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An heir presumptive is the person, male or female, entitled to inherit a throne, peerage, or other hereditary honour, but whose position can be displaced by the birth of an heir apparent, male or female, or of a new heir presumptive with a better claim to the position in question. The position is however subject to law and/or conventions that may alter who is entitled to be heir presumptive.
Depending on the rules of the monarchy the heir presumptive might be the daughter of a monarch (if males take priority over females and the monarch has no sons), or the senior member of a collateral line (if the monarch is childless); the birth of a legitimate child to the monarch will displace the former heir presumptive by a new heir apparent or heir presumptive.
Heir presumptive, like heir apparent, is not a title or position per se. Rather, it is a general term for a person who holds a certain place in the order of succession. In some monarchies, the heir apparent bears, ipso facto, a specific title and rank (e.g., Denmark, Netherlands, United Kingdom), this also sometimes being the case for noble titleholders (e.g., Spain, United Kingdom), but the heir presumptive does not bear that title. In other monarchies (e.g., Monaco, Spain) the heir to the throne bears a specific title (i.e., "Hereditary Prince/Princess of Monaco", "Prince/Princess of Asturias") by right, regardless of whether she or he is heir apparent or heir presumptive.
An heir can fail to inherit for other reasons than displacement, for example by death or incapacity of the heir, abolition of the title, or changes to the rules of inheritance.
Simultaneous heirs presumptive
In the English common law of inheritance, there is no seniority between sisters; where there is no son to inherit, any number of daughters share equally. Therefore certain hereditary titles can have multiple simultaneous heirs presumptive. Since the title cannot be held by two people simultaneously, two daughters (without a brother) who inherit in this way would do so as co-parceners and before they inherit, both would be heirs presumptive. In these circumstances, the title would in fact be held in abeyance until one person represents the claim of both, or the claim is renounced by one or the other for herself and her heirs, or the abeyance is ended by the Crown. There are special procedures for handling doubtful or disputed cases.
Heirs presumptive as of 2014
- Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck is the heir presumptive to the throne of Bhutan. If his brother King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck fathers a legitimate child, the child will be heir apparent if male or heir presumptive if female.
- Leonor, Princess of Asturias is the heir presumptive to Felipe VI of Spain. If her father has a legitimate son, he would be heir apparent and Leonor would move back one place in the line of succession.
Examples of past heirs presumptive who did not inherit thrones
- Richard, Duke of York, was heir presumptive to King Henry VI of England until the birth of Henry's son, Edward, Prince of Wales (who also did not become king) in 1453.
- Princess Caroline of Orange-Nassau, first child of Willem IV of Orange, was heir presumptive until the birth of her brother Willem V.
- Sophia, Electress of Hanover, was declared heir presumptive to the British thrones by the Act of Settlement 1701, but died before acceding to the throne of her distant cousin, Queen Anne.
- Infante Carlos of Spain, Count of Molina, brother of King Ferdinand VII of Spain. Ferdinand VII changed the succession law in favour to his daughter, who became Queen Isabella II after the King’s death in September 1833. This led to the Carlist Wars in Spain.
- Victoria, Princess Royal, the eldest child of Queen Victoria, was heir presumptive of the United Kingdom from her birth in November 1840 to the birth of her younger brother, the future Edward VII, in November 1841.
- Isabel, Princess Imperial of Brazil was the heir presumptive to the throne of the Empire of Brazil. However, a coup d'etat in 1889 proclaimed a Republic in the country, deposing the monarchy.
- Prince Philippe, Count of Flanders was the heir presumptive of his older brother Leopold II, King of the Belgians after the death of his nephew Prince Leopold, Duke of Brabant until his own death in 1905.
- Afonso, Prince Royal of Portugal was the heir presumptive of his nephew Manuel II of Portugal until the monarchy was abolished in 1910.
- Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was the heir presumptive of his uncle Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria until his assassination June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo.
- Prince Knud of Denmark was the heir presumptive of his brother King Frederick IX of Denmark, but an amendment to the Danish Constitution in 1953 proclaimed King Frederick's eldest daughter Princess Margrethe, later Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, heir presumptive.
- Prince Bertil, Duke of Halland was heir-presumptive of Sweden between 1973 and 1979, until the birth of Carl Philip, Duke of Värmland, who superseded him.
- Caroline, Princess of Hanover was heir presumptive to her brother Albert II, Prince of Monaco between 2005 and 2014, when she was displaced by the birth of Albert's first legitimate children Hereditary Prince Jacques (now heir apparent) and Princess Gabriella.
Examples in popular culture
In the Disney animated film The Lion King, Scar is the heir presumptive of the Pride Lands, his inheritance being displaced by the birth of Simba, the heir apparent, thus sparking the entire plot of the film.
In the first three series of the television series Downton Abbey, much of the drama centered on Matthew Crawley, the heir presumptive to the current Earl of Grantham, following the death of two closer cousins. Upon Matthew's death at the end of series 3, his son took his place as heir presumptive.
In Pair of Kings, the Kings' cousin Lanny is the next in line to become King of Kinkow after his cousins (who reign together) die but his place depends on all his cousins remaining childless.
In Frozen, Princess Anna, as Queen Elsa's younger sister, is the next in line.