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The Crown: What was the Queen’s ‘annus horribilis’ and what happened in 1992?

The Queen said 1992 was a year she would not look back on with ‘undiluted pleasure’

Laura Hampson
Thursday 17 November 2022 16:05 GMT
Queen Elizabeth II in 1992
Queen Elizabeth II in 1992 (Getty)

It is little surprise that there has been so much anticipation for the latest series of The Crown.

The fictional Netflix drama, based on real-life events from Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, has returned to our screens for its fifth and penultimate season, just two months after the former monarch died at her Balmoral estate, aged 96.

So far, the series has looked at the Queen’s accession to the throne, her relationship with Prince Philip, how King Charles III met Diana Spencer, and several real-life events such as the Aberfan disaster.

Season five will explore everything from the breakdown of the then-Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales’s marriage, to the moments leading to Diana’s fatal car crash in Paris in August 1997.

It also touches on the Queen’s annus horribilis, but what is this and why did the Queen describe it as such?

What does ‘annus horribilis’ mean?

Annus Horribilis is a Latin phrase that translates to “horrible year”, and was thought to be a play on the more commonly used phrase “annus mirabilis” which means “year of wonders”.

Now, however, the phrase has become synonymous with Queen Elizabeth II’s 1992 speech and the events that occurred that year.

Diana, Princess of Wales, and the then-Prince Charles announced their separation in 1992. Here, they are pictured in India in February that year (Getty)

What was the Queen’s ‘annus horribilis’?

In 1992, the Queen had a rather tough year. Not only did Prince Charles and Diana split up, but so did the Duke and Duchess of York, and Princess Anne finalised her divorce with Mark Phillips. Oh, and the Queen’s beloved Windsor Castle suffered a devastating fire.

In November of that year, during a speech at Guildhall to mark her 40th year on the throne, the Queen said: “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. 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. Indeed, I suspect that there are very few people or institutions unaffected by these last months of worldwide turmoil and uncertainty.”

The Windsor fire on 21 November 1992, the morning after it started (AFP via Getty Images)

Her Majesty continued: “This generosity and whole-hearted kindness of the Corporation of the City to Prince Philip and me would be welcome at any time, but at this particular moment, in the aftermath of Friday’s tragic fire at Windsor, it is especially so.”

The fire at Windsor took 250 firefighters 15 hours and 1.5 million gallons of water to put out. In total, 100 rooms of the castle were damaged by the fire which began with a spotlight shining on a curtain.

Restorations cost approximately £40m, 70 per cent of which the Queen privately paid for, and it was finished in November 1997.

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