After 70 years on the throne, is this the Queen's worst yet?

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By Orlando Crowcroft
In this undated photo issued on Thursday Dec. 23, 2021, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II records her annual Christmas broadcast in Windsor Castle, Windsor, England.
In this undated photo issued on Thursday Dec. 23, 2021, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II records her annual Christmas broadcast in Windsor Castle, Windsor, England.   -   Copyright  Victoria Jones/AP

On 24 November 1992, Queen Elizabeth II, marking four decades on the throne, took the unusual step of admitting publicly that she had not had a very good year.

Speaking at the Guildhall in London, the Queen said that 1992 was “not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.”

“In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents,” she said, “it has turned out to be an 'annus horribilis'.”

Four days earlier, Windsor Castle -- home to England’s monarchs for over 1,000 years -- had almost burned to the ground after a faulty electric light set fire to a curtain.

Miraculously, nobody was killed in the blaze, which destroyed 115 rooms and inflicted £62 million worth of damage on the castle first built by William the Conqueror.

The fire came at the tail end of a difficult year for Queen Elizabeth II. Her son and daughter, Prince Andrew and Princess Anne had both seen their marriages breakdown during 1992 and her eldest son and heir, Charles, would separate from his wife, Diana, in December.

Diana’s book, Diana: Her True Story, detailing her marital problems with Prince Charles had revealed his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles.

The family drama came alongside rising anger in Britain about the cost of the monarchy, with the Queen agreeing to take on her family expenses -- which had previously been funded by the UK taxpayer -- and paying income tax, the first monarch to do since the 1930s.

Exactly three decades later Queen Elizabeth II is marking another milestone: 70 years since her father, King George VI, died and she became queen on 6 February 1952.

She is also having another difficult year.

“I think that this has been worse than the annus horribilis of 1992,” said author and historian Andrew Lownie, who recently published a book about the Queen’s uncle, Edward VIII.

“She’s lost her husband. There’s been the whole controversy over Prince Andrew, which isn’t going to end well [...]. We’ve got Harry’s book coming out [...] and there are all sorts of other things that have been rumbling away.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS/AP1992
Windsor Castle stands in the smouldering remains of a fire in Windsor, England Nov. 21, 1992.ASSOCIATED PRESS/AP1992

Indeed, 2022 - like 1992 - finds the royal family, and the Queen, in tumult.

Prince Philip, her husband of 73 years, died in April 2021 and Queen has largely stepped back from royal duties, handing them over instead to Charles, his son, Prince William, and his wife, Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Meanwhile, the royal family has been embroiled in scandal. Rarely a day goes by that the Queen’s son, Prince Andrew, is out of the newspapers over allegations of sexual abuse of a 17-year-old girl linked to his friendship with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.

The looming court battle between Andrew and his accuser, Virginia Giuffre, raises the prospect of weeks or months of lurid headlines and the airing of royal dirty laundry.

It comes amid the ongoing claims by Prince Harry, the Queen’s youngest grandson, and his wife Megan Markle of racism within the royal family following his withdrawal from royal duties. Harry is due to publish a tell-all book in late 2022 that is sure to court controversy.

An unexpected monarch

It is often forgotten that Elizabeth, as the eldest daughter of King George V’s younger son, was never meant to be Queen.

It was only because her uncle, King Edward VII, abdicated to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson in 1936 that her father became George VI and she his heir.

Even then, Elizabeth could not have foreseen that the early death of her father in 1952, when she was just 25, would bring her to the throne so young.

For 70 years, Queen Elizabeth II has been a constant presence in British life and has been able to galvanise the country at moments of national crisis, from the 1956 Suez Crisis to the 2005 terror attacks in London.

Steve Parsons/AP
Britain's Prince Andrew appears at the Royal Chapel at Windsor, following the death announcement of his father Prince Philip, April 11, 2021, in England.Steve Parsons/AP

And while an increasing number of Britons, particularly young people, are increasingly lukewarm on the institution of the monarchy, Queen Elizabeth II’s personal approval ratings remain high, with 76% of people having a favourable opinion of her according to YouGov.

Even the events of the last two years have caused it to dip by a few percentage points.

It is in stark contrast to the public opinion of her family.

Prince Charles, next in line to the throne, has just 46% positive ratings according to the YouGov poll, while Prince William does slightly better on 66%.

Prince Harry, meanwhile, has seen his popularity slump to 39% over the last two years, especially since his live TV interview with Oprah Winfrey.

When the Queen dies, people will realise what they’ve lost.
Andrew Lownie
Author

For minor royals, the approval ratings are even worse. Andrew’s daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, receive 29% and 30% respectively, despite 89% and 87% of those polled knowing who they are. Meghan, who is as well known as the Queen (96%), had crashed to 26%.

Prince Andrew, never the most popular royal figure with the British public, is now just 12%.

It is perhaps fair to say that when it comes to Queen Elizabeth II, many Britons feel that her situation proves the truth of the mantra that you choose your friends, but not your family.

At 95, with the best will in the world, Queen Elizabeth II’s reign is likely to come to end sooner rather than later, and Prince Charles is already operating what Lownie terms a "soft regency", operating as monarch even as the Queen remains officially the head of state.

His son, William, is 40 and relatively popular with the British public, but most royal watchers expect Charles to serve as king for at least a decade. At least to allow his grandchildren to reach their teenage years before William becomes king.

“Charles has waited 70 years for this and I think he has got very strong ideas of what he wants to do. He wants to give William a chance for his children to grow up a bit,” Lownie said.

“I think Charles will be a good monarch. He’s a very thoughtful, sensitive person. I think actually there is a much stronger feeling for the monarchy than people realise. When the Queen dies, people will realise what they’ve lost and the important role the monarchy plays.”

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