thirty years ago, Queen Elizabeth had a speech that went down in history.
In November 1992, at the Guildhall in London, the address officially marked the 40th anniversary of her accession to the throne. Under normal circumstances, this might be an opportunity for the Queen to reflect on this moment, what she believes she has achieved as the unelected leader of the British state and how she has envisioned the coming years. However, these were not happy times for the Queen or her children. In the last 12 months, three of them have separated from their partners.
Her eldest son Charles divorced Diana Spencer, although their divorce was not formalized until 1996. Princess Anne, the Queen’s second child and only daughter, divorced her husband, Captain Mark Phillips, in 1992; and the palace announced that Prince Andrew was now separating from Sarah Ferguson. Andrew, too, will not be legally separated until 1996, but in 1992 the palace fell into controversy when Daily Mirror published compromising photos of Ferguson’s toes caressed by Texas millionaire John Bryan at a luxury villa in St Tropez.
In addition, there was a devastating fire at Windsor Castle that destroyed more than 115 rooms.
“1992 is not a year I will look back on with undiluted pleasure,” the Queen said he said with some underestimation. “According to one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it turned out to be ‘annus horribilis.”
Some smiled that Queens had chosen Latin, which in translation means the year of disaster. However, it was clear that nothing in this seemed ridiculous to her.
Even worse happened to the kings and their public image after Diana’s death in a car accident in Paris in August 1997, an event to which the queen was accused of reacting coldly. Some were willing to write off the royal family altogether.
Ironically, these were Diana’s children, Prince William in Prince Harry, which would eventually give the monarchy new life. Their marriages, to Kate Middleton in Meghan Markle, have been found to bring new energy to a sleepy institution.
While Middleton, formally the Duchess of Cambridge, remains popular with the tabloids, Markle, who is technically still the Duchess of Sussex, has faced criticism and hostility, some of which she claims is racist in nature.
Although they have retained their titles, Harry and Meghan have now relinquished their royal duties and live in California, where they are friends and neighbors with Oprah Winfrey.
However, all this torment may look as pale as freshly fallen snow compared to the challenges Prince Andrew is now facing, 61, has long been said to be the Queen’s favorite. This week, a judge ruled that civil proceedings against the Queen’s third child could continue.
Virginia Giuffre is suing the prince, claiming he sexually abused her in 2001, when she was just 17 years old. At the time, she said, she was part of a circle of young women offered to Andrew’s friends by Jeffrey Epstein, an embarrassed financier who took his life in prison in 2019 while in custody on human trafficking charges.
Giuffre sues Andrew for aggravating and causing emotional distress. He denied the allegations, arguing that the 2009 lawsuit between Epstein and Giuffre in Florida should absolve him of responsibility. He accuses her of trying to extort money from him.
On Wednesday, as the judge’s decision reverberated back and forth across the Atlantic and even to Australia, where Giuffre lives, questions for the prince rose. Will he have to go to the US to attend any hearings? Will he have to give evidence? Would Buckingham Palace try to intervene and offer a settlement?
Andrew, once nicknamed “Randy Andy”, has long been the subject of some controversy at the Royal Institution. Back in 2011, he was stripped of his role as an unofficial trade envoy for the UK because of his ongoing friendship with Epstein, who was jailed in 2008 for soliciting a minor into prostitution. In 2019, it was announced that he was stepping down his royal duties after an interview he gave to the BBC, in which the prince said he “still” does not regret his friendship with Epstein or Ghislaine Maxwell. One of the comments that impressed him – and ridiculed him – was that he rejected Giuffre’s claims because she said he was sweating profusely. He claimed that the medical condition he attributed to the shooting during the Falklands War made it “almost impossible to sweat”.
No one knows exactly what will happen next. Buckingham Palace declined to comment on legal matters on Wednesday, while Giuffre’s lawyer said she was “satisfied”.
It is certain that this is an unprecedented moment for the British monarchy – the possibility that one of its senior members could defend himself in court for the sexual abuse of a minor. Queen Elizabeth is now 95 years old; what do you think about all this?
In 1992, she described her problems as follows: “Sometimes I wonder how future generations will judge the events of this turbulent year. I dare say that history will take a slightly more moderate stance than some contemporary commentators. Thirty years later, does she feel so confident?