Abdication is the act whereby a person renounces and cedes his or her own function before the expiry of the time corresponding to the exercise of it. In Roman law, the term was applied specifically to disenfranchising a member of a family, such as disinheriting a child. Today, this word is rarely used except in the sense of renouncing the supreme power of a state. A similar term for an elected official or official would be renunciation; for an employee a resignation.
The feminine noun, “abdication” (pronounced [abdikasjɔ̃] in standard French) is a borrowing from the Latin abdicatio, a feminine noun derived from abdicatum, supin de abdicare, a verb composed of the prefix ab translating estrangement, separation or completion and dicarus, "solemnly proclaim that a thing will be").
Abdications in Antiquity
Among the most memorable abdications of antiquity, we can mention that of Sylla the dictator in 79 BC. AD, and that of the Emperor Diocletian in 305.
The British Crown
Probably the best-known abdication in recent history is that of King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom in 1936, who abdicated from the British throne so he could marry the divorcee Wallis Simpson, despite objections from the British establishment, Commonwealth, Royal Family and Church of England governments (see Edward VIII Abdication Crisis). It was also the first time in history that the British crown was entirely renounced [ref. necessary] voluntary. Richard II of England, for example, was forced to abdicate after he was stripped of the throne by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, in 1399, while Richard was out of the country.
When James II of England, after casting the Great Seal of the Kingdom into the Thames, fled to France in 1688, he did not formally renounce the Crown, and it was discussed in Parliament whether he had lost his right to the throne or if he had abdicated. The latter version was agreed upon, for a general assembly of the Lords and Commons granted "that King James II having endeavored to revoke the constitution of the kingdom, by breaking the original contract between the king and the people, and, advised by the Jesuits and other corrupt people, having violated the fundamental laws, and having retired himself from the kingdom, he has abdicated from government and the throne is vacant”. The Scottish parliament issued a decree of forfeiture and deposition.
Since title to the Crown depends on a statute, specifically the Act of Establishment, a royal abdication can only be effected by an Act of Parliament. To give legal effect to the abdication of King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 was dictated.
Historically, when a monarch abdicated, it was seen as a profound and shocking abandonment of royal duty. Accordingly, abdications normally took place under circumstances of political tumult and extreme violence (as under Charles X in France, under Constantine I in Greece, or under Leopold III in Belgium).
However, this has totally changed for a small number of countries: the monarchs of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, Spain or Cambodia have abdicated due to their advanced age.
In Liechtenstein, Prince Hans-Adam II, and before him his father, Franz-Joseph II, appointed their eldest sons regents, in an act that amounts to a de facto, if not de jure, abdication.
This is a list of important abdications:
Notes and References
Jacques Le Brun, The Power to Abdicate. Essay on voluntary forfeiture, Gallimard, 2009.
Alain Boureau and Corinne Péneau, The Mourning of