Throne game: How many monarchs have abdicated?

BY Elizabeth Shell  June 2, 2014 at 5:14 PM EDT
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Creative Commons image by flickr user jason train

With the news of Spain’s King Juan Carlos abdicating the throne to his son, we wondered, how many monarchies are still in existence, and how many have had abdications?

At least 36 royals have abdicated in modern times (which we’re defining here as 1900 through today), including King Carlos. These three dozen or so abdications include 20 traditional abdications where another (usually a family member) is brought in to rule, eight monarchy abolishments (such as Emperor Nicholas II of Russia in 1917), seven times where the ruler was forced into exile (such as Egypt’s King Farouk in 1952), and once when the country ceded into an already-existing monarchy (Charles Vyner Brooke, the White Rajah of Sarawak, when the Malaysian nation became a British Crown colony in 1946).

Timeline of modern abdications, by type
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Click the image to open a larger version in a new window. See each abdication in this spreadsheet.

There are 44 sovereign monarchies worldwide. Of these, six are absolute (Saudi Arabia and Vatican City are examples), 36 are constitutional monarchies and two — Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — have a mixed constitutional/absolute form of government. More than a dozen of the 44 monarchies have Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as their monarch, including Australia, the Bahamas, and the Solomon Islands.

But perhaps more interesting are the “pretenders:” individuals who make claims to abolished thrones or those held by other monarchs, usually under hereditary succession guidelines. There are at least 144 living claimants (a list that does not count those who don’t have some sort of legitimate inheritance rights). These include the 88 year old Abigail Kawānanakoa, a descendant of Hawaii’s Queen Liliʻuokalan. The Hawaiian monarchy was abolished in 1895.