LONDON — On the 40th anniversary of her accession to the throne, Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday branded 1992 a "horrible year" and, adopting a rare personal tone, called for a less savage treatment of the embattled Royal Family by the British media.
The queen told a gilt-edged audience of 500 at a luncheon hosted by the Lord Mayor of London at Guildhall that she could not look on this anniversary year with "undiluted pleasure," understating the problems that have plagued her--including her children's marital problems and last weekend's fire at her Windsor Castle home.
In a voice croaking from a cold, the queen conceded that the monarchy is not above criticism. But she also suggested that the running attacks that her family has endured in the tabloid press have lacked "gentleness, good humor and understanding."
"There can be no doubt, of course, that criticism is good for people and institutions that are part of public life," she said in her statement, which was unusual in that it seemed to come from the heart from a family more known for its stiff upper lip.
But she added, "I dare say that history will take a slightly more moderate view than that of some contemporary commentators."
As for the last year, the queen described it by playing off a more commonly known Latin phrase, annus mirabilis , or "wonderful year." She said that 1992, "in the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents . . . has turned out to be an annus horribilis. I suspect that I am not alone in thinking it so."
"Indeed," she added, "I suspect that there are very few people or institutions unaffected by these last months of worldwide turmoil and uncertainty."
The queen, bedecked in a dark green dress and hat, delivered her personal message toward the end of a year in which:
* Her daughter, Princess Anne, was divorced.
* The Duke and Duchess of York, her second son and daughter-in-law, separated. The duchess, nicknamed "Fergie" by the press, appeared partially clothed in the company of another man in photos displayed for days in the tabloids.
* The marriage of her heir, Prince Charles, to the Princess of Wales has come close to a breakup.
The royal affairs have become the grist for press reports around the globe. In Britain, in particular, the House of Windsor has received oftentimes-sensational coverage of its doings.
The Royal Family also provided material for the "Scoop of the Year" for author Andrew Morton, who Tuesday picked up the award of that name from the London Press Club for his book "Diana: Her True Story." The book, based on interviews with friends of the Princess of Wales, portrays Diana as being at times in suicidal despair over a loveless marriage.
The British throne also has been engulfed in a controversy stemming from the fire at Windsor Castle. Government officials decided Monday that taxpayers should cover the multimillion-dollar costs of repairing the fire damage at the queen's favorite home.
But many members of Parliament have complained that the queen, 66, who is one of the world's richest individuals, with an estimated worth ranging from $135 million to $9 billion, should volunteer to pay at least part of the expense, especially given the fact that the Royal Family pays no income tax.
The queen did not offer Tuesday to defuse the row over who should pay for the castle's repairs, and while claiming that constructive criticism could and should act as a force for change in any institution, she did not suggest specific reforms in the beleaguered monarchy, which opinion polls show suffers from a growing unpopularity.
Reaction to the queen's speech, as to the Royal Family itself of late, was mixed.
Margaret Holder, editor of Royalty magazine, told the Associated Press that she was surprised by the address, noting, "This is the first time the queen has said that the monarchy is not above criticism."
Patrick McNair Wilson, a Conservative lawmaker, praised the queen's "personal courage" in a difficult year, while Labor Party leader John Smith was quoted by the AP as saying that she had defended herself "rather wittily and rather charmingly."
But members of the opposition Labor Party expressed disappointment that the queen had not offered to help pay for Windsor Castle repairs. "The speech indicates that she realizes there are some very strong feelings about the taxpayer footing the bill for the restoration of Windsor Castle when some priceless historical monuments such as schools throughout the country are falling down," Bob Cryer, a Labor member of Parliament, was quoted as saying by the AP.
Labor lawmaker Tony Banks said: "There is no such thing as a bad year for the queen, by definition. Anyone who is so much a part of the 'dependency culture' as she is could at least smile a bit more."
God Save the Queen
"A well-meaning bishop was obviously doing his best when he told Queen Victoria, 'Ma'am, we cannot pray too often or too fervently for the Royal Family.' The queen's reply was, 'too fervently no, too often yes.' "