LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II once referred to 1992 as an “annus horribilis,” a Latin phrase meaning horrible year. “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure,” she said during a speech marking the 40th anniversary of her succession. It was a year that three royal marriages collapsed, a fire destroyed more than a hundred rooms in Windsor Castle and a toe-sucking scandal involving Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, rocked Britain and the monarchy.
Now, 27 years later, another turbulent year for the royal family has some in Britain speculating that 2019 may go down in history as the queen’s “annus horribilis, Part II.” In a prerecorded Christmas message, the queen described 2019 as “quite bumpy." Her widely anticipated speech will be broadcast on TV, radio and online at 3 p.m. local time Wednesday.
“Brexit has deeply divided the nation and a great deal remains to be resolved. How will she deal with this in her Christmas message and how will she deal with this dreadful royal year?” royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams pondered earlier this week.
Here’s a look back at some of the events that took place during a tough year for the royal family.
Prince Philip’s car crash
The year began with the queen’s husband, Prince Philip, flipping his Land Rover and colliding with another vehicle near the royal Sandringham estate. While the prince, who was 97 at the time, walked away unharmed, the other driver had cuts on her knees and an adult passenger broke her wrist. A baby boy in the back seat was not injured.
Debris purportedly from the scene of the crash ended up being sold on eBay alongside the caption: “May even have Phil’s DNA on it, if you wanted to clone him.” Bids for the plastic fragments topped $84,000 before the listing was removed by eBay for seeking to “profit from human suffering or tragedy.”
The collision sparked debate in Britain, with many asking: Should anyone still be driving at 97? The incident prompted the prince to apologize and later surrender his license.
Prince Andrew and the Epstein scandal
For Prince Andrew, the queen’s third and reportedly favorite child, 2019 was a year the past came back to haunt him.
Andrew’s friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced U.S. financier and convicted sex offender, was called into question once more when court documents unsealed in August brought renewed attention to the claims of an American woman named Virginia Giuffre, who says she was “trafficked” to Andrew and forced into three sexual encounters with him.
Andrew’s ties to Epstein have long caused problems for the royal family. And the issue persisted after Epstein, in prison for unrelated sex trafficking charges, killed himself in August. In November, the prince appeared on national television in an apparent bid to clear his name. The interview, with the BBC’s Emily Maitlis, did quite the opposite and was roundly panned as “nuclear explosion-level bad.”
“I can absolutely categorically tell you it never happened,” Andrew told Maitlis, suggesting a twofold alibi: He was at home after a children’s pizza party on one of the nights Giuffre identified, and, while Giuffre had described him as sweaty, he claimed to have a medical condition that meant he couldn’t sweat. “I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady, none whatsoever,” he said.
The 60-minute sit-down left many watchers stunned, as the prince refused to say he regretted his friendship with Epstein and failed to show sympathy for Epstein’s victims. Soon after, organizations began distancing themselves from Andrew, who had served as the patron of more than 200 charities.
The prince had already stepped back from royal duties — a highly unusual move — by the time the BBC aired Giuffre’s first television interview in December. “This is not some sordid sex story. This is a story of being trafficked, this is a story of abuse, and this is a story of your guys’ royalty,” she said, asserting that she was passed around to Epstein’s rich and powerful friends “like a platter of fruit.”
Harry and Meghan tangle with the tabloids
Since Meghan Markle began dating Prince Harry in 2016, she has been frequently vilified in the British tabloid press, with her every move scrutinized and her family relationships picked apart. This past year, as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex transitioned from newlyweds to new parents, the relationship between the royal couple and the tabloids was especially fraught.
Harry and Meghan were criticized for their birth plan, for how much they spent renovating their home and for the expenses and carbon footprint of their travels. The couple, who have often expressed concerns about climate change, were accused of hypocrisy. “Meghan Markle cradles three-month-old Archie as she and Prince Harry land in south of France after their THIRD private jet jaunt of the summer,” the Daily Mail wrote in August.
Meghan, additionally, was accused in the tabloids of causing a rift between Harry and his brother, Prince William. And critics piled on after her September guest-edit of British Vogue. The Sun newspaper complained that the supposedly apolitical duchess was celebrating women with “leftie views,” while the Daily Mail’s Piers Morgan labeled her “Me-Me-Meghan” and a self-promoter.
The newest royal also got some unwelcome attention when a BBC radio host compared newborn Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor to a chimpanzee — which many people took to be a slur related to Meghan’s mixed-raced heritage. The host, Danny Baker, was fired but defended himself, saying he had meant to compare the royals to circus animals.
The royals, apparently, reached a breaking point. In October, Meghan launched legal action against the Mail on Sunday newspaper for “unlawfully” publishing a private letter, and Harry publicly condemned the tabloids for behavior that he said “destroys lives.” Referring to his late mother, Princess Diana, Harry said, “I lost my mother, and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces."
In an emotional interview that aired soon after, Meghan spoke about the toll of being a new mother under the glare of the tabloids. “It’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes,” she admitted. When asked whether the experience has “really been a struggle,” she replied with a subdued: “Yes.”
"Not many people have asked if I’m ok ... it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes."— ITV News (@itvnews) October 18, 2019
Meghan reveals to ITV's @tombradby the intense media spotlight has left her struggling to cope while becoming a mum #HarryAndMeghan https://t.co/Uy21iE6ozJ pic.twitter.com/kZqhZV66OL
The couple elicited sympathy from the likes of female British lawmakers, Hillary Clinton and people tweeting with the hashtag #WeLoveYouMeghan. Not a big fan, though, is President Trump, who when presented with some of the things Meghan said about him during the 2016 campaign, said, “I didn’t know that she was nasty.” The Sun tabloid published Trump’s comments at a particularly awkward moment for the royal family: just as Elizabeth was preparing to host the U.S. president for a state visit.
The year is closing with Prince Philip again in the headlines. Buckingham Palace said in a statement on Friday that the queen’s husband was admitted to a London hospital as a “precautionary measure,” and that the 98-year-old was undergoing “observation and treatment in relation to a pre-existing condition.” Emphasizing that the situation wasn’t urgent, Philip reportedly walked himself into the hospital, while the queen continued her previously scheduled engagements.
On Tuesday, Buckingham Palace confirmed that Philip was released from hospital and would be joining the royal family for festivities at Sandringham. And so the royals carry on, even in a year they may not look back on with much pleasure.