While the queen has not been shy to admit to bad years, her speeches to the nation often carry an overarching message of hope — no matter what. Her 2020 Christmas address on Friday hewed to that tradition. She focused on acts of empathy and kindness that have brought people together in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Let the light of Christmas, the spirit of selflessness, love and, above all, hope, guide us in the times ahead,” she said.
Her remarks marked the end of a particularly tumultuous year for the royal family.
From “Megxit,” to the allegations that have haunted Prince Andrew, to the coronavirus pandemic, here is a look back at some of the events that made 2020 a tough year for the British royals.
Harry and Meghan ‘step back’ as senior royals
The year began with an announcement from Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, that they would step back from their roles as senior royals and wanted to become financially independent.
The couple, who have battled for privacy and accused Britain’s tabloids of relentless bullying, said they would seek to split their time between Britain and North America with their young son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor.
Their statement surprised the queen, who was not made aware of their decision ahead of time, according to reports in the British media.
The pair have since retained the Sussex title that was bestowed by the queen after they married in 2018 but are no longer referred to under the HRH title as “royal highnesses.”
Despite setting up home first in Canada and then in Los Angeles, the family failed to obtain the privacy they so desired, with the Daily Mail publishing their location both times — leading to claims of “harassment and intimidation” in a lawsuit filed against paparazzi in July.
In November, Meghan wrote a piece for the New York Times in which she revealed she had a miscarriage in July and spoke of the “almost unbearable grief” that comes with losing a child. “I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second,” she wrote as she urged people to show compassion in a world that has been uprooted by political divides, mass protests and a deadly health crisis.
The royals and the pandemic
With the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the United Kingdom and claiming nearly 70,000 lives in Britain this year, news of heir to the throne Prince Charles’s covid-19 diagnosis in March led many to wonder when he had last come into contact with the queen — who was 93 at the time her eldest son tested positive.
Clarence House, the prince’s office and residence, confirmed that the then-71-year-old prince and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, who tested negative, were both isolating separately in Scotland as Buckingham Palace assured the public that the queen was in “good health” and would be isolating at Windsor Castle with her husband, Prince Philip.
An estimated 24 million people watched the queen’s four-minute televised speech in April amid a nationwide lockdown that confined some 60 million Britons to their homes in a bid to combat the spread of infection.
“We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return,” she vowed. “We will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again, we will meet again.”
The family earned praise for such messages.
“They have communicated, mostly virtually, extremely well. This has shown the purpose of the institution as little else could,” royal expert Richard Fitzwilliams told The Washington Post. “They have been symbols of national unity above party politics.”
In November, British media revealed that Prince William had also tested positive for the infection back in April — around the same time as his father. The Sun newspaper reported that the 38-year-old was left “struggling to breathe,” but did not “want to alarm the nation” by making his diagnosis public.
The royals did not always follow the rules.
Twice this month, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, also known as Prince William and his wife, Catherine, have been accused of breaking the country’s coronavirus restrictions, first when they embarked on their train tour of the United Kingdom to thank health workers amid a travel ban between England and Scotland, and again weeks later when they were photographed with a group of nine people. The rule in their area of Norfolk in England was that no more than six people could meet outdoors.
The backlash to Netflix’s hit series ‘The Crown’
While the fourth season of “The Crown,” which was released in November, proved a hit with Netflix viewers, the drama was less popular with the British government and royal experts who called for the streaming giant to add a disclaimer to the series stating that it was a fictional drama.
Netflix refused to add a disclaimer, saying there was “no need.”
“We have always presented The Crown as a drama — and we have every confidence our members understand it’s a work of fiction that’s broadly based on historical events,” Netflix said in a December statement.
Fitzwilliams called the new series a “serious low” for the monarchy, and said the series contained “numerous untruths” and portrayed the royals as “cold, uncaring and ill-mannered.”
“I find Americans tell me they have watched ‘The Crown’ as if they have taken a history lesson. Well, they haven’t,” Earl Charles Spencer, brother of the late Princess Diana, told ITV in November.
Prince Andrew’s ties to old friend Jeffrey Epstein won’t be forgotten
After a “car crash” interview with the BBC late last year in which Prince Andrew, 60, sought to explain his friendship with convicted sex offender and American financier Jeffrey Epstein, the prince has struggled to clear his name after allegations from Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who says she was “trafficked” by Epstein as a teenager and forced into sexual encounters with the prince.
Despite quitting his public duties and keeping an incredibly low profile this year, questions regarding his history of socializing with Epstein, who reportedly took his own life in a jail cell last year, continue to haunt the prince despite his public denial of any involvement in the sex abuse investigation.
“I can absolutely, categorically tell you it never happened,” Andrew told Emily Maitlis, in a tense sit-down with the journalist that was described as “nuclear explosion-level bad” by those watching. “I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady, none whatsoever,” he said.
Prosecutors and FBI officials revealed earlier this year that the prince had provided “zero cooperation” with the widely scrutinized case.
With the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, Esptein’s former associate, set to take place next year, royal commentator Fitzwilliams said he sees “no way” that the prince can “foreseeably resume royal duties” as there may be “more embarrassing accusations and revelations” to come in 2021.
“We would welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk to us,” Audrey Strauss, acting U.S. attorney for New York’s Southern District, said in July.
This report has been updated.