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

Abdication is the act of formally relinquishing monarchical authority.


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and people, and, by the advice of Jesuits and other wicked persons, having violated the fundamental laws, and having withdrawn himself out of this kingdom, has abdicated the government, and that the throne is thereby vacant."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 only be effected 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.

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.[citation needed]

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

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.[2] Felipe took the throne as King Felipe VI on June 19.[3]


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:

King Wuling of the Chinese state of Zhao 299 BC
Lucius Cornelius Sulla 79 BC
Emperor Xian of Han China December 11, AD 220 (Han dynasty dissolved, Cao Wei formed)
Pope Pontian September 28, AD 235
Diocletian 305
Romulus Augustulus 476 (Western Roman Empire dissolved)
Emperor Gaozu of Tang China September 4, 626
Pope John XVIII 1009
Pope Benedict IX 1045
Isaac I Comnenus 1059
Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor 1105
Emperor Huizong of Song China January 18, 1126
Emperor Gaozong of Song China July 24, 1162
Albert I of Brandenburg 1169
Dermot McMurrough, High King of Ireland 1169
Emperor Xiaozong of Song China 1189
Emperor Guangzong of Song China 1194
Ladislaus III of Poland 1206
Pope Celestine V December 13, 1294
John Balliol of Scotland 1296
Edward II of England 1327
John Cantacuzene, emperor of the East 1355
Richard II of England September 29, 1399
Pope Gregory XII July 4, 1415
Erik VII of Denmark, XIII of Sweden 1439
Amadeus VIII of Savoy 1440
Murad II, Ottoman Sultan 1444
Bayezid II, Ottoman Sultan April 25, 1512
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor [lower-alpha 1] 1555/1556
Mary, Queen of Scots July 24, 1567
Christina of Sweden June 6, 1654
John Casimir of Poland 1668
Frederick Augustus of Poland September 24, 1706
Philip V of Spain 14 January 1724
Victor Amadeus of Sardinia 3 September 1730
Ahmed III, Ottoman Sultan 1 October 1730
Charles of Naples (on accession to throne of Spain) 6 October 1759
Stanislaus II Augustus of Poland 7 January 1795
Qianlong Emperor of Qing China February 9, 1796
Charles Emanuel IV, King of Sardinia June 4, 1802
Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor August 6, 1806
Charles IV, King of Spain March 19, 1808
Joseph Napoleon, King of Naples June 6, 1808
Gustav IV Adolf, King of Sweden March 29, 1809
Louis Napoleon, King of Holland July 2, 1810
Napoleon I, Emperor of the French April 4, 1814, and again June 22, 1815
Victor Emmanuel I, King of Sardinia March 13, 1821
Charles X, King of France August 2, 1830
Pedro IV, King of Portugal [lower-alpha 2] May 28, 1826
Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil [lower-alpha 2] April 7, 1831
Miguel, King of Portugal May 26, 1834
William I, King of the Netherlands October 7, 1840
Louis Philippe, King of the French February 24, 1848
Ludwig I, King of Bavaria March 21, 1848
Ferdinand, Emperor of Austria December 2, 1848
Charles II, Duke of Parma March 14, 1849
Charles Albert, King of Sardinia March 23, 1849
Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany July 21, 1859
Isabella II, Queen of Spain June 25, 1870
Amadeo I, King of Spain February 11, 1873
Alexander, Prince of Bulgaria September 7, 1886
Milan, King of Serbia March 6, 1889
Liliʻuokalani, Queen of Hawaiʻi January 17, 1893 (monarchy abolished); formally abdicated on January 24, 1895
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)
Sir Sri Rajarshi Rama Varma, Maharaja of Cochin December, 1914
Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia March 15, 1917 (monarchy abolished)
Ferdinand I, Tsar of the Bulgarians October 3, 1918 (forced into exile)
William II, German Emperor and King of Prussia November 9, 1918 (monarchies abolished)
Marie-Adélaïde, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg January 14, 1919
Constantine I, King of the Hellenes September 27, 1922
Prajadhipok, King of Siam March 2, 1935
Edward VIII, King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, Emperor of India December 11, 1936
Carol II, King of Romania September 6, 1940 (forced into exile)
Rezā Shāh, of Iran September 16, 1941 (forced into exile)
Bảo Đại, Emperor of Vietnam August 25, 1945 (Feudal Dynasty dissolved)
Peter II, King of Yugoslavia November 29, 1945 (fled in 1941, forced into exile by 1946)
Victor Emmanuel III, King of Italy May 9, 1946 (abdicated in favour of his son, Umberto, later forced into exile when the monarchy was declared abolished)
Charles Vyner Brooke, White Rajah of Sarawak July 1, 1946 (monarchy abolished, Sarawak ceded as British Crown Colony)
Michael, King of Romania December 30, 1947 (monarchy abolished)
Wilhelmina, Queen of the Netherlands September 4, 1948
Leopold III, King of the Belgians July 16, 1951
Farouk, King of Egypt July 26, 1952 (forced into exile)
Talal, King of Jordan August 11, 1952 (forced into exile)
Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah Al Thani, King of Qatar October 24, 1960
Saud, King of Saudi Arabia November 2, 1964 (forced into exile)
Charlotte, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg November 12, 1964
Omar Ali Saifuddin, Sultan of Brunei October 4, 1967
Juliana, Queen of the Netherlands April 30, 1980
Letsie III, King of Lesotho [4] January 25, 1995 (reinstated as King February 7, 1996, following his father's death)
Jean, Grand Duke of Luxembourg October 7, 2000
Norodom Sihanouk, King of Cambodia October 7, 2004
Saad Al-Abdullah Al-Salim Al-Sabah, Emir of Kuwait January 23, 2006
Jigme Singye Wangchuck, King of Bhutan December 15, 2006
Gyanendra, King of Nepal May 28, 2008 (monarchy abolished)
Pope Benedict XVI February 28, 2013
Beatrix, Queen of the Netherlands April 30, 2013
Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir of Qatar June 25, 2013
Albert II, King of the Belgians July 21, 2013
Juan Carlos I, King of Spain June 19, 2014

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. 2.0 2.1 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. "King of Spain to Abdicate for Son, Prince Felipe". VOA News. June 2, 2014. Retrieved June 2, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Spain's King Attends Last Parade Before Abdication". Time Magazine. Associated Press. June 8, 2014. Retrieved June 8, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. http://helplesotho.org/index.php/who-we-are/the-team/king-letsie-iii/king-letsie-iii-bio/



  • This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: The New Century Book of Facts. Springfield, Massachusetts: King-Richardson Company. 1911.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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