1992 was a bad year for the royal family. Very bad. So bad that the Queen made an unusually personal statement in a speech on November 24 to mark her 40th year as monarch. “1992 is not a year I look back on with unalloyed joy. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it turned out to be ‘annus horribilis,'” she said.
The phrase was told to her by Sir Edward Ford, her former assistant private secretary, to describe the very turbulent events of that year. And there were many. Most importantly, they forced the fiercely private Queen to confront deeply personal revelations about her children and to recognize the limits of royal decorum in modern society.
“I think it was a very important year in the Queen’s life,” royal reporter Robert Jobson told CNN in 2002 on Looking Up Morally.”
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The losing streak began earlier this year when Prince Andrew and his wife Sarah Ferguson announced their divorce. The couple wed in a lavish wedding in 1986 and were parents to two young daughters. Their split was quickly followed by a divorce from Princess Anne, Andrew’s sister, after an 18-year marriage to Captain Mark Philipps. (She was remarried to Sir Timothy Laurence before the end of the year.) Given the well-known harshness of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s relationship, the Queen was probably aware that there was a good chance all three of their married children would be divorced.
Then came the scandals. First the sunday mirror released paparazzi photos of newly single Sarah Ferguson getting her toes sucked by American businessman John Bryan. The story brought a lot of ridicule to the family and showed them in a new, very uncomfortable light for them. nextup, The sun introduced the world to “Squidgy,” the pet name gin heir James Gibney had used for Diana in a phone conversation that was recorded. In the call, which took place on New Year’s Eve 1989, Gibney expressed romantic affection for Diana.
And finally, on November 20th, a fire. After a flame reached a curtain in Queen Victoria’s private chapel at Windsor Castle, the building quickly caught fire. The fire was fought by 225 firefighters for 15 hours. It consumed 115 rooms and cost £36.5 million to repair. Among the most notable damages was the collapse of St. George’s Hall, a 14th-century stateroom. Most of the house’s priceless art collection, including works by Michelangelo, da Vinci and Van Dyck, was recovered.
“Sometimes I wonder how future generations will view the events of this turbulent year. I daresay the story will take a slightly more moderate view than that of some contemporary commentators. Distance is known to add magic to even the less attractive vistas. After all, it has the invaluable benefit of hindsight,” she said in her much-quoted speech. “But it can also add an extra dimension to judgment, lending it an air of moderation and compassion — even wisdom — that is sometimes absent in the reactions of those whose job in life is to provide instant opinions on all, big and small.” to give things away.”
Adrienne Gaffney is Associate Editor at ELLE and previously worked at WSJ Magazine and vanity fair.