 58, have formed a particularly dynamic duo, perhaps strengthened by the slings and arrows thrown at the family in recent years.
The Duchess is very bright, switched on and a very safe pair of hands, while the Princess of Wales has more say than anyone gives her credit for about what goes on in that household [Kensington Palace], particularly as far as the media and their children are concerned, says another insider.
But I think it is only now that people will get to see the real influence they wield.
One former aide, who has worked with Charles for several decades, believes the influence of his late grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in his formative years has had a lasting effect on the man he has become, particularly when it comes to women.
The two youngest working women in the family, Kate and Sophie have formed a dynamic duo
Strengthened by the slings and arrows thrown at the family in recent years, people will soonget to see the real influence they wield
He is very emotionally intelligent and is not frightened of powerful women, although occasionally pretends he is, they say with a laugh.
He has always liked a diverse set of voices around the table and I am confident that wont change.
Whether King Charles III lives up to the almost impossibly high standards set by his late mother as sovereign remains to be seen.
But with the love, loyalty and support of the wise and wonderful women around him, it seems that the House of Windsor hasnt entirely lost its feminine touch in the Carolean age.