AskDefine | Define abdicate

Dictionary Definition

abdicate v : give up, such as power, as of monarchs and emperors, or duties and obligations; "The King abdicated when he married a divorcee" [syn: renounce]

User Contributed Dictionary



From abdicatus, past participle of abdicare, formed from ab- + dicare, akin to dicere.


  • RP:
    • /ˈæbdɪkeɪt/
  • US:
    • /

Extensive Definition

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 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 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, 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and people, and, by the advice of Jesuits and other wicked persons, having violated the fundamental laws, and having withdrawn himself out of this kingdom, has abdicated the government, and that the throne is thereby vacant.''"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 of the United Kingdom, His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 was passed.

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. 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:


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.


  • Public domain 1911 edition of The New Century Book of Facts published by the King-Richardson Company, Springfield, Massachusetts.
abdicate in Bosnian: Abdikacija
abdicate in Bulgarian: Абдикация
abdicate in Czech: Abdikace
abdicate in Danish: Abdikation
abdicate in German: Abdikation
abdicate in Spanish: Abdicación
abdicate in Esperanto: Abdiko
abdicate in French: Abdication
abdicate in Galician: Abdicación
abdicate in Croatian: Abdikacija
abdicate in Indonesian: Abdikasi
abdicate in Italian: Abdicazione
abdicate in Dutch: Abdicatie
abdicate in Japanese: 退位
abdicate in Norwegian: Abdikasjon
abdicate in Norwegian Nynorsk: Abdikasjon
abdicate in Polish: Abdykacja
abdicate in Portuguese: Abdicação
abdicate in Russian: Абдикация
abdicate in Simple English: Abdication
abdicate in Slovak: Abdikácia
abdicate in Swedish: Abdikation
abdicate in Ukrainian: Абдикація
abdicate in Chinese: 逊位

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abandon, abjure, acknowledge defeat, be pensioned, be superannuated, cashier, cast, cease, cede, cry quits, demit, desist from, drop, forgo, forswear, give over, give up, hand over, have done with, jettison, lay down, leave, leave off, pension off, quit, reject, relinquish, renounce, renounce the throne, resign, retire, retire from office, scrap, shed, slough, stand aside, stand down, step aside, superannuate, surrender, throw away, throw out, throw up, vacate, waive, withdraw from, wrest, yield
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