The royal family is very much in vogue right now.
They’ve been enjoying a few years of growing popularity brought on first by the marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, and then a few years later, re-stoked by the marriage of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the royals though, and in 1992, the year that Queen Elizabeth II was set to celebrate 40 years on the throne, a wave of scandals and tragedies would unfold making it the worst year of her reign.
NewsAU reports that on November 24, 1992, the Queen delivered a speech to Guildhall, London, marking her ruby jubilee (below).
“1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure,” she announced.
“In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an ‘Annus Horribilis’. I suspect that I am not alone in thinking it so.”
Annus horribilis is a Latin phrase, quite literally meaning “horrible year”. It was a surprisingly glum admission from the monarch — but she was more than justified in making it.
So, what happened in 1992 to make it a year worth lamenting in a celebration speech?
In 1992, divorce was still a bit of a taboo in the royal family. Despite that, the monarchy was shaken by two broken marriages in very quick succession.
On March 19 the Queen’s second son Prince Andrew, Duke of York, separated from his wife Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson, the Duchess of York.
Fergie — always a lively and unpredictable addition to the royal family — had been seen in the company of other men, one a Texan billionaire. Post-split, Fergie felt the Queen’s wrath: The palace announced that she would no longer carry out public engagements on behalf of the Queen, while the Monarch herself personally announced that she would not take responsibility for Fergie’s mounting and well-publicised debts.
Fergie was royally exiled, so to speak, the effects of which are still radiating down through the generations if the drama surrounding her daughter’s wedding is anything to go by.
Then, to add insult to injury, just one month later, on April 23, the Queen’s daughter Princess Anne divorced her husband, Captain Mark Phillips.
The couple had been separated for three years prior to the divorce, so this one at least didn’t come as too much of a surprise.
Besides, the divorces were nothing compared to what was still to come.
It is no secret that the late Princess Diana and the Queen were not the best of friends. We also know now that her marriage to Charles was super rocky.
Diana and Charles were still married, but across 448 pages, Diana detailed the dysfunctional state of their relationship in the most raw and unfiltered terms — a first for a senior royal. The book revealed the Princess was so unhappy with both her marriage and her life inside the royal family that she had been driven to suicidal thoughts.
The book was an instant bestseller and caused a media storm.
While Diana’s scandal was one that she orchestrated herself, Fergie’s scandal generated a media storm of a different kind.
On August 20, pictures of Fergie, Duchess of York sunbathing topless and being kissed on the feet by her friend and financial adviser John Bryan were splashed across the tabloids.
The “toe-sucking” scandal would remain firmly lodged in royal memory. Three years later, when Fergie sent a bouquet of flowers to Prince Andrew’s aunt Princess Margaret, she reportedly received a letter in reply telling her “You have done more to bring shame on the family than could ever have been imagined.”
While the British public was still reeling from the Fergie scandal, Diana was back in the news after the details of phone conversations between Diana and her friend James Gilbey were splashed across the tabloids.
Again, this royal scandal had its own nickname: “Squidgygate”, after the pet name Mr Gilbey called Diana literally dozens of times during their conversations.
Diana vented her frustrations to her close confidante during the secretly recorded conversation, telling him: “I was very bad at lunch, and I nearly started blubbing. I just felt so sad and empty and thought ‘bloody hell, after all I’ve done for this f**king family …’ It’s just so desperate. Always being innuendo, the fact that I’m going to do something dramatic because I can’t stand the confines of this marriage… He (Charles) makes my life real torture, I’ve decided.”
According to Diana, the Queen Mother would observe her with a mix of “pity and interest”.
Which brings us to four days before the Queen gave her speech to Guildhall, when Windsor Castle caught fire.
The largest inhabited castle in the world and one of the Queen’s official residencies, the castle suffered extensive damage in the fire, which started when a spotlight pressed up against a curtain caused it to ignite.
It should come as no surprise that when it came time to celebrate her 40th anniversary as monarch, the Queen opted for something a little more sombre.
“I sometimes wonder how future generations will judge the events of this tumultuous year. I dare say that history will take a slightly more moderate view than that of some contemporary commentators. Distance is well-known to lend enchantment, even to the less attractive views. After all, it has the inestimable advantage of hindsight,” she said.
“But it can also lend an extra dimension to judgment, giving it a leavening of moderation and compassion — even of wisdom — that is sometimes lacking in the reactions of those whose task it is in life to offer instant opinions on all things great and small.”
You can watch her full speech here:
The speech ends in a plea for mercy from the British public.
Mercy which was clearly granted, because Liz and the rest of the Royals are still going strong.
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