On Monday, King Juan Carlos of Spain announced that he is abdicating after being on the throne since 1975. His son, Prince Felipe (of Fusion selfie fame) will assume the crown.
Although beleaguered by health issues as well as multiple scandals, King Juan Carlos earned the admiration of the Spanish populace by thwarting an attempted coup in 1981.
King Juan Carlos joins a long list of royalty who have ceded power (or, in instances where the King/Queen is nothing more than a figurehead, their crown). Below are some notable examples.
Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary, Queen of Scots was queen regnant of Scotland from 1542 to 1567, when she was forced to abdicate the throne in favor of her one-year-old son. That's right, Scotland preferred a 12-month-old tiny human to Mary, Queen of Scots. You see, Mary married James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, the man accused of murdering her first husband, Lord Darnley. Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle by Scottish lords who forced her abdication. Mary fled to England, where she sought refuge with her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Mary was executed when she was associated with a plot to murder Elizabeth and take the English throne for herself.
Napoleon Bonaparte is considered to be one of the greatest military minds in European history, but not even he was impervious to abdication. The French Emperor was forced to give up the throne in 1814 at the War of the Sixth Coalition after his enemies—a coalition between the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Austria, Russia and Prussia—seized Paris, and his military commanders refused to follow his orders.
Napoleon was then exited to the Mediterranean island of Elba. He would eventually escape and retake the throne before, you know, being exiled for good.
Nicholas II of Russia
Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias (that was his actual title), was the last Russian Tzar before, you know, that whole Communist/Bolshevik thing.
Russia was decimated economically by the First World War. Riots broke out in the city of Petrograd because of food shortages during a cold winter, all while Nicholas II was more than 400 miles away. Instead of listening to his subjects, Nicholas II ordered that police start shooting at the protesters. This did not end well. The military mutinied and Nicholas II was forced to resign his crown. He was executed by firing squad, along with his family, his doctor, the doctor’s wife, the family chef, and the king’s footman.
If you’re starting to feel bad for Nicholas II, don’t. At the time of his death, he was worth the equivalent of $300 billion (adjusted for inflation), making him one of the richest men who ever lived. All this while his subjects starved. So, you know, burn the rich and all that.
Edward VIII was just your average monarch/King of England/head of the Church of England/Emperor of India, who happened to be in love with a twice-divorced American socialite names Wallis Simpson. Only months into his reign in 1936, Edward proposed to Simpson and created a constitutional crisis because the Church of England did not allow divorcees to be remarried if their spouses were still alive (it wouldn’t look great if Edward, the head of the church, broke the church’s laws). Facing opposition from the Prime Minister, the church, English courts and society, Edward opted to follow his heart, and abdicated his throne in December 1936.
Edward and Simpson married in 1937, and that year visited Adolf Hitler at his Obersalzberg retreat. The couple lived a happy life amid rumors of them being Nazi sympathizers. Edward died in 1972.
Here's the abdicated king and Simpson on their wedding day in 1937.
Rezā Shāh was the Shah of the Imperial State of Iran, a position he obtained by deposing Iran’s royal family in 1925 and establishing a constitutional monarchy that lasted until the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The Shah implemented political, economic and social reforms, which included the establishment of the University of Tehran, the Trans-Iranian Railway and the end of requiring women in Iran to wear the Islamic Veil. Diplomatically, the Shah tried to reduce the British and Russian influence on Iran, and was “officially” neutral in WWII, not allowing the allied forced to use Persian airspace or land. However, the Allies saw Iran as friendly toward the Axis powers, and subsequently invaded Iran and forced the Shah’s abdication in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Pope Benedict XVI
Abdication isn’t just done by Kings and Queens. Popes can resign from their celestially-sanctioned positions, too. The most recent example of this happened a little over a year ago (February 28, 2013, to be exact), when Pope Benedict XVI stepped down from the papacy due to old age.
Benedict XVI became the first Pope to vacate his position since Gregory XII, who vacated the papacy in 1415. Benedict XVI was replaced by Pope Francis, who has developed a reputation for being extremely welcoming, going so far as to state that he would convert aliens from outer space should they one day come to Earth and repent for their sins.
Fidel Martinez is an editor at Fusion.net. He's also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.