What does Annus Horribilis mean and what happened during the 'worst' year of the Queen's reign?

The emotional turmoil of the Queen's Annus Horribilis has been brought to life in dramatic style in The Crown season 5

Queen's Annus Horribilis explained, seen here is the Queen during the second day of her USA tour
(Image credit: Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

Fans of The Crown are wondering what does Annus Horribilis mean as the Queen's worst year is explored in heartbreaking style in The Crown season 5.

The Crown season 5 has fans on tenterhooks as it explores the dramas and triumphs of the Royal Family. But one phrase and the name of the fourth episode has fans all asking the same question, what does Annus Horribilis mean?

The show reflects on a terrible time for the British monarchy as The Crown includes an iconic speech that sparked the royal associations of the term.

Here we reveal the meaning of the Latin phrase, when the Queen’s Annus Horribilis was and why that year was such a tumultuous time for her…

Queen Elizabeth II wearing Queen Alexandra's Kokoshnik Tiara at a state banquet in her honour

(Image credit: Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

What does Annus Horribilis mean?  

Strange though it might initially sound as a term, the meaning of the Latin phrase “Annus Horribilis” is simply “horrible year”. Its use in a royal context is to describe a particular year that was especially difficult for the late monarch and the Queen’s children and it mirrors the Latin phrase - “annus mirabilis” or “miraculous year” which is the title of poems by John Dryden and Philip Larkin. 

The Queen herself used the term Annus Horribilis in relation to her personal experience in a now-unforgettable speech at Guildhall in Windsor to mark the 40th anniversary of her accession to the throne.

Queen Elizabeth ll delivers her "Annus Horribilis" speech at the Guildhall

(Image credit: Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)

“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,” she declared. “Indeed, I suspect that there are very few people or institutions unaffected by these last months of worldwide turmoil and uncertainty.”

Later on in her speech, which took place in the 1990s, the Queen reflected upon how her “Annus Horribilis” would be perceived in future years. 

She said, “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.”

When was the Queen’s Annus Horribilis?  

The Queen’s Annus Horribilis was 1992 - a year that is dramatized in heartbreaking detail in The Crown season 5. The new season presents this emotional rollercoaster of a year as it moves from Margaret Thatcher’s resignation in 1990 which ended season 4 and moves through the decade. 

Queen Elizabeth II At The Guildhall In London Making Her 'annus Horribilis' Speech

(Image credit: Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

It’s already been widely reported that Prince William could be “furious” over The Crown’s decision to depict his late mother Princess Diana’s infamous Panorama interview which took place in 1995. And the latest series does in fact delve into the epic lows that saw the Royal Family struggling through 1992, but also shows how elements of the Queen’s Annus Horribilis continued to be felt in the years that followed.

Why was 1992 the Queen’s ‘Annus Horribilis’ and what events occurred that year?  

The Queen’s Annus Horribilis was - as you might expect given its meaning - full of challenges for Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and she certainly didn’t use the term lightly. Firstly, as the Queen mentioned herself in what’s now often known as her Annus Horribilis speech, Windsor Castle caught fire. Shocking scenes of flames decimating part of her beloved Berkshire home appeared in The Crown season 5 trailer and for anyone wondering if there really was a Windsor Castle fire the answer is very much yes! 

While there would never be a good day for such a precious historic building to face this tragedy, the fire broke out on the Queen and Prince Philip’s wedding anniversary on November 20, perhaps making the disaster even more painful. 

In her speech at Guildhall which took place not long afterward, the Queen referred to the fire as she declared, “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. And, after this last weekend, we appreciate all the more what has been set before us today.”

Windor Castle On Fire. Fire Engines Gathered In The Quadrangle

(Image credit: Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

But the Windsor Castle fire was only part of the Queen’s Annus Horribilis, with this marking a year where taxpayers began to question even more the cost of the Royal Family to the country. While on a more personal note three of the Queen’s four children’s marriages ended in some way in 1992 within a few months of each other. 

The Crown viewers have already seen how Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s relationship faced intense scrutiny, pressure, and challenges. In season 5 their marriage is at breaking point, leading to their separation in December of that year. And although the Queen’s Annus Horribilis speech took place the month before this announcement, the growing distance between the Prince and Princess of Wales is likely to have influenced the monarch’s perception of the year as a whole.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales in Seoul, South Korea

(Image credit: Photo by Anwar Hussein/WireImage via Getty)

That year royal author Andrew Morton also first published his shocking biography, Diana: Her True Story, revealing startling insights into the couple’s marriage. 

Princess Anne and her first husband Captain Mark Phillips, the father of the oldest of the Queen’s grandchildren Peter Phillips and Zara Tindall, also officially divorced in 1992 after separating in 1989. Meanwhile, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York also separated in 1992, and months later intimate photographs of her with businessman John Bryan taken by paparazzi were published in the press. 

The Duke and Duchess of York would go on to divorce officially in 1996, though they remain on good terms and both live at the Royal Lodge in Windsor.

Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson and Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips at their respective weddings

(Image credit: Future: Image 1: Photo by Derek Hudson/Getty Images // Image 2: Bettmann via Getty)

All in all, it’s easy to see why 1992 was described at the time - and is still thought of now - as the Queen’s Annus Horribilis or Horrible Year.

The Crown season 5 is showing on Netflix now. 

Emma Shacklock

Emma is a Royal Editor with eight years experience working in publishing. Her specialist areas include the British Royal Family, ranging from protocol to outfits. Alongside putting her royal knowledge to good use, Emma knows all there is to know about the latest TV shows on the BBC, ITV and more. When she’s not writing about the next unmissable show to add to your to-watch list or delving into royal protocol, Emma enjoys cooking, long walks and watching yet more crime dramas!