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An interregnum (plural interregna or interregnums) is a period of discontinuity or "gap" in a government, organization, or social order. Archetypally, it was the period of time between the reign of one monarch and the next (coming from Latin inter-, "between" + rēgnum, "reign" [from rex, rēgis, "king"]), and the concepts of interregnum and regency therefore overlap.

The term also refers to the periods between the election of a new parliament and the establishment of a new government from that parliament in parliamentary democracies, usually ones that employ some form of proportional representation that allows small parties to elect significant numbers, requiring time for negotiations to form a government. In the UK, Canada and other "first past the post" electoral systems, this period is usually very brief, except in the rare occurrence of a hung parliament as occurred both in the UK and in Australia in 2010. In parliamentary interregnums, the previous government usually stands as a caretaker government until the new government is established.

The term has been applied to the period of time between the election of a new President of the United States and his or her inauguration, during which the outgoing president remains in power, but as a lame duck.[1] In some Christian churches, "interregnum" describes the time between vacancy and appointment of priests or bishops to various roles.


  • Historical periods of interregnum 1
  • Japanese era names 2
  • Christianity 3
    • Papal interregnum (or sede vacante) 3.1
    • Anglicanism 3.2
  • In fiction 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7

Historical periods of interregnum

Particular historical periods known as interregna include:

In some monarchies, such as the United Kingdom, an interregnum is usually avoided due to a rule described as "The King is dead. Long live the King", i.e. the heir to the throne becomes a new monarch immediately on his predecessor's death or abdication. 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). In Belgium the heir only becomes king upon swearing before the parliament.

Japanese era names

While not describing true interregna, the Japanese era name or nengō system which was introduced in reign of Emperor Kōtoku was abandoned at the end of his reign, thus resulting in sitting emperors without era names; these era names were not updated for some time, except for a very brief re-occurrence near the close of Emperor Temmu's reign.

During the nearly half-century after Emperor Kōtoku, the reigning sovereigns were

  • Saimei-tennō (斉明天皇)
  • Tenji-tennō (天智天皇)
  • Kōbun-tennō (弘文天皇)
  • Temmu-tennō (天武天皇)
  • Jitō-tennō (持統天皇)
  • Mommu-tennō (文武天皇).

The first year of Emperor Mommu's rule (文武天皇元年; 686) could be arguably abbreviated as "the first year of Mommu" (文武元年; 686), but this is nowhere understood as a true era name. The reigns of Japanese emperors and empresses were not considered to also be the same as the era name until the Meiji era. References to the emperors of Japan who ruled during this period are properly written as, for example, "the 3rd year of Emperor Mommu" (文武天皇3年; Mommu is the emperor's name, not that of the era), and not "the 3rd year of Mommu" (文武3年; this second writing implies that Mommu is the era name).

The two periods in the pre-Taihō years without era names are 654 (the end of the Hakuchi era) through 686 (the reinstatement of the Shuchō era), and again from 686 (the Shuchō era) to 701 (some time in the middle of the reign of Emperor Mommu), when the Taihō era was declared and nengō reinstated.


Papal interregnum (or sede vacante)

An interregnum occurs also upon the death or resignation of the Pope, though this is generally known as a sede vacante (literally "vacant seat"). The interregnum ends immediately upon election of a new Pope by the College of Cardinals.


"Interregnum" is the term used in the Anglican Communion to describe the period before a new parish priest is appointed to fill a vacancy. During an interregnum, the administration of the parish is the responsibility of the churchwardens.[2]

In fiction

The events of Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy take place during the galactic interregnum in his Foundation Universe, taking place in the 25th millennium. Foundation begins at the end of the Galactic Empire and notes in the novels from the Encyclopedia Galactica imply that a Second Galactic Empire follows the 1000 year interregnum.

In John Ronald Reuel Tolkien's works, the disappearance of the King Eärnur of Gondor is followed by a 968-year interregnum (the Steward years).

The Old Kingdom Trilogy takes place after 200 years of interregnum, where the reigning Queen and her two daughters were murdered by Kerrigor, 180 years of regency first and 20 years of anarchy following the death of the last Regent.

The Vlad Taltos series is set in a fantastical world of magic, at a time directly following a 1,000-year interregnum wherein magic was impossible.

In the world of the Elder Scrolls, there was an Interregnum in the Second Era when the Second Cyrodillic Empire collapsed. It led to just over four centuries of bickering between small kingdoms and petty states. The Interregnum ended when Tiber Septim, or Talos, formed the Third Empire after a decade of war.

See also


  1. ^ On the Way Out: Interregnum Presidential Activity
  2. ^ "Responsibilities and Duties of the Churchwarden". Retrieved 15 March 2015. 


  • Ernst Kantorowicz's The King's Two Bodies (1957).
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