Napoleon's first abdication, signed at the Palace of Fontainebleau 4 April 1814

Abdication is the act of formally relinquishing monarchical authority.


Tomb effigy of heart of King John II Casimir Vasa at Abbaye de Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris, showing removal of the crown

The word abdication derives from the Latin abdicatio meaning to disown or renounce (from ab, away from, and dicare, to dedicate or relinquish). In its broadest sense abdication is the act of renouncing and resigning from any formal office, but it is applied especially to the supreme office of state. In Roman law the term was also applied to the disowning of a family member, such as the disinheriting of a son. Today the term commonly applies to monarchs, or to those who have been formally crowned. An elected or appointed official is said to resign rather than to abdicate.

Western classical antiquity

Among the most notable abdications of antiquity are those of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the Dictator, in 79 BC, Emperor Diocletian in AD 305, and Emperor Romulus Augustulus in AD 476.

British and Commonwealth history

Perhaps the most notable abdication in recent history is that of King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom and the Dominions. In 1936 Edward abdicated to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson, over the objections of the British establishment, the governments of the Commonwealth, the Royal Family and the Church of England. It was the first time in history that the British or English crown was surrendered entirely voluntarily. Richard II of England, for example, was forced to abdicate after power was seized by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, while Richard was abroad.

During the Glorious Revolution in 1688, James II of England and VII of Scotland fled to France, dropping the Great Seal of the Realm into the Thames, and the question was discussed in Parliament whether he had forfeited the throne or had abdicated. The latter designation was agreed upon in spite of James's protest, and in a full assembly of the Lords and Commons it was resolved "that King James II having endeavoured to subvert the constitution of the kingdom, by breaking the original contract between king and people, and, by the advice of Jesuits and other wicked persons, having violated the fundamental laws, and having withdrawn himself out of this kingdom, has abdicated the government, and that the throne is thereby vacant." The Scottish parliament pronounced a decree of forfeiture and deposition.

In Scotland, Mary, Queen of Scots, was forced to abdicate in favour of her one-year-old son, James VI.

Today, because the title to the Crown depends upon statute, particularly the Act of Settlement 1701, a royal abdication can be effected only by an Act of Parliament; under the terms of the Statute of Westminster 1931, such an act must be agreed by the parliaments of all extant signatories of the Statute. To give legal effect to the abdication of King Edward VIII, His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 was passed.

Japanese history

In Medieval Japan abdication was used very often, and in fact occurred more often than death on the throne. In those days, most executive authority resided in the hands of regents (see Sesshō and Kampaku), and the emperor's chief task was priestly, containing so many repetitive rituals that it was deemed the incumbent Emperor deserved pampered retirement as an honored retired emperor after a service of around ten years. A tradition developed that an emperor should accede to the throne relatively young. The high-priestly duties were deemed possible for a walking child; and a dynast who had passed his toddler years was regarded suitable and old enough; reaching the age of legal majority was not a requirement. Thus, many Japanese emperors have acceded as children, some only 6 or 8 years old. Childhood apparently helped the monarch to endure tedious duties and to tolerate subjugation to political power-brokers, as well as sometimes to cloak the truly powerful members of the imperial dynasty. Almost all Japanese empresses and dozens of emperors abdicated and lived the rest of their lives in pampered retirement, wielding influence behind the scenes, often with more power than they had had while on the throne (see Cloistered rule). Several emperors abdicated while still in their teens. These traditions show in Japanese folklore, theater, literature and other forms of culture, where the emperor is usually described or depicted as an adolescent.

Before the Meiji Restoration, Japan had eleven reigning empresses, who were usually crowned as a sort of a "stop gap" measure when a suitable male was not available or some imperial branches were in rivalry so that a compromise was needed. Over half of Japanese empresses abdicated once a suitable male descendant was considered to be old enough to rule.

Since the Meiji Restoration and the subsequent reorganization of imperial succession, no emperor has abdicated and all have died on the throne. There is also no provision for abdication in the Imperial Household Law, the Meiji Constitution, or the current 1947 Constitution of Japan.

After the defeat of Japan in World War II, many members of the imperial family, such as Princes Chichibu, Takamatsu and Higashikuni, pressured then Emperor Hirohito to abdicate so that one of the Princes could serve as regent until Crown Prince Akihito came of age.[1] On February 27, 1946, the emperor's youngest brother, Prince Mikasa (Takahito), even stood up in the privy council and indirectly urged the emperor to step down and accept responsibility for Japan's defeat. U.S. General Douglas MacArthur insisted that Emperor Hirohito retain the throne. MacArthur saw the emperor as a symbol of the continuity and cohesion of the Japanese people.

On 13 July 2016, national broadcaster NHK reported that the Emperor intended to abdicate in favor of his eldest son Crown Prince Naruhito within a few years, citing his age; an abdication within the Imperial Family has not occurred since Emperor Kōkaku abdicated in 1817. However, senior officials within the Imperial Household Agency have denied that there is any official plan for the monarch to abdicate. A potential abdication by the Emperor would require an amendment to the Imperial Household Act, which currently has no provisions for such a move.[2][3] On 8 August 2016 the Emperor gave a rare televised address, where he emphasized his advanced age and declining health;[4] this address is interpreted as an implication of his intention to abdicate.[5] k

Modern abdications

In certain cultures, the abdication of a monarch was seen as a profound and shocking abandonment of royal duty. As a result, abdications usually only occurred in the most extreme circumstances of political turmoil or violence. In the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms it is still seen in a particularly grave light, due to the abdication crisis of Edward VIII.

Hussein ibn Ali al-Hashimi, Sharif of Mecca abdicated the Kingdom of Hejaz in October 1924.

In recent decades, the monarchs or leaders of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Vatican City state, Qatar, Cambodia, and Bhutan have abdicated as a result of old age. In the Netherlands, the last three monarchs Wilhelmina, Juliana, and Beatrix have all abdicated. In all three instances, this was done to pass the throne to the heir sooner.

In June 2014, King Juan Carlos of Spain announced his intent to abdicate in favor of his son, Felipe.[6] Felipe took the throne as King Felipe VI on June 19.[7]


A painting showing a crowded room in which a uniformed man hands a sheaf of papers to another uniformed man while in the background a weeping woman sits in an armchair holding a young boy before whom a woman kneels
Dom Pedro I, ruler of the Empire of Brazil, delivers his abdication letter on 7 April 1831

The following is a list of important abdications:

Rule Title Date Successor/Fate
Wuling King of Zhao 299 BC Huiwen
Lucius Cornelius Sulla Roman consul 79 BC retired
Xian Emperor of China December 11, AD 220 empire dissolved
Pontian Pope September 28, AD 235 Anterus
Diocletian Roman emperor 305 Maximian
Romulus Augustulus Emperor of the Western Roman Empire 476 empire dissolved
Gaozu Emperor of China September 4, 626 Taizong
John XVIII Pope 1009 Sergius IV
Benedict IX Pope 1045 Gregory VI
Isaac I Comnenus Emperor of the Byzantine Empire 1059 Constantine X Doukas
Henry IV Holy Roman Emperor 1105 Henry V
Huizong Emperor of China January 18, 1126 Qinzong
Gaozong Emperor of China July 24, 1162 Xiaozong
Dermot McMurrough High King of Ireland 1169 Domhnall Caomhánach
Xiaozong Emperor of China 1189 Guangzong
Guangzong Emperor of China 1194 Ningzong
Władysław III Spindleshanks High Duke of Poland 1206 Konrad I
Celestine V Pope December 13, 1294 Boniface VIII
John Balliol King of Scots 1296 Robert the Bruce
Edward II King of England 1327 Edward III
John Cantacuzene Byzantine Emperor 1355 John V Palaiologos
Richard II King of England September 29, 1399 Henry IV
Gregory XII Pope July 4, 1415 Sede vacante
Erik VII King of Denmark and Sweden 1439 Charles VIII
Amadeus VIII Duke of Savoy 1440 Louis I
Murad II Ottoman Sultan 1444 Mehmed II
Bayezid II Ottoman Sultan April 25, 1512 Selim I
Charles V [lower-alpha 1] Holy Roman Emperor 1555/1556 Ferdinand I
Mary Queen of Scots July 24, 1567 James VI and I
Chrisitna Queen of Sweden June 6, 1654 Charles X
John II King of Poland 1668 Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki
James II King of England December 11, 1688 William III and Mary II
Frederick Augustus King of Poland September 24, 1706 Stanisław Leszczyński
Philip V King of Spain 14 January 1724 Louis I
Victor Amadeus King of Sardinia 3 September 1730 Charles Emmanuel III
Ahmed III Ottoman Sultan 1 October 1730 Mustafa II
Charles III King of Naples and Sicily 6 October 1759 Ferdinand I
Stanislaus II Augustus King of Poland 7 January 1795 Third Partition of Poland
Qianlong Emperor of China February 9, 1796 Jiaqing
Charles Emanuel IV King of Sardinia June 4, 1802 Charles Felix
Francis II Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire August 6, 1806 dissolving the empire
Charles IV King of Spain March 19, 1808 Joseph Bonaparte
Joseph Bonaparte King of Naples June 6, 1808 Ferdinand VII
Gustav IV Adolf King of Sweden March 29, 1809 Charles XIII
Louis Bonaparte King of Holland July 2, 1810 Napoléon Louis Bonaparte
Napoleon I Emperor of the French 11 April 1814 Bourbon Restoration
Victor Emmanuel I King of Sardinia March 13, 1821 Charles Felix
Charles X King of France August 2, 1830 Louis Philippe I
Louis XIX [lower-alpha 2] King of France August 2, 1830 Louis Philippe I
Pedro IV King of Portugal [lower-alpha 3] May 28, 1826 Maria II
Pedro I Emperor of Brazil [lower-alpha 3] April 7, 1831 Pedro II
Miguel King of Portugal May 26, 1834 Maria II
William I King of the Netherlands October 7, 1840 William II
Louis Philippe King of the French February 24, 1848 Monarchy abolished
Ludwig I King of Bavaria March 21, 1848 Maximilian II
Ferdinand I Emperor of Austria December 2, 1848 Franz Joseph I
Charles II Duke of Parma March 14, 1849 Charles III
Charles Albert King of Sardinia March 23, 1849 Victor Emmanuel II
Leopold II Grand Duke of Tuscany July 21, 1859 Ferdinand IV
Isabella II Queen of Spain June 25, 1870 Amadeo I
Amadeo I Queen of Spain February 11, 1873 monarchies abolished
Alexander Prince of Bulgaria September 7, 1886 Ferdinand I
Milan II King of Serbia March 6, 1889 Alexander I
Liliuokalani Queen of Hawaii January 17, 1893 Monarchy abolished
Sunjong Emperor of Korea August 29, 1910 monarchy abolished
Manuel II King of Portugal October 5, 1910 monarchy abolished
Xuantong Emperor of China February 12, 1912 monarchy abolished
Rama Varma XV Maharaja of Cochin December, 1914 Rama Varma XVI
Nicholas II Emperor of Russia March 15, 1917 monarchy abolished
Ferdinand I Tsar of the Bulgarians October 3, 1918 Boris III
William II German Emperor November 9, 1918 monarchies abolished
Marie-Adélaïde Grand Duchess of Luxembourg January 14, 1919 Charlotte
Constantine I King of the Hellenes September 27, 1922 George II
Taimur bin Feisal Sultan of Oman 10 February 1932 Said bin Taimur
Prajadhipok King of Siam March 2, 1935 Ananda Mahidol
Edward VIII King of the United Kingdom December 11, 1936 George VI
Carol II King of Romania September 6, 1940 Michael I
Rezā Shāh Shah of Iran September 16, 1941 Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
Bảo Đại Emperor of Vietnam August 25, 1945 monarchy abolished
Peter II King of Yugoslavia November 29, 1945 monarchy abolished
Victor Emmanuel III King of Italy May 9, 1946 Umberto II
Charles Vyner Brooke Rajah of Sarawak July 1, 1946 monarchy abolished
Michael I King of Romania December 30, 1947 monarchy abolished
Wilhelmina Queen of the Netherlands September 4, 1948 Juliana
Leopold III King of the Belgians July 16, 1951 Baudouin
Farouk I King of Egypt July 26, 1952 Fuad II
Talal King of Jordan August 11, 1952 Hussein
Ali bin Abdullah Al Thani Emir of Qatar October 24, 1960 Ahmad bin Ali Al Thani
Saud King of Saudi Arabia November 2, 1964 Faisal I
Charlotte Grand Duchess of Luxembourg November 12, 1964 Jean
Omar Ali Saifuddin Sultan of Brunei October 4, 1967 Hassanal Bolkiah
Juliana Queen of the Netherlands April 30, 1980 Beatrix
Letsie III King of Lesotho [8] January 25, 1995 Moshoeshoe II
Jean Grand Duke of Luxembourg October 7, 2000 Henri
Norodom Sihanouk King of Cambodia October 7, 2004 Norodom Sihamoni
Saad Al-Abdullah Al-Salim Al-Sabah Emir of Kuwait January 23, 2006 Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah
Jigme Singye Wangchuck King of Bhutan December 15, 2006 Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck
Gyanendra King of Nepal May 28, 2008 monarchy abolished
Benedict XVI Pope February 28, 2013 Franciscus
Beatrix Queen of the Netherlands April 30, 2013 Willem-Alexander
Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani Emir of Qatar June 25, 2013 Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani
Albert II King of the Belgians July 21, 2013 Philippe
Juan Carlos I King of Spain June 19, 2014 Felipe VI

See also


  1. Charles abdicated as Lord of the Netherlands (October 25, 1555) and King of Spain (January 16, 1556), in favor of his son Philip II of Spain. Also in 1556 he separately voluntarily abdicated his German possessions and the title of Holy Roman Emperor.
  2. Louis was only "King" of France for the twenty minutes it took for him to decide to sign the instrument of abdication. This means his 'abdication' debatable. However, it should be noted that abdication as an heir has no legal basis; therefore he had to become king in order to abdicate.
  3. 1 2 Pedro IV of Portugal and Pedro I of Brazil were the same person. He was already Emperor of Brazil when he succeeded to the throne of Portugal in 1826, but abdicated it at once in favour of his daughter Maria II of Portugal. Later he abdicated the throne of Brazil in favour of his son Pedro II
  1. Bix 2000, pp. 571–573.
  2. "天皇陛下 「生前退位」の意向示される ("His Majesty The Emperor Indicates His Intention to 'Abdicate'")" (in Japanese). NHK. 13 July 2016. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  3. "Japanese Emperor Akihito 'wishes to abdicate'". BBC News. 13 July 2016. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  4. "Message from His Majesty The Emperor". The Imperial Household Agency. 8 August 2016. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  5. "Japan's Emperor Akihito hints at wish to abdicate". BBC News. 8 August 2016. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  6. "King of Spain to Abdicate for Son, Prince Felipe". VOA News. June 2, 2014. Retrieved June 2, 2014.
  7. "Spain's King Attends Last Parade Before Abdication". Time Magazine. Associated Press. June 8, 2014. Retrieved June 8, 2014.
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-04-12. Retrieved 2013-02-12.



External links

Look up abdication in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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