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Being the king sucks. Not only do you have to deal with Royal Brats, Royally Screwed-Up family and Requisite Royal Regalia, you're practically a Living MacGuffin, even without Blood Magic coming into play. As such, there may come a time when you need not to be the king anymore, but don't want to die. In times like that, you can Abdicate the Throne. Retire, leave. Give the role to someone worthy and spend the rest of your days in peace. Or just run away.
Sister Trope to Offered the Crown -- which is what happens when the king (or someone else) chooses his successor rather than leaving it to the default. Can sometimes happen when the Rightful King Returns and the current ruler wants to get out with his neck intact.
Anime & Manga
- In Utawarerumono, the Oruyankuru gives his daughter, Urutorii, his title just before the final invasion.
- In Naruto, the third Hokage retired to give the title over to the fourth. Unfortunately, the fourth's sudden Heroic Sacrifice forced him to take up the reins again.
- In the anime of Fate Stay Night, a flashback scene shows Saber (aka King Arthur) fighting with a knight who demands to know why she won't abdicate the throne. The credits identify the knight character as Mordred.
- Part of Leonmichelle's plan in Dog Days. She's strictly speaking a regent anyway, but she plans to leave the throne early in an attempt to Screw Destiny. Things never really get that far, though.
- Thorgal: One of the early stories has Thorgal helping a kid reclaim the throne. The kid is the rightful heir, his Evil Uncle killed his brother to get the throne. Along the way they enlist the help of a Viking army in exchange for treasure. After much fighting, they finally make it to the throne room... where the Evil Uncle abdicates in favor of his nephew, wishing him good luck with the intrigues and backstabbing that comes with it. The story would end there, except Uncle intends to leave with Thorgal's wife in his luggage... Asskicking ensues.
- The Prince Valiant series started with Valiant and his father King Arguar of Thule being forced to flee by Sligon the Usurper. When they return to take back the throne years later, Sligon announce that he is tired of power and will exchange the kingdom for their little island in Britain. Some years after that, Valiant run into Sligon, who has grown old and dotty and has never regretted giving up the kingdom for a second.
- In Johnny English, the villain, Pascal Sauvage, needs the Queen to abdicate. She initially refuses, but relents when one of her corgis is held at gunpoint.
- The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement has Mia's grandmother steping down from the throne so Mia can be queen now that she's 21 years old and graduated from college.
- The Great Prince at the end of Bambi.
- The Queen Ant at the end of A Bugs Life.
- Prince Naveen at the end of The Princess and the Frog, who actually prefers to stay with Tiana in New Orleans, LA than become the next king of Maldonia. It then turns out that his younger brother was more suitable for becoming the next king.
- In The Wheel of Time, the Queen of Andor secretly abdicates her throne in favor of her daughter, Elaine, after being forced to abandon her nation. It contributes nothing to the plot -- Elaine still has to deal with a Succession Crisis -- but it adds a little bit of secret justice to the cause, from the reader's point of view, anyway.
- In the Mage Winds trilogy of Heralds of Valdemar, a variation: Elspeth abdicates her position as Heir.
- Pteppic does this at the end of Pyramids, giving the throne of Djelibeybi over to his half-sister Ptraci so he can go back to Ankh-Morpork.
- The "White Prince" called Chivalry does this at the beginning of Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy, out of shame in having an illegitimate child.
- The Forgotten Realms novel Cormyr includes the story of a Cormyrian king who was thoughtful and well-intentioned, but not strong enough to hold the throne. When he realized that even his own steward was plotting against him, he decided to screw tradition and abdicate in favor of his much more popular and better-suited sister.
- In The Westmark Trilogy as soon as Mickle remembered that she was heir to the throne, she expressed a wish to abdicate. She doesn't actually abdicate until the end of the third book, because before then she didn't trust any individual with running the country; after the common citizens of the country spontaneously rose up to oust a usurper, she decided to abdicate in their favor and turn the kingdom into a republic.
- Conan the Barbarian - In Robert E. Howard's "The Scarlet Citadel", Conan is offered freedom and gold if he will do this.
- Lord of the Rings - In Tolkien's Legendarium the Kings of Numenor normally abdicate in favor of their heir well before 'laying down their lives' (ie: voluntarily dying). This is because as Numenoreans don't get diseases and live for hundreds of years, their sons would be old men by the time they die, so it became tradition to abdicate when their heir reached his full manhood. It is a sign of moral deterioration when they cease doing this.
- Occurs several times in the Xanth series. Good Magician Humphrey served as king for several decades before tiring of the job and abdicating to the Storm King. Magician Trent (the Storm King's successor) would later abdicate to his son-in-law, Dor.
- In John C. Wright's Count To A Trillion, Menelaus realizes that this is one possible solution to Blackie's dilemma -- but he won't do it.
- When the emperor Gastern loses his mind in Chronicles of Magravandias, he is forced into abdication. His son is preemptively forced to abdicate as well as everyone knows he will only be worse.
- Abir gives up being queen at the second lottery in Dirge for Prester John as part of the new system of government she has put in place.
- The Doctor Who episode "The Beast Below" sets up an impossible choice for Queen Liz X: abdicate her throne in order to free the star-whale providing the ship with its propulsion and doom her citizens or forget what she has learned and continue her rule. Fortunately, Amy realizes that the whale will stay because it wants to help them so she forces the queen to hit the "abdicate" button, but nothing changes.
- In a moment of panic, Prince Arthur from Merlin offers to give up the throne in order to save Guinevere from being burnt at the stake.
- Oedipus the King - Oedipus at the end of his play has to abdicate after discovering he murdered his father and married his mother. The resulting power vacuum this leaves results in war, the deaths of his sons, and the plot of Antigone.
- Some of the possible endings of Orgre Battle: March of the Black Queen have Tristan give up the throne in favor of the player character, because the people want hir (their liberator) to serve.
- In the Quest for Glory series of games, the character Rakeesh is the rightful ruler of the land of Tarna, but gives up the throne to become a paladin.
- Not quite a monarch, but in Fallout 3, depending on how you choose to complete it, a quest half way through the game where you return to Vault 101 can lead to the overseer giving his position up to his more reasonable daughter. Although this doesn't change the fact she still has to forbid you from returning to live in the vault, reluctantly.
- Dragon Quest III, after returning his stolen crown to the King of Romaly, he declares you the new King and abdicates. Unfortunately, as King, you have no power to do anything or even leave the city limits to continue your quest. The only thing you can do is find the former King gambling in the casino and ask him to retake his throne. Pointless diversion from the game, or lesson about how having power doesn't make you important? You decide.
- Xenogears: After former King Bart liberates Aveh from the ruthless dictator Shakahn, he decides to abdicate the throne in favor of a republic according to his late father's will.
- A Magical Roommate: the rulers of Umbria abdicate the throne to their children when either the king or the queen dies, since it's a rule that the royalty may not rule without a companion.
- Prince Wally does it so that he can run for President on an early episode of Kim Possible. It is a big case of Prophecies Are Always Right. It has been foretold that his country's royal line will end at Prince Wally. Instead of being assassinated as the characters assume, he opts to abdicate after being impressed with American Democracy.
- Although it/s heavily implied that Fire Lord Ozai killed his own father and manipulated his will to steal the throne from his older brother Iroh, Iroh certainly didn't seem to be complaining. When the Fire Nation is finally defeated Zuko even asks his uncle to take up the throne- but Iroh says it wouldn't be wise, because people wouldn't accept him, thinking his actions just a ploy for power. Besides, he wants to run a tea shop.
- Britain's Edward VIII, told he couldn't marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson and keep the throne. He didn't really fancy being King anyway. So that's OK.
- Queen Christina of Sweden abdicated her throne to convert to Catholicism and go live in Italy.
- Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands abdicated in favor of her daughter, Juliana. Decades later, Juliana did the same for her daughter, Beatrix (the present queen).
- Happened during the Russian Revolutions. Didn't save the tsar's life.
- Ivan the Terrible also pulled this once, but it was actually a Batman Gambit to get the non-boyars to acquiesce to his boyar-slaughtering Oprichnina.
- Diocletian, the Eastern Roman Emperor. The resignation was the capstone of reforms aimed at making the transition of power more orderly. It didn't work, and the generation after him was plagued by civil war.
- When begged to come out of retirement and end the conflict, he refused saying "If you could show the cabbage that I planted with my own hands to your emperor, he definitely wouldn't dare suggest that I replace the peace and happiness of this place with the storms of a never-satisfied greed."*Charles V of Spain retired to a Monastary when he was tired of being The Emperor-not to be a monk, for he continued to live in unmonastic luxury. Rather because the area also made a rather decent ad-hoc villa and perhaps because he liked the company of monks more then that of courtiers.
- Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who as a dictator was king in all but name, "retired" after a while, but only after securing that his legislation wouldn't be challenged and making sure the majority of the Roman senate were chosen by himself. Caesar said that he was politically illiterate for doing so, but we know what happened to him when he showed no sign of giving up the post... This trope, in any case, was required of dictators in the Republic, and Cincinnatus earned fame and admiration for doing so earlier than required.