Abdicate the Throne

Being the king sucks. Not only do you have to deal with Royal Brats, Royally Screwed Up family and Requisite Royal Regalia, you're practically a Living MacGuffin, even without Blood Magic coming into play. As such, there may come a time when you need not to be the king anymore, but don't want to die. In times like that, you can Abdicate the Throne. Retire, leave. Give the role to someone worthy and spend the rest of your days in peace.

So you hope, at least— some countries, fictional and otherwise, forbid abdication, or place very specific conditions on it. Or maybe there isn't an heir lined up, and it would just be terminally irresponsible to provoke the ensuing Succession Crisis. That forces a plot where the monarch must convince Parliament to change their minds about that particular law, or find a way to fulfill the preconditions. Or you could just run away...

Sister Trope to Offered the Crown — which is what happens when the king (or someone else) chooses his successor rather than leaving it to the default. Can sometimes happen when the Rightful King Returns and the current ruler wants to get out with his neck intact. May result in Vetinari Job Security if the abdication causes such turmoil that the people want their old king back.


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     Anime & Manga 
  • In Utawarerumono, the Oruyankuru gives his daughter, Urutorii, his title just before the final invasion.
  • In Naruto, the third Hokage retired to give the title over to the fourth. Unfortunately, the fourth's sudden Heroic Sacrifice forced him to take up the reins again.
  • In the anime of Fate/stay night, a flashback scene shows Saber (aka King Arthur) fighting with a knight who demands to know why she won't abdicate the throne. The credits identify the knight character as Mordred.
  • Part of Leonmichelle's plan in Dog Days. She's strictly speaking a regent anyway, but she plans to leave the throne early in an attempt to Screw Destiny. Things never really get that far, though.
  • The absolute first thing that Hikaru does after becoming ruler of Cephiro in the second season of Magic Knight Rayearth is abolish the monarchy. Since she had been present when the previous ruler had been Driven to Suicide by the emotional strain of having to continuously care for everyone and everything equally without caring for any single person or thing as an individual - including herself - or else the bits she doesn't care for will start falling apart, you can understand why.
  • In Ooku, Shogun Yoshimune steps down in favour of her daughter Ieshige. However, she remains in Edo Castle and becomes a shadow ruler whose policy suggestions are more often followed by senior councilors than the actual Shogun's.
    • Ieshige later does the same thing for her daughter Ieharu, but is far less influential in retirement.
    • Tokugawa Harusada didn't even get to the throne before she abdicated her claim to it in favor of her son Ienari. As of yet, her reasons for this are unknown. It should be noted this was due to an Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole note 
  • Prince Juda Haspirupi does this towards the end of Anatolia Story to finally bring an end to Queen Nakia's continuous attempts at getting her bloodline to rule the Hittite Empir. Also done as his way to finally call out his My Beloved Smother of a mom on all the shit she had pulled on Kail, the new King and Juda's half-brother, and his wife and The Protagonist Yuri.

     Comic Books  
  • Thorgal: One of the early stories has Thorgal helping a kid reclaim the throne. The kid is the rightful heir, his Evil Uncle killed his brother to get the throne. Along the way they enlist the help of a Viking army in exchange for treasure. After much fighting, they finally make it to the throne room... where the Evil Uncle abdicates in favor of his nephew, wishing him good luck with the intrigues and backstabbing that comes with it. The story would end there, except Uncle intends to leave with Thorgal's wife in his luggage... Asskicking ensues.
  • The Prince Valiant series started with Valiant and his father King Arguar of Thule being forced to flee by Sligon the Usurper. When they return to take back the throne years later, Sligon announce that he is tired of power and will exchange the kingdom for their little island in Britain. Some years after that, Valiant run into Sligon, who has grown old and dotty and has never regretted giving up the kingdom for a second.
  • The Sandman: A king decided that enough was enough, he was tired and fed up, so he closed his kingdom, gave away the key, and left. Later he opened a piano bar in Los Angeles. The king in question? Lucifer.

  • In Election, Tammy Meltzer basically calls the election a sham, and announces the first thing she will do if elected is dismantle student government so they don't have to sit through another meeting. She moves from people jeering at her before the speech, to thunderous applause of most of the student body.
  • In Johnny English, the villain, Pascal Sauvage, needs the Queen to abdicate. She initially refuses, but relents when one of her corgis is held at gunpoint.
  • The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement has Mia's grandmother stepping down from the throne so Mia can be queen now that she's 21 years old and graduated from college.
  • The Great Prince at the end of Bambi.
  • The Queen Ant at the end of A Bugs Life.
  • Prince Naveen at the end of The Princess and the Frog, who actually prefers to stay with Tiana in New Orleans, LA than become the next king of Maldonia. It then turns out that his younger brother was more suitable for becoming the next king.
  • Vanellope Von Schweetz in Wreck-It Ralph, once King Candy is removed from "Sugar Rush" and the game's original program is restored, discovers that she's actually a princess. She decides to set up a constitutional democracy instead.
  • As an adaptation of King Lear, this naturally is what starts off the plot of Akira Kurosawa's epic Ran.

  • In the Gone series, the leadership of Perdido Beach is like a game of musical chairs.
    • Caine waltzed in and took over, but left after the end of Gone. Sam then took over for Hunger, and then got tired of the responsibility and gave the leadership to the Town Council in Lies, run by Astrid. That turned out to be a disaster, so Sam returned as of Plague. Sam then left again for the Lake Tramonto settlement at the end, so Caine came back and became the absolute ruler of Perdido Beach. That works for a little while, but only until Light - Sam and Caine both leave to look for Gaia, so Edilio becomes the final Mayor of Perdido Beach, and actually maintains that position until the barrier comes down.
  • In The Wheel of Time, the Queen of Andor secretly abdicates her throne in favor of her daughter, Elaine, after being forced to abandon her nation. It contributes nothing to the plot — Elaine still has to deal with a Succession Crisis — but it adds a little bit of secret justice to the cause, from the reader's point of view, anyway.
  • In the Mage Winds trilogy of Heralds of Valdemar, Princess Elspeth abdicates her position as Heir in favor of her two younger half-siblings, reasoning that, as the first Herald-Mage in centuries and the only one currently trained to use magic, she will be obligated to take on duties that will be far too dangerous for the Heir.
  • Discworld
    • Tomjon in Wyrd Sisters probably holds the record for fastest abdication on record, when he abdicates after a grand total of about five minutes as king in favour of his half brother.
    • Pteppic does this at the end of Pyramids, giving the throne of Djelibeybi over to his half-sister Ptraci so he can go back to Ankh-Morpork.
    • Carrot pre-emptively abdicates his position as the rightful King of Ankh-Morpork, and has even gone as far as killing someone who attempted to put him on the throne in Men at Arms and the subsequent novels in the City Watch sub-series.
    • Cohen the Barbarian, who became Emperor Cohen in Interesting Times, does this shortly before The Last Hero.
      • It's a little ambiguous whether Cohen actually technically abdicated or just scarpered off. Given that his plans were to return the fire that was stolen from the gods (in the form of a large keg of the Discworld's equivalent of dynamite), bothering about formalities would have been rather overly pedantic.
  • The "Sheltered Aristocrat" called Chivalry does this at the beginning of Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy, out of shame in having an illegitimate child.
  • The Forgotten Realms novel Cormyr includes the story of a Cormyrian king who was thoughtful and well-intentioned, but not strong enough to hold the throne. When he realized that even his own steward was plotting against him, he decided to screw tradition and abdicate in favor of his much more popular and better-suited sister.
  • In The Westmark Trilogy as soon as Mickle remembered that she was heir to the throne, she expressed a wish to abdicate. She doesn't actually abdicate until the end of the third book, because before then she didn't trust any individual with running the country; after the common citizens of the country spontaneously rose up to oust a usurper, she decided to abdicate in their favor and turn the kingdom into a republic.
  • Conan the Barbarian - In Robert E. Howard's "The Scarlet Citadel", Conan is offered freedom and gold if he will do this.
  • The Lord of the Rings - In Tolkien's Legendarium, the Kings of Númenor normally abdicate in favor of their heir well before 'laying down their lives' (ie: voluntarily dying). This is because as Númenóreans don't get diseases and live for hundreds of years, their sons would be old men by the time they die, so it became tradition to abdicate when their heir reached his full manhood. It is a sign of moral deterioration when they cease doing this.
    • 3,000 years after the fall of Númenor, their distant relative/descendant Aragorn restores this tradition as High King of Arnor and Gondor, abdicating the throne to his son Eldarion before voluntarily dying.
  • Occurs several times in the Xanth series. Good Magician Humphrey served as king for several decades before tiring of the job and abdicating to the Storm King. Magician Trent (the Storm King's successor) would later abdicate to his son-in-law, Dor.
  • In John C. Wright's Count To A Trillion, Menelaus realizes that this is one possible solution to Blackie's dilemma — but he won't do it.
  • When the emperor Gastern loses his mind in The Chronicles of Magravandias, he is forced into abdication. His son is preemptively forced to abdicate as well as everyone knows he will only be worse.
  • Abir gives up being queen at the second lottery in Dirge for Prester John as part of the new system of government she has put in place.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Robert Baratheon confesses to his friend(and current Hand) Ned Stark that he would like to do this, cross the Narrow Sea to Essos, and live as a highly-paid sellsword(mercenary). What's stopping him? The thought of his son Joffrey as king, though it later turns out Joffrey isn't Robert's son Robert dies before finding out.
  • A Brother's Price has the queens of Queensland, aging, transferring more and more responsibility to their surviving daughters. They won't abdicate the throne until the princesses have married and produced at least one child, but are expected to do so when that happens.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • Jedi Apprentice has The Mark of the Crown, in which a ruler is converting her planet from a monarchy to a democracy. She will abdicate in favor of whomever wins the election. It's not going as smoothly as planned, so she calls in some Jedi to help with the process.
    • In Starfighters of Adumar, the perator of Cartann is convinced to abdicate in favor of his son.
  • In Fiona Patton's Branion series, it is illegal for the sovereign to abdicate, since he is the avatar of a god and the avatar is automatically the secular ruler as well. One sovereign does abdicate, but he's an apostate who turned to a different religion, and the followers of the original religion regard this as shirking his duty. In another book, the Crown Prince offers to abdicate, knowing full well it would mean execution.
  • In the Mercedes Lackey Bardic Voices series, Kestrel was the rightful king of Birnam after his uncle deposed his father. It turned out that the father was taxing the people heavily and wasting it on personal luxuries while the uncle was ruling the kingdom wisely. Kestrel, knowing that he wasn't really competent to take it, publicly renounces all claim to the throne, and ensures it sticks by marrying the Gypsy Bard he is in love with.
  • In The Goblin Emperor, Lord Chavar and Sheveän try to force Maia to abdicate in favor of his nephew. It goes badly when Idra doesn't want the first thing to do with it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Doctor Who episode "The Beast Below" sets up an impossible choice for Queen Liz X: abdicate her throne in order to free the star-whale providing the ship with its propulsion and doom her citizens or forget what she has learned and continue her rule. Fortunately, Amy realizes that the whale will stay because it wants to help them so she forces the queen to hit the "abdicate" button, but nothing changes.
  • In a moment of panic, Prince Arthur from Merlin offers to give up the throne in order to save Guinevere from being burnt at the stake.

  • William Shakespeare
    • Both Richard II and Henry VI Part 3 have forced abdications.
    • The plot of King Lear is kicked off when the king decides to abdicate (in fact if not in name) and must decide how to divide the kingdom among his potential heirs. To a Jacobean audience this would be disturbing as many people considered the King the link between man and God, and the play shows the natural order being disrupted.
    • Likewise, when Henry VI is placed back on the throne, he does the same as Lear: abdicates de facto and gives the ruling of the state to two of his supporters.
  • Oedipus the King - Oedipus at the end of his play has to abdicate after discovering he murdered his father and married his mother. The resulting power vacuum this leaves results in war, the deaths of his sons, and the plot of Antigone.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Rocket Age some Martian Principalities have ways of doing this without losing face, such as deliberately losing a duel to a 'challenger'.

    Video Games 
  • Some of the possible endings of Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen have Tristan give up the throne in favor of the player character, because the people want hir (their liberator) to serve.
  • In the Quest for Glory series of games, the character Rakeesh is the rightful ruler of the land of Tarna, but gives up the throne to become a paladin.
  • Not quite a monarch, but in Fallout 3, depending on how you choose to complete it, a quest half way through the game where you return to Vault 101 can lead to the overseer giving his position up to his more reasonable daughter. Although this doesn't change the fact she still has to forbid you from returning to live in the vault, reluctantly.
  • Dragon Quest III, after returning his stolen crown to the King of Romaly, he declares you the new King and abdicates. Unfortunately, as King, you have no power to do anything or even leave the city limits to continue your quest. The only thing you can do is find the former King gambling in the casino and ask him to retake his throne. Pointless diversion from the game, or lesson about how having power doesn't make you important? You decide.
  • Xenogears: After former King Bart liberates Aveh from the ruthless dictator Shakahn, he decides to abdicate the throne in favor of a republic according to his late father's will.
  • In Ten Days With My Devil, Kakeru Kamui is the heir to the throne of the demon realm, and his younger brother Meguru is the Spare to the Throne. When their father the Demon King sentences Kakeru to death for meddling in the lives of humans, Meguru abdicates his claim on the throne, forcing the Demon King to spare Kakeru in order to avoid a Succession Crisis.

    Web Comics 
  • A Magical Roommate: the rulers of Umbria abdicate the throne to their children when either the king or the queen dies, since it's a rule that the royalty may not rule without a companion.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Prince Wally does it so that he can run for President on an early episode of Kim Possible. It is a big case of Prophecies Are Always Right. It has been foretold that his country's royal line will end at Prince Wally. Instead of being assassinated as the characters assume, he opts to abdicate after being impressed with American Democracy.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender has a semi-example: on two occasions, Iroh has a chance to challenge his brother, Ozai, to be Fire Lord: right after their father's death (the audience knows for a fact that the father wanted Iroh to succeed him), and during the final battle at the end of the series. Both times he refuses: the first time most likely because he's still devastated by the death of his son, and later because he feels Ozai's son, Zuko, should be Fire Lord instead.
    • Played With again during the Grand Finale, when Ozai passes the title of Fire Lord to Azula; however, this is because he intends to conquer the entire world and give himself a new title, Phoenix King.
  • In The Legend of Korra (Sequel Series to the above), Zuko's daughter is Fire Lord, while Zuko, now an old man, abdicated to become a worldwide ambassador of peace instead.
    • Also, in the second season Tonraq apparently decides not to contest his niece and nephew's right to the Northern Water Tribe throne, despite now knowing that their father stole it. He is selected Chief of the Southern Tribe instead, but at least he's allowed to return to his homeland anytime he wants, and has done so once.
    • At the end of the the fourth season, Prince Wu abandons his claim to the Earth Kingdom throne, with the intent of letting it become a republic with elected leaders.
  • Sylvester And Tweety Mysteries: Some lions wanted to depose their King because their food reserves (read: game) were running low. The King wouldn't mind abdicating except that it wasn't allowed. He had to die before a new King rose. He instead tricked Sylvester into switching places with him. (Which was posible thanks to Paper-Thin Disguise) The food was eventually found inside the cave of a lion who planned to usurp the throne but decided the current King wasn't all that bad when compared to Sylvester.
  • In the Teen Titans episode "Betrothed", it is revealed that Starfire is the crown princess of her planet, Tamaran, as she was in the comics. After agreeing to an arranged marriage (a Tamaranian custom, as she is quick to inform Robin of), finding out that her husband is a slimy, flatulent Eldritch Abomination, that the whole marriage was engineered by her criminal older sister, Blackfire, who seized the throne and agreed to trade Starfire to the blob people for a MacGuffin to boost her powers, and finally taking the throne back from Blackfire by force and banishing her from the planet, Starfire abdicates the throne and gives the crown to her male nanny, Galfore, "the hands that raised her when she was very small". Doubles as Crowning Moment of Heartwarming

    Real Life 
  • Britain's Edward VIII abdicated in 1936, less than a year into his reign. He was determined to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson and keep the throne. Not only did divorce carry great stigma at the time, but the King was supposed to be the head of the Church of England, who taught that marrying after divorce was wrong if the divorced partner was still alive. He didn't really fancy being King anyway and neither did the British public (he was known to have German sympathies). So that's OK.
  • Queen Christina of Sweden abdicated her throne to convert to Catholicism and go live in Italy.
  • Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands abdicated in favor of her daughter Juliana in 1948. Decades later (in 1980), Juliana did the same for her daughter Beatrix; who in turn has stepped down in favor of her son Willem-Alexander as of April 2013. Considering Willem I's abdication in 1840 (like Edward VIII, there was a woman involved), far more post-Napoleonic Dutch monarchs have stepped down than died in office and this may safely be considered a tradition.
  • Happened during the Russian Revolutions. Didn't save the tsar's life.
    • Ivan the Terrible also pulled this once, but it was actually a Batman Gambit to get the non-boyars to acquiesce to his boyar-slaughtering Oprichnina.
  • Diocletian, the Eastern Roman Emperor. The resignation was the capstone of reforms aimed at making the transition of power more orderly. It didn't work, and the generation after him was plagued by civil war.
  • Charles V of Spain retired to a Monastery when he was tired of being The Emperor-not to be a monk, for he continued to live in unmonastic luxury. Rather because the area also made a rather decent ad-hoc villa and perhaps because he liked the company of monks more then that of courtiers.
  • Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who as a dictator was king in all but name, "retired" after a while, but only after securing that his legislation wouldn't be challenged and making sure the majority of the Roman senate were chosen by himself. Caesar said that he was politically illiterate for doing so, but we know what happened to him when he showed no sign of giving up the post... This trope, in any case, was required of dictators in the Republic, and Cincinnatus earned fame and admiration for doing so earlier than required.
  • Pope Benedict XVI became the first Pope in almost 600 years to resign (the church does not refer to it as an "abdication", but many others do.)
  • Ottoman Emperor Murad II resigned in 1444 in favor of his 12 year old son Mehmed. A couple of years later the latter realized he was in over his head and sent a message spelling things out for his father:
    "If you are the Sultan, come and lead your armies. If I am the Sultan, I hereby order you to come and lead my armies."
    • Mehmed did prove himself eventually; he didn't earn the sobriquet "The Conqueror" for nothing, after all, having ended the Byzantine Empire in 1453 among other accomplishments.
  • Recently, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani of Qatar stepped down and turned the throne over to his son, Sheikh Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
  • 79 year old King Albert II of Belgium stepped down effective 21 July 2013 in favor of his eldest child Philippe/Filip/Philipp due to health reasons. In 1953 suspected collaborator King Leopold III abdicated in favor of Albert's elder brother Baudouin/Boudewijn/Balduin in order to avoid the outright abolition of the Belgian monarchy.
  • Dom Pedro I, the founding emperor of Brazil did it twice, in two different countries. He was originally the Portuguese Crown Prince who was left in charge of Brazil after the Napoleonic Wars (during which the Portuguese monarchy took refuge in its Brazilian colony). After reorganizing the country based on liberal principles, Pedro declared Brazil independent and made himself its constitutional monarch. This did not keep him from succeeding to the Portuguese throne in 1826, but, after a short while, he abdicated the Portuguese throne and passed it on to his daughter. He abdicated from the Brazilian throne, however, when his daughter in Portugal was overthrown by the reactionaries in 1831 and went to Portugal to lead liberal forces. He is known as "the Liberator" in both Portugal and Brazil, but his tendency to suddenly abdicate caused much confusion in politics of both countries, to say the least, and contributed to the reactionary rebellions in both countries.
  • Effective 19 June 2014, 76 year old King Juan Carlos of Spain has officially handed the reins over to his son Felipe (VI).