Heir presumptive

An heir presumptive is the person entitled to inherit a throne, peerage, or other hereditary honour, but whose position can be displaced by the birth of an heir apparent or a new heir presumptive with a better claim to the position in question.[1][2]


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 they are daughters and females are completely barred from inheriting, because the monarch's children are illegitimate, or because of some other legal disqualification, such as being descended from the monarch through a morganatic line or 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 having 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 considered 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. Queen Victoria's accession proclamation noted her accession was only permanent so long as William IV's widow, Adelaide, was not pregnant, even though Adelaide was 44 years old and had last been pregnant 17 years earlier.[3] 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.[4][5]

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.

Heirs presumptive as of 2023

  • Crown Prince Fumihito is the heir presumptive (皇嗣, Kōshi) to his elder brother, Emperor Naruhito of Japan. Historically, the succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne has normally passed to descendants in male line from the imperial lineage. If Naruhito were to have a legitimate son, he would become heir apparent and Prince Fumihito would move back one place in the line of succession.
  • Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti is the heir presumptive to his father, King Vajiralongkorn of Thailand. 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".
  • Leonor, Princess of Asturias, is the heir presumptive[6] to her father, King Felipe VI of Spain. If her father has a legitimate son, he would be heir apparent and Leonor would lose her titles and move back one place in the line of succession.

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.

See also


  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. "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.
  5. Packard, Jerrold M. (1999-12-23). Victoria's Daughters. St. Martin's Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-4299-6490-6.
  6. "Her Royal Highness the Princess of Asturias". Retrieved 31 August 2014.
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