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An heir presumptive or heiress presumptive is the person entitled to inherit a throne, peerage, or other hereditary honour, but whose position can be displaced (in legal terms, is "subject to divestiture") by the birth of an heir or heiress apparent 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.
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.
For more detailed information, and a comparison between the positions of heir presumptive and heir apparent, see heir apparent.
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 heiresses 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
- Caroline, Princess of Hanover, is the heiress presumptive to the throne of Monaco. If her brother Albert II, Prince of Monaco, fathers a legitimate child, the child will be heir apparent if male or heiress presumptive if female.
- 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 heiress presumptive if female.
Heirs presumptive who inherited thrones
- Queen Isabella I of Castile, who succeeded her half-brother, Henry IV, in 1474
- King Manuel I of Portugal, who succeeded his cousin, John II, in 1495
- King Louis XII of France, who succeeded his cousin, Charles VIII, in 1498
- Queen Juana of Castile, who succeeded her mother, Isabella I, in 1504
- King Francis I of France, who succeeded his cousin, Louis XII, in 1515
- Queen Mary I of England, who succeeded her half-brother, Edward VI, in 1553
- Queen Elizabeth I of England, who succeeded her half-sister, Mary I, in 1558
- King Charles IX of France, who succeeded his brother, Francis II, in 1560
- King Henry III of France, who succeeded his brother, Charles IX, in 1574
- King Henry of Portugal, who succeeded his grand-nephew, Sebastian I, in 1578
- King Henry IV of France, who succeeded his very distant cousin, Henry III, in 1589
- King Charles X of Sweden, who succeeded his cousin, Christina, in 1654
- King James VI of Scotland and I of England, who succeeded his first cousin twice removed, Elizabeth I, as King of England in 1603
- King Peter II of Portugal, who succeeded his brother, Afonso VI, in 1683
- King James II of England and VII of Scotland, who succeeded his brother, Charles II, in 1685
- King Charles III of Hungary, who succeeded his brother, Joseph I, in 1711
- King George I of Great Britain, who succeeded his distant cousin, Anne, in 1714
- Queen Maria Theresa of Hungary and Bohemia, who succeeded her father, Charles III, in 1740
- King Charles III of Spain, who succeeded his half-brother, Ferdinand VI, in 1759
- Queen Maria I of Portugal, who succeeded her father, Joseph I, in 1777
- King Frederick William II of Prussia, who succeeded his uncle, Frederick the Great, in 1786
- King Leopold II of Hungary, who succeeded his brother, Joseph II, in 1790
- King Victor Emmanuel I of Sardinia, who succeeded his brother, Charles Emmanuel IV, in 1802
- King Charles Felix of Sardinia, who succeeded his brother, Victor Emmanuel I, in 1821
- King Charles X of France, who succeeded his brother, Louis XVIII, in 1824
- Emperor Nicholas I of Russia, who succeeded his brother, Alexander I, in 1825
- King Anthony of Saxony, who succeeded his brother, Frederick Augustus I, in 1827
- King William IV of the United Kingdom, who succeeded his brother, George IV, in 1830
- King Charles Albert of Sardinia, who succeeded his very distant cousin, Charles Felix, in 1831
- Queen Isabella II of Spain, who succeeded her, father Ferdinand VII, in 1833
- King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony, who succeeded his uncle, Anthony, in 1836
- Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, who succeeded her uncle, William IV, in 1837
- King Ernest Augustus I of Hanover, who succeeded his brother, William IV, in 1837
- King Christian VIII of Denmark, who succeeded his cousin, Frederick VI, in 1839
- King John of Saxony, who succeeded his brother, Frederick Augustus II, in 1854
- King William I of Prussia, who succeeded his brother, Frederick William IV, in 1861
- King Christian IX of Denmark, who succeeded his cousin, Frederick VII, in 1863
- King Oscar II of Sweden, who succeeded his brother, Charles XV, in 1872
- King Otto of Bavaria, who succeeded his brother, Ludwig II, in 1886
- Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, who succeeded her father, William III, in 1890
- Grand Duke Adolphe of Luxembourg, who succeeded his very distant cousin, William III, in 1890
- King William II of Württemberg, who succeeded his uncle, Charles I, in 1891
- King George of Saxony, who succeeded his brother, Albert, in 1902
- King Albert I of Belgium, who succeeded his uncle, Leopold II, in 1909
- Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde of Luxembourg, who succeeded her father, Guillaume IV, in 1912
- King Ludwig III of Bavaria, who succeeded his cousin, Otto, in 1913
- King Ferdinand I of Romania, who succeeded his uncle, Carol I, in 1914
- Emperor Charles I of Austria, who succeeded his grand-uncle, Francis Joseph I, in 1916
- Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg, who succeeded her sister, Marie-Adélaïde, in 1919
- King Rama VII of Thailand, who succeeded his brother, Rama VI, in 1925
- King Rama VIII of Thailand, who succeeded his uncle, Rama VII, in 1935
- King George VI of the United Kingdom and Dominions, who succeeded his brother, Edward VIII, in 1936
- King Rama IX of Thailand, who succeeded his brother, Rama VIII, in 1946
- King Paul of Greece, who succeeded his brother, George II, in 1947
- Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, who succeeded her mother, Wilhelmina, in 1948
- Queen Elizabeth II of the Commonwealth realms, who succeeded her father, George VI, in 1952
- Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, who succeeded her father, Frederick IX, in 1972
- Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, who succeeded her mother, Juliana, in 1980
- King Albert II of Belgium, who succeeded his brother, Baudouin, in 1993
- King Tupou VI of Tonga, who succeeded his brother, George Tupou V, in 2012
The succession of an heir presumptive may remain subject to a formal reservation respecting the live birth, to a queen consort of the deceased king, of an heir higher in the line of succession. Such was the case of Victoria's accession proclamation in 1837, when section 2 of the Regency Act 1830, prescribing the Oath of Allegiance, was still in force.
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, declared British heiress presumptive 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, Infanta Isabella, who became Queen Isabella II of Spain after the King’s death in September 1833. Infante Carlos did not recognize Isabella as queen and he was crowned by his supporters as Carlos V of Spain. This led to the Carlist Wars in Spain.
- Victoria, Princess Royal, the eldest child of Queen Victoria was heiress 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 king Leopold II of Belgium 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.
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.
- "Heir Presumptive Law & Legal Definition". USLegal.com. Retrieved 2012-11-07.
- "Heir presumptive". Reverso.net. Retrieved 2012-11-07.
- James was never heir presumptive in law, nor recognized by Parliament until after Elizabeth's death. Previous law, rigidly interpreted, could have excluded him.
- The Accession Council's proclamation declared Victoria as the King's successor "saving the rights of any issue of His late Majesty King William the Fourth which may be borne of his late Majesty's Consort". The London Gazette: . 20 June 1837.