Here’s What Happened to the Royal Family During the ‘Annus Horribilis’, Queen Elizabeth’s Worst Year

There have been a lot of references to Queen Elizabeth’s “annus horribilis,” which is a fancy way of saying “horrible year.” This particular time in royal family history contains many of the scandals and dramas that we still talk about today.

It’s true that you could find terrible things happening in the British royal family at any point in time. But one year in particular stands out in contrast to all others as being the worst time ever. Here’s what happened during Queen Elizabeth’s no good, very bad year.

Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth II | Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

What was Queen Elizabeth’s worst year ever?

Her Majesty has very simple goals in life. She wants her family to be happy, healthy, and for everyone to get along. It sounds like such a simple request, right?

Unfortunately, no one seemed to be paying attention to Queen Elizabeth’s desires during the entire year in 1992. During a speech when she introduced the phrase, the queen declared that she would not look back on 1992 with “undiluted pleasure.”

“There can be no doubt, of course, that criticism is good for people and institutions that are part of public life,” she admitted. But continued, saying, “I dare say that history will take a slightly more moderate view than that of some contemporary commentators.” In other words, the press was being unnecessarily harsh on the royal family at the time.

The royal family in 1992
The royal family in 1992 | David Levenson/Getty Images

What happened to the royal family in 1992?

There must have been moments of happiness during the “annus horribilis,” but sadly they were overshadowed by the negative.

In one single year, Prince Charles and Princess Diana separated (though they wouldn’t formally divorce until years later). Andrew Morton’s biography was released, revealing dark secrets about Princess Diana including bulimia and self-mutilation. Princess Anne divorced Captain Mark Philips and then remarried in the same year.  

As if that’s not enough, Prince Andrew’s estranged wife Sarah Ferguson was caught topless and having her toes sucked, which horrified the strictly image-conscious royal family. And then? There was a significant fire at Windsor Castle. It’s almost like the universe was saying, “Burn it all down.”

Queen Elizabeth survived the scandals and came out stronger

Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth | Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

It’s worth noting that every negative event in 1992 had nothing to do with Queen Elizabeth herself and was therefore outside of her control. Her way of handling things was by allowing time to pass and people’s opinions to change.

During that infamous speech 20 years later, Her Majesty had good reasons to be in much better spirits. After a bit of time and space, the royal family’s reputation had drastically improved.

“My sense is that Buckingham Palace feels pretty comfortable at the moment. The Cambridges are coming on. And the jubilee, barring a catastrophe, will work to their advantage,” Oxford University historian Dr. Frank Prochaska said in 2012. “Don’t forget, they are very clever at adjusting and they have been reasonably successful.”

The royal family will always have bad and good years

Though 1992 will go down in history as one of the worst years ever for the British royal family, it’s not the last time everyone’s favorite royals will face hard times. Even now, Prince Harry is fighting a valiant battle against the press who seems to have it out for his wife, Meghan Markle.

But once again, the royals can prevail with perseverance, grace, and class. Just like they’ve been doing for centuries.