Greetings, Coconauts. Tis us — Coconuts KL — lovers of pop culture, obscure references, and surprisingly — historical happenings. We have hidden depths.
Last weekend’s eyebrow-raising news that Malaysia’s Agong would be abdicating the throne to immediate effect not only left us with mouths agape, it also put our minds into overdrive, trying to think of a worthy enough historical parallel to help process the information.
In case you haven’t heard, history tends to repeat itself, and if it’s happening now, we’re more than likely to wager that something similar has happened before, and probably under even more scandalous circumstances.
Let’s summarize what we know: In 2016, Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan ascended the throne, and became the 15th Yang di-Pertuan Agong, aka sort of like the Malaysian king, but a role that gets rotated every five years among state sultans. His reign was a tranquil one. This is normally the case, as while the Agong is technically the federal head of state in our country’s constitutional monarchy, it’s a ceremonial role.
Then, news broke in early November that he’d be taking a three-month leave of absence while he recovered from illness, and yet the next month, images purportedly showing him featured as the groom in a Moscow wedding made international headlines.
His bride? A 25-year-old former model, a one-time Miss Moscow, and if you read the Daily Mail (maybe?), also a former player in a Russian reality TV series. ¡Caliente!
Local news remained mum about the alleged nuptials, and even Prime Minister Mahathir denied any knowledge, saying he had not been informed of any ceremony. A few weeks after that, rumors began circulating that the Agong would abdicate — and then he did.
OK, y’all caught up and ready for us to take you on a magical history tour? Great. We love this sh*t.
Without further ado, a look at some of history’s most saucy abdications:
Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson
Of course we went straight here. Firstly, we already hinted that we may read the Daily Mail — we’re not above a bit of British faff — and most importantly, there are not many instances in modern history where you can truthfully say: He threw it all away for her.
Edward VIII was the current Queen Elizabeth II’s uncle. Yes, that’s right, she wasn’t even supposed to be queen, but after her childless uncle Edward decided that Wallis Simpson took precedent over his duty to the throne, she became next in line after her father. To give you context, it’s like someone flinging the crown onto Princess Beatrice of York (who?) and telling her she’s commander of the empire. It. Was. Wild. A proper constitutional crisis. And safe to say that the English never quite recovered from it, as both Edward and Wallis’s lives before and after the debacle still somehow make headlines.
So why did he have to leave? Well, 1936 Great Britain was a very different one to 2018, where Prince Harry married that divorcee off Suits. Wallis Simpson was a twice-divorced American socialite who had begun her relations with the king whilst still technically married to her second husband.
Edward was not only king, he was also head of the Church of England, and the remarriage went against both Church and British law at the time — only adultery was recognized as a legitimate ground for divorce. Trying to temper the royal court’s distaste for Simpson, the king initially suggested a morganatic marriage, one in which he would be king, but his betrothed would never be queen.
This was rejected by not only the British Prime Minister, but also representatives from such Commonwealth countries as Canada, Australia, and South Africa. It was a no-go, and the only thing left to do if he really wanted to marry Ms. Simpson, was to abdicate. And so he did, leaving his brother, George VI to ascend, and thus forever changing the throne’s succession.
Edward and Wallis married, became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, never had children, and spent the rest of their lives hobnobbing with other members of the leisure class, from Paris to Mustique. Worth it? Diaries suggest that neither party was particularly happy in their later years, but ain’t that just the way the biscuit crumbles, kids?
Kontemporary Analogy: Rob and Chyna, despite everyone’s pleas for mercy, decide to embark on an unholy union that leaves the former prince of reality TV a bloated shadow of himself, bossed around by a fame-hungry thot. On the upside, the duo milked it for a couple seasons.
King Michael of Romania
Abdications: They’re not just about being able to marry people that your family hate, and King Michael of Romania falls somewhere in the nebulous cloud of benevolence, and altruism, whilst still somehow being related to Queen Victoria.
Recap! Like most of modern-day Europe, Romania as a country exists as a contemporary convention of post-Napoleonic border drawing. It became a kingdom when Moldavia and Walachia merged sometime in the 19th century, with its borders expanding and contracting over the years.
In 1927, King Michael’s father, the decidedly unsuitable Carol (see: Affairs with divorcees), passed the throne over to his (really) young son, and when King Ferdinand I died, it was 5-year-old Michael who ascended the throne. This lasted about three years until Carol grew tired of gallivanting, and decided to come back to Bucharest to give the throne one more shot.
Now, with the onset of World War II, things began to get complicated, and Carol became an increasingly unpopular figure who aligned himself with General Ion Antonescu, a brutal and fascist military man, who shortly thereafter strong-armed Carol’s abdication, making Michael king, again.
General Antonescu must have thought the teenage king would be easy to manipulate, but King Michael proved himself to be quite the statesman, gathering anti-government support on the D.L. and eventually launching a coup d’etat — imprisoning the general, renouncing ties with Nazi Germany, and successfully avoiding all the subsequent assassination attempts that came with his power struggle. Germany tried desperately to find another general who was not loyal to the king to regain power, but there were none to be had — everyone was behind the kid, and many historians believe that his move in exiting the Axis coalition saved thousands of lives by cutting the war short.
His reign was short-lived, however. Post-war, Romania became a satellite of the USSR, and if there’s one thing that Stalin could not handle, it was anyone else who might have a modicum of power. In 1947, the King abdicated and went into exile in Geneva. In a 2007 interview, he called the entire thing “blackmail,” saying that had he not left, Stalin’s executors would have killed more than 1,000 students they were holding political prisoner — there was really no other choice for anyone with a conscience but to leave.
He would remain a wildly popular figure in Romania until his death at 96, two years ago. Following his exile, he would occasionally return to his former kingdom to be greeted by throngs of supporters in the streets throughout the country. Several times, the government regretted letting him re-visit, and would re-instate his banishment. Crazy, right?
He died maintaining his abdication was illegal.
Kontemporary Analogy: There is no altruism on reality TV — GTFO — but if we had to … Paris Hilton, as close as you can get to reality-trash-royalty in 2019, forced off the airwaves by the nefarious force we call “Kris.” Exiled to the annals of Europe’s most technicolor discotheques as a celebrity DJ, her return to the reality throne is never far from our hearts.
Y’all, we may use the word “unprecedented” a lot when it comes to Sultan Muhammad V’s abdication as Agong, but if you really want to use the word to its fullest meaning, it’s probably best suited to the sudden resignation of Benedict XVI, aka Joseph Raztzinger, as head of the Catholic Church, and sovereign of the Vatican City (kind of a king!). Like 600 years of unprecedented comings and goings of popes until his abdication.
Benedict’s eight-year tenure was mostly marred by the way that he left office — that is to say, his time as pope was spent allegedly trying to engineer transparency from the Vatican in what would soon digress into a PR nightmare of sex-abuse scandals and Vatican bank management.
Leaked documents by a Vatican official showed that this was largely rebuffed by the Church, which seemed mostly intent on damage-control. This series became popularly known as the Vatileaks, where internal memos within the Church, particularly correspondence from Benedict himself, showed that he was attempting to seek reform.
Now, all of this information-gathering has little to do with the reasons Benedict gave for his abdication: Already in his late-80s, he claimed that his advanced age prevented him from carrying out his duties as pope, and skirted around suggestions of a power struggle.
“From the beginning, I was conscious of my limits,” he said in a rare interview. “I accepted the papacy as I’ve always tried to do in my life, in a spirit of obedience.”
Pope Francis went on to be elected as sovereign of Vatican City, while Benedict continues to live nearby in a monastery, dedicating his life to writing and religious study.
Kontemporary Analogy: Rob Kardashian trying to fight the machine from within. Realizing that all attempts to override Kris Jenner’s momager reality TV empire are futile, he instead resigns himself to living a quiet life designing Arthur George socks.
Mary, Queen of Scots
Ever lose your job to a 1-year-old? How about a 1-year-old who also happens to be your son? It’s ruthless being a royal, and no one knew that better than Mary, Queen of Scots.
Mary and Queen Elizabeth I were contemporaries, but you see, many questioned the legitimacy of Elizabeth’s reign. Her father, Henry VIII, had splintered off from the Catholic Church to form the Church of England, for sundry reasons, chief among them, so he could divorce Catherine of Aragon, and marry Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn.
Due to this “illegitimacy,” there were certain quarters (mostly Catholics) who believed that it was actually Mary who was the heir to the British throne.
Mary spent most of her life living in France, and even married King Francis II, becoming queen consort of France for — oh, about a year, until her husband’s untimely death. At this point it’s 1561 for everyone keeping track, Mary thought it might be a good idea to return to Scotland and stake her claim to the English throne via coup. As they say in French: Quel désastre c’était (What a cock-up that was!).
Widowed, Mary then remarried to her first cousin, Henry Stuart, and together they had a son, James. One year later, Henry Stuart’s residence was rocked by an explosion, and officials found the king consort dead, murdered in his own backyard.
Now, no one is pointing fingers, but a lot of historians have surmized that James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was the figure who orchestrated the murder, despite having been acquitted of the charge that same year (1567, if you are STILL keeping track). Why does this matter? Well, fresh off his acquittal, the Earl of Bothwell was married.
To whom, you ask?
Oh, reader, by now you must know where this is going. To Mary, Queen of Scots, of course!
To call it a bad look is an understatement. There was an all-out uprising against the pair, with Mary (the queen, y’all) eventually getting imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle, until she abdicated the throne in favor of her baby, James.
Eventually, Mary fled to the south, into the arms of none other than the same queen she was trying to usurp power from, Elizabeth I, begging for protection. Henry VIII didn’t spawn no fool, and after locking her up for 18 years in sundry castles and manors throughout the country, Elizabeth eventually beheaded her, citing treason.
Kontemporary Analogy: Blac Chyna having her reality tv series canceled in favor of a Go-Pro hooked onto Dream’s stroller. Chyna runs to Kris Jenner to be a featured player on the next season of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, only to be killed off in the first episode.
Pu Yi, Emperor of Qing dynasty
Is it just us, or is the reality of China’s last emperor heavily tainted and influenced by the fact that we watched Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor at least three times in sundry history classes growing up? Great movie, though!
As far as abdications go, Pu Yi was forced from the throne almost as soon as he got there, but to be fair — he was maybe too young to realize what was actually going on. Chosen to rule by Empress Dowager Cixi on her deathbed (scene 1 in the film, if we’re not mistaken), Puyi — only 2 years old — was taken from his parents without notice and installed in the Forbidden City.
As a child Emperor, Pu Yi had little power over his subject, but all of the agency to behave as he chose within the walls of the Forbidden City. Apparently, The Last Emperor left out a LOT of sh*t, like the fact that a 7-year-old Pu Yi was kind of a mini-sadist, and took great pleasure in flogging the eunuchs that surrounded him on the daily. Damn. Where did he find the time?!
Jokes aside, Pu Yi was eventually forced from the throne after a series of revolts and uprisings made it pretty clear that a lot of people were done with his hereditary rule. His adoptive mother signed the abdication papers, and it was all over for our ‘lil Imperial Majesty.
Or was it? Nah, dawg — as it were — our tween emperor lingered a little bit longer in the Forbidden City, receiving the kind of sweet pension most of us work a lifetime for until he was expelled. From there, he set off to Tianjin — at the time partially occupied by the Japanese — and eventually decided to cozy up to his occupiers, who then made him a puppet ruler in their newly established territory of Machukuo, where he ruled idly, but lived comfortably, until 1945.
World War II was over, the Japanese lost, and Pu Yi was fast running out of options. Begging Stalin for a palace to live out his final days didn’t work out, and when he was forced to testify at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, the defense counsel called him a “consistent, self-assured liar, prepared to go to any lengths to save his skin.”
Back to Soviet prison he went, where he not only kept a cadre of servants, but spent most of his days playing mah jong. It’s not eunuch whipping, but it would have to do. After his release, he would work his final years in a mechanic shop, eventually succumbing to poor health, and dying at age 61.
Kontemporary Analogy: North West, plucked from the fruits of her mother’s womb and chosen by Empress Dowager Kris to lead the family’s reality empire, succumbs to a pop culture revolt that rejects their TV series, detox teas and makeup palettes. North tries making deals with sundry devils, and for a short time is an Extra! entertainment reporter before being taken off the airwaves permanently. Spends her twilight years flogging Kylie lip kits, and asking where her servants (Penelope and Mason Disick) are.
This article, Ab-Fab: As Malaysia’s king bids farewell to the throne, a look at some of history’s most notable abdications, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!