Why Queen Elizabeth considered 1992 an ‘annus horribilis’

Why Queen Elizabeth considered 1992 an 'annus horribilis'

Divorces, separations, repeated scandals, a look back at one of the most turbulent years for the British royal family, which prompted the queen to speak out publicly.

It was perhaps one of the darkest moments of her reign: 1992, a year of scandal and inconvenience for the royal family, known for being what Elizabeth II dubbed the “annus horribilis” – an expression in Latin meaning “horrible year”.

“1992 is not a year I will remember with unfailing pleasure. In the words of one of my friendliest correspondents, it turned out to be an ‘annus horribilis’. I think I am not the only one to think so,” said the sovereign that year in a speech a few months after her ruby ​​jubilee marking her 40 years of reign.

Separation of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, divorce from Princess Anne, publication of a controversial biography of Diana and the burning of Windsor Castle… A look back at 1992, the dark year that pushed the Queen out of her traditional silence during his jubilee.

• March 19: separation of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson

Relations between Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson officially began to deteriorate in March 1992, when the couple announced their separation. In August of the same year, the then Duchess of York faced a major scandal: intimate photos of her with American businessman John Bryan were published in the DailyMirror.

The Duchess is on a summer holiday at Balmoral Castle with the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Andrew when the scandal breaks. Elizabeth II would have been furious and Sarah would have returned to London the same day, says The Telegraph in 2012.

the DailyMail would later write that Prince Philip, affected by this affair, did not even want to be in the same room as Sarah and insisted that she “brought shame” to the whole royal family. Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson will divorce in May 1996.

• April 23: Divorce from Princess Anne

In 1989, the daughter of Elizabeth II finds herself involved in a thorny scandal. Humiliated by the multiple extramarital affairs of her first husband, Mark Philips, Princess Anne is seduced by Timothy Laurence, an illustrious unknown then squire to the Queen.

Together, they exchange passionate letters. Missives that will mysteriously end up, some time later, on the desk of an editor of the British tabloid The Sun. The royal palace then launched an investigation led by Scotland Yard.

The British newspaper explains that it cannot publish the content of letters, deemed “too hot” and is content simply to reveal the affair between Princess Anne and Timothy Laurence.

But another news will shake the relationship between Anne and Mark Philips. A paternity test of the latter confirms that he is the father of a little girl born from an extra-marital relationship. Long reluctant to divorce her daughter, Elizabeth II will agree to an official separation between the princess and her former husband on April 23, 1992.

In December of the same year, Anne will say “yes” to Timothy Laurence, with whom she celebrated her 30th anniversary in 2022.

• June: Charles and Camilla’s affair revealed and divorce with Diana

In the early 1990s, many press articles chronicled Charles and Diana’s life as a couple, pointing to their complicated relationship and the prince’s affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles. “There were three of us in this marriage”, will sum up Diana Spencer on this subject in a BBC interview in November 1995.

But in June 1992, the publication of a biography on Princess Diana, Diana: Her True Story, comes to set fire to the powder. This book, written by journalist Andrew Morton, reveals in detail the marital disagreement between the princess and her husband and gives more details on his relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles.

Following these revelations, the couple separated in December 1992 before divorcing in August 1996.

• November 20: Fire at Windsor Castle

On November 20, 1992, while work was underway at the Royal Residence in Windsor, a lamp ignited a curtain. The fire spread rapidly, within 3 p.m. a large part of the north wing of the castle was reduced to ashes. Result: nearly a hundred rooms are devastated, including St George’s Hall, a banquet hall and the largest state apartment.

The Windsor fire of 1992.
The Windsor fire in 1992. © Thierry Saliou – AFP

Informed of the fire by a telephone call from Prince Andrew, Elizabeth II, then in Buckingham, went to the scene of the fire. On the spot, no less than 250 firefighters are mobilized to try to put out the fire and many inhabitants help the employees of the castle to take valuables out into the street: paintings, furniture, carpets…

Windsor Castle will then be restored for five years, during a monumental project (5,000 workers, a hundred architects, etc.) estimated at 36.5 million pounds sterling.

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