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A pretender is someone who holds a legitimate claim to be the rightful sovereign of a country where they are not recognised as such by the current government. In this context the term pretender refers to a former monarch or the head of a deposed royal house where the country has abolished their monarchy, which in most cases in history has been by violent means such as a revolution or coup, or via a dubious referendum.

The term can also carry negative connotations and be used to suggest that a claim is not legitimate such as where the country is a monarchy and a claim is advanced by a rival claimant. In this context the term was popularised by Queen Anne, who used it to refer to her Roman Catholic half-brother James Francis Edward Stuart, the Jacobite heir, in an address to Parliament in 1708: "The French fleet sailed from Dunkirk ... with the Pretender on board."

The term pretender can also be used to refer to people have claimed fraudulently to be displaced monarchs or heirs who had disappeared or supposedly died under mysterious circumstances, or people with made up claims to a throne.