Abdication (from the
Latin"abdicatio", disowning, renouncing, from "ab", away from, and "dicare", to declare, to proclaim as not belonging to one) is the act of renouncing and resigning from a formal office, especially from the supreme office of state. In Roman lawthe term was also applied to the disowning of a family member, as the disinheriting of a son. The term commonly applies to monarchs, or those who have been formally crowned. A similar term for an elected or appointed official is resignation.
Abdications in western classical antiquity
The British Crown
Probably the most famous abdication in recent memory is that of King
Edward VIII of the United Kingdomin 1936. Edward abdicated the British throne in order 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. ("See" Abdication Crisis of Edward VIII.) This was also the first time in history that the British crown was surrendered entirely voluntarily. Richard II of England, for example, was forced to abdicate after the throne was seized by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, while Richard was out of the country.
James II of England, after throwing the Great Seal of the Realminto the Thames, fled to Francein 1688, he did not formally resign the crown, and the question was discussed in Parliament whether he had forfeited the throne or had abdicated. The latter designation was agreed upon, for, in a full assembly of the Lords and Commons, it was resolved in spite of James's protest "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and people, and, by the advice of Jesuitsand other wicked persons, having violated the fundamental laws, and having withdrawn himself out of this kingdom, has abdicated the government, and that the throne is thereby vacant."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 forfeitureand deposition.
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 passed by the parliament of all sixteen Commonwealth realms. To give legal effect to the abdication of King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936was passed.
Historically, if a monarch abdicated it 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. This has changed in a small number of countries: the monarchs of the
Netherlands, Luxembourgand Cambodiahave abdicated as a result of old age. Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtensteinrecently made his son regent, an act which amounted to an abdication in fact if not in law.
The following is a list of important abdications:
1Charles 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.
²Pedro 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 favor of his son Pedro II.
³Hans-Adam II made his son Alois regent, effectively abdicating; however, he still remains the formal Head of State.
Lists of incumbents
List of monarchs who lost their thrones or abdicated in the 20th century
The Great Abdication
* Public domain 1911 edition of "The New Century Book of Facts" published by the King-Richardson Company, Springfield, Massachusetts.
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.