The Queen's Annus Horribilis

In 1992:

Prince Charles separated from Princess Diana
Prince Andrew separated from the Duchess of York, who was later photographed in a moderately compromising position with John Bryan
Princess Anne divorced Mark Phillips
Diana's "tell–all" book, Diana: Her True Story, was published, as were the "Squidgygate" tapes (recordings of eavesdropped telephone conversations between Diana and James Gilbey, heir to the gin empire of that name)
Windsor Castle caught fire

According to Wikipedia, "The phrase annus horribilis was used in 1891 in an Anglican publication to describe 1870, the year in which the Roman Catholic church defined the dogma of papal infallibility." This in itself was almost certainly a reference to the similar phrase annus mirabilis, which has the opposite meaning.

According to Wikipedia (again, but a different page!), the original annus mirabilis was 1666; this was the year that Isaac Newton first described the universal law of gravitation – having (according to folklore) observed an apple falling from a tree. Also in 1666, Newton made revolutionary inventions and discoveries in calculus, motion and optics.

1666 was not however a great year for everybody; it was also the year of the Great Fire of London.

The same term was used to describe the year 1759; this was the decisive year in the Seven Years' War (1756–63), when Britain's forces achieved a series of victories in North America, Europe and India, and in various naval engagements. 1759 is sometimes referred to as "William Pitt's annus mirabilis".

Wikipedia lists three other years that have been described (presumably retrospectively) as anni horribiles, the earliest being 1543. This was the year that Nicolaus Copernicus published his seminal work De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), which would turn the science of astronomy on its head. Also in 1543, the Flemish anatomist Andreas Vesalius published De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body), which revolutionised the science of human anatomy and the practice of medicine.

© Haydn Thompson 2020