Heir apparent

An heir apparent is an heir who (short of a fundamental change in the situation) cannot be displaced from inheriting; the term is used in contrast to heir presumptive, the term for a conditional heir who is currently in line to inherit but could be displaced at any time in the future. Today these terms are most commonly used for heirs to hereditary titles, particularly monarchies. It is also used metaphorically to indicate someone who is the apparent "anointed" successor to any position of power, e.g., a political or corporate leader.

The phrase is only occasionally found used as a title, but as such it is usually capitalized ("Heir Apparent"). Most monarchies give the heir apparent the title of "Crown Prince" or have or had a more specific version, such as Prince of Orange in the Netherlands or Prince of Wales in the United Kingdom. See crown prince for more examples.

This article is concerned primarily with heirs apparent in a hereditary system regulated by laws of primogeniture; it does not consider cases where a monarch has a say in naming his or her own heir.

Heir apparent versus heir presumptive

In a hereditary system governed by some form of primogeniture, an heir apparent is easy to identify: he or she is somebody whose place as first in the line of succession to the title or throne is secure irrespective of future births that may occur. An heir presumptive, by contrast, can always be "bumped down" in the succession by the birth of somebody more closely related in a legal sense (according to that form of primogeniture) to the current title-holder.

The clearest example occurs in the case of a title-holder with no children. If at any time he or she produces children, they will rank ahead of whatever more "distant" relative (the title-holder's sibling, perhaps, or a nephew or cousin) was previously heir presumptive.

For the purposes of many legal systems, it is assumed that childbirth is always possible, irrespective of age or health status. The possibility of a fertile octogenarian, although nonexistent in reality, is never ruled out. In such circumstances a person may be, in a practical sense, the heir apparent but still, legally speaking, heir presumptive. Science knows that nobody could be born to take his or her place, but the law does not.

Daughters in male-preference primogeniture

The United Kingdom uses male-preference primogeniture: that is to say, daughters (and their lines) may inherit but only in default of sons (and theirs). That is, a female has just as much right to a place in the order of succession as a male would, but she ranks behind all her brothers, regardless of age.

Thus in the normal run of things even an only daughter will not be her father's (or mother's) heir apparent, since at any time a brother might be born who, although younger, would become heir apparent. Hence she is only an heir presumptive.

For example, Queen Elizabeth II was heiress presumptive during the reign of her father, King George VI, because at any stage up to his death, George could have fathered a legitimate son. Indeed, when Queen Victoria succeeded her uncle King William IV, the wording of the proclamation even gave as a caveat:

:"saving the rights of any issue of his late Majesty King William IV, which may be born of his late Majesty's consort."

Here, provision was made in case William's wife Queen Adelaide was pregnant at the moment of his death — since such a child, when born, would have displaced Victoria from her uncle's throne. [ [http://www.heraldica.org/topics/britain/brit-proclamations.htm#Introduction Proclamations of Accessions of British Sovereigns (1547-1952) ] ]

Women as heirs apparent

Obviously, in a system of absolute primogeniture which does not take sex into account, a female heir apparent is not surprising; several European monarchies have within the last few decades adopted such a system and furnish practical examples: Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, is the oldest child of King Carl XVI Gustaf and is his heir apparent; Princess Catharina-Amalia of the Netherlands, Princess Elisabeth of Belgium, and Princess Ingrid Alexandra of Norway are all heirs apparent to their fathers (who are in each case heir apparent to their respective countries' thrones). However, Crown Princess Victoria was not heiress apparent from birth (in 1977), but was given the status in 1980, following a change in the Swedish Act of Succession. Her younger brother, Carl Philip (born 1979) was thus heir apparent for a few months.

But even in legal systems (such as the UK's) that apply male-preference primogeniture female heirs apparent are by no means impossible: if a male heir apparent dies leaving no sons but at least one daughter, then the daughter (the eldest daughter) would replace her father as heir apparent to whatever throne or title is concerned, but only when it has become clear that the widow of the deceased isn't pregnant. Then, as the representative of her father's line she would place ahead of any more distant relatives. Such a situation has not to date occurred with the English or British throne; several times an heir apparent has died, but each example has either been childless or left a son or sons.

In one special case, however, England had a female heir apparent. The Revolution settlement that established William and Mary as joint monarchs in 1689 only gave the power of continuing the succession through issue to Mary II, the eldest daughter of the previous king, James II. William, by contrast, was to reign for life only, and his children, if he had any (as he did not) by a wife other than Mary would be placed in his original place (as Mary's first cousin) in the line of succession -- after Mary's younger sister Anne. Thus, although after Mary's death William continued to reign, he had no power to beget direct heirs, [“King James’ Parliament: The succession of William and Mary - begins 13/2/1689”, "The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons: volume 2: 1680-1695 (1742)", pp. 255-77. [http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=37644] Accessed: 16 February 2007.] and Anne became the heir apparent for the remainder of William's reign. She eventually succeeded him as Queen Anne of England.

Not everybody, furthermore, is a complete stickler for avoiding the term "heir apparent" in cases where an heir presumptive has no practical prospect of being unseated; for instance, Princess Charlotte, Duchess of Valentinois, Isabel of Brazil and the future Marie-Adélaïde, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg were each declared heirs-apparent (though the former renounced her succession rights in favor of her son).

Displacement of heirs apparent

The position of an heir apparent is normally unshakable: it can be assumed they will inherit. Sometimes, however, extraordinary events intervene, the obvious example being an untimely death.

Some notable examples of heirs apparent who lost that status

* James Francis Edward Stuart, the infant son of King James II & VII (of England and Scotland respectively), who was deposed as the King's legal heir apparent when parliament, after it declared that James had de facto abdicated, offered the throne not to the Prince James, whom his father was raising as a Roman Catholic, but to James's oldest daughter, the young prince's much older half-sister, the Protestant Mary (along with her husband, Prince William of Orange). When the exiled King James died in 1701, his Jacobite supporters proclaimed the exiled Prince James Francis Edward as King James III of England and James VIII of Scotland; but neither he nor his descendents were ever successful in their bids for the throne.
* Crown Prince Gustav (later known as Gustav, Prince of Vasa), son of Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden, who lost his place when his father was deposed and replaced by "his" aged uncle, the Duke Carl, who became Charles XIII of Sweden in 1809. The aged King Charles XIII did not have surviving sons, and Prince Gustav was the only living male of the whole dynasty (besides his deposed father), but the prince was never regarded as heir of Charles XIII, although there were groups in the Riksdag and elsewhere in Sweden who desired to preserve him, and, in the subsequent constitutional elections, supported his election as his great-uncle's successor. Instead, the government proceeded to have a new crown prince elected (which was the proper constitutional action, if no male heir was left in the dynasty), and the Riksdag elected first August, Prince of Augustenborg, and then, after the death of the latter, the Prince of Ponte Corvo (Marshal Jean Baptiste Bernadotte).
* Prince Carl Philip of Sweden, who at his birth in 1979 was heir apparent to the throne of Sweden. A year later a change in that country's succession laws instituted absolute primogeniture, whereupon Carl Philip was supplanted as heir apparent by his elder sister Victoria.

Breaching of the legal qualifications of heirs apparent

In some jurisdictions, an heir apparent can automatically lose that status by breaching certain constitutional rules. Today, for example:

* a British Prince of Wales would lose his status as heir apparent if he
** became a Catholic, or
** married a Catholic
* a Crown Prince/Princess of Sweden would lose his/her status if he/she
** married without the approval of the monarch
** married the heir to another throne, which is always contrary to Swedish law
* a Dutch Prince/Princess of Orange would lose his/her status as heir to the throne if he/she
** married without the approval of the Dutch parliament
** should decide to renounce it
* a Spanish Prince of Asturias would lose his status if he married against the express prohibition of the monarch or the Cortes.

Heirs Apparent who never inherited the throne

* William Atheling — the only legitimate son of King Henry I of England who was drowned in the White Ship disaster off the coast of Barfleur in the english Channel in 1120. His cousin Stephen allegedly left the ship at the last minute before it sailed. As a direct result of William's death, Stephen later usurped the English throne from William's sister Matilda, resulting in the period known as the Anarchy.
* Arthur, Prince of Wales — the Prince of Wales and heir apparent of King Henry VII of England and first husband of Catherine of Aragon. His sudden death within four months of his marriage led to the succession to the throne of his younger brother, as Henry VIII, who also married his widow. The question of whether Catherine had lost her virginity to Arthur was central to Henry's later demand for a marriage annulment, and in turn the entire Protestant Reformation in England.
* Louis, le grand Dauphin - Son of Louis XIV, King of France and of Navarre. He died before his father, and the throne was eventually inherited by Louis XIV's great-grandson who became Louis XV
* Leka, Crown Prince of Albania — The son of Zog I whose throne was seized by Communists before Leka could take his place as King of Albania.
* Frederick, Prince of Wales — the Prince of Wales and heir apparent of George II of Great Britain. He died in 1751, nine years before his father.
* Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria — heir apparent to Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. He committed suicide with his mistress in 1889.
* Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich of Russia — youngest child and only son of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and heir apparent to the Russian throne. When Nicholas abdicated in March 1917, he also abdicated in the name of his son, which was, in effect, against the law in Russia. However the monarchy was abolished only days later, so it made little difference. Alexei was murdered in 1918 along with the rest of his family. Many people continued to believe he escaped his killers, since his body (along with that of one his sisters) was not found with the rest of his family's and servant's remains until 2007. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7375765.stm BBC NEWS | Europe | Tsar's lost children identified ] ]
* Crown Prince Luís Filipe of Portugal — Heir apparent to King Carlos. The joint assassination of the king and his heir apparent in 1908 left the throne to the teenage Manuel II of Portugal and Portugal eventually became a republic in 1910.
* the Dauphin Louis-Antoine, Duke of Angouleme — eldest son and heir apparent of King Charles X of France. Charles however abdicated, together with Louis himself, in favour of Louis' nephew the young Henri, only for the throne to be seized by a cousin, King Louis-Philippe of France in 1830.
* Yinreng — Yinreng was an heir apparent to the imperial throne of Qing Dynasty of China. During the course of his life, Yinreng was deprived of his position twice by the Kangxi Emperor.
* Crown Prince Sado of Joseon (Korea) — Sado was heir apparent to King Yeongjo of Joseon (Korea). His lifelong erratic behavior caused his father to force him to commit suicide by locking him in a rice chest, where he died in a span of 8 days; Sado's son succeeded his grandfather as King Jeongjo of Joseon.
* Henri, comte de Chambord — Henri was heir presumptive and grandson of King Charles X of France. Charles abdicated in favour of the young Henri, only for the throne to be seized by a cousin, King Louis-Philippe of France in 1830, and Henri's uncle Duke Louis of Angouleme, the Dauphin also abdicated. Henri turned down a second chance to receive the French throne from the French National Assembly in the early 1870s because he would not accept the tricolour as the French flag.
* Prince of Naples Vittorio Emanuele IV of Savoia that become the crown prince of Italy after the accession to the throne of his father Umberto II that lost the throne one month later.

Heirs Apparent as of 2008

* HRH Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa is the heir apparent to the throne of Bahrain.
* HRH Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant is the heir apparent to the throne of Belgium.
* HRH Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah is the heir apparent to the throne of Brunei.
* HRH Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark is the heir apparent to the throne of Denmark.
* Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum is the heir apparent to the throne of Dubai.
* HIH Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan is the heir apparent to the Chrysanthemum Throne of Japan.
* HRH Crown Prince Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah is the heir apparent to the throne of Kuwait. (He was nominated as such.)
* HRH Prince Lerotholi Seeiso is the heir apparent to the throne of Lesotho.
* HSH Prince Alois of Liechtenstein is the heir apparent to the throne of Liechtenstein.
* HRH Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume of Luxembourg is the heir apparent to the throne of Luxembourg.
* HRH Crown Prince Moulay Hassan is the heir apparent to the throne of Morocco.
* HRH Prince Willem-Alexander, Prince of Orange is the heir apparent to the throne of the Netherlands.
* HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway is the heir apparent to the throne of Norway.
* HRH Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani is the heir apparent to the throne of Qatar.
* HRH Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud is the heir apparent to the throne of Saudi Arabia.
* HRH the Prince Felipe, Prince of Asturias is the heir apparent to the throne of Spain.
* HRH Crown Princess Victoria, Duchess of Västergötland is the heiress apparent to the throne of Sweden.
* HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is the heir apparent to the throne of Thailand.
* HRH The Prince Charles, Prince of Wales is equally the heir apparent to the sixteen thrones of the Commonwealth realms.


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • heir apparent — see heir Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of Law. Merriam Webster. 1996. heir apparent …   Law dictionary

  • heir apparent — ˌheir apˈparent noun [singular] JOURNALISM someone who is expected to become head of an organization after the present head leaves: • He is seen as heir apparent to the chief executive. * * * heir apparent UK US noun [S] ► the person who is… …   Financial and business terms

  • Heir apparent — Heir Heir ([^a]r), n. [OE. heir, eir, hair, OF. heir, eir, F. hoir, L. heres; of uncertain origin. Cf. {Hereditary}, {Heritage}.] 1. One who inherits, or is entitled to succeed to the possession of, any property after the death of its owner; one… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Heir apparent — Apparent Ap*par ent, a. [F. apparent, L. apparens, entis, p. pr. of apparere. See {Appear}.] 1. Capable of being seen, or easily seen; open to view; visible to the eye; within sight or view. [1913 Webster] The moon . . . apparent queen. Milton.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • heir apparent — n. pl. heirs apparent the heir whose right to a certain property or title cannot be denied if the heir outlives the ancestor and the ancestor dies intestate: see HEIR PRESUMPTIVE …   English World dictionary

  • heir apparent — heir apparency. pl. heirs apparent. 1. an heir whose right is indefeasible, provided he or she survives the ancestor. 2. a person whose succession to a position appears certain: His popularity makes him the chief s heir apparent. [1325 75; ME] *… …   Universalium

  • heir apparent — ► NOUN (pl. heirs apparent) 1) an heir whose claim cannot be set aside by the birth of another heir. 2) a person who is most likely to succeed to the place of another …   English terms dictionary

  • heir apparent — heirs apparent N COUNT: usu sing, oft the N to n, poss N The heir apparent to a particular job or position is the person who is expected to have it after the person who has it now. [JOURNALISM] ...a man who was once the heir apparent to a media… …   English dictionary

  • heir apparent — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms heir apparent : singular heir apparent plural heirs apparent a) an heir whose right to a rank or title cannot be taken away if another heir is born b) the person who is most likely to follow another person in a …   English dictionary

  • heir apparent — heir ap parent plural heirs apparent n 1.) an heir whose right to receive the family property, money, or title cannot be taken away 2.) someone who seems very likely to take over a person s job, position etc when that person leaves …   Dictionary of contemporary English

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.