Heir Apparent

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The term heir apparent is most often used to refer to someone who is first in the order of succession to a throne and who cannot lose this status by the birth of any other person. It is also used less formally to indicate someone who is an apparent successor to a non-royal position of power, e.g., a political or corporate leader.

It is typically uppercased when used as a title, though heirs apparent always have official titles that render such titulation unnecessary.

This article is concerned with the position of heir apparent to a royal or noble title.


Heir Apparent versus Heir Presumptive

An Heir Apparent differs from an Heir Presumptive in that, although an Heir Presumptive may inherit the throne upon the death of the monarch, the status of the Heir Presumptive as first-in-line could be overturned by the birth of another person of superior legal status who would at the moment they were born become Heir Apparent. In effect an Heir Presumptive is the de facto or stand-by first-in-line until someone with a superior legal status in the order of succession, the Heir Apparent or a new Heir Presumptive, is born.

Examples of heirs apparent and heirs presumptive

Elizabeth II - Heir Presumptive of George VI

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom was Heir Presumptive, not Heir Apparent, during the reign of her father, King George VI, because at any stage up to his death, George could have fathered a legitimate son who would have become Heir Apparent to the British throne. Similarly Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom was Heir Presumptive in the reign of her uncle William IV because there was no male heir.

Albert II - Heir Presumptive of Baudouin

The heir presumptive is usually either the daughter of a monarch or the closest living male sibling or relative of a monarch who is not descended from them. For example, Prince Albert, the brother of King Baudouin of the Belgians, was heir presumptive during his brother's reign. Had Baudouin had a son, he immediately would have become heir apparent. Before the change of Belgian succession law during Baudouin´s reign, no daughter could have inherited, but after that change (which simultaneously put males and females in equal footing, only depending on order of birth), had Baudouin had a daughter she would have replaced Albert and became Heir(ess) Apparent. However as Baudouin died childless, Albert as heir presumptive became King Albert II.

The changing heirs apparent and presumptive of Henry VIII

Where a monarch has only one male child and that child dies without children a female child or relative of the monarch may become heir presumptive. However, the later birth of a son would again see the heir presumptive replaced by a new heir apparent. For example, King Henry VIII of England's and Queen Catherine of Aragon's young son, who was Heir Apparent, died 52 days after his birth; their daughter, Mary then became Heir Presumptive. When Henry's marriage to Catherine was annulled and he had a daughter by his second wife, Anne Boleyn, that child, Elizabeth was made Heir Presumptive (Mary was declared illegitimate and stripped of the title). When Henry had a new son, Edward by his third wife, Jane Seymour, he became Heir Apparent.

By the time of his death, his two daughters by order of birth were reinstated in the order of succession. For nearly eighty years the throne passed from one heir presumptive to another, as each monarch lacked an heir apparent. Edward VI was succeeded by his heir presumptive, his half-sister Mary I, who was succeeded in turn by her heir presumptive, Elizabeth I, who was in turn succeeded by a relative, King James VI of Scotland, who reigned as James I of England (who was not an heir-presumptive officially, but he was not an heir-apparent). He became the first monarch since Henry VIII to be succeeded by an heir apparent, his son Charles I of England. (James's first son, Henry Frederick, his first heir apparent, had died without children.)

Women as heirs apparent

However, not all queens regnant or daughters who are first-in-line, are heirs presumptive. Where a son does not have superior legal status in a succession ahead of a daughter, and the daughter becomes first-in-line by right rather than in the absence of a son, she becomes heir apparent. The only current heir apparent is Princess Victoria of Sweden, the oldest child of King Carl XVI Gustav.

In countries that apply male-preference primogeniture, there could be at least one rare case that a female is heiress apparent: if a male heir apparent is deceased, leaving only daughters (and not a wife pregnant with a boy), then the eldest of such daughters will be heiress apparent to the throne of United Kingdom. This is because a dead man obviously is no longer able to sire any male offspring, and therefore the birth of any one cannot alter the position of the deceased´s daughters. There has only been one female heir-apparent in British history, and that was Queen Anne, but she was heiress-apparent for a different reason. When Mary II died, her husband William III continued to reign alone. Any children he may have had from a future marriage would have been placed behind Anne in the line of succession, and thus Anne was heiress-apparent.

Sometimes, the daughter of a monarch may be declared heiress-apparent because it is highly unlikely any other heirs to the throne will be born, though she may remain a de-facto heiress-presumptive. For instance, Princess Charlotte, Duchess of Valentinois and Marie-Adélaïde, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg were both declared heirs-apparent (though the former renounced her succession rights in favor of her son).

Had Richard II (Richard of Bordeaux) been a daughter, that person would have been the heiress apparent to the throne of England in 1377. Had Frederick Lewis, Prince of Wales, left only daughters, then in 1753-60 the eldest of such daughters would have been the heiress apparent to the throne of Great Britain. Instead, he left several sons, of whom the future George III became Heir Apparent.

Heir Apparent's Status can be overturned by law

The status of the Heir Apparent is dependent on law.

Removal of males from superior role in succession

A legal change may deprive the person who was heir apparent of their status and grant it to another individual. For example, Prince Carl Philip of Sweden was heir apparent of Sweden immediately on his birth in 1979. However, one year later he was deprived of that status when a legal change decreed that the King Carl XVI Gustav's oldest child, and not as previously oldest son, became heir apparent. This change upgraded Prince Carl Philip's older sister, Princess Victoria, from no position in line to the throne (up to that change of law, Swedish succession was limited to males, failing which, the proper constitutional action would have been an election of the next monarch, as had happened for example in 1719, Ulrika Eleonora as queen, 1745, Adolphus Frederick as crown prince and 1810, Charles John as crown prince) to heir apparent and first-in-line above of him.

Replacement of another Royal Family member by Parliament

Prince James Francis Edward Stuart, the oldest son of King James II/James VII (of England and Scotland respectively) was deposed as King's legal heir apparent when parliament, after it declared that James had de facto abdicated, offered the throne not to the Catholic Prince James but to James's oldest daughter, the young prince's half-sister, the Protestant Mary and 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. However he never got to occupy the throne, nor did any of his descendants.

Breaching of legal qualifications to be Heir Apparent

In some jurisdictions, an heir apparent can lose their status should they breach certain constitutional rules.

A British Prince of Wales would lose his status as heir apparent if he

  • became a Catholic, or
  • married a Catholic

A Crown Princess of Sweden would lose her status if

  • contrary to Swedish law, she married the heir to another throne
  • she married without the approval of the monarch.

Who becomes heir apparent?

The question of who becomes heir apparent is usually decided either by custom, convention, or by law. Monarchies traditionally gave male children (and their children) precedence on the order of succession ahead of female children, with the oldest male child becoming heir apparent. Hence in the United Kingdom, though she is Queen Elizabeth II's second oldest child, Princess Anne is the lowest ranking in the order of succession of the Queen's children, behind Princes Charles, Andrew, Edward and their children.

By the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century a growing but still small number of monarchies have chosen to make the monarch's oldest child, irrespective of sex, the Heir Apparent.

Position inherited through descent from the Heir Apparent

The position of Heir Apparent does not decend to each of the monarch's children in turn, but through the direct, legal line from the initial heir apparent. So for example, were the current British heir apparent, Charles, Prince of Wales either to die before becoming monarch, or become legally debarred (in the British case by becoming or marrying a Catholic), his oldest son, Prince William of Wales, would become heir apparent.

This happens unless a legal change awards another figure (inside the order of succession or elsewhere) the position, as happened in the case of Prince James Francis Edward, heir to King James II (see above) or where the children of the Heir Apparent are for some reason legally debarred from being in the order of succession. The children of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, for example, were excluded from the order of succession to the thrones of Austria and Hungary because their parents had a morganatic marriage that effectively made the Archduke's wife and children his private family but not members of the Imperial Family.

Had the Duke of Windsor (formerly King Edward VIII) and Duchess of Windsor had any children, though they would have been the children of a former heir apparent and King of the United Kingdom they would have had no legal claim to the throne, with that claim having shifted to Edward's younger brother "Bertie," who reigned as George VI, and his descendants.


Heir Apparent is a technical term that is not used as an actual title. The most common title used for heirs apparent in kingdoms is Crown Prince. In the case of absolute primogeniture, such as in the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Norway, a woman can be heir apparent, and thus Crown Princess. In monarchies that are not kingdoms, other titles like Hereditary Grand Duke or Hereditary Prince are used instead.

However, many countries have specially designed titles for the heir apparent. Such titles may be automatically assigned on becoming heir apparent, like Prince of Orange in the Netherlands or Duke of Cornwall in the United Kingdom. In other cases a specific title may be traditionally granted by the monarch, like Prince of Wales in the United Kingdom (except Scotland, where he is known as Duke of Rothesay. A more extensive list of these titles is available in the Crown Prince article.


Where a monarchy has been abolished, it is customary not to refer to claimants to the throne as Heir Apparent or Heir Presumptive but as Pretender. However an Heir Apparent at the time of the abolition of a throne is by custom still referred to as such. But his or her descendants are not described as such. Similarly while it is customary to refer to a Crown Prince born during the existence of a throne by his or her title, their descendants are generally not known, except by extreme royalists, by a title they had not personally been awarded prior to the abolition of the monarchy.

Famous Heirs Apparent who never inherited the throne

  • 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 demand for a marriage annulment.

Heirs Apparent as of 2005

de:Kronprinz no:Kronprins


1 As a popular monarchy, the Belgian monarch is called King of the Belgians, not King of Belgium.


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