“The Crown” Will Cover the Queen’s Annus Horribilis, but What Does That Mean?
The highly anticipated fifth season of “The Crown” arrives on Nov. 9, transporting audiences back to Brtain in 1991. A 65-year-old Queen Elizabeth II is entering her 39th year at the helm, and the series is set to cover around half of the tumultuous ensuing decade for the queen and her family.
Continuing the tradition of bringing a fresh cast every two seasons to realistically portray the aging royals, Olivia Colman is this time replaced by Imelda Staunton as the monarch, while Jonathan Pryce takes up the reins as Prince Philip. Margaret Thatcher (played gloriously in season four by Gillian Anderson) is gone, after being unceremoniously shown the door of Number 10 by duplicitous members of her own party. She’s replaced as prime minister by John Major, played by the surprisingly cast Jonny Lee Miller.
Prince Charles (morphing from Josh O’Connor into Dominic West) is set to have some shocking storylines this season, with some critics arguing the series is insensitive in light of the queen’s death on Sept. 8 and others reminding viewers the show is more fiction than fact and to enjoy it as entertainment. Elizabeth Debicki, taking over from Emma Corrin as Princess Diana, is likely to have her work cut out for her portraying the people’s princess, and she’ll reimagine the infamous interview with Martin Bashir.
The late monarch famously labeled 1992 her “annus horribilis,” and fans are eager to see how the Netflix drama will take on this period in “The Crown” season five. But what does this actually mean? And what really happened? Read ahead for more on the term and every incident it entailed.
What Does “Annus Horribilis” Mean?
“Annus horribilis” is a Latin phrase meaning “horrible year.” The bygone expression was brought back to public attention when used by Queen Elizabeth II in a speech to mark her Ruby Jubilee at the Guildhall on Nov. 24, 1992. The queen said, “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure,” she said, according to the royal family’s website. “In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an ‘Annus Horribilis.’ . . . I sometimes wonder how future generations will judge the events of this tumultuous year. 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.”
It turns out that 1992 was an extremely challenging time for the monarch. The early ’90s had already seen a shift in the public’s relationship with the royals, which saw the public questioning their relevance. It was unheard of for the stoic queen to even allude to personal events or feelings, causing even more shockwaves to follow her public revelation. She was possibly aware of the shift in public feeling toward her as she made her speech, while her family acted recklessly around her and added to her dismay.
Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson Separate
One of the contributing factors to the queen’s annus horribilis was the separation of her son Prince Andrew and his wife Sarah Ferguson. The couple married on July 23, 1986, and separated in early 1992.
Ferguson was working in PR at an art gallery when the pair were introduced by Princess Diana. Ferguson’s father was Prince Charles’s polo manager, and the family had been friends with Diana’s family, the Spencers, for many years. According to Vanity Fair, Diana recommended that Ferguson, who was 26 years old at the time, be invited to an event at Windsor Castle during the 1985 Royal Ascot. Ferguson and Andrew officially met at this event, making their relationship public shortly afterward.
The couple’s first daughter, Beatrice, was born on Aug. 8, 1988, followed by second daughter Eugenie on March 23, 1990. Shortly afterward, cracks began to show in the relationship, with Ferguson pointing to the amount of time they spent apart as the cause, revealing in a 2010 interview that, due to Prince Andrew’s naval career, she saw him for only 40 days a year. According to Harper’s Bazaar, Ferguson said of the arrangement, “I spent my entire first pregnancy alone; when Beatrice was born, Andrew got 10 days of shore leave.” In August of the same year, Ferguson became embroiled in further public scandal when intimate photos of her and American businessman John Bryan were leaked. Andrew and Ferguson were officially divorced on May 30, 1996.
Princess Anne and Mark Phillips Divorce
The queen’s only daughter, Princess Anne, and Anne’s husband, Mark Phillips, divorced in 1992. The couple had married on Nov. 14, 1973, and separated in 1989. The divorce was completed on April 23, 1992.
Their courtship was long, with their engagement not being announced until five years after their relationship began. Being the first of the queen’s children to get married, the wedding caused quite a stir. The ceremony took place at Westminster Abbey, and was watched by approximately 500 million people worldwide in an 8-hour broadcast. Their first child Peter was born in 1977, with daughter Zara arriving in 1981. Throughout the early ’80s, speculation was rife that the marriage was in trouble, with Phillips notably absent from public royal occasions.
A bombshell came for Anne when it was revealed Phillips had fathered a child with another woman in the mid ’80s. It was reported by Tatler that he had an affair with New Zealand art teacher Heather Tonkin, who had given birth to their daughter, Felicity, in 1985. A DNA test carried out in 1991 confirmed Phillips as the father, while there were reports circulating of Anne’s alleged affairs as well. After she and Phillips divorced in 1992, Anne married Timothy Laurence within months.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana Separate
In a brutal blow to the queen, her annus horribilus saw three of her four children suffer a marriage breakdown, when Prince Charles and Princess Diana separated. The couple became engaged on Feb. 24, 1981, marrying on July 29 of the same year. They had first met when Diana was 16 and Charles was 29, as depicted in “The Crown” season four.
But their marriage was not to last, largely thought to be due in part to Charles’s love for his current wife, Queen Consort Camilla. An unhappy Diana admitted to suffering postnatal depression, self-harming, and bulimia during her marriage to Charles, which she alleged only pushed him further away.
In her infamous 1995 interview with Bashir on BBC “Panorama,” Diana also admitted to having an extramarital affair during her time with Charles, predominantly caused by loneliness and the realization there were “three of us in this marriage,” alluding to knowledge of her husband’s ongoing relationship with Camilla. Although Charles and Diana separated during the annus horribilus, their divorce wasn’t finalized until 1996. Diana sadly died a year later, on Aug. 31, 1997.
Fire at Windsor Castle
A fire broke out at the queen’s beloved Windsor Castle on Nov. 20, 1992, which brought her annus horribilis to a close. The fire began in Queen Victoria’s Private Chapel, where a faulty spotlight set fire to a curtain resting against it. The blaze began at 11:30 a.m., with fire crews working through the night to extinguish the flames, which were finally put out at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21. The fire had burned for 15 hours, destroying 115 rooms, including nine State Rooms.
Due to rewiring work being completed in the building, a lot of precious works of art and items of furniture had already been removed and were therefore saved. Overall, only two works of art were lost forever – a Sir William Beechey equestrian portrait entitled “George III and the Prince of Wales Reviewing Troops,” which had been too large to remove, and an 1820s sideboard from Morel & Seddon. Several items were partly burned but salvaged.
The queen was not present at the castle at the time of the fire and was notified of it by Prince Andrew over the phone. Andrew was staying at the castle at the time while completing research for a course he was studying nearby. To help foot the repair bill, the queen opened up parts of Buckingham Palace to the public for the first time, using the entry fees to go toward the restoration fund. This covered around 70 percent of the bill, with the queen reportedly donating £2 million of her own money to make up the deficit. The final cost of the refurbishment came to £36.5 million and took five years to complete. The official completion date was Nov. 20, 1997, which fell on the five-year anniversary of the fire breaking out and was also the 50th wedding anniversary of the queen and Prince Philip.