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Heir presumptive

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An heir presumptive (FEM: heiress presumptive) is the person entitled to inherit a throne, peerage, or other hereditary honour, but whose position can be displaced by the birth of a person with a better claim to the position in question.[1][2] This is in contrast to an heir apparent, whose claim on the position cannot be displaced in this manner.



Depending on the rules of the monarchy, the heir presumptive might be the daughter of a monarch if males take preference over females and the monarch has no sons, or the senior member of a collateral line if the monarch is childless or the monarch's direct descendants cannot inherit either because

  1. they are daughters and females are completely barred from inheriting
  2. the monarch's children are illegitimate, or
  3. some other legal disqualification, such as
    1. being descended from the monarch through a morganatic line or
    2. the descendant's refusal or inability to adopt a religion the monarch is required to profess.

The subsequent birth of a legitimate child to the monarch may displace the former heir presumptive by creating an heir apparent or a more eligible heir presumptive. It is not assumed that the monarch and his or her consort are incapable of producing further children; on the day before Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne, her father George VI was gravely ill and her mother was 51 years old, but Elizabeth was still the heir presumptive rather than the heir apparent. An heir presumptive's position may not even be secure after they ascend their throne, as a posthumous child of the previous monarch could have a superseding claim. Following the death of William IV in 1837, he was succeeded by his niece Queen Victoria, whose accession proclamation noted her accession was only permanent so long as a child of William was not born in the following months to his widow, Adelaide, even though Adelaide was 44 years old and had last been pregnant 17 years earlier.[3][4] Such a situation occurred in Spain in 1885, when King Alfonso XII died and left behind a widow who was three months pregnant. His five-year-old daughter and heir presumptive, María de las Mercedes, was not declared queen because she would be displaced if a son was born, and instead there was a six-month interregnum until the birth of her brother Alfonso XIII, who assumed the throne as king immediately upon birth. Had the pregnancy been lost or resulted in another daughter, Mercedes would have become queen regnant and been retroactively recognized as such during the interregnum.[5][6]

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 first in line 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.

Simultaneous heirs presumptive


In the English and Welsh 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.

Current heirs presumptive as of 2024

Country Picture Name of heir presumptive Title Date of birth (age) Relation to monarch
 Japan Fumihito Crown Prince of Japan (1965-11-30) November 30, 1965 (age 58) Younger brother. If Emperor Naruhito were to have a legitimate son, he would become the heir apparent.
 Thailand Dipangkorn Rasmijoti Prince of Thailand (2005-04-29) April 29, 2005 (age 19) Youngest son. In accordance with the 1924 Palace Law of Succession, the reigning king has absolute power to name any royal male as heir apparent, and upon being announced publicly, the "position of such heir is secure and indisputable".
 Spain Leonor Princess of Asturias (2005-10-31) October 31, 2005 (age 18) Eldest child. If King Felipe VI has a legitimate son, he would become the heir apparent.

Past heirs presumptive who did not inherit thrones


The list is limited to heirs presumptive who did not succeed due to death, abolition of monarchies, or change in succession law.


  1. ^ "Heir Presumptive Law & Legal Definition". USLegal.com. Retrieved 2012-11-07.
  2. ^ "Heir presumptive". Reverso.net. Retrieved 2012-11-07.
  3. ^ "The primogeniture paradox: the posthumous heir". Royal Central. 2015-10-02. Retrieved 2022-05-28.
  4. ^ "Page 1581 | Issue 19509, 20 June 1837 | London Gazette | The Gazette". www.thegazette.co.uk. Retrieved 2023-07-14.
  5. ^ "Can an unborn baby really inherit the British Crown (and what's that got to do with Game of Thrones?)". New Statesman. 2017-09-05. Retrieved 2022-05-29.
  6. ^ Packard, Jerrold M. (1999-12-23). Victoria's Daughters. St. Martin's Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-4299-6490-6.