From ‘annus horribilis’ to Prince’s death, low points of Queen’s reign

This month the Queen becomes first British monarch to celebrate Platinum Jubilee, marking her 70-year reign.

By Chris Page
Wednesday, 2nd February 2022, 8:05 am
Queen Elizabeth II has faced some tough times during her reign  (photo: Jane Barlow-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II has faced some tough times during her reign (photo: Jane Barlow-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

But, despite Elizabeth’s best efforts, her reign has not always been so happy and glorious.

Steve Cain concludes our look at some of the defining moments of the second Elizabethan age by examining the crises that have rocked the House of Windsor.

1952 – The Death of King George VI – Elizabeth became Queen as she spent the night in an observation hide, known as “Treetops”, in Kenya. Prince Philip broke the news of her father’s death to the new Queen.

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Queen Elizabeth II at Horse Guards Parade - in 1981 she was shot at while carrying out this royal duty (photo: Steve Wood/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

On her return to London, Elizabeth was met at Heathrow Airport by the Duke of Gloucester, Clement Attlee, Anthony Eden and Winston Churchill.

Only once in that first week did Queen Elizabeth betray her grief. Following the distress of attending her father’s lying-in-state with her mother, grandmother and sister, came the funeral itself. It was after making her Accession speech, she wept on her husband’s shoulder in the back of their car.

1981 – Trooping the Colour – Danger threatened the Queen, in June 1981, when a 17-year old man fired six shots at her as she rode side-saddle down Horse Guards Parade for the start of the Trooping the Colour ceremony. The shaken monarch quickly recovered her composure, comforted her startled 19-year old horse, Burmese, and carried on. She said later that her concern was for “those behind me” – her husband and eldest son. Marcus Serjeant was jailed for five years under the 1842 Treason Act. He served more than three years in jail, before being released in October 1984.

1982 – An Intruder in the Royal Bedroom.

Queen Elizabeth II meets members of the public during a visit to Leeds (photo: Arthur Edwards - WPA Pool /Getty Images)

The Queen’s safety was compromised again, in July 1982, when she woke to find a man in her bedroom. Michael Fagan, 33, had broken into Buckingham Palace and was standing beside the Queen’s bed dripping blood from a self-inflicted wound. She phoned the palace switchboard twice for police but none arrived and the alarm was only raised when the duty footman, who had been out walking the corgis, returned.

It is a measure of her courage that she calmly managed to keep the intruder talking until police arrived. A subsequent report was critical of officers on duty, and a system of confused and divided command.

1992 – The “annus horribilis”.

Press speculation concerning the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales was rife in the early 1990s, but it was the Duke and Duchess of York who would separate first in March 1992, an event which was swiftly followed in April by the divorce of The Princess Royal and Captain Mark Phillips.

Michael Fagan, the intruder who gained access to the bedroom of Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace in 1982 (photo: R Brigden/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Then, in November, a large fire broke out at Windsor Castle, causing substantial damage. During a speech given to mark the fortieth anniversary of her accession, the Queen described 1992 as her “annus horribilis”. Before the year was out, the separation of the Prince and Princess of Wales had been formally announced.

1997 – The Death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

On August 31, 1997, Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris. The Queen was on holiday at Balmoral and she attempted to shield her grandsons from intense media scrutiny. The incredible outpouring of public emotion could not have been predicted and the Queen faced criticism for failing to lead the nation’s grief in the week that followed. The outcry abated after Her Majesty gave a live television address the day before Diana’s funeral, in which she expressed admiration for her.

2002 – The Deaths of Princess Margaret and The Queen Mother.

As preparations were underway for the Golden Jubilee celebrations, the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret died on February 9, aged 71, after suffering a third stroke.

In later life, Margaret had taken a step back from the royal limelight. She was confined to a wheelchair and wore heavy dark glasses, her sight having been affected by a stroke.

Weeks after her sister’s death the Queen was dealt another heartbreaking blow when her mother passed away on March 30, aged 101.

2019 – Prince Andrew’s Sex Scandal.

In his youth, Prince Andrew was one of the world’s most eligible bachelors and earned himself the nickname “Randy Andy” after being linked to a string of women. Rumoured to be the Queen’s favourite child, the playboy Prince earned admiration for his heroism during active service in the Falklands War. In later life, his connections with controversial foreign figures raised concerns and he was dubbed “Air Miles Andy” after being criticised for his globe-trotting.

Most recently, his reputation was left in tatters as a result of links to the convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein and his socialite girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell. In an attempt to draw a line under allegations that he had had inappropriate sexual relations with an underage girl, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, Andrew agreed to participate in a “car crash” interview for BBC’s Newsnight programme.

Subsequently, on January 13, 2022, the Queen stripped Andrew of his military titles and royal patronages and removed his HRH status.

2020 – Megxit.

On January 8, 2020, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced their sensational decision to “step back as senior members” of the British Royal Family and move to the United States.

An unprecedented meeting, dubbed the “Sandringham Summit”, followed on 13 January and the Queen issued a rare personal statement. She was praised for her rapid handling of the matter. On January 18, an agreement was announced whereby the couple would “no longer be working members of Britain’s Royal Family”, and would not use their HRH titles. A twelve-month review period was allowed in case the couple wished to change their minds; however they did not.

2021 – The Death of Prince Philip.

On April 9, 2021, the news broke that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, had died at the age of 99, just two months short of his 100th birthday. He was the longest-serving royal consort in world history. Regulations against mass gatherings brought in because of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that his ceremonial funeral was scaled down considerably, with only thirty mourners in attendance. The Queen – like everyone else invited to the service – wore a face mask. A powerful image of the grieving Queen sitting alone made the front pages of newspapers worldwide and generated a huge amount of sympathy from the public.

The Queen this year celebrates seven decades on the throne and we want your help to make our right royal coverage extra special.

Her Majesty becomes the first British monarch to celebrate a platinum jubilee.

Events and initiatives will take place throughout 2022, culminating in four-day UK bank holiday weekend from June 2 to 5.

During her 70-year reign, the Queen has visited every corner of the nation, millions of loyal subjects there to greet her.

She has hosted garden parties at Buckingham Palace, honoured hundreds of you from our communities who have made a difference to the lives of those around you.

From walkabouts to investitures, civil servants to cooks, royal outfitters to radio DJs, artists to headteachers, launching ships to opening venues, the Queen has performed thousands of royal duties and met people from all walks of life.

Many of you, our JPIMedia-wide audience, have been privileged to share a few precious moments with Her Royal Highness. And we'd like you to share those exciting experiences with us.

Maybe you were the flower girl who handed the Queen a bouquet as she arrived? Or you played host when she visited your town or city. It could be you caught her attention during a walkabout, attended a VIP Garden party or was awarded an honour. Or it could have been a chance encounter.

Tell us what the occasion was and the build-up to those special seconds when we commoners came face-to-face with the Queen.

What did she say? What did you say? How special remain your memories?

Your personal recollections are the focus of our coverage of her "happy and glorious" 70 years reigning over us.

Share your special stories and photographic memories with us now by emailing [email protected] &/or [email protected] addresses.