Abdication has been in the news recently, with Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands stepping down in favour of her son, Prince Willem Alexander. It's quite a tradition in that country but in the UK carries a much less favourable connotation, because of Edward Vlll's behaviour in 1936. Hence all the jokes about Prince Charles looking rueful at the Dutch abdication ceremony, because no British Monarch would dream of doing such a thing.
And yet it did happen with Richard ll in 1399. He was deposed by the man who became Henry lV, but had to agree to give up his crown. Shakespeare says it best:
"For I have given here my soul's consent
To undeck the pompous body of a king;
Made glory base and sovereignty a slave,
Proud majesty a subject, state a peasant."
Act lV, Scene l
"Unking'd Richard" is imagined eloquent in a way he probably wasn't. But he probably was just as reluctant. The following year he was dead in Pontefract Castle, though whether from starvation or stabbing is not universally agreed.
No such fate awaited Edward Vlll; far from being a peasant, he was re-designated Duke of Windsor and lived out his remaining 35 years in comfort in France. Whether it was worth renouncing the throne for the woman he loved only he could say.
But the stain and horror of his actions was surely behind one of the people most affected by it, when the young Elizabeth ll pledged to serve as Queen till her life's end.
No abdication for her. But it has no such taint in the Netherlands, where the last three monarchs have voluntarily given up their titles.
Why should it be seen as so terribly different from retirement, in the case of extreme old age or illness, or resignation in Edward's case? Pope John Paul ll chose to carry on through his increasing weakness from Parkinson's, enacting a kind of personal Calvary that was clearly part of his vocation and dedication. Pope Benedict XVl cased worlwide shock by making the opposite choice earlier this year.
|Picture credit: Rvin88
But other European monarchs have abdication, often under pressure, since Richard ll. Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, gave up most of his titles in 1555, to retire to a monastery, where he died three years later. His son Philip ll became King of Spain and his brother Ferdinand became Holy Roman Emperor, both Charles and Philip's destinies intertwined with that of the English throne.
As was Mary, Queen of Scots, forced to abdicate in favour of her one-year-old son, James Vl of Scotland (and later the First of England) in 1567. Here too, the cause was a marriage disapproved of by the Peers and people, from the Catholic point of view because Bothwell was divorced 12 days earlier and by all sides because it was Bothwell who had murdered the Queen's former husband, Lord Darnley.Queen Christina of Sweden abdicated in 1654 in favour of her cusin Charles Gustavus, because she had decided not to marry and her nobles were tired of her extracagant ways.
Philip V of Spain's was a strange abdication, lasting only seven months in 1724. He gave up the throne to his son, perhaps because of his own mental instability, but had to take it back when Louis died without children in August of that year. Philip carried on reigning till his death in 1746.
Monarchs of Poland, China, Sardinia, France, Portugal, Serbia, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Belgium, Cambodia and Kuwait have all voluntarily abdicated since then, not to mention the ones forced to give up their thrones and go into exile.
It is only in Britain that the issue is regarded with such distaste.
|Ex-Queen Beatrix, Photo ©Emiel Ketelaar, FrozenImage
What do you think about abdication? Do you think the Queen should step down in favour of Prince Charles? And in what circumstances?