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abdication

abdication, in a political sense, renunciation of high public office, usually by a monarch. Some abdications have been purely voluntary and resulted in no loss of prestige. For instance, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who abdicated for religious motives, remained influential until his death, and Philip V of Spain actually resumed the throne after abdicating. In Japan it has not been uncommon for the ruler to retire voluntarily to a life of religious contemplation, assured of a special title and many honors. However, most abdications have amounted to a confession of a failure in policy and are only the final and formal renunciation of an authority that events have already taken away. In the Chinese Empire forced abdications were frequent, the empire itself ending with the abdication of the boy ruler Hsuan T'ung in 1912 (see Pu Yi). Since 1688, when the English Parliament declared James II to have abdicated by reason of flight and subversion of the constitution, abdication by a British ruler without parliamentary consent has been forbidden. When Edward VIII of England abdicated in 1936 in order to marry an American divorcee (his ministers having refused to approve the marriage), the abdication was given legal effect by an act of Parliament. Though several written constitutions contain provisions for abdication, there are few uniformly accepted rules for dealing with it. Defeat and political chaos following World Wars I and II forced the abdication of many rulers, most notably Emperor William II of Germany, Farouk of Egypt, and Leopold III of Belgium.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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