Abdication

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Etymology

Latin abdicatus, past participle of abdicare, from ab- + dicare to proclaim

Definitions

Synonyms

renounce, resign mean to give up a position with no possibility of resuming it.

Description

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. 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and people, and, by the advice of Jesuits and other wicked persons, having violated the fundamental laws, and having withdrawn himself out of this kingdom, has abdicated the government, and that the throne is thereby vacant."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. Mary Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son, James VI.

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 Netherlands, Luxembourg and Cambodia have abdicated as a result of old age and it is considered normal and even expected in the Netherlands. Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein recently made his son regent, an act which amounted to an abdication in fact if not in law.