Five royal abdications

Of course there were rumours, but only a few years ago most people would have laughed if you’d suggested that several monarchs would abdicate in the years to come. But now we all know … the most unlikely scenario might happen after all. Since early 2013 we’ve had no less than five abdications: Vatican City, The Netherlands, Qatar, Belgium and Spain. Interesting as voluntary abdications are not really usual in most monarchies, except for probably The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Bhutan.

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands was the first one, on 28 January 2013 to announce that she was to abdicate on 30 April 2013. Not unexpectedly, as also her mother and grandmother had choosen to abdicate and hand over the throne to their heir. And there had been rumours for years. She announced the news in a speech on television: “As you all know, in a few days I hope to celebrate my 75th birthday. I am thankful that I have been granted the opportunity to do so in good health. At the end of this year we shall mark the 200th anniversary of the foundation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, an occasion that ushered in a new era in our history. The fact that these two special events coincide led me to decide to relinquish the throne this year. It seems to me to be an appropriate moment to take this step, which I have been considering for some time.”

The Dutch had hardly started the preparations for the big day when on 11 February 2013, completely unexpectedly, Pope Benedict XVI announced he would step down and resign on 28 February 2013. The reason given was “lack of strength of mind and body”. Popes usually don’t abdicate and he was the first to resign since Pope Gregory XII in 1415, who didn’t do that completely voluntarily. Benedict XVI has retired now, but retained his papal name and title, and is still styled His Holiness. Within weeks he was succeeded by Pope Francis.

Unlike the other abdications, the one in Qatar happened quickly, and was hardly noticed. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar surprisingly announced in a brief televised address that he would hand power with immediate effect to his son Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Sheikh Hamad said: “The time has come to turn a new page in the journey of our nation and have a new generation carry out responsibilities … with their innovative ideas,”

The next to follow the example was King Albert II of the Belgians. In a national televised address on 3 July 2013 he said he would step down in favour of his son Philippe on 21 July. Hardly any time to prepare, but luckily the event coincided with the National Day of Belgium. Thus most events would take place as usual. Albert confessed: “I realise that my age and my health are no longer allowing me to carry out my duties as I would like to.” About one hour after King Albert II signed the abdication papers his son was sworn in as King Philippe of the Belgians.

There had been rumours already for a few years, but it was still a shock to most when King Juan Carlos of Spain on 2 June 2014 followed the example of his four colleagues the previous year. The Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in the morning said: “His Majesty King Juan Carlos has just informed me of his desire to renounce the throne and begin the process of succession.” An official press conference with the King took place a few hours later. Not being used to voluntary abdications some things had to be arranged in Spain before the official abdication could take place. On 11 January the Spanish lower house of Parliament voted in favour of the law approving the King’s abdication. On 17 June the Senate also approved the law. The next day, 18 June Juan Carlos signed the abdication papers at the Royal Palace in Madrid. The abdication took effect at midnight on 19 June. As of that moment the Prince of Asturias became King Felipe VI, and his eldest daughter Leonor the Princess of Asturias. The new king was sworn in in the Parliament in Madrid on 19 June. The ceremony wasn’t attended by the old king. However the new Queen Letizia, daughters Leonor and Sofía, Queen Sofía of Spain (the old royal couple kept their titles), the King’s eldest sister Infanta Elena, the new King’s aunts Infanta Pilar and Infanta Margarita and several royal guests all related to the Spanish royal family, including former King Constantine II of Greece and his wife Anne-Marie. Also attending were about 700 members of the lower house and the Senate, the Cabinet and special guests.

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