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Napoleon's abdication

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 law the 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

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

The British Crown

Probably the most famous abdication in recent memory is that of King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom in 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 power was seized by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, while Richard was out of the country.

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and people, and, by the advice of Jesuits and other wicked persons, having violated the fundamental laws, and having withdrawn himself out of this kingdom, has abdicated the government, and that the throne is thereby vacant."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

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, His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 was passed.

Modern abdications

In certain cultures, 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. The monarchs of the Netherlandsmarker, Luxembourgmarker and Cambodiamarker have abdicated as a result of old age. Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein recently 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:
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus 510 BC (Roman Monarchy dissolved)
King Wuling of Zhao 299 BC
Lucius Cornelius Sulla 79 BC
Diocletian AD 305
Romulus Augustulus 476 (Western Roman Empire dissolved)
Emperor Gaozu of Tang China September 4, 626
Pope Benedict IX 1048
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 Polandmarker 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
Pope Gregory XII 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 1 1555/1556
Christina of Sweden June 6, 1654
Mary Queen of Scots July 24, 1567
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 Spainmarker) 6 October 1759
Stanislaus II of Poland 7 January 1795
Qianlong Emperor of 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 2 May 28, 1826
Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil 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
Lili uokalani, Queen of Hawai i January 17, 1893 (monarchy abolished)
Sunjong, Emperor of Korea August 29, 1910 (monarchy abolished)
Xuantong Emperor of China February 12, 1912 (monarchy abolished)
Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia March 15, 1917 (monarchy abolished)
Ferdinand I, Tsar of the Bulgarians October 3, 1918
William II, German Emperor November 9, 1918 (monarchy 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 Great Britain and Ireland December 11, 1936
Carol II, King of Romania September 6, 1940
Bảo Đại, Emperor of Vietnam April 25, 1945 (Feudal Dynasty dissolved)
Victor Emmanuel III, King of Italy May 9, 1946
Michael, King of Romania December 30, 1947 (monarchy abolished)
Wilhelmina, Queen of the Netherlands September 4, 1948
Léopold III, King of the Belgians July 16, 1951
Farouk, King of Egypt July 26, 1952
Talal, King of Jordan August 11, 1952
Fuad II, King of Egypt June 18, 1953 (Monarchy abolished)
Saud, King of Saudi Arabia November 2, 1964
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
Jean, Grand Duke of Luxembourg October 7, 2000
Hans-Adam II, Prince of Liechtenstein3 August 15, 2004 (Made his son regent)
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 (Made his son King)


1Charles abdicated as lord of the Netherlandsmarker (October 25, 1555) and king of Spainmarker (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.

See also


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

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