Queen Elizabeth II celebrated the 40th anniversary of her reign—her Ruby Jubilee—in 1992, though you wouldn’t have known about it unless you knew the context behind her now infamous ‘Annus Horribilis’ speech.
What may have ordinarily been a celebratory event, The Queen’s Ruby Jubilee passed with relatively little fanfare. She and Prince Philip undertook tours of Canada and Australia; but the biggest event in the United Kingdom may have been the luncheon at Spencer House attended by The Queen and all of her living Prime Ministers (which included Prime Minister John Major and the former Prime Ministers Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher).
But in 1992, what dominated the headlines wasn’t the length of The Queen’s reign, it was all of the personal strife taking place with various members of the Royal Family.
That year alone, Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales separated, as did the Duke and Duchess of York; Princess Anne and Mark Phillips divorced in April, and she remarried Timothy Lawrence in December; Windsor Castle caught fire on her wedding anniversary in November; the bombshell biography, Diana: Her True Story, was published by Andrew Morton and was later revealed to have been a collaboration between Morton and Diana; and Sarah, Duchess of York was photographed in compromising situations with another man.
By the time The Queen was due to attend a lunch marking her 40 years on the throne on 24 November, she couldn’t have been in a less celebratory mood. At Guildhall in London, she used her speech to illustrate this, remarking that “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.”
She continued: “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. 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 Queen, cannily enough, also spoke about how 1992 may be viewed in the future, telling the guests: “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.
“But it can also lend an extra dimension to judgement, giving it a leavening of moderation and compassion—even of wisdom—that is sometimes lacking in the reactions of those whose task it is in life to offer instant opinions on all things great and small.”
In a speech that touched upon the hardships and the hospitality afforded to her by the City of London, she reflected very briefly on the 40 years she spent on the throne: “Forty years is quite a long time. I am glad to have had the chance to witness, and to take part in, many dramatic changes in life in this country.”
The ‘Annus Horribilis’ speech was immediately listed amongst the most important of her reign, and put a capstone on the year that should’ve been celebratory, but wasn’t. The Queen wouldn’t publicly celebrate another milestone anniversary until 2002’s Golden Jubilee.