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Queen prepares to deliver Christmas message - but how might she describe her year?

The Queen has had another testing year as Monarch. Credit: PA

After the year they’ve just had, you wonder quite how The Queen will choose to describe 2019 for the Royal Family in her Christmas Message this week.

As most people know (apart from Jeremy Corbyn) the 3pm broadcast has been a fixture on our TV screens since 1957, so what will the Queen say in her 62nd televised address to the UK and the Commonwealth?

She is waiting to find out if her husband will join her at Sandringham for Christmas, or whether he will remain in hospital.

If he does, it will be a disappointing end to a year in which her family has faced more than a few problems.

The Queen’s now infamous “annus horribilis” speech in 1992 summed up the Windsor Castle fire, the breakdown of her children’s marriages and being forced to scrap Royal Yacht Britannia.

The Queen is due to address the nation on Christmas Day. Credit: PA

So you might imagine if she considered using a similar phrase to sum up a year when her son was forced to give up royal duties over his relationship with a convicted sex-offender, when her husband crashed his car on a public road and showed a tin-ear to the concerns about his driving, when her grandson, Harry, admitted he was having troubles in his relationship with his brother, William, and her granddaughter-in-law, Meghan, spoke about how she was struggling with her new life in the Royal Family.

"Annus difficilis", perhaps? Or "annus dubius"?

She might opt for "annus don’t-do-this-to-me-family-I’m-93-years-old"?

The fallout from Prince Andrew’s friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, his decision to stay at his New York apartment for four days after Epstein’s conviction and his ill-judged answers in that television interview were,without doubt, the most challenging set of circumstances the Royal Family has faced for some time.

The embarrassment for the Palace reached crisis point when the Prince Andrew story crept into the General Election campaign.

Prince Andrew's television appearance raised more questions than it answered. Credit: PA/BBC

For the institution of Monarchy that is supposed to sit above politics, there could not have been a worse time to dominate the headlines than a few weeks before polling day.

When Prince Andrew became one of the questions in the leaders’ election TV debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, courtiers knew they had to act.

And the allegations are still coming despite the Duke of York stepping down from his official role.

His accuser, the Epstein victim Virginia Roberts-Giuffre, has repeated her claim in an emotional Panorama interview that she was trafficked to the Prince for sex.

It’s not going away.

And while that story refused to disappear, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and baby Archie, are in Canada on what’s been described as "extended family time".

They will not spend Christmas with the Queen at Sandringham this year but with Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland.

Harry and wife Meghan will be spending Christmas in Canada. Credit: PA

"Extended family time" might also be accurately described as "time away from the Royal Family" following Meghan’s admission in Tom Bradby’s ITV documentary that she was struggling to adapt to her role as the wife of the sixth-in-line to the throne.

And nor have things been plain sailing for that strong bond between Diana’s two boys - William and Harry.

The nation had presumed their close fraternal relationship was one that would endure forever, after they supported one another following the death of their mother.

Not so.

As the two brothers have embarked on their own paths with their own families, so has their relationship come under strain.

"It’s a perfectly natural process", many have argued for two men with their own wives and children, and that may be true.

Brothers William and Harry have grown apart, it's understood. Credit: PA

But harder still in this family when one brother will be King, and the other won’t.

That one of the key bonds in the Royal Family has been shown this year to have weakened, adds to the feeling that all is not well in the corridors of the royal palaces.

In fact, it’s never appropriate to refer to the institution as the one ‘Royal Household’.

The truth is they are distinct and separate operations, now more than ever, with their own courtiers: Buckingham Palace for the Queen, Clarence House for the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, Kensington Palace for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Buckingham Palace(autonomous-region-of-Sussex) for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

It has been argued that the glue started to come undone with the departure of The Queen’s Private Secretary, Sir Christopher Geidt, in 2017.

Geidt was seen as the key power broker, but he left in circumstances which most acknowledge arose from a difference of opinion with the team around the Prince of Wales.

Be that as it may, power and responsibility is now visibly shifting from the Queen to her eldest son.

Prince Charles is often considered these days as the ‘King-in-Waiting’ or the ‘Shadow King’.

Very little of significance happens in the Royal Family these days without his approval.

Very little of significance happens in the Family without Charles' approval. Credit: PA

That was most acutely on display when it was decided that his younger brother had to fall on his sword over the Epstein story.

Prince Charles was on the other side of the world on tour in New Zealand at the time, but the decision to ‘fire’ Andrew was as much Charles’ as it was The Queen’s.

And the Andrew story will have strengthened Prince Charles’ desire to slim down the Royal Family when he eventually becomes King.

In the same vein, Prince William is also taking on an increasingly prominent and more important role.

I was with the Duke of Cambridge on his trip to the Gulf earlier this month - his first to Kuwait and Oman - which saw him confront highly sensitive geo-political issues on Strait of Hormuz.

It is the strategically important stretch of water for the world oil’s industry and where a British-registered ship was seized in the summer by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

William sailed on it in a military patrol boat just 21 miles from Iran.

We should not be surprised that he was handed this mission so soon after his visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories last year, which was seen as a diplomatic success for a Royal growing in stature.

The Duke of Cambridge is taking on more and more responsibility. Credit: PA

But for all the tours carried out by the Duke of Cambridge, and for all the charitable work undertaken by the Prince of Wales (best showcased recently in the two-part television documentary on the Duchy of Cornwall), it seems 2019 will be remembered for the Royal Family’s various mis-steps.

How will they recover?

The Palace are planning to return to the mantra which had served them so well for several decades: ‘Never complain, never explain’.

In other words, they will take a leaf out of Camilla’s book.

The Duchess of Cornwall’s negative public image – which reached its nadir after the death of Princess Diana – has slowly improved over many years.

Camilla put her head down, championed her charities, supported her husband and the Royal Family and, importantly, never complained.

The Royals will do what senior courtiers describe as ‘more show,less tell’: Do the work but shout about it less.

None of the Royal Family’s troubles appear to have diminished the public’s respect or love for The Queen, who will in February mark her 68th year as Sovereign and recently hosted dozens of world leaders at Buckingham Palace for the NATO anniversary.

But the institution she leads, finishes the year a little battered and definitely bruised.

There are more reasons to watch her Christmas broadcast this year.

Even Jeremy Corbyn might find himself tuning in.