The king is dead. long live the king

This article is about the traditional proclamation. For other uses, see The King is Dead.

The king is dead, long live the king! (French: Le roi est mort, vive le roi !;[1] Spanish: El rey ha muerto, ¡viva el rey![2]) is a traditional proclamation made following the accession of a new monarch in various countries.


The original phrase was translated from the French Le roi est mort, vive le roi !, which was first declared upon the accession to the French throne of Charles VII after the death of his father Charles VI in 1422. In France, the declaration was traditionally made by the duc d'Uzès, a senior peer of France, as soon as the coffin containing the remains of the previous king descended into the vault of Saint Denis Basilica. The phrase arose from the law of le mort saisit le vif — that the transfer of sovereignty occurs instantaneously upon the moment of death of the previous monarch. "The king is dead" is the announcement of a monarch who has just died. "Long live the king!" refers to the heir who immediately succeeds to a throne upon the death of the preceding monarch.

At the time, French was the primary language of the nobility in England, and the proclamation was quickly taken up as ideally representing the same tradition — which in England dates back to 1272, when Henry III died while his son, Edward I, was fighting in the Crusades. To avoid any chance of a civil war erupting over the order of succession, the Royal Council proclaimed: "The throne shall never be empty; the country shall never be without a monarch." Thus, Edward was declared king immediately, and he reigned in absentia until news of his father's death reached him and he returned to England. Another example is among the French royalty. In France, king Louis XV was the predecessor of king Louis XVI. Upon Louis XV's death at around 11:00 pm on 10 May 1774, heir-apparent Louis-Auguste, le Dauphin, immediately became king Louis XVI of France. This quick transition of sovereignty was made within the phrase "The king is dead, long live the king!"


In Denmark, a similar proclamation is made by the prime minister upon the death of a monarch: Kongen leve, kongen er død - the king lives, the king is dead.) The prime minister's proclamation is made from the balcony of Christiansborg Palace (the Danish Parliament building).[3]

This declaration is official and marks the ascension of a new monarch immediately after the death of the old. This is due to the fact that Frederick III abolished the coronation ceremony with the introduction of the hereditary and absolute monarchy in 1660. The king was now supreme and accountable only to God, so the crown became a birthright, and not something to be bestowed only after the father's death with the nobles and the church's approval.

With the introduction of constitutional monarchy in 1849, the monarch's power over the State was again limited, but his claim to the throne remained undisputed and absolute.

In some monarchies, such as the United Kingdom, an interregnum is usually avoided by using the idea of immediate transferral of power behind the phrase (i.e., the heir to the throne becomes a new monarch immediately on his predecessor's death). This famous phrase signifies the continuity of sovereignty, attached to a personal form of power named Auctoritas. This is not so in other monarchies where the new monarch's reign begins only with coronation or some other formal or traditional event. In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for instance, kings were elected, which often led to relatively long interregna. During that time it was the Polish primate who served as an interrex (ruler between kings). Ernst Kantorowicz's famous theory of the king's two bodies (1957) showed how auctoritas (Kantorowicz used the synonym term — here — of dignitas) was transferred from the defunct sovereign to the new one.

Given the memorable nature of the phrase (owing to epanalepsis), as well as its historic significance, the phrase crops up regularly as a headline for articles, editorials, or advertisements on themes of succession or replacement.

In the United Kingdom and other realms which permit female succession to the throne, the phrase is occasionally altered to accommodate a change in the monarch's gender, since the deceased king may be succeeded by a queen or vice versa, as happened in 1952, when King George VI died and was succeeded by his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, or as happened in 1901, when Queen Victoria was succeeded by her son, King Edward VII. The phrase is therefore modified to "the king is dead, long live the queen!" or "the queen is dead, long live the king", etc., although this usage is technically unofficial. The phrase was last properly used in the United Kingdom in January 1936 when King George V was succeeded by his son King Edward VIII, who later abdicated and became the Duke of Windsor.

See also

  • Ten thousand years, a traditional Asian saying, used to wish for long life of the emperor
  • Mabuhay, a traditional Philippine cheer meaning "May you live long!"
  • Sto lat, a similar Polish phrase and song meaning "one hundred years"


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