AskDefine | Define pretender

Dictionary Definition



1 a claimant to the throne or to the office of ruler (usually without just title)
2 a person who makes deceitful pretenses [syn: imposter, impostor, fake, faker, fraud, sham, shammer, pseudo, pseud, role player]
3 a person who professes beliefs and opinions that he does not hold [syn: hypocrite, dissembler, phony, phoney]

User Contributed Dictionary



-er pretend


  1. A person who professes beliefs and opinions that he or she does not hold.
  2. A claimant to an abolished or already occupied throne.

Related terms


  • Norwegian: tronpretendent
  • Russian: самозванец



es-verb-er pretend
  1. to pretend.
    Juan pretendió estar muerto para evitar que el oso lo atacara. Juan pretended to be dead so the bear wouldn't attack him.
  2. to intend.
    Juan pretende tener casa propia en tres años. Juan intends to have his own house in three years.
  3. to woo; to court.
    Juan pretende a Fernanda porque él siempre le lleva rosas y chocolates. Juan courts Fernanda, so he always gives her roses and chocolates.


es-conj-er pretend

Usage notes

  • Pretender is a false friend, and does not mean "to pretend" as of the second and third definition . The word for "to pretend" in Spanish is fingir.

Extensive Definition

A pretender is a claimant to an abolished throne or to a throne already occupied by somebody else. The English word pretend comes from the French word prétendre, meaning "to put forward, to profess or claim". The term pretender is also applied to those persons on whose behalf a claim to a throne is advanced, regardless of whether that person himself actually makes an active claim. Significantly, the word pretender applies both to claimants with genuine rights to the throne (such as the various pretenders of the Wars of the Roses), to and those with fabricated claims (such as the pretender to Henry VII's throne Lambert Simnel). The papal equivalent of a pretender is an antipope.

Modern pretenders

The following list contains current pretenders. During the monarchical period of some countries listed here, there was no reigning house as it is known in the European sense – those are for example Tibet or the Central African Empire. These countries have a — in the column "House".



Some of the former German monarchies are not listed here because all eligible dynasts of the respective formerly reigning houses are extinct: The Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 2001, the duchy of Saxe-Altenburg in 1991 and the principalities of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt and Schwarzburg-Sondershausen (since 1909 in personal union with Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt) in the male line in 1971. There may be potential claimants to the entirety of Schwarzburg, however.


Modena, Naples and Parma do not mean the Italian cities but the former states on the territory of present-day's Italy.





Satara, Surat, Alwar, Balasinor, Banganapalle, Baroda, Bhopal, Gwalior, Hyderabad, Idar, Indore, Jodhpur Kolhapur Mysore and Udaipur do not mean the Indian cities but the former states on the territory of present-day's India.


Pretenders in the Roman Empire

Ancient Rome knew many pretenders to the office of Roman Emperor, especially during the crisis of the Third Century.
These are customarily referred to as the Thirty Tyrants, which was an allusion to the Thirty Tyrants at Athens some five hundred years earlier; although the comparison is questionable, and the Romans were separate aspirants, not (as the Athenians were) a Committee of Public Safety. The Loeb translation of the appropriate chapter of the Augustan History therefore represents the Latin triginta tyranni by "Thirty Pretenders" to avoid this artificial and confusing parallel. Not all of them were afterwards considered pretenders; several were actually successful in becoming Emperor in at least in part of the Empire for a brief period.

The Byzantine Empire

Disputed successions to the Empire continued at Constantinople. Most seriously, after the fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade in 1204, and its eventual recovery by Michael VIII Palaeologus, there came to be three Byzantine successor states, each of which claimed to be the Roman Empire, and several Latin claimants (including the Republic of Venice and the houses of Montferrat and Courtenay) to the Latin Empire the Crusaders had set up in its place. There were sometimes multiple claimants to some of the inheritances, as well.

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 French monarchists accepted his distant relative, the Orleanist pretender, the Comte de Paris, grandson of King Louis-Philippe (who descends from King Louis XIII) as the pretender to the French throne. A small minority refused to accept this designation, and chose instead a descendant of Louis XIV and the Spanish line.
The arguments are, on one side, that Philip V of Spain renounced any future claim to the French throne when he became King of Spain, and that the Dukes of Orleans were therefore recognized as the next heirs before the French Revolution. On the other side, that this renunciation was invalid and impossible, and (in some cases) that Philippe Égalité and Louis-Philippe forfeited any remaining right to the crown for disloyalty. Hence there are two pretenders to the French throne; though the Orleanist pretender, the present Comte de Paris, is 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 Napoléon, descendant of the Prince Napoléon.

Russian pretenders

There is much debate over who is the legitimate heir to the Russian throne. Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna is considered by some to be the legitimate heir. She is the daughter of Grand Duke Vladimir who some considered the last male dynast. Supporters of Prince Nicholas' claim believe she is born of a morganatic marriage and therefore not entitled to inherit the throne under strict Russian succession law. Unequal marriages have made tracking a legitimate heir to the Russian throne very difficult, and some believe there is no legitimate heir at all. Nicholas Romanov, Prince of Russia a descendant of Emperor Nicholas I and president of Romanov Family Association believes himself to be Grand Duke Vladimir's successor. He is regarded by some as the head of the family, but supporters of Grand Duchess Maria's claim believe he is born of a morganatic marriage and therefore not entitled to inherit the throne under strict Russian succession law, Prince Nicholas disputes this and considers himself a Russian dynast. Those who impersonated the murdered daughters of Nicholas II were not pretenders to the throne, as women could not succeed to the Russian throne while a male dynast was alive. Anna Anderson attempted to prove she was the lost daughter of Nicholas II, Anastasia, but DNA testing on her remains proved her claim false.

English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh and British pretenders

Pretenders to the thrones of the United Kingdom and its predecessor realms, as well as the other historical jurisdictions that are modernly England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, were essentially taken care of by making the Irish and English (and subsequently, British) monarchies purely statutory institutions. Ireland further precluded any and all possible pretenders by declaring itself a republic in 1949.
Prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066, Anglo-Saxon England used a system of elective kingship. England originated, in fact, about the year 802, as an amalgam of several kingdoms (Wessex, Sussex, Kent, Mercia, East Anglia, etc.) under the transnational leadership of Egbert of Wessex. The Witenagemot had the right to determine the kingship.
The Norman Conquest eliminated elective kingship in England - for a few centuries - by replacing the Witenagemot with the Norman institution known as the Curia Regis, while the Thing simply disappeared. Gradually, however, the Normans became English; and modern forms of the old Anglo-Saxon institutions began to re-emerge. To this day, the form of Coronation contains vestigial elements of the consent of the people. In time, the new Parliament began to re-assert its ancient predecessor's right to choose the king, culminating in an Act of 1649, without the Royal Assent of Charles I, on the morning of his execution. However, the power is now held to be vested in the Crown in Parliament, so that an Act was necessary to effect the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936. It is arguable whether or not the Sovereign has the right to withhold either the Sovereign's Consent to consider such a Bill, or the Royal Assent to such an Act)
The change was first noticeable in England following the accession of Henry VIII, after a long period of strife and civil wars that began when Henry IV deposed Richard II. When Henry drafted his deed of succession - naming, first, his son, Edward, to succeed him; then, his two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, in birth order - he submitted the document to Parliament for approval. When the regents for Edward then tried to change the succession to skip the teenage king's sisters, in favour of his cousin Lady Jane Grey, Edward signed the document but it did not have the approval of Parliament. Jane is still counted England's first queen regnant, but she only reigned nine days before Mary Tudor arrived from Lincoln. Mary was instantly recognised as Queen without fuss or question.
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 ruled in Scotland. The Act of Settlement 1701 took care of that problem, and the Act of Union 1707 essentially extended the Act of Settlement to Scotland. The Act of Union 1800 subsequently extended the Act of Settlement to Ireland, but the Irish monarchy had already been made a statutory institution when Henry VIII of England was named King of Ireland by the Irish Parliament in 1542. Previously, the English kings had been styled Lord of Ireland.
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 1707, he claimed the separate thrones of Scotland, as James VIII, and of England and Ireland, as James III, until his death in 1766. In Jacobite thinking, Acts of Parliament (of England or Scotland) after 1688, (including the Acts of Union) did not receive the required royal assent of the "legitimate" (Jacobite) monarch and, therefore, were without legal effect.
James's sons carried on their own claims. Charles Edward Stuart, the would-be Charles III, still famously known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, died in 1788. He is unquestionably the most famous pretender in British history, if not world history. His younger brother, Henry Benedict Stuart, took up the mantle after his death, if only symbolically, as the would-be Henry IX of England. He 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. (As no Jacobite monarch since has resided in Britain, Jacobites ever since have toasted 'the King/Queen over the water'.) Bonnie Prince Charlie is also called The Young Pretender. See Jacobitism, Jacobite succession and the related category for more information, and Franz, Duke of Bavaria for the current Jacobite "pretender".
Owain Glyndŵr (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 and arguably greatest 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 Arthur, 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-conferred by the sovereign.
Nevertheless, it is Glyndŵr 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 Glyndŵr'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, Glyndŵr 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. (See, e.g., The Lion in the North: A Personal View of Scotland's History, by John Prebble ISBN 0-14-003652-0 ; among other works.)
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 Ireland, however, the high king from the time of Maelsheachlainn I (died 862) exercised a measure of control over the country. He belonged to the Ui Neill dynasty and under the Brehon laws, succession was open to any kinsman up to and including second cousin. His dynasty is today represented by the O'Neill family who would regard their head as the pretender. The O Conor dynasty provided two high kings and the head of the family, the O Conor Don, would also be considered a pretender to the Irish throne. The descendants of Brian Boroimhe are represented by Lord Inchiquin, who is also regarded as a claimant. In addition, pretenders or claimants exist to the localised kingdoms of Breifne, Fermanagh, Tyrconnel and Leinster. The O'Neills would also be regarded as claimants to the throne of Aileach and Lord Inchiquin to the throne of Thomond.
In Scotland, Malcolm II tried to get around this system 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 stepfather, 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 controlled 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.

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1