A king suddenly dies, and during the immediate aftermath, the realm is without an official leader (leaving the throne susceptible to usurpers) and the heir is still being notified or is traveling and can't get there immediately. Ultimately, someone will be crowned (becoming the new king).

Is there a word to describe this time frame between monarchs?

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    "Kingterruption" – Bas Peeters Aug 1 '15 at 6:19
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    Googling "time span between kings" would have answered this instantly. The top hit is currently this question (go, Stack Exchange!); the second hit is Wikipedia's page, "interregnum" – David Richerby Aug 3 '15 at 16:30
  • @Maneating Koala You're inviting 'Off with his head!' – Edwin Ashworth Oct 29 '16 at 20:43

You may be thinking of the word interregnum, but unless there is no clear line of succession, or there is disputed succession, it does not apply when a monarch dies. Certainly not in an established monarchy like the British one, and probably not in most others either.

You have perhaps heard the expression "the king is dead, long live the king"? It's not just a saying, it has legal effect. It doesn't matter whether the heir has been notified or not, s/he becomes the new monarch immediately upon the death of the old one. You also have to bear in mind that the monarch alone is not the exclusive arm of government, and never has been. Even before the era of Parliamentary democracy as we know it today the kingdom had ministers of state, who were still free to carry on the business of government. Their offices were not vacated immediately upon the death of the previous monarch, though of course the new one was free to terminate their office. (Or, as sometimes happened, terminate their bodies at the neck.)

Also it isn't necessary to be crowned to be the monarch. Queen Elizabeth II became queen immediately upon the death of her father in 1952 (while she was on a different continent, in fact), but her coronation wasn't until the following year. That didn't mean that she wasn't queen, or that Britain had no queen, during the intervening time.

Source: My musty old constitutional law textbooks, which regrettably lack a URL link and which admittedly I haven't seen myself for a few years now...

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    @stupidbunny - now in THAT case it could arguably be an interregnum, though "civil war" is not unknown in such cases either. The most glaring example of this in English history was of course the "reign" of Lady Jane Grey after the death of the childless (since he was still a child himself) Edward VI, son of Henry VIII. The 9 days that she "reigned" aren't really regarded as a monarchy now, but at the time Mary I could not really claim the throne either. That period could validly be called an interregnum, as defined. – Alan K Aug 1 '15 at 3:59
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    @Michael_B: I take your point, but I'm not sure that I agree given the context provided by the rest of the question, specifically "and the heir is still being notified or is traveling and can't get there immediately". I took this to mean that SB was under the (possibly not uncommon) misapprehension that the heir did not become the king until the formalities were carried out, but as noted above that is not the case; in normal succession there is NO period during which the realm lacks an official leader. – Alan K Aug 1 '15 at 4:19
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    @Michael_B I am not aware of an official word for the period between accession and coronation, other than it being referred to as a period of mourning for the monarch who has passed on. A coronation is a joyful occasion, so it would be inappropriate to celebrate the crowning of a new monarch, shortly after the death and funeral of the previous one. Besides which, a coronation takes a huge amount of preparation to organise. Here is a link to footage of the accession and crowning of Queen Elizabeth II: QEII – Julie Carter Aug 1 '15 at 9:43
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    @Michael_B: I didn't say that the definition is wrong, merely that it does not apply in the circumstances described by SB. Not all monarchies are hereditary monarchies, though certainly since the middle ages most of them have been. Some have been elective monarchies, where the king is elected by an appropriate council of elders. In the case of such a monarchy there may well be "an interval of time between the close of a sovereign's reign and the accession of his or her normal or legitimate successor" since the election has to take place. BUT in such circumstances there can be no "heir" {cont} – Alan K Aug 1 '15 at 11:43
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    @Michael_B: dictionary definition 1 doesn't contradict this answer at all. It says that the name for a gap between death and accession is "interregnum". This answers agrees with that definition, and goes on to state that under the British constitution no gap (interregnum) occurs on the death of a monarch (and that this probably applies to other hereditary monarchies). Just because there's a defined name for something doesn't mean it actually happens, so there's no contradiction. In a system where "being crowned" is "becoming king", then presumably there would be a gap. – Steve Jessop Aug 2 '15 at 21:22

interregnum noun:

1: the time during which a throne is vacant between two successive reigns or regimes

2: a period during which the normal functions of government or control are suspended

(Merriam-Webster online)


Yes, there is. That word is interregnum, plural either interregna or interregnums. Per the OED it means the following, with the first sense now obsolete. You’re looking for the second sense.

  1. †Temporary authority or rule exercised during a vacancy of the throne or a suspension of the usual government. Obs.

  2. The interval between the close of a king’s reign and the accession of his successor; any period during which a state is left without a ruler or with a merely provisional government.

  3. A cessation or suspension of the usual ruling power; a period of freedom from some authority. Also fig.

  4. A breach of continuity; an interval, pause, vacant space.


As there is an ample number of answers pointing out the correct answer (being Interregnum), I provide a slightly different answer here.

The Regent

If a monarch's heir is too young or unfit to rule the domain for other reasons, a Regent can be installed to rule in his name.

A notable example for this is the Prince Regent of Bavaria, Luitpold.

The Regency Era

The time period during which a Regent is the de-facto ruler is called Regency

The time between 1811 to 1820 in the United Kingdom has been called the Regency Era where George IV ruled as Prince Regent in his father's stead, who was still alive at the time but unfit to rule.

I realize this is not the precise answer to your question but might be useful nonetheless.

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    A regent need not be a prince, and is only called a "Prince Regent" if he actually is a prince. – jamesqf Aug 2 '15 at 3:54
  • Thank you for pointing that out. I generalized the answer – MrPaulch Aug 2 '15 at 10:16



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.


  1. an interval of time between the close of a sovereign's reign and the accession of his or her normal or legitimate successor.
  2. any period during which a state has no ruler or only a temporary executive.
  3. any period of freedom from the usual authority.
  4. any pause or interruption in continuity.
  • Hi Michael, I've just added a reply to your comment to mine. (I don't think the site will notify you if I don't put one here.) – Alan K Aug 1 '15 at 4:20
  • @AlanK: @ name does notify people about comments. See meta.stackexchange.com/questions/43019/… – Peter Cordes Aug 1 '15 at 6:48
  • @Peter Cordes: Cheers Peter, I picked up on that one after I posted that comment. – Alan K Aug 1 '15 at 7:35

How about interstitial or perhaps interstice? It's not common but I think it can be made to serve your purpose. According to Merriam-Webster:

  1. relating to or situated in the interstices

And for interstice:

  1. a short space of time between events

So it carries the connotation of a period of time and of being in between two things.

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