Annus horribilis

Annus horribilis (pl. anni horribiles) is a Latin phrase, meaning "horrible year". It is complementary to annus mirabilis, which means "wonderful year".

Origin of phrase

The phrase "annus horribilis" was used in 1891 in an Anglican publication to describe 1870, the year in which the dogma of papal infallibility was defined in the Roman Catholic Church.[1]

Elizabeth II


The expression was brought to prominence by Queen Elizabeth II. In a speech at Guildhall on 24 November 1992, marking her Ruby Jubilee on the throne, she said:[2]

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 "sympathetic correspondent" was later revealed to be her former assistant private secretary, Sir Edward Ford.[3] The unpleasant events which happened to the royal family in this year include:[4]

After her speech had been recorded, one more notable event transpired: the separation of Charles and Diana (9 December).


2019 was described by some commentators as a second annus horribilis for the British royal family. It was the year the 97-year-old Prince Philip crashed his car into another carrying two women and a baby. Later on, Prince Andrew took part in a universally-criticised BBC Newsnight interview about his relationship with convicted child-sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.[5] The Queen was also involved in a constitutional crisis regarding the prime minister Boris Johnson requesting that parliament be prorogued (this advice was later ruled to be unlawful), and there was increased tabloid scrutiny regarding rifts between the Cambridge and Sussex households.[5]

Kofi Annan

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."[6] His remarks were widely interpreted as having alluded to persistent allegations of corruption in the UN's Iraq Oil-for-Food Program.[7] He also spoke of upheaval and violence in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Palestine, and Sudan; the ongoing process of UN internal reform; and "persistent...criticism against the UN" and himself personally.[6][7] Annan's remarks came five days before the deadliest event of the year (and one of the deadliest natural disasters in history), the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December, when 227,898 people died.

Juan Carlos I

In 2007, the Spanish royal family, in particular King Juan Carlos I, faced a difficult year. Family tragedy and a series of controversies led Spanish newspapers to refer to the year as the king's annus horribilis.[8]

  • In February, Érika Ortiz Rocasolano, the youngest sister of Letizia, then the Princess of Asturias, died of a sedative overdose in her apartment.[9]
  • In July, a humour magazine, El Jueves, published a drawing that ran on the cover, depicting Felipe VI (then the Prince of Asturias), and the aforementioned Princess Letizia 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.


The year 2020 was widely remarked as being an annus horribilis for the entire world in general, most notably due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in late 2019 and rapidly spread worldwide in early 2020.[10][11][12] 2020 was also awarded a "Special Governors' Award for The Worst Calendar Year EVER!" at the 41st Golden Raspberry Awards. At the end of the year, Netflix released Death to 2020, a mockumentary discussing the events of the year.

See also


  1. "Möhler, Döllinger and Oxford Anglicanism". London Quarterly and Holborn Review. Vol. 75. E.C. Barton. 1891. p. 105.
  2. "Annus horribilis speech, 24 November 1992". The Official Website of the British Monarchy. Archived from the original on 2 March 2009.
  3. Corby, Tom (28 November 2006). "Obituary: Sir Edward Ford". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 September 2018.
  4. How the royal family bounced back from its 'annus horribilis', The Guardian, 24 May 2012.
  5. Murphy, Victoria (21 December 2019). "2019 Was a Car Crash of a Year for the British Royal Family". Town & Country.
  6. "New York, 21 December 2004 – Secretary-General's year-end press conference (unofficial transcript)". Off the Cuff. United Nations, Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General. Archived from the original on 4 February 2005. The Secretary-General Off the Cuff
  7. "UN chief welcomes end of 'horrible' year". NineMSN. Associated Press. 22 December 2004. Archived from the original on 13 September 2005.
  8. El "annus horribilis" del Rey Juan Carlos. Archived 6 December 2012 at, La Nación, 15 November 2007.
  9. Barroso, F. Javier (8 February 2007). "Una muerte por ingestión de pastillas". El País (in Spanish). ISSN 1134-6582. Retrieved 11 December 2021.
  10. Doebele, Justin (13 December 2020). "Editor's Sidelines, December 2020: Annus Horribilis". Forbes. Retrieved 16 March 2021.
  11. "Annus horribilis: A look back at the top 12 stories of 2020". France 24. 30 December 2020. Retrieved 13 September 2022.
  12. Graham, Renée. "In defense of 2020, our annus horribilis - The Boston Globe". Retrieved 13 September 2022.
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