This Was Queen Elizabeth's Worst Ever Year: Here's What Really Happened in 1992
Fire, scandal, and divorce.
The late Queen Elizabeth II famously described 1992 as her "Annus Horribilis"—a Latin phrase that translates as "horrible year." Queen Elizabeth's reign had its ups and downs over the years, but 1992, in particular, caused her significant stress and sadness. On 24 November 1992, The Queen gave a speech at Guildhall in the City of London to mark the 40th anniversary of her Accession.
"1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure," she said. "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." Here's why 1992 was so terrible for the Queen.
1992 was the year when three of Queen Elizabeth's children announced the end of their subsequent marriages. Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, and Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips all ended their marriages in 1992, much to the sadness of the Queen. "I sometimes wonder how future generations will judge the events of this tumultuous year," she said during her Guildhall speech.
"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. 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."
According to royal insiders, the Queen found the multiple marriage splits very upsetting. "Outwardly stoical, as ever, the Queen was finding the divorce talks deeply upsetting," says Robert Hardman, author of Queen of Our Times: The Life of Queen Elizabeth II. "Another former member of the Household recalls that, every now and then, there would be a glimpse of her despair."
"It distressed her much more than she let on," a former staffer told Hardman. "I said, 'Ma'am, it seems to be happening everywhere. This is almost common practice.' But she just said, 'Three out of four!' in sheer sadness and exasperation. One shouldn't underestimate the pain she's been through."
1992 was also the year Andrew Morton's biography Diana: Her True Story was published, exposing the Royal Family as never before. "The storm, when it broke, did more than make the teacups dance," says royal author Tina Brown.
"It blew through the House of Windsor and every assumption of Establishment consensus—discretion, deference, and mutual protection. Its assertion was that Diana wouldn't settle for the system of structural infidelity that maintained royal marital facades of the past. If the royal family was as imperfect as every other family in the kingdom, it might as well be treated as such—an idea that had implications beyond the soap opera of the moment."
1992 was also the year when Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, plunged the Royal Family into further turmoil when intimate photos of her and financial advisor John Bryan were published in a UK tabloid. Ferguson and Prince Andrew had split five months previous to the pictures being taken, but the pictures were still considered scandalous.
1992 is the year a devastating fire swept through Windsor Castle, the Queen's favorite residence near London. It took more than 200 firefighters 15 hours to put the fire out, with the Queen and Prince Andrew helping to remove priceless antiques and keepsakes from the castle. 115 rooms were destroyed and it took five years and $60 million to repair the damage. "I heard the fire alarm, and when I came out of the room I could see the smoke," Prince Andrew told reporters at the time. "My reaction was shock and horror at the fact that it took hold so quickly."