From Academic Kids

This page is about the word Pretender as it applies to a monarchy. For other meanings, see Pretender (disambiguation).

A Pretender is a claimant to an abolished or already occupied throne. Deposed monarchs are not seen as pretenders, as the term only applies to those who have never occupied the throne. The papal equivalent is the antipope.


Some modern pretenders

State Pretender Link to Past Monarchy
Austria Crown Prince Otto son of the last Emperor-King, Karl I of Austria
Albania Crown Prince Leka Zogu son of the last king, Zog of Albania
Albania Giorgio Castriota Scanderbeg Descendant of Scanderbeg
Bavaria Grand Duke Franz, Duke of Bavaria head of the Wittelsbach family of Bavaria's last King Ludwig III
Brazil Crown Prince Dom Antônio de Orléans e Bragança head of the Vassouras branch of the last Brazil's Emperor Pedro II
Burma Crown Prince Shwebomin claims distant descent from the Bagan line of emperors of the first Burmese empire through Sinbyushin
France Henri, Comte de Paris, Duc de France (Orleanist-Legitimist*: generally accepted) descendant of Louis-Philippe of France
France Louis-Alphonse, Duc d'Anjou (Legitimist: minority support) descendant of Louis XIV of France
France Charles Bonaparte (Bonapartist) descendant of Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte
Germany and Prussia Georg Friedrich, Prince of Prussia descendant of the last Emperor, Wilhelm II
Hawai'i Quentin Kawananakoa senior descendant of Victoria Kaiulani
Hungary Crown Prince Otto son of the last King-Emperor, Charles IV of Hungary
Iran Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi II son of the last Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi
Iraq Sharif Ali Bin al-Hussein cousin of the last king, Faisal II
Ireland Several, arguably including Elizabeth II See below, under "British, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish Pretenders"
Italy Crown Prince Victorio Emanuele son of the last king, Humbert II of Italy
Korea Gu, Prince of Korea son of the last crown prince, Eun of Korea
Montenegro Nikola, Prince of Montenegro descendant of the last king, Nikola I of Montenegro
Portugal Duarte Pio, Duke of Bragança great grandson of king Miguel I
Portugal dom Rosario, Duke of Bragança descendant of Duchess Maria Pia of Bragança
Russia Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna of Russia descendant of the former Emperor Alexander II
Serbia and Yugoslavia Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia son of the last king, Peter II
Vatican City/Catholic Church many A number of dissident Catholics have claimed that the Holy See has been empty for varying periods of time (usually marking from the death of either Pope Pius XII or Pope Paul VI. Some groups of these have elected pretenders to the Holy See, see sedevacantism for details.
Vietnam Crown Prince Bao Long son of the last emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, Bao Dai

Cypriot Pretenders

Following the defeat and death of King Jacques III of Cyprus in 1474, his younger and illegitimate brother, Eugene Matteo de Armenia (c1485-1523) had moved to Sicily, then Malta. He was acknowledged as Heir to Cyprus, Armenia, Jerusalem and Antioch, though never took it seriously. From a genealogical point, Eugene Matteo (de Lusignan) de Armenia was created a Sicilian title and worked as a Jurat in Malta and in Sicily.

French Pretenders

Following the death of the childless legitimist pretender 'Henry V', Comte de Chambord, grandson of King Charles X of France in the 1880s, the majority of Legitimists accepted the Comte's selection as heir, the Orleanist pretender, the Comte de Paris, grandson of King Louis-Philippe as the Legitimist pretender to the French throne. A small minority refused to accept this designation, and chose instead a very distant Spanish-based descendant of an earlier monarch. Hence there are in effect two legitimist pretenders, though the Orleanist pretender, the modern Comte de Paris, is generally accepted by most French monarchists as the pretender, as the list above shows.

There is also a pretender to the imperial throne of France, in the person of Charles Bonaparte, descendant of the Prince Napoléon.

Russian Pretenders

There is much debate over who is the legitimate heir to the Russian throne. Grand Duke George is considered by some to be the legitimate heir, being the grandson of a cousin of Czar Nicholas II of Russia. The massacre of the Romanovs that followed the Russian Revolution has made tracking a legitimate heir to the Russian throne very difficult, and some believe there is no legitimate heir at all.

British, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish Pretenders

Pretenders to the thrones of the United Kingdom and its predecessor realms and other historical jurisdictions of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, were essentially taken care of by making the Irish and English (and subsequently, British) monarchies purely statutory institutions.

This change was first effected in England following the accession of Henry VII, after a long series of strife and civil wars that began when Henry IV deposed Richard II. Attempts to disrupt the statutory nature of the monarchy in England were made by some of the Stuart monarchs, who had not experienced the English checks on royal power when they were up north in Scotland. The Act of Settlement 1701 took care of that problem, and the Act of Union of 1707 essentially extended the Act of Settlement to Scotland. The Act of Union of 1800 subsequently extended the Act of Settlement to Ireland, but the Irish monarchy had already been made a statutory institution when Prince Henry, Lord of Ireland (Henry VIII of England) was named King of Ireland by the Irish Parliament in 1542.

Nevertheless, there have been some great pretenders over the centuries. A few famous ones are noted here, and a few passive claims are still made.

James Francis Edward Stuart was the Roman Catholic son of the deposed King James VII and II, forever eclipsed in the succession to the throne by the Act of Settlement 1701. Notwithstanding the Act of Union of 1707, he claimed the separate thrones of Scotland, as James VIII, and of England and Ireland, as James III, until his death in 1766.

James's sons carried on their own claims. The would-be Charles III, still famously known as "Bonie Prince Charlie" (one 'n' in 'bonie' because he's male; 'bonnie' would make him female; the Scots word 'bonie/bonnie' being a translation of the French 'bon/bonne'), died in 1788. He is unquestionably the most famous pretender in British history, if not world history.

His younger brother, Henry, took up the mantle after his death, if only symbolically, as the would-be Henry IX, II, and I - that is, he would have been Henry IX of England, II of Ireland (Henry VIII of England having been the first English monarch to carry the title "King of Ireland," all of his English predecessors in Ireland having been styled "Lord of Ireland" and called "Prince"), and Henry I of Scotland. (Henry, Lord Darnley, had been named king when he married Mary, Queen of Scots, but he was merely king consort to a queen regnant, so he doesn't count.) Henry Stuart died in 1807.

James VIII & III was commonly called "the King over the water," because he was resident in France (across the Channel) and is also known as The Old Pretender. Bonie Prince Charlie is also called The Young Pretender. See Jacobitism and the related category for more information including the current Jacobite "pretender".

Owain Glyndwr (1349-1416) is probably the best-known Welsh pretender, though whether he was pretender or Prince of Wales depends upon your source of information. Officially, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, who died in 1282, was the last native Prince of Wales. Since 1301, the Prince of Wales has been the eldest living son of the King or Queen Regnant of England (subsequently of Great Britain, 1707, and of United Kingdom, 1801). The word "living" is important. Upon the death of Prince Arthur, the Prince of Wales, Henry VII invested his second son, the future Henry VIII, with the title. The title is not automatic, however, but merges into the Crown when a prince dies or accedes to the throne, and has to be re-created by the sovereign.

Nevertheless, it is Glyndwr whom many remember as the last native Prince of Wales. He was indeed proclaimed Prince of Wales by his supporters on 16 September 1400, and his revolt in quest of Welsh independence was not quashed by Henry IV until 1409. Later, however, one of Glyndwr's cousins, Owain Tudor, would marry the widow of Henry V, and their grandson would become Henry VII, from whom the current British monarch is descended (through his daughter Margaret Tudor, who was married off to James IV of Scotland). So, in a way, Glyndwr might be said to have had the last laugh.

The business of Irish pretenders is rather more complicated because of the nature of kingship in Ireland before the Norman take-over of 1171. In both Ireland and Scotland, succession to kingship was elective, often (if not usually) by contest, according to matrilineal descent. That is, the head of state of any kingdom, sub-kingdom, high kingdom, etc., was always a king, but the king always inherited the crown through his mother, as a ranking princess royal, not through his father.

Thus, you, as king, would not be succeeded by your own son but would normally be succeeded by your mother's other sons; then by your sisters' sons; then, your maternal aunt's sons; and so on, traveling through the female line of the royal house. This combination of male succession through matrilineal descent produced a cumbersome system under which the throne passed cyclically from brother to brother, then uncle to nephew, and then cousin to cousin, before starting over as brother to brother, uncle to nephew, etc.

In Scotland, Malcolm II tried to get around this system and by killing off all of the heirs between himself and his grandson, Duncan; except for Prince Lulach of Moray, who was just five years old at the time and - more importantly - was successfully rumoured to be half-witted (thus, he survived). Duncan I did become king, but Lulach's step-father, Maelbeth -rendered "Macbeth" in English - successfully claimed the throne in his own right and on Lulach's behalf.

Duncan I's son, Malcolm III Canmore, ultimately returned from exile in England and took the throne from Maelbeth and Lulach (the latter reigning 1057-1058, after the death of Maelbeth in battle against Malcolm). Malcolm was succeeded by his brother, as Duncan II, but then by four of his own sons - one of whom, Edgar (1097-1107), changed the official language of Scotland from Gàidhlig (then, still a Scottish dialect of Old Irish) to Scots (then, a language similar to English but missing the Saxon element that has always been part of standard English). Gaelic dominance of Scotland ended during the reign of Alexander I (1107-1124), and the old Celtic system of matrilineal kingship finally ended and was replaced by a system of primogeniture.

Such a transition never happened in Ireland, but civil war and the imposition of Anglo-Norman rule intervened. Although Ireland had been culturally unified for centuries, it was not politically unified, even as a tribal nation. The Romans having ignored the big green island west of Britain, the Gaels themselves were the last people to successfully invade Ireland and, notwithstanding 750 years of English rule, it is very arguable whether the Norman English ever truly conquered Ireland. (They controled Ireland, certainly, but that is not all there is to conquest.) So, even serious coastal encroachments by the Vikings a millennium after their arrival did not prompt the Gaels of Ireland to see a need for political unity even to build a concerted national defence. When a people believe they and their country are immune from invasion, it takes a while for them to realise how vulnerable they actually are.

The High King of Ireland was essentially a ceremonial, pseudo-federal overlord (where his over-lordship was even recognised), who exercised actual power only within the realm of which he was actually king. In the case of the southern branch of the Uí Niall, this would have been the Kingdom of Meath (modernly the counties of Meath, West Meath and part of County Dublin). High Kings from the northern branch of the family ruled various kingdoms in what eventually became the province of Ulster.

Nevertheless, the Uí Niall were apparently powerful in ceremony if not in politic, so that political unification of Ireland was not aided by the usurpation of the high kingship from Mael Sechnaill II and the southern Uí Niall in 1002 by Briain ‘Boruma’ mac Cennédig, of the Kingdom of Munster. This was the third of the so-called "Three Usurpations of Brian Boru."

Brian Boru was a strong king who could have unified Ireland politically, and there is some suggestion he intended to make himself High King of Scotland as well. But he was killed in the Battle of Contarf in 1014, and twelve years as High King was not long enough to unify the island politically. Mael Sechnaill II was restored to the High Kingship but he died in 1022, too soon to undo the damage done by Brian's "coup." From 1022 through the Norman take-over of 1171, the High Kingship was held by "Kings with Opposition" - that is, whoever was strong enough to overthrow the High King of the day and take the Hill of Tara simply did so. This 150-year period of regnal unrest between families now called O'Brian, O'Conner, McLoughlin/O'Melaghlin, and others, was eventually immortalised in the children's game called "King of the Hill." The game is still popular among American children, who take turns trying to push each other off a low stool, chair, or other make-shift hill while arguing, "I'm king of the hill!" "No! I'm king!"

Because the native Irish high kingship never transitioned to a system of nation-state kingship primogeniture but simply faded into an oblivion of civil war between competing Irish royal families, there are literally as many as a million or more people who can make a claim to the ancient high kingship of Tara that is as equally valid as anybody else's under the old system disrupted by what may be called Brian Boru's "coup de tribe." Indeed, as a reputed descendant of Brian Boru and of the Uí Niall Dynasty both through his late grandmother, the current heir to the statutory throne that includes Northern Ireland, Prince Charles, could be considered a viable pretender to the high kingship of Ireland, especially as he would be making the claim through the female line of his ancestry.

Perhaps it is just as well the main of Ireland is a republic with an elected president, while the six northeastern counties still operate under the successor to the old Anglo-Norman and Anglo-Scottish Lords and Kings of Ireland, pursuant to the Act of Union of 1800 and the subsequent partition of 1921.

Otherwise, there are at least two people who are publically known to make such a claim to the Irish throne that is otherwise still occupied in Northern Ireland by Queen Elizabeth II - who might herself be considered a pretender for the abolished throne of the Irish Republic (and, coincidentally, is a descendant of Brian Boru through her late mother). Both of the male claimants have ancestral connections to the Uí Niall Dynasty and presumably make their claims in the purely passive interest of family tradition. One is the senior member of the Chichester family of England, which has long claimed the high kingship through matrilineal O'Neill ancestry. The other is an Irish-Scottish-Algonquian-Dutch Sephardic Jewish American named McLoughlin, who informally styles himself "Sh.R. Príonnsa na hÉireann, hAlba agus na hEileanan Siar." He lives in California.

The senior member of the O'Connor family in Connacht, styled O'Connor Don, would have a valid right to stand for election to the throne of Connacht and high throne of Ireland under the old Gaelic system. But he has no valid right or claim to the High Kingship pursuant to the Treaty of Windsor; first, because the recognition under that treaty was personal to Rory O'Connor, who died in 1198; last, because the legal provisions of that treaty were subsequently nullified by acts of the Irish and British Parliaments.

Other Americans of Irish regal ancestry include the late former presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, both of whom are reputedly descended from brothers of Brian Boru.

Ottoman Pretenders

Eldest son during the reign of his father, Mehmet the Conqueror claimed the Sultanate although he was defeated in battle months later by his eldest brother (by birth) Bayezid II. He fled to Rhodes Island then eventually to the Papal Territories. His descendants claimed Cem rights until Malta defeated the Ottomans in the 16th century.

Iraqi Pretenders

There are two claimants to the throne of Iraq:

Prince Ra'ad, Head of the Royal House of Iraq, and
Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, leader of the Iraqi Constitutional Monarchy party.

Fake pretenders

Some well-known impostors who claimed to be a genuine pretenders include:


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