The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Abdication (from the Latin abdicatio disowning, renouncing, from ab, from, and dicare, to declare, to proclaim as not belonging to one), the act whereby a person in office renounces and gives up the same before the expiry of the time for which it is held. In Roman law, the term is especially applied to the disowning of a member of a family, as the disinheriting of a son, but in more recent times, the word is seldom used except in the sense of surrendering the supreme power in a state. A similar term for an elected or appointed official is resignation.


Abdications in classical antiquity

Among the most memorable abdications of antiquity may be mentioned that of Sulla the dictator, 79 BC, and that of the Emperor Diocletian, AD 305.

The British Crown

Probably the most famous abdication in recent memory is that of King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom in 1936, who abdicated the British throne in order to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson, over the objections of the Church of England and the royal family. (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.

When James II of England, after throwing the Great Seal of the Realm into the Thames, fled to France in 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, met in convention, 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and people, and, by the advice of Jesuits and other wicked persons, having violated the fundamental laws, and having withdrawn himself out of this kingdom, has abdicated the government, and that the throne is thereby vacant."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.

Modern abdications

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, Luxembourg and Cambodia have abdicated as a result of old age, and the prince of Liechtenstein has recently made his son regent.


The following is a list of the important abdications:

Lucius Cornelius Sulla 79 BC
Diocletian AD 305
Pope Benedict IX 1048
Isaac I Comnenus 1059
Stephen II of Hungary 1131
Albert I of Brandenburg 1169
Ladislaus III of Poland 1206
Pope Celestine V December 13, 1294
John Baliol of Scotland 1296
John Cantacuzene, emperor of the East 1355
Richard II of England September 29, 1399
Baldassare Cossa, Antipope John XXIII 1415
Eric VII of Denmark or Erik XIII of Sweden 1439
Amadeus VIII of Savoy 1440
Murad II, Ottoman Sultan 1444 and 1445
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor 1 1555-1556
Christina of Sweden June 6, 1654
Mary Queen of Scots July 24, 1567
John Casimir of Poland 1668
James II of England 1688
Frederick Augustus of Poland 1706
Philip V of Spain 1724
Victor Amadeus of Sardinia 1730
Ahmed III, Ottoman Sultan 1730
Charles of Naples (on accession to throne of Spain) 1759
Stanislaus II of Poland 1795
Qianlong Emperor of China 1795
Charles Emanuel IV of Sardinia June 4, 1802
Charles IV of Spain March 19, 1808
Joseph Bonaparte of Naples June 6, 1808
Gustav IV of Sweden March 29, 1809
Louis Bonaparte of Holland July 2, 1810
Napoleon I, French Emperor April 4, 1814, and June 22, 1815
Victor Emanuel of Sardinia March 13, 1821
Charles X of France August 2, 1830
Pedro IV of Portugal 2 May 28, 1826
Pedro I of Brazil 2 April 7, 1831
Miguel of Portugal May 26, 1834
William I of the Netherlands October 7, 1840
Louis Philippe, King of the French February 24, 1848
Louis Charles of Bavaria March 21, 1848
Ferdinand of Austria December 2, 1848
Charles Albert of Sardinia March 23, 1849
Leopold II of Tuscany July 21, 1859
Isabella II of Spain June 25, 1870
Amadeus I of Spain February 11, 1873
Alexander of Bulgaria September 7, 1886
Milan of Serbia March 6, 1889
Xuantong Emperor of China 1912
Nicholas II of Russia (monarchy abolished) 1917
Edward VIII of the United Kingdom December 11, 1936
Carol II of Romania September 6, 1940
Victor Emmanuel III of Italy May 9, 1946
Wilhelmina of the Netherlands September 4, 1948
Leopold III, King of the Belgians July 16, 1951
Juliana of the Netherlands April 30, 1980
Jean of Luxembourg October 7, 2000
Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia October 7, 2004


1Charles abdicated as king of the Netherlands (October 25, 1555) and 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.

See also


  • Public domain 1911 edition of The New Century Book of Facts published by the King-Richardson Company, Springfield, Massachusetts.

Last updated: 02-09-2005 09:53:52
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01