Annus horribilis is a Latin phrase, meaning “horrible year”. It is complementary to annus mirabilis, which means “wonderful year”; however, annus mirabilis is a traditional term, while annus horribilis is of recent coinage.
Although the phrase is cited by the Oxford English Dictionary as being in use as early as 1985, it was brought to prominence by Queen Elizabeth II, in a speech to the Guildhall on 24 November 1992, marking the 40th anniversary of her accession, in which she described the closing of the year as an annus horribilis.
1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an Annus Horribilis.
The phrase may allude to John Dryden’s poem “Annus Mirabilis” about the events of 1666. The “sympathetic correspondent” was later revealed to be her former assistant private secretary, Sir Edward Ford.
Listed here are some of the events to which the British queen alluded.
- In March 1992, it was announced that her second son, the Duke of York, would separate from his wife, the Duchess of York. Later in the year, scandalous pictures of a topless Duchess of York being kissed on her feet by her friend, John Bryan, were published in the tabloids.
- In April, her daughter, the Princess Royal, divorced her husband, Captain Mark Phillips.
- In June, the Princess of Wales’ tell-all book, Diana, Her True Story, was published.
- In November, just four days before the Guildhall speech, one of The Queen’s homes, Windsor Castle, caught fire. The castle was seriously damaged, and several priceless artifacts were lost. John Major, then Prime Minister, originally indicated that the government would fund the cost of repairs (Windsor Castle, like Buckingham Palace, being government-owned). Convention requires the monarch to accept the advice of his or her Prime Minister, but there was considerable public outcry against this plan. As an alternative to relying solely on the taxpayer, the government decided to open some publicly owned royal residences to tourists during the summer period when the Queen is not in residence, and the revenue from those tours was applied to the castle repair costs.
Kofi Annan, then United Nations Secretary-General, used the phrase in his year-end press conference on 21 December 2004. He reflected, “There’s no doubt that this has been a particularly difficult year, and I am relieved that this annus horribilis is coming to an end.” His remarks were widely interpreted as having alluded to persistent allegations of corruption in the UN’s Iraq Oil-for-Food Program. His remarks came just days before the deadliest event of the year, the Indian Ocean tsunami on December 26.
Juan Carlos I of Spain
In 2007, the Spanish royal family, in particular Juan Carlos I, faced a difficult year. Family tragedy and a series of controversies led to Spanish newspapers to refer to the year as the king’s annus horribilis.
- In February, Érika Ortiz Rocasolano, the youngest sister of the Princess of Asturias, died of a drug overdose in her apartment.
- In July, a humour magazine, El Jueves, published a drawing that ran on the cover, depicting the Prince and Princess of Asturias having sex, with a caption reading: “Just imagine if you end up pregnant. This will be the closest thing to work I’ve ever done in my life.” It satirized a proposal by the government to give 2,500 euros to the parents of newborn children. The magazine was banned and removed from distribution, which led to a censorship controversy.
- In September, Catalan separatists were tried for having burned photographs of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía at an anti-monarchy and Catalan separatist rally in Girona while the royal couple toured the city.
- In early November at the XVII Ibero-American Summit, after a verbal altercation between Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela, and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Prime Minister of Spain, the king asked Chávez, “¿Por qué no te callas?” (“Why don’t you shut up?”).
- Shortly after the summit, the royal house announced the separation of the king’s daughter, the Duchess of Lugo, and her husband, Jaime de Marichalar. The couple have two children, Felipe and Victoria.
- New York, 21 December 2004 - Secretary-General's year-end press conference (unofficial transcript) The Secretary-General Off the Cuff
- Associated Press (December 22, 2004). "UN chief welcomes end of 'horrible' year". NineMSN. Archived from the original on September 13, 2005.
- El “annus horribilis” del Rey Juan Carlos, La Nación, 15 November 2007.
- Royal.gov.uk - Transcript of The Queen's speech at Guildhall 24 November 1992
- Annus Horribilis: book by Sam Jordison